Sunday, October 21, 2007

Of power, the rule of law and the servant leader

On May 29 2007, the people of Nigeria were not prepared for anything spectacular as they were more or less disinterested with the swearing in of Shehu Umar Yar Adua as the incumbent president and commander in chief of the nation. This was coming off the heels of an Olusegun Obasanjo administration who had exhausted his constitutional two term of eight years tenure, we were made to believe later that he had actually explored the possibility of a tenure elongation via an amendment to the constitution. Although this was met with admirable resistance from the national assembley. The moment was to be a defining paradigm in thon the role of the legislature in maintaining democratic norms under the rule of law as the speech as given by the then senate president Ken Nnamani ably encapsulates.

The various motives which influenced the decisions of most lawmakers opposed to the idea although were suspect as a lot of money was reported to have changed hands among the members of the respective camps, the other camp being sympathisers of the then vice president Atiku Abubakar who was embroiled in the intricacies of high level political power play bent on scheming him out from contesting the upcoming presidential elections. The legislators would in time have their own date with the question of credibility as both houses had hitherto been embroiled in controversies ranging from the amazing to the outright absurd in their eight year lifespan. The elections in itself was mired in the midst of irregularities and various degrees of intimidation and in some cases legitimate voters were disenfranchised, the violence that characterised the conduct of the polls in certain areas were spearheaded by friends and associates of the various contending parties and most of these guys are allies of the powers that be.

A lot of them still walk the street as free men and some "cannot be arrested" as stated by the security officials of state and the unfortunate ones that lost their lives during skirmishes are regarded as sacrifices for the entrenchment of a workable electoral process as it was accepted by the majority of the populace that things were to remain the way they were and that the law was selective in it's administration of justice. Moreso when viewed against the backdrop that the new president was an obvious anointed son of the outgoing president whose eight year reign was fraught with the flagrant disregard of the rule of law, classification of a few as sacred cows and therefore above the law and the high level corruption in the system that in most cases was shielded from the scrutiny of the public under the guise of party affairs or "family affairs".

So when on may 29 2007 Shehu Umar Yar Adua took a deep breadth before he made his inaugural speech, not a few were disinterested, a lot of those people present at the Eagle Square must have felt themselves at the threshold of history as being witnesses to the installation of this man from Katsina state whose brother might had been a president of the country had he not been a victim of the military junta under the Abacha regime in those heady days of the struggle for the present democracy which some individuals are earnestly attempting to undermine as many in the podium were already dreaming dreams on how to take the opportunity to have a chair on the table where the national cake is being masticated, while others might be thinking "We can actually make this thing work!".

To the onlooker in the street it was like "Make we just hear wetin the man go talk". The words spoken that day somehow made most to have a feeling that perhaps we might just be able to get things going. As spoken by the president, he expected Nigerians to believe him and trust him, that he was going to be to us as a servant and that it is to us that he owes his allegiance. Well, no president had spoken those words before. Used to the usual brashness of the military heads of state and the repetitions that plague the efforts of politician civilians which had so largely being proven by the uneventful eight year rule of his predecessor we were consoled and our feelings were assuaged by the mien of this man whom most heard with their hearts. After the speech, it was like a cloud had been lifted, his seven point campaign agenda was made a priority and we were assured of a new arrangement where the rule of law was to be effected to the letter.

The political situation in those early days of the present administration were as terse and tense as the various machinations behind the scenes were carried out by foot soldiers of the new order and die hard loyalists of the passing one, the ways and manner in which these underhand arrangements and negotiations were carried out showed that there existed still a tug from the ruling PDP elite which somewhat restrains the progressive ideals of governance that the Yar Adua government would want us to believe they posess. The spectre of deceit and blackmail that trailed the baton of exchange of the office of the BOT chairman was a publicity nightmare that the party somehow managed. Honchos of the previous cabinet were systematically schemed out of things but hordes of loyalists were rewarded with executive and legislative positions in the various states and local government levels.

However, amongst these were some that had a belief that the nation could indeed positively realise her potentials in her peoples but others had different ideas as was to be seen in the various events that were to unfold. The various heppenings in the political arena were of less concern to the average citizen as they were viewed as amusing talk and rigmarole, what they wanted to see was concrete moves to get things going and to some extent, things are moving albeit slowly, but steadily. Given some good run up it could even fly and this fact has been realised and this is believed to have geared up the entire political-economic policy of the Yar Adua government. The power sector is being geared up to maximise the eternal power problem plaguing the entire nation. This is in fact one of the many laudable programmes that was initiated by the PDP government of Olusegun Obasanjo who actually launched a few stations before the end of his administration. The incumbent however has gone much farther by ensuring that all the power projects are concluded as soon as practicable and working at full capaity, the totality of the power stations should be able to generate about 10,000 megawatts of electricity, just about enough to ensure a steady power pool for the nation and some of her neighbours.

If this is achieved, it should be something short of a miracle considering the power crisis that is faced by most African countries. This among others has given people a hope that further gives the mind reason to believe that things could actually get better. Country wide, it was a feeling that had taken too long to come. The goal that was set was that the country would be a hub of economic activities which when translated would mean more than enough things to do to earn a good living baring the fact that one makes a conscious decision to become a deliquent, it was a laudable goal the willingness to pull together to assist in it's attainment not in short supply. A zero tolerance for corruption was declared and altercations between the EFCC and the chief law officer of the nation is believed to be the birth pangs of the delivery of an entrenched system for checking corruption as a duplication of duties should be avoided and a more streamlined and corruption detecting and investigative mechanism be realised.

The story of the Freedom of Information bill is another move that should engender transparency within the circles of government and her parastatals when it finally gets underway as expected. The search for a more acceptable electoral process has commenced as initiated by this administration and this was applauded by all with the calibre of personalities named to the commitee. The Niger Delta agitations were albeit temporarily taken care of with one of their own as the number two citizen and with concrete actions taken to formulate a long term solution to the issue. At least it was tabled as a national issue something previous administrations only paid lipservice to. The air of change was gradually blowing and the police force charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order was working towards the modern policing methods of crime detecting as against crime fighting.

The judiciary at this time was coming off a string of decisions which had both been applauded and acknowledged as landmark right from the period of the upheavels that charecterised the run up to the 2007 presidential elections. Seeking to bar political opposition from contesting elections using the paraphernalia of executive office, the PDP government made attempts to thwart the ambitions of those categorised as opposition and disloyal, but landmark decisions ensured that reason and good conscience prevailed.

The hope of a new beginning began to take more root when viewed against the perspective that if the executive and the judiciary and the legislature do their own jobs, the wheels of this project Nigeria would move at an unhindered pace. But like in most tragi-comic scenarios, there is always a cog in the wheels of progress as is the case that it has turned out to be in Nigeria less than 200 days into his expected four years tenure. If there is one thing that the government of Yar Adua has done it is to identify some elements within the polity that seem to have a different perspective of reality from the yearnings and aspirations of the average Nigerian in the street .
Hitherto Niger Delta militants who have metamorphosed to ransom demanding kidnappers, political thugs masquerading as party leaders and political office holders who believe they are above the law.

If the words that were spoken on May 29 2007 are serious to the one who spoke it he has no choice but to take us on a carriage as he guides the way through and when we experience any cog in our wheel, it is his responsibility to take care of it. The president should be aware that aside the words he spoke on that day, he is become the president of the people and not the president from a party. This is more significant in the wise that as a party man his chairman and BOT might want him to kow tow to their leanings, but he should be mindful of the fact that his predecessor was never known for kow towing, infact he put them there especially during his second term in office.

A conflict of interest might naturally be expected as the presidency seeks to assert it's independence from the party while acknowledging the influence but a clear line of demarcation should be created as all aspects of nationhood, including her peoples and institutions are defined along the policies as set about by the government of the federation as headed by Shehu Umar Yar Adua.

The past few weeks had seen to a lot of happenings which are an amusing and interesting read, the trusted Nigerian society is never short of rumour mills and grapevine sources interspersed with the intermittent exposure of various scandals including corruption and sex. There was the story of some party officials involved in the rape of some lady and as yet, not much is being heard from the authorities, that shocking revelation presents itself as a scar on the administration.

It is a well known fact that some of these cases of sexual assault are not reported, but for one to be done so brazenly and consciously to beats the imagination and for the perpetrators to still be left as free men lends credence to the failure of the rule of law in a security apparatus that claims to uphold the ideals of the president.

Macabre as the drama gets, we see a hitherto demi god wanting to be god within his territory disregarding the governor because he is his political godson and disregarding the federal government because even the last president was more or less defferential to him, it will be trite to see how his story ends as he has begun to thread on some sacred and time worn waters of culture and tradition. Now the above would not bother most as they are those involving private citizens like themselves, but when feelers started being filtered that things were not right in the House of Representatives, no one ever dreamed it would snowball into the type of national and personal embarrassment of the magnitude it has assumed.

From commitee appointments to the birthday party in the United States which the embattled speaker Patricia Olubunmi Etteh pulled through successfully, nothing was to prepare herself and her followers for the oncoming torrents as there was no inkling that the next card to be played by her growing number of disgruntled members would lead her to the bind that she has found herself. At the height of the allegations of a contract that was awarded for the purchase of vehicles and renovations of quarters of principal officers, the aloofness of the speaker was aluded to the presumed spuriousness of the allegations. It was likened to a smear campaign of sorts, however the idoko panel report has raised issues that need be addressed. Thus the current posturing by the speaker is not only uncalled for but irelevant and totally out of place.

Looking at the proceedings in the lower house is entertaining and exciting as the unpredictability of honourable members can be counted upon. As usual, many are in the various camps for different reasons, but I do hope that the lesson that would be learnt at the culmination of this impasse would be that no matter who one is, they cannot claim superiority to the rule of law.

The only option open to Mrs. Etteh now is just to cling on to power, maybe if she is lucky she might ride the storm and it will all end up a family affair with an amicable settlement. Otherwise, she should spare herself any more ignominy and shamefacedly resign and keep quiet in the house, Nigerians being who they are would forgive her in a few years and maybe she might be the first female vice president someday if the respect for the rule of law dies today.

But alas, the drama is enough, irrespective of who her sponsors, frontmen and backers are, they are not the ones being spat on, she is. Her sitting, staring and smirking poise at successive sittings of the house watching her colleagues who are inherently her peers singing war songs, battling and dying all on the supposedly hallowed floor of the house should be tiresome to her at least by now. Power corrupts only those who are drunk from it and it would show an immense power if one can let go of what one hitherto held, that is "will power". The stance of the speaker and her supporters show a very discernible power behind the scenes working in the favour of Mrs. Etteh, but clearly, it has been confirmed that she indeed has issues to clarify.

The proponents of the probe were not much interested in the mode of atonement but were particular about the process followed in the approval of such contracts as the initial cry was to the fact that due process was not followed in the award of the said contracts. From the truly credible members of the house to the new comers wanting to make a name for themselves and even those who got the short end in the appointment of commitee chairmanship positions, there was a new unifying bond of camarederie insisting that the panel report must be read on the floor after the speaker must have stepped aside which to all intents and purpose was the sane, rational and normal thing to do but we have been treated to an amazing show of the physical and aggressive abilities of our lawmakers who are fathers, mothers and supposedly respected members of society.

If this show can become a reality in one of the prime institutions of our democracy under the Yar Adua government, then what right do they have to occupy the exalted positions in which they have found themselves in? What moral justification do they have to tell their kids that violence does not pay? What right do they have to preach about patriotism and nationhood when by their nvery actions they demean the very character of Nigeria? These are some of the questions that should be asked to each and every member of the house and each and every holder of political office in the nation who think that the fate of over 140 million people can be toyed with.

The president must put his foot down and ensure that his dreams are not scuttled by the very factors which seek to ensure his failure as these factors are within and around him. He should prove himself to be the president of the people and not the president of the party. Are we to believe that under this dispensation there still exists some who can lord it over the law? The last bastion that stands for the common man is the law, but what happens when the law hangs like a sword of Damocles on the heads of the common man, when one can be arrested for days without trial, where one can have rapists on the loose ready to pounce again, where known killers and murderers are adulated and feted in state banquets.

There must not only be the rule of law, "The law should rule!". This should be the point that must be made and the president of the federation, Shehu Umar Yar Adua must realise that somehow, the people are watching these unfolding events and will use it as another yardstick to measure the sincerity of those words spoken by him on that Tuesday of May 2007.

This piece was contributed by Areghan Emmanuel