By Patrick Dele Cole
IT always starts small. I was small. My friends were small. The amount of money was small. My mother, apart from being a full time midwife, was a seamstress and events caterer – cakes for weddings, salad every weekend for the frequent dances at the recreation and other African clubs, the box. Her Singer sewing machine could be tilted for repairs and services, with the box on which the machine was mounted providing a convenient place to keep important documents like her Action Group party membership card, her church class membership card and some loose pennies and half pennies.
I was rather small and constantly told how adorable I was. I attracted a coterie of boys in the area who dropped in for bits of left over cakes, salads, jollof rice, etc. We all had sweet teeth encouraged by Fulani hawkers of sugar cane sweets, flaked coconut candy, Mosa, Gurundi, Alewa sweet candy (Arimiminiss) all selling for half penny. My friends all know of the pennies in the machine box and for ever pushed me to tilt up the machine and get some money; I refused. My mother was strict but generous, impressing upon me to ask for whatever I wanted, and not to take anything that did not belong to me without permission. My friends’ pressure on me was immense. I refused.
But there was compromise. Some of my friends asked where my mother was; if she was on duty, or gone out, they would sneak to the machine and take a penny or two. If my mother asked if I took any money from the machine: No, I would reply. Since she did not ask who took the money anyway, I kept quiet. I did not feel I could tell her it was Bayo or Segun, or Pratt or Ibisi. I would not tell what became of many of these chaps. The point about this story is that bad things (also good things) start from small beginnings. When governments start by ignoring small wrong doings, ignoring court rulings, it takes no time before they ignore large wrong doings and even spearhead crimes and misdeeds.
President Goodluck Jonathan assembled a first class team of political strategists, including Cambridge Analytical to manage his elections of 2011 and 2015. Large sums of money were spent (politics is an expensive business anywhere) but most of President Jonathan’s money was spent by his followers who helped themselves to what they could: party functionaries, political propagandists, etc. (imagine President Jonathan`s minister claiming that Nigeria had experienced an industrial revolution under Jonathan, that our GDP has grown at nine percent or 10 per cent, that Nigeria was self- sufficient in rice and fish production, etc.).
The mismanagement of our resources was either painfully obvious or disparagingly ignored, thus believing the spin and not the reality. By 2015 those strategies no longer worked. There was the Boko Haram insurgency. I do not know whether this was politically motivated by his opponents, but the handling was worse than inept (this is not the place to tackle the ideology of Boko Haram, which I understand means Western education is anatherma to muslims and, therefore, deserving a jihad – the same people who use that education and its techniques to oppose politicians who Boko Haram despises!).
The National Assembly passed an emergency decree placing nearly one fifth of the country under emergency and curfew. It made no sense to hold any elections under such conditions. Election must mean the free expression of a people about who should rule them. Such freedom to elect could not really be exercised under a state of emergency. Moreover, I believe that the internal dialectical contradictions within Boko Haram, that is Western education is anathema and, therefore, worthy of a jihad should and could be better exploited. Whatever Western education is it cannot be divorced from the unmeasurable Islamic contribution to that education.
The government of Nigeria, federal and state, has grown accustomed to perpetuate illegalities and to choose which judgements of the judiciary to accept and which to ignore. When Nigeria likes it accepts non-binding decisions like the international court decision on Bakassi; ignore decisions for the massacre of the whole ethnic groups in Odi. Lately there is plethora of court decisions which had been ignored by relevant state and federal governments .e.g contractors win award from the courts but the government refuses to pay. The Constitution of Nigeria is the supreme law of the country- establishing three equal institutions – executive, legislative and judiciary with the added proviso that in disputes between the executive and the legislature, the judiciary adjudicates and interprets. A court grants bail or gives orders to free individuals but the executive continues to hold such individuals.
International contracts are never signed except it goes through the Attorney General, the Minister of Finance and the Central Bank if the contracts have to do with money, local and foreign exchange. The attorney general`s office is either over loaded or worse. It tends to fail in cases taken against Nigeria overseas. And the recent case of the nine billion pounds award against the Federal Government has shown that case is only a single case in massive case load against Nigeria in almost all major industrial countries.
Such contracts have an arbitration procedure and where this fails parties may resort to courts with acceptable competent jurisdiction. There is no doubt that some of these cases are scams, but that apart, it is the willingness of Nigerian officials in the phase of negotiations to satisfy unorthodox settlements most of which are opaque and self-seeking that put us where we do not want to be.