(Vanguard of Sunday, October 23, 2005)
With what has been happening recently in England to the governor-general of the Ijaw nationality group in Nigeria and the massive hunt which the EFCC has mounted to crack down on corrupt public officials, it is most sickening to tell anyone anywhere that you come from a country where there are values, where the so-called happiest people on earth live. You want to throw up that you belong in a family of 140 million people, 99.9 per cent of whom in their homes and in their churches accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and in their homes and in their mosques proclaim the Holy Prophet Mohammed as Messenger of Allah and the last prophet.
You hear your heart miss a beat when at immigration points anywhere in the world, you want to present the national symbol of your country so that you may gain entry. You close your eyes so you may fail to see the scorn and contempt on the faces of those scanning your passport! But that is if you know shame, if you can still hear that voice your actions are distancing you from, warning you that what your people are doing in the name of the All Highest can lead only to the Fire whose only food is men and stones.
So with what some of our elected officials have done to the image of this country, can you not see how we have invoked a picture for our chief executives of all the states of the federation plus Abuja since Mallam El Rufai should not hesitate to accept the status of the de facto governor of the Federal Capital Territory? Can’t you see how we now lump together those who have been working their guts out to make life more tolerable for their people with those whose only mission in government seems to be how they can make a point about material things being the only door to clout and class? Even most important is the contraption we have opted for as our route to development and growth, and the disgrace it has brought to governance.
I am interested in what we have failed to do rather than what we are doing with the outcome of the order we have entrenched and nourished and would want to sustain. That order is what we have made of the Presidential system and the immunity clause that protects four groups of persons from arrest and prosecution, that is the President, the Vice President, the Governor and the Deputy Governor.
They head the executive arm of government at the federal and state levels. Because of the volume of work they have, to ensure the welfare and security of the citizens, we provided in section 308 of the Constitution that they be protected from arrest and prosecution while in office.
Did we commit a crime by making copious provisions to protect the President and his deputy and the 36 governors and their deputies when we said that once they assume office, no civil or criminal proceedings can be instituted against them? Technically, we handed over to them the licence to do what they like with us. Gun us down. Run us over if we do not leave the road while they approach in their convoys which are announced from the distance by blaring sirens. Lure our wives and daughters from us with mouth-watering contracts that are poorly, if ever, performed. Take over our property without due process. Pounce on our treasuries and empty the volts…
But we gave them protection from prosecution and arrest because they signed a contract with us before they took office. Under the Seventh Schedule to the Road Map which is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President, the Vice President, the Governor and the Deputy Governor swore to do at least seven things. They said they would be faithful and bear true allegiance to our country.
They said they would discharge their duties to the best of their abilities, faithfully and in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the law. What they do, they said, would always be in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They said they would strive to preserve the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution.
These are documentations of Nigeria’s National Interest. Therein is stated what government should be doing in the social, economic, political, educational, foreign policy, environmental and cultural areas. They are so loaded that you see the sense in granting immunity to these officers so that they would not be distracted from their work.
They swore they would not allow their personal interests to influence their official conduct and their official decisions. They said they would, to the best of their abilities, preserve, protect and defend our Constitution. They said they would abide by the code of conduct contained in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.
This code says they should declare their assets before they take office and after they leave office. It specifically forbids their opening any foreign account and operating it. It says if they breach any of the provisions of the code, they would lose what they acquired through such abuses and be barred from holding office for at least 10 years! They said they would do right, in all circumstances, to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.
Because they swore to live by the rules, in trust, we said they should be given the protection they now claim under section 308 of the Constitution to cover up their indiscretions. My wife asked me why I was weeping uncontrollably in my study, and all I could do was to hand over to her the October 10 -17, 2005 issue of the Tell Magazine with a screaming headline, Corrupt Governors, Why many more may go to jail.
I was not weeping because of what I already knew and what everybody knows, that corruption is our motto, and that the N393.6 billion which the Federation Account Allocation Committee has announced as the August, 2005 payments to the Federal Government, the State Governments and the Local Government Areas, would be disbursed the way we have perfected over the years since the return to civil rule in 1999.
I wept because we have lost the opportunity we would have had to make this country work better through a restructuring that would have laid a foundation for development and growth. I wept because the strongest man on the scene, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who left as head of State of this country in 1979 and came back (there are no accidents in nature) 20 years later, seems not to be seeing or even looking at what I see – that his mission this time is to supervise the massive restructuring of a Nigeria that must anchor the next world power. I weep because all his energies have been directed to fighting the manifestations of evil, not the evil itself. I weep because his failure will be our failure; and because he must leave by the end of his current tenure on May 29, 2007, we must begin to mourn the failure of a dream which his presence since 1999 would have downloaded for fulfillment.
Let’s look at what we would have done, but have left undone. Next week.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 45 -48; Lagos, 2008).