By Obi Nwakanma
President Muhammadu Buhari returned from his vacation in London, and declared that he would jail many more Nigerians for corruption. There has since been a lot of hemming and hawing about Buhari’s statement. The opposition PDP “haw-hawed” certainly, and said to the president, “yeah right! Start from yourself.” It is a credible challenge. This administration has used the word “corruption” so much that the word itself has lost its true meaning. It now signifies a form of political vendetta.
The APC has deployed it as its own philosophical mantra: “corruption fighting back!” whenever it is challenged to justify party policy or the policies of this government which claims to be an APC government. Nigerians now think, “Corruption fighting corruption!” is APC propaganda fighting its own nemesis, the PDP. The political tangle is elephantine. The key point is that the president’s use of the threat of jailing more corrupt Nigerians is very flat. First, his government has not successfully prosecuted and won a single case of corruption. Secondly, the president offers stones to Nigerians rather than bread.
Third, it is an old trick invented by the British colonial regime: when they wanted to undermine the Nationalist agitators, they would slap a charge or a threat of corruption on them. When the powerful industrial West wants to delegitimize stubborn leaders of the African continent, they would make hay of “corrupt regimes in Africa.” When Buhari wants to scare political opponents, he deploys the threat of jailing them for “corruption.” The word “corruption” has thus become the go-to word for all ailment afflicting Nigeria. Why has the Naira become so weak? “it is the “corruption” of the last Jonathan regime nearly four years after. Why is there gridlock on the road to Apapa? It is corruption by Jonathan.
Why is there so much poverty in the land today, more so when the Jonathan era gave Nigerians a small sense of prosperity? Well, says the APC, “Jonathan’s administration was corrupt, that’s why” It is the dumbass tool for scare-mongering and lame excuses. Beside the point of course is that the president does not seem to know that he does not have the constitutional power to jail anybody. Only the courts can jail a citizen. Only the courts can legitimately order the arrest of anybody, not Buhari. For any arrest to be legitimate, the power to arrest must first be obtained from a judge. Government can only prosecute its case in court.
But only a court can determine guilt based on the evidence before it. It is not automatic that it wins in a lawsuit against those it accuses, and prosecutes. The only power in the land which can jail, or cause to be jailed, any Nigerian is the court of the land established by the Act of parliament. Not the president. The trouble is either that journalists misquoted president Buhari, in which case Nigerians journalists who are the mediators of the language of civics are ignorant of the facts of democracy and the rule of the law, or the president uttered those words, and which makes him either profoundly ignorant of the rule of law, or profoundly presumptuous about his own powers which are limited to executing the laws as established by the constitution or by the National Assembly of Nigeria.
The president comes from a military background. But that really is no excuse, because soldiers are trained to defend the constitution. They swear their allegiance, not to the president, but to the constitution of the Federal Republic. The president is not the republic. He is the executive head of the republic. The Supreme Court (acting as a body under a chief justice) is the constitutional arbiter of the land, while the National Assembly makes the laws under which each of these powers derive their authority and function. Whereas, a military Head of government can summarily order the arrest, jailing or even the execution of a citizen because all the power of state is embodied in his office, an elected president does not have the same power, because the sites of power are distributed among three pillars, the press being the fourth, to balance and check the function of the other. This is what president Buhari still does not comprehend.
“Corruption” is not simply the embezzlement or misuse or theft of government funds. It is the subversion and misuse of all the constitutional pillars or guarantees that would make such abuse of power possible. The highest form of corruption is the abuse of power that delegitimizes, or weakens the institutions of state, because once these institutions are weakened, attrition sets in. A powerful government official or civil servant as we call them, could then subvert the accounting process, the tenders process, and all the processes that could determine the delivery of a safe, transparent, equitable, and accountable public service or government as we call it. It is for this reason that the president, in ordering the Attorney-General for instance to keep holding a legally free man like the former National Security Adviser, Mr. Sambo Dasuki illegally in detention as a hostage of his administration, commits a corrupt and illegal act. The president and his Attorney-General are consciously subverting the constitution of Nigeria and abusing the offices to which they were elected.
The claim by the AG that Dasuki or any other citizen can be held by leave of the president “in the interest of the state,” is to put it very mildly, a fraudulent argument. First, the president has not been given such a broad emergency power. The only time a president can authorize holding anyone in indefinite detention is in a situation of war or national emergency. He must first obtain such a temporary emergency power by the declaration of the National Assembly, which can extend, limit or end the period of emergency, and define the powers that the president can exercise under such an emergency. Furthermore, even during such an emergency, only a judge of a court of record, can authorize and from time to time review the continuous detention of such a citizen. This is the rule of law. The president, through his Attorney-General may prosecute, but once the court of the land declares a man free, to keep him in further hostage amounts to kidnapping sanctioned at the highest seat of executive government. That is the meaning of corruption. It is the willful disregard and subversion of the constitution. And it is an impeachable offence to knowingly flout the constitution which the president swore to defend. It is this need to assume extraordinary power that has brought a collision with the two arms.
The attempt by the president of this federation to turn both the National Assembly and the Judiciary into “rubber stamps” in order to achieve his own unhinged and unhindered political goals – inequity, injustice, lack of inclusion, and the cabalization of power – that is at the roots of his party crisis. This is what Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has made public as his reason for leaving the APC which he helped to form and fund. His back-and-forth with Mr. Tinubu last week reveals much more. It opens up the undercurrents of power, the crisis of confidence within the APC, and the jostling that underscore the private ambitions of the likes of Tinubu in their continuous support of the current aberration.
I was probably the first columnist in Nigeria to note that Mr. Buhari’s mission was not really to fight corruption, and he is not fighting corruption, irrespective of what he claims. Nigerians will rally massively behind him if he were truly fighting corruption. But there is a plethora of reasons why President Buhari cannot fight corruption, nor can he. One such reason stands staring back at him before a mirror. This is precisely what Dr. Bukola Saraki has helped to establish in his tangle with Tinubu.
Tinubu claims Saraki left the APC because he wanted a presidential ticket from the PDP. Ok, it is a political choice. So is Tinubu’s choice to back Buhari “even on a stretcher” because of his own 2023 presidential ambition. These political choices can only be weighed on a clean balance.
One thing is very clear however: irrespective of his political past, and it must all come to some accounting someday, Saraki has led the most engaged senate since the return of party politics in 1999. He and Dogara have made certain that the 8th National Assembly under their leadership is not just a “siddon-look-and- nod” parliament, or a synod of mere “yesmen” which is what the leader the APC, the president, wants. They have defended the integrity of the National Assembly, questioned appropriations, held the executive to account for its execution of the laws passed by the National Assembly. They have pussy-footed on the question of taking on the president on his direct acts of constitutional breach, which ought to be investigated, using the National Assembly’s power of investigations, to rein-in this president, and his attack dogs. To put it simply, Saraki has thrown an educated punch back at Tinubu.
There is a difference which an old Kings College boy, a highly trained Doctor, and a man who learned high political intrigue at the feet of one of the shrewdest political operators in Nigeria, his father Sola Saraki, can make, and there is one which can also be made by a man who learnt the trade at the fiercest of places: the streets, clawing his way from Isale-Eko to Chicago, and back to Lagos. Game on!