By Bisis Lawrence
There is a loose cannon rattling around the corridors of Aso Rock. They call him Mohammed Abba-Aji, but we know what we would like to call him.
He is also entitled to be called Senator, and may be addressed by the office he holds as an Adviser to the President, though he carelessly leaves the impression that he would rather be known as the President’s mentor.
Abba-Aji boasts of his antagonism to the Freedom of Information Bill (Fol) which was at last passed by the House of Representatives, after an eleven-year sojourn on the shelf. He glorifies this opposition which he claims was chiefly responsible for the delay in the passing of the bill, although it is widely known that the effort was sustained by the apprehension which naturally gripped the law-makers who quaked at the possible exposure of their misdeeds.
In fact, some of the legislators believed that the bill was out to get them, and that also made some of the less-informed journalists to lick their lips in anticipation of the good times ahead. But neither the lawmakers nor the news mongers were right in the end.
As Abba-Aji himself was led to depose while he continued his assault on the bill, there are various types of information that are simply too sensitive for dissemination. What was needed, he added, was “freedom of the press, not freedom of information.” How he could distinguish between the one condition and the other was retained as his personal secret – and no Fol Bill would get that out of him.
But the bill had actually been so watered down that there is hardly any impact that its coming on stream would now make, if it is eventually passed into law. It gives no room for libel; no licence for tampering with cases that are court; no liberty for lifting the cloak off official secrets – in fact, it gives out very little room for anything that would not be available through routine investigation, and leaves the right to publish most of it to the discretion of the party directly affected.
Did the fellow ever read that bill? As President Goodluck Jonathan so vigorously presents himself for acceptance to the people of his nation at this time, does he really need this kind of albatross around his neck?
There are now an innumerable number of court cases lined up along the way to our “fair, and free, and credible” elections. I am a simple man.
I am not a “doubting Thomas”. The time for doubts is far gone. I know definitely, and for a fact, that we are already in deep waters, and so do you.
We insisted on placing all our hopes on the integrity of one man. This was because we emerged with a painful failure at the other end of the last elections and saw that result as a product of the level of integrity . No one has anything to say yet against anyone’s integrity.
But there appears to be plenty to point at about the sheer absence of efficiency. The preparations for the forthcoming elections have indeed been most inefficiently organized.
At the basis of it all was the time factor. The schedule has been too tight. Very little elbow room was left to deal with contingencies, which we have now somehow put behind us, but there will be others ahead that are bound to pop up to our further discomfiture. We spared little time for those who would operate the registration equipment to get acquainted with the machinery, and even that still ate further into the precious time available.
So we had to extend the time for the registration by a few days. But that was really not enough; there were pleas for further extension in several areas until the last day. The exercise was uncomfortably no less than patchy on the whole. It was not possible for many people to verify their registration with the shifting movement of time frames, and several people simply gave up.
Then there was the submission of candidates’ names to the Independent National Electoral Commission, NEC. Candidates were elected and then withdrawn; representatives were nominated and capriciously imposed; several constituencies in some political parties are in disarray. And we are now all going to court – even INEC itself
The prospect of long, drawn-out court cases stretches out before us with all its uncertainties.
But, beyond all that, we now face the problem of the process for the conduct of casting our votes. We all still remember the hype which attended our acquisition of the DDT machines. But the probability of discarding them at the elections fills one’s heart with a large measure of relief Going by the awful reputation those machines have amassed in the short period they have operated among us, very few people would be sorry to see them abandoned.
Probably in the future when they have been fine-tuned to save the populace from insomnia, they may be tried all over again. But for now, we definitely have had enough of those infernal machines. These elections are far too important to accommodate any hazardous experimentation with the voting process.
Knowing how comfortable our politicians are inclined to feel about lengthy periods of litigation, it seems to me that a scheme, or procedure, should be devised at once to set a time-limit – a rigid time-limit – on for how long any court case emanating from the elections may be permitted by law.
The recent experience has left some pock marks too ugly too hide on our political – as well as judicial – visage. We cannot accommodate court cases that would linger over the entire term of the office that brought them up, in the first place, and then breed anecdotes of impropriety in high places to boot.
But one can easily envisage such a horrible development in what we have before us. Now is the time to ward it off
When Chief Olabode George was jailed some two years ago, I found it appropriate to declare, for the benefit of any interested party, that he was my friend.
It was at a time when it would not be unnatural for several of his acquaintances to slip behind the screen. After all, it has always been the custom in our society to treat a convict as a pariah – an outcast, untouchable, unfit to be associated with, no matter the nature of the offence.
As one would expect, several other unofficial judges had risen up away from the law courts, after the case had been decided, to deliver their own judgment. Their verdict was predictable. It was dispassionate and devoid of all sentiment. In some instances, it was downright vicious. The man had very well been found guilty through the due process of the law .
That means he had to pay the penalty that society demanded of him. But after that, he ought to be forgiven by all honest men, in view of the nature of his offence. The vicious persist.
You may wish to consider, how honest are most of those involved, anyway – in particular, those “extra-ordinary jurists”, the like of whom Jesus Christ requested to cast the first stone at the woman who was guilty of adultery, if none of them could himself truthfully claim to have been totally innocent of such an offence.
In the biblical story, no one touched a stone as they all glumly departed, leaving the woman unmarked. But the modern-day version of that “public conscience” group did cast stones at Bode George’s trial, and is still throwing their stones toady.
They are doing so from a high moral pedestal, of course, a comfortable position to hold, especially for hypocrites. Which of them could have avoided what happened to Bode George in his position?
Of course, that does not make it right. Not even in the context of our cut-throat politics should it be condoned. And that is not what everyone who took part in giving him that riotous home coming was trying to express.
Some of them, as steadfast friends, were simply overjoyed to see him regain his freedom. Even an ex-convict is entitled· to the good fortune of friendship. Whatever was written on his charge sheet, the circumstance of the case was heavy with political content as we are all aware .
So it happened with Herbert Macaulay, Obafemi Awolowo, Jim Nwobodo, and others who were all jailed for criminal offences. They all returned to live honorable lives. And not all of them came back quietly.
That is the other side of the coin – the celebrated reception that defaced the entire episode. It was not acceptable to a lot of people, and they have said so. In the story of the adulterous woman earlier mentioned, the lid was firmly placed on the anecdote with the admonition for her to “go and sin no more.
“ On the other hand, the brassy carnival of welcome for Bode George fairly blew the lid off with the putative message not far from, “Welcome and let’s go and sin much more.” Ghastly as that may sound, at least there is no hypocrisy there.
But that is the norm in politics. The supporters who turned out in their thousands, from the highest to the lowest, dared to identify themselves publicly with what they professed to be, as politicians .
Their presence, in quality and quantity, stamped the name of the brand on the article: it was all politics. That was what it all truly was, and we all know it to be so. The indictment may pertain to other facts which were well proven, but against the backdrop of the politics of this day and age, and even that of our not-too-distant past, it fades almost into insignificance.
The case of Nelson Mandella or Kwameh Nkrumah was, of course, different. Theirs was politics by title and description. But wherever there is an admixture of politics and fiscal impropriety, the former is almost certain to overwhelm the impact of the latter. And there would be drums and trumpets, songs and dances in celebration of what is, rather than what should be.
It was all in the nature of a political rally, and I am surprised that so many people were fazed by what was clearly inevitable. A wedding or mourning, a festival or a funeral – it is all the same to politicians.
Any occasion is good for a rally. In fact, I make bold to declare that any party, including even those who are now loudest in the condemnation of the P.D.P. , would do exactly the same thing and even more, for one of their leaders in similar circumstances.
Bode George is still my friend. I now know what Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President, must have felt like when he was writing “Nzeogwu”, that unpretentious, but precious, chant to the value of friendship.
Bode’s father was a very loving big “brother” to me when I was a young man growing up in the same neighbourhood; He was an embodiment of the sterling virtues that are replete in the character of a gentleman and son of a gentleman … omoluwabi. He was a role model of humility and good upbringing. I can never turn my back on his offspring ..