By Douglas Anele
In every nation-state or country from the ancient period to the present, it has always been difficult to check the abuse of political power by the ruling elite. Even in established democracies of Europe and her cultural colonies in North America, it is sometimes risky to criticise those in authority because, among other things, there is the unstated presumption, especially by those benefiting from the system and others paralysed intellectually by messianic delusions of purported “strong men,” that criticism of such “saviours” is unpatriotic or that it is based on malicious and egoistic intent to pull the government down.
Right now, there is a motley crowd of buharimaniacs with tunnel vision of reality for whom every decision and action of President Muhammadu Buhari should never be questioned or criticised, an attitude reminiscent of the ultra-conservative theory by the obscure British political philosopher, Sir Robert Filmer, who insisted, wrongly, on the divine right of kings. For such people, the idea that anyone accused of corruption deserves fair hearing means that the person who holds such a position is either corrupt or has benefited from corruption.
Prof. Itse Sagay, basking in the temporary glow of a Buhari appointee, is one of the ardent buharimaniacs for whom it is infra dignitatem to identify flaws in the so-called war against corruption or challenge the insensate presumption that once a person’s name is mentioned in the media with respect to purported act of corruption, that person is automatically adjudged guilty as alleged.
These days in Nigeria, there is a growing dangerous tendency to accept without question reports about looted funds no matter how outlandish or unsubstantiated such information might be. For instance, even after the Nigerian Judicial Commission had investigated and cleared one of the judges accused of corruption, some shylocks in government still believe that the man must be guilty at all cost unless he is exonerated by the almighty Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In my opinion, these are dangerous times to be a judge because the judiciary must be “sanitised” by the executive independently of the rule of law.
Certainly, malignant corruption is a serious problem that ought to be tackled with determination and creative imagination so that as time goes on it will become harder and harder to perpetrate corruption or enjoy the proceeds of corruption.
Yet, I am not sure that the cocksure attitude of fanatic buharimaniacs who endorse every action, every decision taken by the President is appropriate: they tend to talk and behave as if Nigeria belongs to the President and to themselves, as if they love Nigeria more than some of us who point out areas where Buhari is failing or has failed.
The truth is that whether you blindly support the President or criticise him, we are all Nigerians and, as such, we are stakeholders in the Nigerian project. Of course, our support or criticism might be mistaken; however, if we are sincere and try our best by letting our opinions be guided by facts and valid reasoning, we will be contributing positively to the consolidation of democratic culture in Nigeria.
In my view, buharimaniacs are not helping Buhari by abusing and insulting fellow Nigerians who are critical of his knee-jerk feudalistic style of leadership. Indeed, given the incredible amount of resources controlled by the federal government in terms of avenues for propaganda and information dissemination – not to talk of instruments of coercion – it is imperative that Nigerians desirous of rapid national development anchored on good governance should engage the government critically and constructively wherever possible by suggesting ways of improving the country.
Democracy is imperilled if, out of worshipful respect and admiration for the President, dissent and criticism are aggressively discouraged or suppressed. Without criticism no genuine democracy can stand. That is why I agree with the Austrian-born British philosopher, Karl Popper, who insisted that the main advantage of democracy is that, unlike authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, it allows the citizens to change bad leaders without violence.
Of course, democracy also increases the possibility of replacing a good government with a better one, although it can never guarantee that the electorate will always vote wisely or that a good government might not be replaced with a bad one. This implies that the citizens of a democratic government must always be vigilant and prepared to defend the fundamental right of every citizen to civilised discussion especially when it is critical of government so that the ever-present danger of relapse to totalitarianism can be minimised.
Recent events in the country have raised afresh the question about the preparedness of President Buhari to systematically and effectively deal with the daunting task of leading Nigeria at this time, on one hand, and whether he has weaned himself of the dictatorial orientation characteristic of the military to a degree compatible with democratic ideals.
Only an ignorant or sloppy thinker would belittle the challenges that Buhari inherited when he was elected about two years ago. Yet, I think it is disingenuous for him and his subordinates to use that as an excuse for the uninspiring and disappointing performance of his administration thus far.
After all, he decided to contest for the presidency, and one would have expected that he knew what he was getting into. Probably, either Buhari did not engage in rigorous scientific study of the fundamental problems of the country before he began his quest for the presidency in 2003 or he underestimated the enormity of what he has to deal with if he succeeds in becoming President.
It is also possible that he did not appreciate fully the difference between military dictatorship and democracy, judging from his occasional jeremiads and exasperation with the slow judicial processes required for dealing with corruption cases.
Meanwhile, during the 2015 presidential campaigns, Bola Tinubu, Garba Shehu, Lai Mohammed, Femi Adesina, and some prominent buharimaniacs assured Nigerians that Buhari’s experience as a former military head of state is enough to guarantee that he would perform well if elected President. But a careful analysis of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency from 1999 to 2007 demonstrates that they were naïve, that military experience does not guarantee good governance – in fact, it can be counterproductive.
Aside from disobeying lawful court orders, Obasanjo’s administration was notorious for impunity and unwholesome meddlesomeness in the affairs of the National Assembly. Additionally, the manner in which the EFCC led by Nuhu Ribadu carried out its functions under Obasanjo was emblematic of the strengths and weaknesses of having a former soldier as President: its achievements were marred by verifiable allegations that the commission had mutated into an instrument for harassment and intimidation of President Obasanjo’s political enemies, real or imagined.
Thus, although in terms of prosecution and conviction of prominent Nigerians for corruption Obasanjo outperformed late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the latter did not use the EFCC to hound political opponents.
Again, both men respected the independence of the legislature and ensured that court orders were respected even when such judgments were against the government and the ruling party then. Unfortunately, instead of following the footsteps of Yar’Adua and Jonathan in this regard, President Buhari is imitating the ugly undemocratic examples of Obasanjo by disobeying court orders and letting his subordinates meddle in the functions of the National Assembly. Under his watch, the EFCC and Department of State Services (DSS) act as if the legislative arm of government is inferior to the executive – more specifically as if the Senate is a dog that is wagged by its tail.
Presently, there are unmistakable signs that our push-and-start democracy is under threat again from the hangover of military disdain for civilian authority by retired soldiers at the inner sanctum and corridors of power. Let us begin with President Buhari himself.
Shortly after his election, when questioned about the lop-sidedness of his appointments in favour of the north, Buhari responded by stating that he placed loyalty to himself and to his party over and above merit and equity in choosing those he wanted to work with. Without a doubt, loyalty is essential in leadership; but in the military command-and-obey setting, it is everything.
Therefore, one is not surprised that our President who, according to media reports, claimed to have military experience and age behind him, places loyalty above excellence and fairness in his philosophy of leadership at a time Nigeria needs her most creative talents for survival.
Metaphor of the tail wagging the dog(4)
I do not know the section of our constitution that empowers President Buhari to establish a Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC); it certainly was not provided for in sections 147 to 153 which stipulate, among other things, various public offices and membership of federal executive bodies that are to be constituted by the President.
Whatever might be the case, Prof. Sagay’s intemperate and adversarial stance towards the Senate is toxic to the kind of harmonious relationship that ought to exist between the executive and the legislature, especially now that the country requires the best “cool heads” and most capable hands in both arms of government working together to rescue her from the ravages of economic kwashiorkor.
Our discussions up to this point has revealed a disturbing trend among public officials, especially among members of Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, namely, their propensity to treat the legislature as an appendage of the executive.
If Ibrahim Magu, Babachir Lawal, Hameed Ali and Sagay had taken seriously the powers conferred on the National Assembly by the 1999 constitution in sections 58, 59, 80 and 81 among others, they would have been more circumspect and conciliatory in their dealings with the Senate.
Remember, the National Assembly has the power not only to override presidential veto on any bill by a two-thirds majority, it also exercises significant control over how public funds are appropriated and spent by the federal government.
Consequently, to give teeth to their decisions on Magu and others, senators can make things difficult for the President; specifically, they might refuse to appropriate funds to the bodies headed by these men or significantly reduce their budgetary allocations to the level that would cripple them. In this connection, President Buhari and his subordinates must bear in mind that we are not in a military dictatorship which allows them to act with impunity through decrees without recourse to elected representatives of the people.
We are operating a democratic system in which the legislature is both the oxygen and engine of governance. Thus, although the principle of separation of powers in our constitution authorises the President to make appointments, it also empowers the legislature to exercise oversight functions over them in order to check possible abuse of power by the executive, which implies that the National Assembly exercises some degree of control over the latter.
Unfortunately, the 1999 constitution made a fundamental mistake by granting immunity from prosecution to the President and governors, thereby creating a wrong impression that the executive is superior or more important than the legislature and the judiciary.
I believe that for fairness, it is better either to extend the immunity clause to heads of legislative houses at both the federal and state levels and the judiciary as well, or excise it completely from the constitution – although the latter is preferable because that clause makes those covered by it to act as if they are above the law and unduly protects them from the consequences of offences they commit(ted) while in office.
Meanwhile Aisha Buhari, wife of the President, had decried the seizure of actual governance by a certain group of people or cabal whose ulterior motives are at odds with the good intentions of her husband. Probably, what Prof. Ben Nwabueze called “the invisible government” exists and its key figures want to cage the legislature and deploy political power merely for what they can get from the system. But then, what is the President doing to neutralise their unwholesome impact on governance? I do not know the answer to that question; but one thing is clear – President Buhari cannot function at his best (which probably might not be enough for the daunting challenges of his office) due to his ill-health and cognitive-temperamental deficiencies, a situation that is being exploited by scoundrels in the corridors of power to satisfy their pathological quest for bulimic accumulation.
Let us now address the question concerning the quality of federal legislators, particularly senators, to see whether they are partly responsible for the disrespectful condescending attitude of Sagay and others towards them.
While I agree with those who claim that Prof. Sagay, Hameed Ali and others ought to show more respect to the Senate, it is important to recognise that a sizeable percentage of senators lack the intellectual and moral credentials to make laws for Nigerians.
The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and many of his colleagues were former governors, ministers, ambassadors, retired military bigwigs, top business executives etc.; therefore, their antecedents are well known. Based on credible information available in the public sphere, many senators performed below average as governors, ministers, and so on.
The Senate President himself is facing corruption charges at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for offenses he allegedly committed as a two-term governor of Kwara State whereas several of his colleagues are being investigated by the EFCC for various offences ranging from anomalies in declaration of assets and money laundering to embezzlement of public funds.
Consequently, some buharimaniacs have argued that the senators are not on a high moral pedestal to pass judgment on Magu, Lawal and Ali. In as much as a plausible case can be made that on moral grounds many senators do not deserve to be lawmakers – indeed, some of them ought to be in jail – Buhari and his team should not act as if they themselves are completely above board – of course they are not. Besides, it is a mistake to throw away the baby with the dirty birth water.
Some senators are dishonest, greedy and corrupt, but there are relatively good people among them as well. Since perfection is unattainable here on earth, the President and his lieutenants should stop picking and choosing when to work with senators and when it is inconvenient to do so. The constitution never envisaged that all members of the Senate must be angels to perform their constitutional duties; rather it makes provisions for checkmating the tendency of a sitting President to mutate into a despot by ensuring that the most important decisions he or she makes are subject to legislative oversight.
Nigerians should not allow the touch-and-go attitude of the military era dominate their thinking with respect to the on-going disagreement between the presidency and the Senate. There are bad eggs in the Senate as well as in the presidency. So, no one should be deceived by the moral posturing and grandstanding of the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Prof. Sagay, and other buharimaniacs who think that genuine moral living is a matter of sermonising in the media. It is appalling that devout christians and muslims in Buhari’s government are blind to the anomalies in the so-called fight against corruption when the same government is perpetrating corruption. The fact that President Buhari has not actualised some of his campaign promises which are relatively easy to accomplish is a betrayal of millions of Nigerians who naively thought that his presidency will inaugurate a radical departure from the follies of previous administrations. Buhari promised to shrink the bloated size of political appointments in a way that would have meaningful impact on the revenue profile of government.
But what do we have now? Answer: an unwieldy crowd of Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, Special Advisers, and other ridiculous positions that merely duplicate the functions of one another.
As candidate, Buhari promised to work hard to discourage the propensity of top government officials travelling abroad for medical treatment. However, in a classic demonstration of “Do as I say, not as I do,” philosophy of leadership, he has been receiving treatment in London at public expense without disclosing the nature of his ailment and how much had been spent on his health. The emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, declared some time ago that the corruption in forex dealings under Buhari is one of the grossest forms of corruption in Nigerian history.
As I write, I do not know of any diligent effort by the EFCC to investigate Sanusi’s allegations, a situation that has fuelled speculations that the the whole thing is programmed so that those who made Buhari’s victory possible can recover their “investments.” One can line up ad nauseam instances like these, but the key point here is that, morally speaking, the difference between the presidency and the National Assembly is akin to that between six and half a dozen. Therefore, there is no point antagonising senators because in a democratic setting the legislature is the dog that wags the tail of the executive, and not the other way round. Concluded.