It was US President Barack Obama, who, during his maiden visit to Africa, declared that the continent needed to create strong institutions, and de-emphasise ‘strong leaders’, if it is ever to develop. Obama’s line of thought, of course, is one that resonates with several African leaders. And, in fact, many of them have continued to parrot that stance ever since in their public speeches.
But that is as far as it goes. The reality on ground, however, is that these same leaders remain the biggest stumbling blocks to the creation of such sustainable institutions. Of course, the reason for this opposition is not farfetched: With democracy still tied to the whims and caprices of pseudo-democratic autocrats in many African countries, building strong institutions essentially restricts the ability of such leaders to impose their selfish will on the polity. It would make it impossible to use the resources and apparatus of state to pursue selfish interest of those in power, as is becoming very obvious in Nigeria with the ongoing PDP crisis.
Take the police, for instance: If we had a strong institution by way of a well established, well funded and independent police, would we have got to the present situation whereby the police inexplicably went to seal off the secretariat of the New-PDP at Maitama, Abuja? When the people are still in court? If PDP was in crisis and threatening national security, why did the police not also seal off Wadata Plaza? How did force headquarters determine which faction is now the authentic PDP? Who even gave the policemen at the Eagle Square venue of last month’s controversial mini-convention the order to fence out delegates from Adamawa State? Who told the police that only those Adamawa PDP members loyal to Bamanga Tukur should be allowed into the venue? So, we might as well as: Which faction of the PDP does the Nigeria Police belong to? I suppose, we all know the answer already.
And while we are on this same police issue, why is it now that serving senator and former governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje (factional chairman of the PDP) are fraternising with the New PDP that the police have suddenly remembered that they are not entitled to police escorts and, therefore, decided to withdraw the escorts? Why were these policemen not withdrawn when other government and party property with Baraje, for instance, were taken away at the expiration of his tenure as PDP chairman? Bukola Saraki stopped being governor since May 2011; why has it taken all of two years for police to realise they should have recalled his escorts? If Saraki is out of office and would, therefore, have to apply to police for escorts (and wait for police to appraise application and approve or refuse), what can be said about the Amaechi case in Rivers State? Can we just put a little finesse to this dirty politicking? Or, who are the police really working for?
I am sure that by the time Saraki makes his next visit to the EFCC, to answer to allegations that are now increasingly appearing more political than economic, we would probably be hearing a different story. But there might not be any new facts. It would just be the same old unsubstantiated allegations, which have been recycled over and over since the last six or so years. Of course, it is these same unintelligent tactics that make people suspect that indeed, Saraki, like Amaechi, is paying for his role in the Nigerian Governors Forum crisis. Or, maybe, it is something that has to do with the subsidy cabal? I learnt that the new power brokers had wanted to come after Saraki, using the subsidy issue but beat a retreat when it turned out that pushing the case further would expose some well-connected friends of government. Next, they tried the failed-bank route but again discovered that they’d be messing up even more connected friends of government. Now, as the Saraki nightmare won’t go away, they have begun to thrash around for just anything.
Of course, I am not in doubt that they would eventually get him. There is this belief in my area that nobody can fight government. Once government comes after you, it will ultimately get you. If the IRS people don’t get you, then the airport people will ground your private jet. If that does not work, then, they will get your lawmakers to impeach you, suspend you from National Assembly or from the party. Government agencies and other friends of government will stop doing business with your companies. If you have waiver to import anything, they will revoke it. It there is incentive on anything you produce or export, they will withdraw it. They will, as we say in our local parlance, bring federal might to bear on you. That has been the bane of our democracy. And that is what is now playing out again, as the PDP crisis gets messier.
Yet, some people are still saying Jonathan is not baring his fangs enough. And I ask: With a ‘weak president’ like Jonathan, who needs a ‘strong president’? For the truth is: All those who are today abusing Jonathan and saying he is a weak president are those who have unwittingly come to accept the illegal practice of using the enormous powers at the disposal of the Nigerian president to crush political opponents. They readily cite instances from the Obasanjo years when the Presidency unleashed the Police, Army, EFCC, ICPC, Inland Revenue Service, Customs, NAFDAC, CBN, FAAN, NCAA, Revenue Allocation, and just whatever regulatory body that was relevant on the persons, businesses, families of political opponents. For them, economic strangulation, persecution, extra-judicial detention, intimidation, media trial and conviction were all part of politicking.
I don’t even want to talk too much on this matter or else someone at Force Headquarters would suddenly remember that the Lagos backwater neighbourhood where I live is not among those neighbourhoods entitled to police patrol and protection. I would just get home this night and discover that the IGP has reappraised the security threat in my area and come to the conclusion that we are too inconsequential for the police to ‘waste’ its scarce resources protecting us and has consequently banned police patrol teams from coming into the area. After all, who, in my backwater, is as important as Saraki, Rotimi Amaechi or Baraje? And if the security escorts of these big men can be withdrawn, who am I to take police protection for granted?
But, jokes apart, there is always this morbid sense of excitement that sweeps through me every time I hear that police have withdrawn the security details attached to one big man or the other. I always feel that all these big men should be left to drive through the streets without this added protection, return to unguarded homes and go to sleep at night, knowing that like the rest of us, they are at the mercy of the gentlemen of the night. I always believe that it is only when they feel the insecurity as we all do that they can seriously commit to fund the police better and take the issue of security for the populace more seriously.
Moreover, I believe the big men have acquired enough – either legitimately or otherwise – to hire the best private security outfit in the world to watch over them, their family and their’ loot’.
For me, there is simply no fairness in devoting the largest chunk of our country’s security personnel, equipment and taxpayers money to secure the very political class and elite, who are largely responsible for the insecurity in the land while the rest of us, victims of their greed, mindless looting and mismanagement, are again left to bear the brunt of insecurity that is a direct consequence of their failure. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Be that as it may, I still believe that even among thieves, there is still honour. That is why I am piqued at the way those in government today use the instruments of state and the apparatus of government to arm-twist and intimidate political opponents.
I am sure everyone would now be asking: If you were Jonathan, what would you do? Would you just sit there and watch governors and other political opponents overrun you? My answer is simple: That is why we need strong institutions and not strong leaders. The same thing Jonathan and Tukur are doing at the centre is what virtually all the governors, including those fighting Jonathan today, replicate in their states. None of them can broach any opposition in their domain. Like the Presidency, they also use state funds to fun their personal political ambitions. They use their taxmen to harass opponents’ businesses and even use ministry of lands and urban development to seal off and, sometimes, pull down opponents’ buildings, citing the flimsiest of regulation infractions.
We just can’t go on like this. Let’s genuinely build strong institutions.