By Bisi Lawrence
It was described as the first of briefings by the President, and he handled it as to the manner born. Of course, it was not really his very first performance of that kind; though he has never appeared in the ranks of the reticent, yet President Goodluck Jonathan did not appear too eager to formally address the nation extensively or comprehensively on several pressing issues of the moment.
And, especially after his recent performance, one wonders why. After all, he seems to have a gift of the gab, and is well equipped with adequate facts and figures. In fact, were it not for the poor taste that a direct comparison with some of his predecessors would imply, one could rank him easily higher than above the average in his class in recent times.
The questions were not new, though most of them had not been aired in that setting before. The answers were not exactly new or unexpected either, though some of them did not seem to be satisfactory. But they all filled a breach in communications that had been left open for quite a while.
What was new was the passion with which the President engaged the issues raised by the pressmen – and woman – led in an admirably professional manner by Stella Din. She was obviously in her element. What diminished the presidential response was the paucity of proffered solutions. It was a presentation of how difficult the problems are, how intractable the situation is in several given cases, but revealing in how ineffective the measures taken so far have proved. The viewers once again were subjected to another deluge of assurances about what would happen in another year, or before the end of this presidential term of office. Our faith was stretched tight to snapping point whilst we watched and listened to what the speaker himself did not appear to seriously believe.
One or two juicy points seeped through the hail of words which cascaded impressively from the first gentleman of the nation. The reports of enquiries that have been gathering dust for several years about unrests in various parts of the country were ordered exhumed and processed. If that is the only result of that Presidential briefing, we would frankly state that it was “worth the price of the admission”. We have lost count of those reports. If the ones that were completed even in only the past decade could be recalled to life and sincerely treated, quite a lot would be achieved in reviving the confidence of the people in the leadership of this country.
The truth is that most of us do not believe in these commissions of enquiry any more. So many of them have been set up with a lot of fanfare, and subsequently conducted even with a clash of high cymbals. And after all the hoopla, the people are left with only the noise ringing in their ears for a short period – and then silence, until the next time around.
Unfortunately, President Jonathan operates outside the circle of the reality that the old ploy of the English has lost its potency. When an Englishman is confused, it is said, he forms a committee. Our President simply must remove himself from the confines of such self-delusion. He must cast off the garb of pretence and face each problem squarely through his established agencies and teams of professionals. A panel of experts, or so-called experts, for instance, will only be mounted to beg the question of insecurity, as against a direct assignment to security agencies who are in permanent positions and can match their recommendations with immediate action.
Our President must have astounded several people and interests – not totally excluding this page – by the depth of his manifest concern about the insufficiencies that assail us as a nation on so many fronts. This must be stated in this way because his rather laid-back demeanor in the face of these developments lent itself to the wrong interpretation of nonchalance, especially against a background of little direct communication.
Now we can find no difficulty in identifying him as our President indeed as this page would now freely join others in doing, rather than just the President, because the nation can identify with him since he openly shares our anxieties in a credible manner. But there are still clarifications crying for discussion. Those assurances still need be redeemed and should therefore be treated as “matters arising” in subsequent sessions. For me, this has been a momentous step towards”accountable democracy.
*the nba protests
With wigs askew and gowns flapping in the wind, members of the Nigerian Bar Association took to the street in Lagos.. Their destination was the Governor’s office, and their purpose was to deliver a protest in writing against the suspension of the erstwhile President of the Appeal Court, Justice Salami. This was a development of the on-going confrontation between the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, and the Head of the Appeal Court, as decided by the National Judicial Council. The honorable body of practicing barristers, the NBA, along with several other civil rights organizations in the country had taken serious objection to the ruling which culminated in the unfortunate suspension of Justice Salami, especially as it was effectuated over and above a matter that was pending in court.
Two aspects interject themselves into the stream of our consideration immediately. First is the appearance of the learned gentlemen (and ladies?) in the street. A few days earlier, while defending the role of President Jonathan in the issue, Dr. Rueben Abati, the President’s official mouthpiece, had compared some of the actions of the NBA with those of “street rioters”; that, we should repeat, was before the public demonstration by the lawyers. It was not directly our part to take objection to that, but we felt that Abati, himself a lawyer, would have lost nothing much by applying a bit of restraint to his description of the NBA’s attitude towards the ruling of the NJC.
And then, blow me down if the legal luminaries didn’t then actually go into the street! Yes, they did, but definitely in a manner, and for a purpose, far removed from “street rioters”. They can never be spoken of in the same breath with those who have lost contact with law and order. These are highly-principled professionals who shed the fripperies of dignity to protect the honor of their calling, and the respect that is due to the instruments of justice and those who are sworn to administer it.
The second aspect that stares you in the face is that one of those instruments which the NBA particularly wishes to preserve is the process of ordering justice under the principle of non-interference with a matter which is under the consideration of a court of law, especially through comment. It is a matter of sharp irony that the highly-respectable body of lawyers would seem, howbeit, to have violated this principle in the course of defending it. The scholarly Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in his own right, lightly touched on this aspect whilst receiving the demonstrating lawyers. However, I am left with no doubt at all, that the legal luminaries within the NBA are capable of defending this apparent slip-up – but probably no one else.
Illegal structures are now facing an unrelenting onslaught in Edo State, particularly in the capital city of Benin City. That is welcome news. It is also supposed to be happening in Lagos too, but that is another matter. The work is in full gear in Benin where a former Major in the Nigerian Army was the leader of the task force in charge. He was recently publicly removed by Governor Oshiomhole. Publicly, in this context, means actually in the street
The Major’s offence was that he was responsible for the demolition of two edifices belonging to very prominent citizens, one of them a former governor of the State. But then the demolition operations are not expected to be a respecter of personalities; any building that violates the law as to the site of erection simply goes down. What provoked the ire of Oshiomhole was that the buildings demolished were not in violation of the law, in the first place. It was wrong to have pulled them down.
There was also a further twist to the incident however. The ex-governor who owns one of the houses knocked down is also a prominent chieftain of the opposition party in Edo State. The demolition could therefore grow political teeth and bite as hard as a bitch of propaganda. Oshiomhole wanted no part of that, and was eager to be seen as wanting no part of it. He therefore ordered the on-the-spot arrest of the erring major. The hapless man was pounced upon by some policemen, handcuffed like a common felon, and brutally thrown onto the metal floor of a police van. Every aspect of his legal right and human dignity was ferociously trampled upon. There had been no trial, and yet he was disgraced as though he had been found guilty. Oshiomhole had something of an audience and seemed very pleased with himself.
There was definitely a nexus of responsibility between the governor and this leader of his task force, no matter how fragile. But, in high dudgeon, he chose to ignore it. In any case, isn’t it accounted a cardinal point of jurisprudence, that a man is innocent until proven guilty? The NBA, Edo State Branch, need not go into the street over this but, in our view, it is hardly less a violation of due process than the Katsina-Alu/Salami affair.