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Democracy, law and disorder

By Owei Lakemfa

OVER half the states in the North are enveloped by anarchism. States in the North East have for about a decade now been under constant Boko Haram terrorist attacks. Inhabitants of states in the Middle Belt face genocide, while Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna and  Katsina states are practically being overrun by bandits. But Zamfara State, where over 3,000 have been killed and  about five hundred villages laid waste, has taken centre stage. The bandits who occupy villages and towns, kidnapping, killing and rustling cattle, have made it virtually impossible for many farmers to go to their farms.

Tired of this, some indigenes of  Zamfara State took to the streets of Abuja demanding an end to banditry in their ancestral home. But they seemed unaware that one of them, Mansur Dan-Ali, a retired general and current Minister of Defence, has unraveled the allies of the bandits, a necessary step in defeating them. The minister rolled out a statement last Tuesday, disclosing that: “Some unpatriotic persons, including highly placed traditional rulers in the areas, were identified as helping the bandits with intelligence to perpetrate their nefarious actions or to compromise military operations.”

The minister’s statement is not just about banditry, but also treason. The only problem is that he is being lenient with these mass murders by simply warning them to desist, and repent of their criminal activities. I am not sure it is the job of the defence minister to preach repentance to criminals; his brief is to defend the country and her citizens and  bring criminals to justice.

With such an inconclusive step, the minister virtually lays himself open to being called a liar. The Zamfara State Council of Chiefs just did that by convening a meeting over his allegations and challenging him to name the “highly placed” traditional rulers whom he claimed are aiding the bandits. They claimed that rather than collaborating with the bandits, traditional rulers in the state have actually aided the security forces by giving useful information on the bandits and their activities. They argue that the allegations are false and designed to tarnish their image. The traditional rulers chairman and Emir of Anka, Alhaji Attahiru Ahmad, said: “As a matter of urgency, we ask the minister to name the traditional rulers involved in the reprehensible activities for the government to take measures against them.”

The traditional rulers argue that the problem is the ineffectiveness of the military (under Dan-Ali) and other security agencies. Emir Ahmad added: “The Council notes that airstrikes undertaken by the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, do not hit the main camps of the bandits, as the areas shelled are not the actual hideouts of the bandits, and the victims are innocent civilians.” The implication is that the Air Force is bombing innocent civilians rather than taking on the bandits.

I choose to believe the minister, but he has to take up the challenge of the traditional rulers or resign. He has the option of availing the police and other security agencies, the names and addresses of the highly placed traditional rulers collaborating with the bandits, or, since he has no immunity, be charged by the police for giving false information.

I do not expect the traditional rulers to drag the minister to court because like many Nigerians, they might have become cynical with a judiciary that has chosen to be an arm of the executive rather than being independent. Just on April 3, the National Judicial Commission, NJC, endorsed the illegality of the Presidency in suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen and imposing Justice Tanko Muhammad as acting chief justice without the fundamental input of the commission as constitutionally required. The NJC simply worked to the answer already provided by the executive. With that, an unmistakable message has been sent to all, that the judiciary is an appendage of the executive.

Once upon a time, a Justice Moshood Akanni Olugbani sat on the bench and declared that the President is a Kabiyesi: a supreme leader whose actions cannot be questioned. That was under military regime and in saner times, Olugbani was removed by the NJC. Tragically, the same NJC is on the same Olugbani path.

The Onnoghen issue is becoming a comedy. When he was unconstitutionally suspended, 25 Senior Advocates of Nigeria claimed they were angry and would resist the illegality. They made a show of dragging the Presidency to court asking an interpretation. Then last week, they withdrew the case under the excuse that Onnoghen by resigning, had rendered the case a nullity. I thought the case was about principles; challenging the constitutionality of the President’s action and seeking a judicial interpretation and pronouncement. I thought it was about the institution and not the person of Onnoghen. Without such a judicial  interpretation, the executive is free to again prey on the judiciary.

I will not be surprised if some state governors follow in the Presidency’s footsteps by suspending the chief judge of their states. I know that the Kogi State Chief Judge, Justice Nasir Ajana, is in line for such a treatment. The main media reported how the state governor, Yahaya Bello, ordered that electricity and water supplies to Ajana’s residence be cut off. This was how two former Speakers of the State House of Assembly were punished.

Except that these actions portend danger, I would have advised Justice Ajana to relax and go on with life. First, power supply is epileptic, so he won’t lose much. All he needs to do is buy an ‘I pass my neigbour’ generator and there will be light. As for water, he can ask the ‘Meruwa’ water vendors to supply him kegs of water. In any case, he is close to the  River Niger; a man who lives on the banks of this great river, should not complain when water is cut off from his residence.

With its conquest of the judiciary, and impending capture of the National Assembly where chosen candidates are expected to occupy all principal positions,  the Presidency can be said to be doing quite well. We do not need a nosy judiciary making rulings like those on El-Zakzaky and Sambo Dasuki that it knows the Presidency will not obey. We do not need a National Assembly that will continuously question the sacred work of the Presidency. Now that all tiers of government will come under a single line of authority, we have nothing but greatness awaiting us. A democracy is not a democracy because it says it is a democracy; a democracy can be a trinity under a messiah in a free country where the government can democratically elect the people or dissolve them and elect another.

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