By Taoheed Ajao
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the 8th of October, 2016, members of the Department of State Security, DSS, swooped down on four members of the nation’s judges from the High and Supreme Courts in apparently coordinated efforts to arrest them at Abuja and Port Harcourt. After the arrests which were effected with a lot of histrionics, hot verbal exchanges and dangerous high-wire theatre, Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court and Abuja Federal High Court Judge, Adeniyi Ademola were arrested.
The arrest of Port Harcourt Federal High Court Judge, Mohammed Liman was prevented by the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. Various sums of money in different denominations were allegedly found in the residences of the judges.
Expectedly, the Nigerian Judicial Council, NJC; the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA; the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, have all condemned what they call the ‘abduction of the judiciary’ and a descent to full blown civilian dictatorship. Some have wondered why the DSS, instead of the Police, are now used to arrest people suspected of corruption and why, a resort to the time-honoured simple call for interrogation was jettisoned in favour of the Gestapo-style of breaking down doors and threatening aides with AK-47 and Uzi submachine guns! Apart from the general condemnation from NBA, the body has declared a state of emergency in the nation’s judiciary.
This latest crusade against corruption by the PMB administration now makes compelling another look at this social malaise and the most effective method of combating it. It is the belief of this column that a very good and exhaustive study of the cankerworm of corruption be undertaken with a view to finding the fundamental cause(s) of this ill and therefore determine, whether there is a causal nexus between it and the failure of the structural composition of Nigeria as presently constituted. The sociology of corruption will show that while the ill is pervasive in Nigeria, it has its roots in a feeling of dejection in not being able to fully actualize one’s potentials in the Nigerian Project.
Corruption is a manifestation of a psyche that has been warped into believing that the default base of power in Nigeria resides with the Hausa/Fulani. This perception is not only reinforced by the rigid opposition of the current federal administration to the restructuring of the power imbalance in the country, it is even demonstrated in appointments that favour relations and cronies of the sitting president. Other ethnicities chance upon power only through historical accidents of deaths or of cataclysmic proportions. A situation where Nigeria’s version of federalism is so skewed as to make the centre a behemoth surrounded by Lilliputian federating states, makes power at the centre so attractive that the coterminous nature of the states with the centre, are totally emasculated in the scheme of governance.
Now, if by any historical accident, a member of the minority ethnic group finds him or herself in the seat of federal power, that person’s people and cronies think they must seize the opportunity to accumulate wealth: look at the Goodluck Jonathan example and how his people swarmed to him drawn by the allure of the opportunity for looting the country in the belief that it was their time and luck! This loss of faith in the equality of all ethnicities in Nigeria vis a vis power in the centre, is fuelled by the continued resistance even of this PMB administration to address the lopsidedness in our power structure. This sends a negative signal to other people who have virtually given up on the democratic route to power because of the skewed federalism that we practice.
Our federal constitution cannot work for all Nigerians the way it is operated; there are in-built advantages and unmerited leeway for abuse of the federalism principles by some sections of the country and this engenders outsider-feelings to many Nigerians. A better way to fight corruption is through first, acknowledging that corruption is a symptom of a fundamental failure and not the root cause of our problems. Secondly, by going after the corrupt people making use of the institutions and organs of law enforcement and simultaneously embarking on the emplacement of constitutional changes that will address the skewed federalism that forever favours the ascendancy to power of a particular ethnic group.
The best era of Nigeria was when she had true federalism through equal power sharing of the regional governments with the federal government. No wonder the greatest apostle of federalism in Nigeria Chief Obafemi Awolowo was able to benchmark projects and programmes that stood him out till today in Nigeria nay, Africa! There certainly was corruption then but, it was at the level that was intrinsic in human nature all over the world; not at this present level that beggars belief!
There is no economic model that can be fashioned to address Nigeria’s present circumstance that will succeed over a long period of time without addressing this fundamental structural imbalance that distorts the feeling of oneness of many people about their country. While this column believes that corruption must be frontally battled, it expresses deep reservations about the Gestapo-style of the break-ins and the grandstanding surrounding the arrests of the Justices by the DSS operatives. Critical in most peoples’ minds though, is the fear that this unrestrained show of executive force and impunity does not presage a descent into full blown dictatorship where fairness and equity in law may be sacrificed on the altar of vengeful zealotry. The justices could still be arrested with the dignities of their persons and offices still intact; after all, they have not been convicted in any court of law. Democratic refinement and recourse to internationally accepted norms of official conduct compel better options of arresting the judges.