BY ABIMBOLA OJENIKE
President Jonathan stirred a debate on what is deservedly a defining issue of the forthcoming election when he said that a “nation without rule of law is a jungle”. This one-liner was perhaps the cleverest statement of the president’s campaign, suggesting that the president considers respect for rule of law a plus point of his government.
It was also intended to show that General Muhammadu Buhari has no antecedent of respecting the rule of law. The media rave that followed the president’s quotable quote on rule of law shows, with the same tenor and fervor, that Buhari, who is caricatured as a grim and despotic ex-military leader, does not fit the portraiture of the president for modern Nigeria.
Have you seen the documentary “The Real Buhari” relayed on AIT and NTA? You would begin imagining this “Real” Buhari a monster of sort, with two horns, vampire fangs and the tail of a dragon. Here, political propaganda often takes on such a dangerous garb without any real remedy for the victim. The subliminal message of President Jonathan’s rule of law rhetoric is that he “gives” human right and that all is well, no rule of law violation or at least none as sensational as sentencing people to 300 years imprisonment for stealing public funds or punishing people for indecorous conducts such as shunting queues in public places.
Buhari, it was, that they said: ruled Nigeria for 20 months with the iron fist, led an anti-corruption war in the most austere and unfashionable manner, jailing corrupt politicians through the Special Military Tribunal comprising of Judges of the High Court. He is alleged to have passed a decree to suppress the press. The same regime, they alleged, killed many people: including those who had died long before he even assumed office and many others that died peacefully after Buhari had ceased to be the Head of State. Every person sentenced for the offence of drug trafficking was convicted under a law that was not in existence at the time they committed the offence. Thus, the conviction was against the rule of law. None of the wry historians now trenchantly propagating this litany of lies has been diligent enough to tell us when the crime was committed and when the law was made so that the unsuspecting public can judge if the laws were actually retroactively applied.
The acceptance that rule of law is crucial to an orderly society, to sanity and to the dignity of our common humanity should make us question the existing state of affairs that we know in Nigeria. Is Nigeria under President Jonathan a truly orderly society or a “jungle” drawing from Mr. President’s mantra? The very fundament of rule of law is government according to law. It encompasses a whole range of bulwarks against arbitrariness to ensure that the society is not a “jungle”. It is about equality of persons, fair dispensation of justice, inviolability of the people’s right, a truly independent judiciary, and respect for the constitution.
How does President Jonathan weigh on the scale? Under Jonathan, over 2,000 Nigerians are killed annually without trial, according to National Human Right Commission. Amnesty International also reports the dragnet arrest of innocent people in the north-east and how these people were slaughtered based on suspicion that they were Boko Haram members. Have we also forgotten in a hurry the innocent young men that were mowed down by police bullets during the subsidy removal protests and how this government repressed legitimate civil protest with excessive force? Talking about freedom of the press: did this administration not propose a bill to punish social media critics by imprisonment for 7 years? Didn’t this government arrest and detain some of his social media critics in the backlash of his government’s Immigration recruitment scam? Didn’t Joseph Mbu arrest and detain journalists in Rivers state for describing him as “controversial”? How was he sanctioned for doing this – by promotion to the cadre of Assistant Inspector General?
On obedience to court judgment, was this also not the same president who disobeyed the court judgment ordering reinstatement of suspended President, Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Ayo Salami? Has the government also obeyed the judgment of the Federal High Court regarding the unlawful arrest and detention of the former CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi? Over two years after the Aluu-Four were gruesomely killed in mob justice, what has happened to the investigation or prosecution of the perpetrators? You may also ask: why do Nigerians frequently resort to self-help? Are we in a jungle? Isn’t that a demonstration of lack of confidence in the court system?
Has President Jonathan run a government according to the constitution? Was this not the same government that failed to remit over $20 billion crude oil proceeds into the federation account in violation of the constitution? An almighty Inspector-General of Police under President Jonathan also zealously usurps the power of the Court to interpret the constitution on the cessation of the tenure of the Speaker, House of Representatives. Joseph Mbu had done the same in Rivers State and also stopped a peaceful protest on the ground of failure to obtain Police Permit under the provision of the Public Order Act, which the court had declared unconstitutional and invalid. Again, is it governance according to the constitution for the president to outsource national security to a gang of notorious criminals that the people now seek protection against?
Talk about equality and fairness under this government: petty thieves who stole N5,520 were sentenced to death by hanging while John Yusuf, the fellow that stole over N27 billion Police Pension Fund, got only a paltry fine of N750,000. What about the subsidy fraud folks? Is it a coincidence that all these people with corruption charges are all cronies of Mr. President and never get prosecuted? Are they above the law? Has our system of justice become a weak web that traps only small ants while bigger ants scale through? We have a president that prides himself in the very fact that there is no consequence for corruption under his government. His campaign promise is even that his government will not lead the sort of anti-corruption that puts people in jail for corruption.
In fairness, the president’s excuse might be that he was not the judge in all the controversial cases, that he is not the chairman of the EFCC; he is not NNPC that failed to remit crude oil proceeds, he is not the IGP that shut down the National Assembly; Joseph Mbu was an overzealous officer and a man on he is own; the president is also not the hangman killing thousands of Nigerians without trial; the president is not the Senate that is passing the law to jail the president’s critics and that outsourcing the Navy to Tompolo is one of the 1.4million jobs created annually by this government for restive youths. If we excuse democratic President Jonathan from responsibility for the excesses of his government, I wonder what would be the case against Buhari’s military regime. So what standards do we use to stereotype one as a dictator and the other as a saint?
It is a precarious signal for the future of our country that this particular president would thump its chest on rule of law. What rule of law violation could be more reprehensible than the scale of impunity shown by this government? Did the great Gani Fawehinmi, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Beko Kuti and Tai Solarin see a worst form of injustice when they stirred public outrage against the government? Luckily for President Goodluck, times have changed and people have changed too. We have morphed thicker skins for suffering in silence. This graveyard silence, the diminished appetite to speak against injustice and government excesses, makes the President look good- not any track record of respect for rule of law.
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