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Towards eradicating culture of impunity

By Yetunde Ayobami Ojo
24 May 2015   |   11:42 pm
It stares you in the face at every turn. The audacity and brazenness can be sickening, yet it is almost becoming a way of life in the country. If a law enforcement agent accosts a law breaker, the first thing that comes to his mind is “who do I call?” Then the law breaker thrusts…

It stares you in the face at every turn. The audacity and brazenness can be sickening, yet it is almost becoming a way of life in the country. If a law enforcement agent accosts a law breaker, the first thing that comes to his mind is “who do I call?” Then the law breaker thrusts the telephone set at the law officer. “Someone wants to talk to you” and the beat goes on. The hunter suddenly becomes the hunted. Finally, in most cases, the offender is let off the hook, with profuse apology from the law officer.

Indeed, the culture of impunity permeates all facets of our national life that it is almost a norm rather than exception.  Impunity has continued to negatively impact national progress and psyche of nationals. Morals and values that hold society have suddenly taken flight and in its place is a massive decadence.

Impunity breeds disorder, and without order, no society can prosper. Indeed, some commentators have opined that the responsibility of government is not restricted to fostering growth, as has become the mantra of national leadership; but more importantly, to establish order from which all other things flow.

It therefore flows, that impunity in its strict technical dictionary definition means freedom or exemption from punishment or recrimination or penalty or harm, in spite of doing a wrong, whether legal or moral.

It also means freedom or exemption or immunity from unpleasant consequences. This immunity could be conferred by constitution or statute, or it could be conferred by default on the part of institutions, out of fear, attitudes of servility, inefficiency, ignorance, silence, convention or abuse of privilege.

This apparently may have been the reason why lawyers, under the aegis of Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), at their yearly law week lecture 2015 entitled, ‘Curtailing the culture of impunity in our national life’ agreed that the menace of impunity has to be completely eradicated.
Speaking as a guest lecturer, a former Lagos State Solicitor General and incumbent ‎Executive Secretary of the state trust fund, Fola Arthur-Worrey, maintained that a society where act of impunity is encouraged is in danger.

He also condemned the pervasive weak institution within the public sphere adding that inefficiency of public institutions is criminalising the citizens.

According to him, the ‘Big Man’ syndrome, expressed in those long used expressions such as “Do you know who I am?” or “I will deal with you!” (a syndrome which was one of the earliest legacies of military rule) is a major contributor to the impunity culture.

“No one want to live an ordinary, simple life anymore once they are appointed to a high position or have come into money. They have become disruptive influence taking up more public space that they would enjoy in a normal society. They must have numerous aides; they cannot do anything for themselves any longer; and, aping the antics of those in power, they too drive in convoys, as if there weren’t enough traffic on our roads and parking spaces; use policemen as drivers and domestics, blare sirens and breach traffic laws, forgetting that they are, by so doing contributing to the disorder and demeaning the very institutions that are suppose to establish order.

“And incredibly, the police institution lends itself this lawless behaviour by providing its officers to all manner of people, even establishing a VIP protection unit with no clear rules or code of conduct for its officers, there and perhaps unwittingly, undermining its own authority and making its work of enforcing the law much more difficult. Yet the Police Act provides no support for what has become entrenched elite abuse of a public asset.

“The main tool by which a state curtails impunity thereby imposing order, are its institutions. And by any measure, Nigeria has all the institutions that define a modern state and more, perhaps too many-the police (and it’s numerous offshoots), the civil service, the court and the regulatory agencies covering virtually every aspect of our lives- business, professional and personal. Now, for institutions to play the role that is expected of them, they are expected to be efficient and effective so that there would be no substitutions for the vital function they perform. But are our institutions as effective as they should be so to generate the necessary respect and consequent compliance? Which public institution in Nigeria today is capable of acting as effectively as it should be moderating and controlling mechanism over human conduct? Is it the courts, the police, the universities, the ministries, parastatals, the legislature, agencies, the military?

“ Most of them are underfunded, poorly administered, misused by vested interests and hardly able to live up to public expectations compelling people to search for alternative routes and contributing to impunity. Contact with them breeds anxiety, frustration, impatience and eventual disdain for the state. And yet they are headed by well-educated individuals with extensive experience and long and well padded CVs, and in many instances the failures are not from want of trying. Sometimes we take too many things for granted.”Arthur-Worrey said

He stated further that the NBA should walk the talk by enforcing the law, because its inability to punish erring members who engage in acts of impunity, would be called to question.

“If the NBA cannot speedily and objectively discipline lawyers involved in the most despicable act of professional misconduct, then we are encouraging the culture of impunity and enabling a distrusted and despised profession. If people are protected because of tribe or religion; if a very powerful government figure can give cover to a scoundrel facing a serious indictment, all in a bid to capture votes, not caring about the virtual immunity he is conferring by association, and with no reaction of outrage from the national elite because of sentiment, then impunity shall define us and when we become the victims we should not complain.

“The point am trying to make here is that the first rule in the battle against the impunity in our national life is an efficient and robust state machinery that functions efficiently and free of political and elite interference, and it is in our own enlightened self interest that we create and support such machinery.  We must design and administer state agencies and engineer their methodology to serve the public interest.”

The Executive Secretary, however, blamed the President Goodluck Jonathan administration for not working hard to tackle the Nigerian problem, saying that, “All is not well with Nigeria, and it is a challenge to the political system in the country.”

Arthur- Worrey, therefore, suggested periodic test of effectiveness of these system by looking at the actual methodology, auditing the process and people that are supposed to operate the system, and measuring whether desired outcomes have been achieved.

“ To be effective as moderating influence between all the contending tensions in all societies and achieve a measure of societal balance, we must have basic functioning part. These includes; laws which revise the moral judgment of the community; political machinery to revise these laws as needed; an executive to administer the laws; Judiciary machinery to settle dispute in accord with the laws; Superior force to deter violence and impunity by enforcing the law upon those who defy it; Sufficient well-being so that people are not driven in desperation to violence and a significant measure voluntary compliance with the laws by the elite.

“We must be clear; privilege bears responsibilities. By their education, enlightenment, exposure and influence, the elite more than the less privilege members of society, are bound to understand the importance of law abiding society, and that laws are easier to administer when there is voluntary moaning about our situation. We might find that if we believe in that aspiration and act on that conviction, things might begin to visibly change for, as Ghandi said, we must first become the change we want to see.

A Lagos based human rights lawyer, Jiti Ogunye called for the complete eradication of the culture of impunity in the country, so that the rule of law may triumph.

He said, “The culture of impunity cannot be fought without the application of the rule of law. Nigeria is supposed to be subject to the rule of law, but this is not so.”

The human rights lawyer charged those in government to, “realise that impunity is so toxic that it would turn back ‎to haunt them one way or the other adding that “‎Nigeria stands to benefit if the culture of impunity is eradicated completely.”

Earlier in her remark, the Chief Judge (CJ) of Lagos State‎, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade, who was represented by Justice Abdulfatai Lawal ‎said, “The CJ’s office is always opened to the Bar. But I must say this; the judiciary in Lagos State is short staffed and in order to ensure speedy dispensation of justice, more judges should be appointed.
In his welcome address, Chairman of the branch, Yinka Farounbi said the rule of law must be allowed to take its place at all times if the nation must move forward.