By Sam Eyoboka & Olayinka Latona
EMERITUS Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, has described Nigeria as a nation without leaders, arguing that all available indices including high level insecurity, abysmally low quality of life of the average Nigerian, in sharp contrast with the opulent lifestyle of politicians, offer little or no hope to even the most incurable optimist in the land.
Okogie said in an open letter yesterday titled “A Nation Without Leaders”, averred that when a nation is in turmoil, those who have faith in God must pray. Given clear indices that Nigeria is in turmoil, we pray: Gracious God, grant that our leaders become wise, and the wise become our leaders. But it would be irresponsible fideism to simply pray and fold our arms. Those who pray must think, and, having sought and obtained answers to right questions, they must act intelligently.”
Okogie who had in recent times written several letters to President Muhammadu Buhari to address the plight of the Nigerian masses, arguing that Nigerians hunger, not only for food, but also for good leadership, for peace, security and justice, urged the APC government to do something fast, and, “if you are already doing something, to redouble your effort. May it not be written on the pages of history that Nigerians die of starvation under your watch.”
The 81-year old cardinal, in his latest letter made available to Vanguard yesterday, maintained that as the nation navigates from one turbulent season to another, “it has become inescapable to inquire: what is the quality of leaders—of the men and women at the helm of affairs—in our beloved Nigeria? Can it be said that those at the helm of affairs—at federal, state, and local levels of government—are sufficiently competent to navigate the ship of state? Do our leaders fit the bill?”
Painting a gleam picture, he said the high level of “insecurity in our land; the abysmally low quality of life of the average Nigerian, in scandalously sharp contrast with the opulence in which past and political office holders live; the self-serving and malevolent demagoguery that accompanies unitarist, secessionist, and xenophobic agitations in our country; the propagation of the stubborn myth that one’s ethnic community is marginalized by all other ethnic communities, when in fact every ethnic community is marginalized by the incompetence of our leaders; the acceptance of this myth by young, discontented but gullible Nigerians: these and many other indices offer little or no hope to even the most incurable optimist in the land.
“Instead of devoting their mental and physical capacities to governance, our leaders are seeking their own interests. Nigerians bear the excruciating burden of being ruled by politicians who simply care less about Nigerians. The burden is increased when they have to listen to religious leaders who whip up emotions and deceive by using the name of God, claiming visions and miracles. We do not care about our legacy, we care only about the power we wield, the wealth—often ill-gotten—we display, and above all, the pleasure and affluence we seek,” he stated.
According to him, “what do we make of a country where an individual owns a fleet of private jets while an overwhelming percentage of its citizens cannot afford a bus ride to the market? What do we make of a country where the wealth of the land, wealth that belongs to the people and not to government, is used to provide security for government officials, while there is no security for the average man or woman in the street?
“We have the police and the military; we have assorted security agencies with exotic names. Yet, Nigerians are robbed and murdered in their homes, abducted on the streets, at the mercy of gangsters, ritualists and cultists in their neighbourhood, while the police is helpless to the point of non-existence. The only sign that there is policing is when policemen and women extort money from Nigerians, often at gun point,” he said.
Continuing, he said: “Our security agencies need to get the sequence of their steps right. Thorough investigation must precede an arrest, diligent prosecution with evidence must come before conviction in a lawfully constituted court. That is what obtains in other climes. But in our own Nigeria, media trial is fashionable.”
According to the cleric, suspects are paraded on prime-time television, guns and bullets are displayed in front of them, the police spokesman presents them to Nigerians and pronounces them guilty in front of television cameras. “Case closed. Nigerians are not asking for any follow-up. They hear of no trial, no conviction, no sentencing. What has happened to numerous suspects paraded on television in this country?
“While we seek answers, to these questions, we note that, from time to time, Amnesty International raises alarm about extra-judicial killings in Nigeria. Are Nigerians satisfied with the response of the police? Why is it that once suspects are paraded and presented as guilty—and the legal and moral propriety of the parade is another bone of contention—we very rarely see them in court? Is there no law that says a suspect must be charged to court within 48 hours? Why then are suspects kept for days and weeks and months without trial?
“It is in the same vein that we must ask: what has happened to so many public office holders pronounced guilty by the EFCC and DSS in the media before they were even charged to court? We know that some of them were set free by the law courts. We also know that government reacts with a familiar refrain: “corruption is fighting back”. But is there no correlation between the quality of investigation and prosecution on the one hand, and the verdict given by our judges on the other hand.
Cardinal Okogie believes that a thief is a thief, stressing “if you apprehend him red handed but fail to provide evidence in court to lead to his conviction, do not camouflage the incompetence of your team of investigators and prosecutors by blaming the unfavourable outcome of the case on corrupt judges. We are not to hold brief for any judge.
“But we must bear this in mind: The onus of proof is on the accuser, not on the accused. That is why the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Whether he is accused of kidnapping the citizen or of kidnapping public funds, as is the case with those who have stolen the wealth of this country, thorough investigation must precede diligent prosecution.
“To violate this principle is to bid farewell to security of life, property and reputation. It is to receive a resounding defeat in the much-publicised war against corruption. It is to live in a country where die-hard criminals get away with murder while the innocent gets convicted. He is convicted, not because he has been found guilty, but because, thanks to media trial, he has been demonized and made to look guilty. It is to give the dog a bad name and hang him,” Okogie further argued.
Continuing, he maintained that when criminals are properly investigated “we would be in a position to prevent crime. Where we do not prevent crime, life and property are not safe. Where life and property are not safe, investments are not safe. Investors take to their heels and vote with their capital. Where there are no investments, the quality of life of citizens takes a plunge. Their abject poverty breeds discontent and anger, insecurity, secessionist and xenophobic tendencies.”
The Cardinal concluded his letter by saying: “Precisely for these reasons, this country is in very urgent need of quality leadership. Our situation cannot be addressed by an executive and a legislature locked in a recurrence of unprincipled and sterile conflicts. In more concrete terms, neither an ailing and absent President nor an acting President can lead Nigeria out of the present situation.
“Nigerian leaders must wake up lest the ship of state sink. They must stop fiddling while the country is burning. So we pray: Grant, O Lord, that our leaders become wise, and that the wise become our leaders. Amen,” he added.