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Of Area Boys and the bastardization of immunity

By Ugoji Egbujo

The umbrella of immunity offered state governors by the constitution is neither a spear nor a parachute.  If they learn to abuse it, they would learn to cope with being drenched.

The day when government houses will become sanctuaries for criminals is at hand. Criminals can become governors and acquire rights to reside in government houses. That is tragic but not apocalyptic.  They aren’t there as fugitives. The real nightmare is the picture of a governor forcefully seizing a convicted felon from prison warders and ensconcing the convict, beyond law’s grasp, in the governor’s lodge, for a fee. That sounds far fetched?

Governor Fayose, a few weeks ago, ran out of government house, and invaded a police station.  He snatched from the clutches of the police a subject of a criminal investigation. The subject’s qualifying credential for gubernatorial protection is the fortune of being the mistress of the governor’s ally – Femi Fani-Kayode. The police surrendered timidly to naked criminal nepotism.

The conceited governor pumped fists of triumph in the air to celebrate odious rascality. His trumpeted love for the rule of law is so hollow that even the police can be so blatantly violated. The Inspector General of Policedid not address the nation. And that curious silence lent dubious credence to Fayose’s posturing as a defender of democracy.

Fayose’s understanding of the immunity conferred on him by the constitution is filled with delusions. The immunityexpressly shields him from criminal prosecution but doesn’t do much else. It doesn’t grant him a license to drive a car. What propelled him to the police station that day was the dangerous piece of delusion that he is licensed to commit crimes.

So he can break into a police cell and retrieve his brother’s girl friend and leave copious sputum on the face of the DPO, without consequences. If immunity grants such impunity then the constitution is the most wretched of documents.  The Immunity clause properly read must be  a painful concession by the constitution to further the aims of smooth governance and protect the mandate of the people from nuisance. But where integrity counts for nothing, every lofty idea can be exploited to serve a diametrically opposite end.

Fayose once had need to stave off impeachment proceedings that would have aborted his tenure in infancy. The house of assembly was shut down and hired touts made the chambers  inaccessible to hounded legislators.  Many governors will do that. Self preservation sometimes incorporates unscrupulousness. When Abia’s Governor Ikpeazu was sacked by an Abuja high court, he barricaded the government house with a column of poor village women.

Then he turned around,  threw the poor state into a one week sleep. The idea was to prevent the police from giving effect to the unsavory orders of the Abuja court. In this age of opportunism, evils aimed at self preservation are perhaps forgivable. The public could read that the governor was at his wits end. So much had gone into electioneering and nothing had been recouped.

Fayose’s mischief has a different hue. It’s often borne of revelry and fantasy rather than desperation.  He finds it easy to trample on decency, order, and rule of law   and finds it effortlessly easy to walk around wearing the mask of a democrat, absorbing cheers for courage. His is worse than Ikpeazu’s and definitely worse than Musbau’s. Now, Musbau.

At noon on a certain day,mile 2 bus-stop was,typically, thick with chaos. Musbau and a congregation of the jobless were perched under theoverhead  bridge puffing cannabis and pondering the day. A call came through his phone and set him alight. He beckoned on the boys. And they flocked away, leaving echoes of   “Berger cement”, “Berger cement”, to tell of where manna may have fallen. Berger cement is a bus-stop 500 metres away.

They had to get there before the other set of vultures.  So Musbau jumped on a bike. Okonkwo’s truck had broken down and left the surrounding traffic tangled.   The forsaken driver needed two hours to fix his truck. Lagos traffic officials would swoop on him in minutes. He had done a quick comparative cost analysis. His desperate financial situation made any consideration of the agony he would confer on other road users a superfluity? If his truck was towed, his month would be in tatters. Musbau was his best option, so he made the call.

‘The vultures’ – the state traffic management authority officials – were nowhere when Musbau landed. Musbau couldn’t hide his smile.  He pulled out his phone again,  the density of the commotion worried him , he needed immediate reinforcement. By the time LASTMA came with contorted faces and   tow trucks, Musbau had more than 15 boys on the ground. The state retreated. A fracas would not help the pockets of officials for whom traffic management is primarily a predatory activity. The city, in any case, is littered with many other types of carrions.

Musbau thinks that rendering ‘protection services’ is better than mugging commuters in traffic. And he thinks that helping poor preys -defenceless road users- against the avarice of government officials is not totally ignominious. But he doesn’t pretend to any righteousness and doesn’t crave adulation like Fayose.  He thinks LASTMA should not find his conception of  ‘live and let live’ morally objectionable.  He is sober enough to admit that he will quit when he finds a respectable job.  But his colleague in Ekiti has a respectable job -a position of high responsibility. How does Musbau fare against one other comrade?

It was at about midnight when Justice Liman’s hysteria reached the ears of Governor Wike. The DSS had descended on the judge with a warrant to search and arrest. But the ebullient governor wouldn’t let a judge rendering wonderful duties in Port Harcourt, be molested by  the agents of a tyrannical federal government. He knows the system. He once used it, when he was minister, to unsettle the River’s State house of assembly.

So he jumped out of his bed and scrambled a team. His entourage had to be as large as his determination to defend the concept of separation of powers.  He arrived Liman’s with the omnipotence of his immunity and a detachment of security men.  And physically prevented the DSS from carrying out their duties. Wike, unlike Musbau and Fayose, needs no explanations of the implications of obstruction of justice.  He is a lawyer. Justice Liman knows that ordinarily Wike is a meddlesome interloper, he is a judge.

We may not know all of Wike’s motivations. It would be unsafe to assume that chest- thumping recklessness rather than prudence informed his display of exceptional rascality. If the law enforcement agents were incensed by his truancy, Wike regarded their failure  to defer to his stature and withdraw, as treasonable insolence.   His understanding of his immunity is not free of Fayose’s delusions of grandeur. The mafia would have been more circumspect.  The mafia can organize jail breaks but they rarely appear at crime scenes to challenge the police. This emerging trend is dangerous

If governors had the anonymity of Musbau,  their actions may not have any normative force. Leaders of the opposition who parade themselves as champions against tyranny cannot lend legitimacy to Musbau. And they could encourage alcoholic beverage counterfeiters in Oke Arin market who enlist thugs to resist NAFDAC inspections in broad daylight. It doesn’t matter if these state officials are bald vultures.

One day rascality may meet defiance. And some defiant policemen may beat up a rascally governor in defense of the rule of law.


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