THE VERDICT By OLUSEGUN ADENIYI
While still in the United Kingdom on his self-imposed exile circa 2009, former Federal Capital Territory Minister, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai needed to revalidate his Nigerian passport. Quite naturally, he approached the Nigerian embassy in London whose officials decided to notify Abuja of the development. As it would happen, some people decided that since el-Rufai had made himself an enemy of the government of the day at the time, he should be denied his rights under the law even while hiding under some subterfuge. But it was not until the former minister went public about his ordeal that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua got to know what happened and he felt really angry. Of course, Mallam el-Rufai has a different narrative of the issue but the fact of the matter is that the late Yar’Adua had nothing to do with an action that could only have brought his government into ridicule as it sure did.
It is within the context of the foregoing that I can situate the disruption last weekend by the police of the meeting of some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors in Abuja. While I cannot imagine that President Goodluck Jonathan would approve of such unfortunate action, I will not be surprised if those who carried it out believed they were doing so to please him. The fact, however, is that they have hurt the president very badly.
Whatever anybody may feel about the G-7 governors and their politics, nothing can justify a situation in which policemen would behave almost like licenced thugs by storming into a government house to ask the chief executives of states to put an end to a lawful assembly. It is the height of recklessness for which the Inspector General of Police should be held accountable. The implication of the action is that Nigeria has become a society where the rights of citizens, including that of governors, can be cynically infringed upon because of the political beliefs they hold. Nothing eats away the credibility of an administration, especially under a civil dispensation, more than recourse to such authoritarian behaviour which in addition diminishes us as a people.
Even at that, the more I ruminate over the sordid action the more worried I become going by what it could have resulted into. The Nigerian Police is not known to be a disciplined force and for that reason, the command structure does not always matter. The men and officers posted to guard our big men (and women), including in this instance the governors, hold their loyalty to the people they serve, for obvious reasons. Therefore, notwithstanding the pretension about the control of the police by the federal government, the reality is that if the Asokoro policemen that stormed the Kano Liaison Office last weekend had tried anything funny, they would have been confronted with a serious gun-battle from their colleagues guarding the governors. In the event that had happened, it is the president who would have suffered the collateral damage of such a tragic situation. What is more disturbing is that what happened was not an isolated incident as it speaks to the culture of intolerance and arbitrariness that is fast taking over our land.
I am aware that it is an issue we hardly talk about but the most insidious form of corruption in our country today is the abuse to which critical institutions of state are subjected in promotion of what is often no more than the personal interest of political office-holders. And we see this sort of thing at virtually all levels of government today. Yet it is actually such abuse that breeds the impunity by which political office-holders would appropriate to themselves public resources without any compunction. What we ignore is the fact that by placing individuals above institutions we have unwittingly rendered impotent all the avenues for accountability and it is difficult to build a just society from such level of systemic perfidy.
The only person who can put a halt to the growing culture of lawlessness, especially one that is being promoted by officialdom, is the president and I believe it is in his interest to do so. Almost on a daily basis across the country today, the police now decide which lawful processions of innocent citizens to allow and which to disperse, depending on whether they are adjudged anti or pro federal government. Let us not even go to the most notorious case of the River State Police Command where the Commissioner has become a law unto himself. Yet what these overtly partisan roles do is to degrade the capacity of the police to protect the lives and property of Nigerians which is their principal responsibility. It is also making them to lose the respect of the people.
Whether those in authority realise it or not, the serial denial of rights and the trampling of the liberties of even the most highly placed citizens like Governors are the hallmarks of armed autocracy. It is also a most frightening threat to the possibility of genuine democracy anchored on the rule of law in our country. Indeed, when a civilian administration takes recourse to its control of the police to vitiate democratic rights and freedoms of citizens, then there is a clear and present danger for everyone.
Last Sunday catapulted me back to 1979 when I was expected to see, like others at Orile Iganmu in Lagos, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo comfortably emblazoned on the moon. I was too young to understand the meaning of the frenzy at the time. But this time, it was about Eclipse, an astronomical event which occurs when the moon passes in-between the sun and the earth thus partially or totally blocking the former. I understand that in different cities across the country last Sunday, some people were carrying calabashes of water and all sorts, just to catch a glimpse of the life-changing Mr Eclipse. It was a crazy day. But trust Nigerians, the event was also marked by some creative headlines as to the “political significance” of the Eclipse. A confession is necessary here: I have nothing to do with the headlines below but as to where the stories were published, I think it should be ‘The Nigerian Eclipse Journal’. Now, check out the headlines:
•Don’t use Eclipse to intimidate our son, Edwin Clark warns North
•Eclipse is part of Jonathan’s agenda to destroy Nigeria, says Ango Abdullahi
•Presidency sets up Eclipse monitoring committee
•Minister buys 2 armoured anti Eclipse Vehicles to protect self
•Blame Eclipse if Anambra Guber polls fail—Jega warns
•APC to GEJ: Eclipse has weakened confidence of Nigerians in your Government
•Eclipse occurrence was setback to negotiations, strike continues, says ASUU
•Reps, Senators disagree over Eclipse allocation, summon Okonjo-Iweala
•Nigeria fails to acquire viewing rights for Eclipse, FG blames New PDP
•Police Disrupt Eclipse gathering in Abuja, Threatens G-7 Governors
•Eclipse stampede kills 50 in Yobe, Boko Haram claims responsibility
•Eclipse discussion will determine Nigeria’s future, Says Okurounmu
•Southern Kaduna cries marginalization over limited view of eclipse