THE President has headache. That is the heart-rending news from Addis Ababa in far away Ethiopia. President Muhammadu Buhari himself did the diagnosis. Judging from the symptoms, as he explained it to Nigerians resident in the Horn of Africa, clearly it is not life threatening, but it is not the kind of headache that a combined dosage of any popular pain reliever or even the more potent APC can cure.
The cure for this presidential headache lies in the cause: the judiciary. This third arm of government, coming after the Executive and the Legislature, is the one that sits in judgement over the first two as well all other litigants, both the high and the low, who seek legal solutions to their aches and pains. It is said, flatteringly and most often falsely, to be the last hope of the common man. The President, no matter how powerful or even how angry, cannot throw you into jail house unless he goes through the legal process, also known elegantly as the rule of law.
You have to be charged in court and the learned friends in their wigs and gowns go into disputations for you or against you until the judge, sitting magisterially on his high chair, all alone, in his wigs and gowns pronounce your guilt or your innocent. The process can go on till the next coming of Jesus Christ. And it can be abridged depending on the circumstances.
The ligitigants of enormous means, counted in millions and even billions in their bank accounts, do boast openly that they can tie their opponents in court for years and they do succeed in the Nigerian judicial system where the wheel of justice grinds slowly. The man of enormous means, the plaintiff, goes for the best lawyer money can hire, he chooses his court and apparently chooses his judge. At the end of the whole proceedings, he gets his way. He has paid handsomely for the judgment.
Without saying so in many words, I am sure corruption in the judiciary is one of Buhari’s sources of headache. He has a first-hand experience with the court process and some judicial shenanigans that seek to protect the guilty at expense of the innocent. His presidential ambition had taken him in and out of the hallowed chambers of justice on numerous occasions. On all the occasions, he had had to swallow the bitter pill. In his first attempt to be President in 2003, he recalls with extreme pain, “I ended up at the Supreme Court and for 13 months I was in the court. The second attempt in 2007 I was in court close to 20 months and in 2011, my third attempt, I was also in court for nine months.
“These cases went to the Supreme Court until the fourth time in 2015 when God agreed that I will be President.” Harrowing experience of a big man. Early this week, Minister of the Interior, General Abdurrahman Bello Dambazau made a round of some prisons and interacted with the inmates. One of the inmates, according to his own narrative, had spent 14 years in the cell awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a car radio. He claimed to have been framed by a big man.
President Buhari is currently fighting corruption. He has fingered many crooked Nigerians who have stolen the country blind. The biggest scandal rocking the country almost to its foundation today is the $2.1 billion arms scandal popularly called Dasukigate.
The money was meant for the purchase of arms to fight the insurgency in the country, but it was allegedly shared out to big men through President Goodluck Jonathan’s pet project: Corruption Democratisation Programme, CDP, the sleaze arm of the ailing Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Under the programme, the erstwhile President sought to deepen corruption by spreading its dividends around. Today, in retrospect, you would be forgiven if you say generosity, like his other popular milk of human kindness, ran through his veins. There is a consensus today that the man was generous to a fault. He did not monopolise corruption. In the spirit of democracy and fairness, he distributed it almost evenly.
President Buhari knows that his efforts to fight corruption to a standstill would be in vain if the courts do not stand firmly on the side of justice; if the judiciary does not curb the excess of the bad eggs in its fold, if public officials and their allies who have stolen billions of money can use only a small percentage of their loot to buy justice and thereafter leave in peace to enjoy their loot and laugh everyday to the bank waving their BVN, unperturbed by the hindrance of the TSA.
In his first coming, General Muhammadu Buhari as he was then known and called confronted this monster in a creatively different but controversial way. In December 1983, the military removed the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari who had been sworn in, two months earlier, for a second term of office. The military appointed Buhari as Head of State.
Shagari and his team, as politicians, had made mouth-watering promises to the electorate while campaigning for office. Among the carrots they dangled before the voters was life more abundant in contrast to the austerity measures imposed by the Murtala/Obasanjo Administration which had not been removed or relaxed up to the time Obasanjo was passing the torch of leadership to a new generation of civilian leaders.
In four years, there was almost indeed a life more abundant, except that it did not go round. Shagari’s Administration had opened the floodgate to all manner of imports bringing the hitherto unavailable essential commodities to the shores of the country, Thai rice being the king of them all. Before you could blink an eye the foreign reserves had been depleted, the economy was in tailspin.
The 42-year-old general was ramrod stiff and battle ready to confront the problems he inherited from the Shagari Administration. His diagnosis of the problem was simple and uncomplicated. He put them down to the twin-evil of indiscipline and corruption on the one hand and mismanagement of the economy on the other. Waving his swagger stick, he went to full war against corruption. To avoid the headache he has today, he was proactive.
In my view, there is merit in the calls for special courts to be headed by retired justices to deal speedily with corruption cases. At the rate we are going, even if Buhari spends the entire four years of his first term in office, he would not have done the final blow to corruption
He avoided the courts severely and set up, in their place, military tribunals headed by senior military officers. The decree that set up the tribunals spelt out stiff sentences for the guilty. The tribunals speedily dispensed justice and many of the high and the mighty of that era were herded into prison, some of them earning as many as 100 years cumulative jail term.
But the total harvest of corruption in Shagari’s time is nothing comparable to what obtains today; the mindless looting that has happened in the last few years. Fair-minded Nigerians must share in the pain of the President in the fight to recover the nation’s stolen wealth. But in his current efforts, Buhari, now a converted democrat, cannot set up military tribunals as he did in 1984. That will be patently illegal and unconstitutional. At the same time he cannot rely on the courts as they are today to get all the guilty into prison after they might have been forced to disgorge what they have swallowed unjustly.
In my view, there is merit in the calls for special courts to be headed by retired justices to deal speedily with corruption cases. At the rate we are going, even if Buhari spends the entire four years of his first term in office, he would not have done the final blow to corruption.
The nation is hailing him because the nation is one with him. But we must ponder a little. So long as the battle against corruption, important and desirous as it is, becomes the most important priority of this administration to the apparent detriment, if not neglect of other weighty issues, the economy will suffer gravely. Consequently, the masses of the people that look up to President Buhari for succour will continue to groan in agony, if not in disappointment. To add this unconscionable level of people’s suffering to his headache will spell disaster.
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