By Obi Nwakanma
The evolution of constitutional government in Nigeria was truncated by the intrusion of military dictatorship in Nigeria, only six years after formal independence, and three years after Nigeria passed the Act of the Republic, and assumed full sovereign power over its own affairs, and no longer subject to the head of the Commonwealth.
In declaring itself sovereign, Nigeria replaced the instruments of its own colonial dependency, the laws of Great Britain, and moved from the government under a constitutional monarch, to a government under full republican parliament with the President as Constitutional Head of the republic, and the Prime Minister the leader of Parliament, and thus also leader of the government’s business in parliament. A good number of Nigerians neither read nor indulge in discursive intellectual activity, and so many never understood the import of the 1963 Republic constitution which established three nodes of power: the power of the president, the power of the parliament as a collective body, and the power of the judiciary.
Under the 1963 constitution as clearly established, all executive power resided in the office of the president, who was himself elected by the Electoral College, from the House of Representatives. In other words, as soon as that constitution was passed, the power of the president became clearly derived from the sovereign constitution, and no longer as a representative of the Queen. The Prime Minister became something close to his Chief Adviser, and leader of the government in parliament. The power of the parliament was thus collectively only equal to the power of the president in whom all executive power was placed, not in the office of the Prime Minister, but the office of the president. In order to contain any lurch towards tyranny, the president was kept under scrutiny by parliamentary and judicial oversight. This kind of institutional oversight legitimized by the constitution provided the necessary checks and balances inherent in constitutional democracies. It prevented overreach.
Executive authority was not only checked by parliament, and by judges who interpreted the law often asserting the limits of executive power, the civil service establishment, the bastion of executive power, entry of which was by selection and merit after transparent civil service examinations conducted by the usually independent Civil Service Commission, provided the highly professional and technical direction for executive authority and civil function. Nigeria inherited one of the most sophisticated and highly professional civil services in the world, and there was very little incident or talk of corruption.
As I have always said, and as it should be clear to any thoughtful Nigerian, all the talk and evidence of corruption in Nigeria reflect the systemic collapse of the institution designed to conduct government and check corruption: the civil service. A badly organized, poorly remunerated, intellectually inferior, poorly oriented Civil Service will make corruption possible. A civil service built on the quota system will make corruption possible and normative. Indeed the word, “corruption” which we now throw about with often little idea of its full meaning actually implies, “corruption of the institutional process that governs an honest, transparent, and legitimate transaction of public service.” That is what corruption means. If you destroy or distort the method by which government keeps records, monitors outcomes, regulates functions, transacts its financial obligations, recruits, remunerates, designs and activates policies, as well as reprimands and sanctions, you would have created corruption in the system.
The constitutional government Nigeria inherited with the institutional systems still in place, including an efficient and neutral Civil service, made government productive, and corruption near to impossible. Where it occurred, it was scandalous, and quickly corrected through internal review processes and sanctions. In time, Nigerians would have understood that constitutional authority was the basis of all authority. That the power of state did not reside in an individual or the office s/he occupies, but in the constitution. The rise of military dictators subverted constitutionalism and created the “cult of personalities.”
Because of its “command-and-control” structure, power resided in the Supreme Commander, later Commander-in-chief, who governed with a Supreme Military Council, which had taken over the duties of parliament, but which in spite of all pretences, was rubber stamp, and subject to the will of one man: the military head of state. In time the soldiers absorbed the feudal character of key aspects of some of Nigeria’s extant cultures, and created a pyramid authority system which has now been satirized as the “Oga-at-the top” syndrome.
The system of the civil service was corrupted through the introduction of a badly designed, and badly executed “quota system.” Destruction of the merit system was compounded by the slow, very radical dismantling of the public system, and the impoverishment of the Civil Servants. It was further complicated by the pyramid, rather than the concentric power structure, in which the military Head – the “oga-at-the top” – assuming the role of God in the secular lives of Nigerians, acted by decree emanating from a single source of power. The soldiers corrupted Nigeria. Destroyed the civil methods of public transactions. Overturned processes.
Under the gun, they forced civil servants to authorize fake contracts, change routine laws, upturn the various regulatory codes, appoint unqualified relatives or concubines to strategic jobs, cook books, rewrite codes, and they generally lived above the law, and in doing this created the ethos of lawlessness that has snowballed into metastatic corruption. Among those who truly embody this military destruction of the Nigerian state is the man we now have as a civilian President, Muhammadu Buhari.
Evidence before us now, and Buhari’s minders cannot prove this to be false, show that Buhari had a half-baked preparation for public life. It was no fault of his that he’s alleged not to have completed his secondary education, but it appears Mr. Buhari allegedly perjured himself in swearing to an affidavit stating otherwise. This is a redflag for a man who postures as the anti-corruption messiah. With the late Umar Yar Ardua his classmate, he was among a group of Northern boys, all in the attempt to bridge the wide gap with the South, who were quickly recruited, and sent off to military Academy, starting with the newly formed Nigerian Military Training College in 1962, and then quickly rushed off to Mons, Aldershot. From all indications Buhari received only six months of military training at Mons, for a two year officer training program. The irony of this was that by the time those chaps who received full military training returned, commissioned as Second Lieutenants, the likes of Buhari, whom the authorities at these Military Academies repatriated to Nigeria earlier, had already being fully absorbed, and promoted to Captains without breaking a sweat. This was the beginning of corruption in Nigeria.
The system was corrupted by inserting fellows like Buhari to carry on as “officers and gentlemen.” Buhari was a beneficiary of the corruption of nepotism. The nepotism that favored him, and the ethnicization of the Army as a result of these early policies created wide resentments, and was one of the remote causes of the first Nigerian military coup. It is thus an Olympic sized irony that Buhari rails against corruption. He does not have the moral wherewithal to accuse others of corruption. He was a great beneficiary of corruption, and he is today, the conductor of the orchestra of corruption in Nigeria. That is why very few Nigerians, except those ignorant of his past, take him seriously on this issue of corruption.
Nigerians know what should be done to end corruption, beyond deploying the badly conceived EFCC as rabid dogs: reform the Public system, re-establish merit, and rebuild the police system. Return constitutional government to the conduct of public affairs. But Buhari is not about to make public his financial worth and how much tax he pays, even though he forced the Code of Conduct Bureau to arraign and convict the Chief Justice under spurious charges for not declaring his worth; he is not about to re-institute merit in public appointments; his appointments are nepotistic; he has never accounted for Nigeria’s oil revenue even though he is minister of oil, and he is not about to publicly disclose how much of tax payers money is expended on his frequent health junkets to the UK. Above all, the president broke a cardinal constitutional requirement, one of a series of his many impeachable constitutional breaches, in not formally writing and seeking the authority of the National Assembly by letter to travel to the UK last week, and transferring power legally to his Vice-President.
The opaque nature of Buhari’s health situation and his failure to disclose the nature of his frequent trips to the UK makes this president a frightening national security risk. He is not accountable to the National Assembly. Whoever is in charge of the president’s life controls him. And Nigeria is clearly not in charge of the health of her president. How much has this president therefore compromised, or been forced to compromise Nigeria’s national interest for his life? An up and standing National Assembly should have investigated him in the national interest, but the NASS is too riddled by partisan and sectional interests to check the president, and contain him, and do their duty to Nigeria, before Nigeria spirals into irremediable conflict.
The signs are all there. Increasingly, as a result of the conduct of this president, Nigerians no longer feel that a nation of laws still exist called Nigeria. Let’s call a spade, a spade, people now say: under Buhari, Nigeria has finally ceased to exist as a nation. It exists only on paper, but not in spirit. Buhari is not the president of Nigeria. He is the president of Northern Nigeria. This house is about to crumble under him. The last democratic hope is the National Assembly which must act quickly, because a stitch in time… well, we know it saves nine. Otherwise, Buhari may enter into dubious history when the chickens come home to roost.