Mea culpa…my fault
Traditional society and the processes therein are a study of how change takes place while still maintaining the outward symbols of that society. Such changes are achieved by subtlety – acting quickly while the King is not paying attention or employing some supernatural agencies like the soothsayer to say enigmatic things that can later be read back to show that what was said was the will of the gods.
But to criticize directly is always seen as indecorous. Whereas in the Western Democracy, the very grundnum of government is the existence of a critical, vocal, and seen opposition.
Criticism is good in all societies. In our society, when you criticize – your words are conflated to abuse or opposition. You advise your King about the likely dangerous consequences of an action and the King replies “why are you always abusing me” – “O wa bumi ni”. In Igbo – obia I kpomu iyi, in Ijaw – “owa wori we bom” etc.
I say all this because what follows below is criticism which I believe, in the old Hegelian sense, leads to truth: put simply truth is almost never found without a rigorous process of criticism. Indeed the best test of friendship is when that relationship is subjected to the most withering criticism.
Our political leaders have an old mentality of foreswearing all criticism and encouraging sycophancy as the avenue of power and influence, that each action taken – which might sound reasonable in the executive council, turns out to be an idiotic intervention in people’s lives, an assault on people’s privileges and an affront to the very constitution our leaders have sworn to uphold. The protection of freedom of people and property within the protection of peace within the area of the jurisdiction of the political unit – these are the hallmarks of the constitutional oath and presumably the action of the Chief Executive Governor/President. Such broad obligations include the notion that the Governor is not above the law: everyone in the State is. The National Assembly and State Assembly men are equally subject to the law. The law enforcement agencies – Police, Custom, Military, and Immigration etc. have a primary principal job to obey and enforce the law. But they are subject to the law.
So what happens in Nigeria? One Governor arrives in his state capital, decides that the walls which the people had used to protect their houses from thieves and armed robbers hurts his sight of the house. The Governor decrees that all walls surrounding properties be knocked down: he proposes a standard boundary type dwarf wall and in the process acquires a bit of the land that had originally been in the landlord’s possession sometimes for over 20 years. The Governor’s decree has not improved water supply to the area, or electricity, or greater security patrols etc. The Governor is consumed by this idea that he wanted to see through the dwarf walls into your house. The obedient citizens of the state oblige the Governor – after a lot of inconvenience. So does the Governor now thank his citizens for obeying him. Has crime fallen because I have reduced my 8 feet protective wall to 2 feet dwarf wall?
The Governor builds state of the art schools and health centers in the state – really beautiful structures. The Governor is succeeded by a person with different political persuasion who purposely abandons the schools and health centers to the elements of weather – the buildings deteriorate: the grass overwhelms and reclaims the buildings – all because the two governors are fighting. The people continue to suffer inadequate schools and health services. There was a proposal to build a 5-star hotel in Port Harcourt which the new Government rescinded. Even if the new Government had a problem with the promoters because of their relationship with his predecessor, is that enough reason to deprive Port Harcourt of a 5-star Hotel? Would the proprietors live in the hotel? The new Governor behaves as if the people do not exist. If he were to use the schools built by his predecessors the kudos would not come to him. Instead the new Governor is building roads and bridges and all over the state capital. Why does the Governor believe that the roads would be used? The next new governor may simply cordon the roads off and build alternative roads. Political Science 101 teaches about Government continuity: such continuity improves the institutions of government.
Nothing the previous Governor has done impresses the new Governor. He won’t touch it – it is like an anathema (juju) to him except this new succeeding Governor stays in the same Government House after the necessary spiritual purification. If this is how Governors behave to each other’s legacies, it is not difficult to imagine how Governors will behave if you were a poor person. In the state – if you worked for the previous Governor you were gone. If that Governor rented your house, you were not paid by the new Governor; if you had a contract with the previous Government. forget it etc.
When a governor does not realize that what he is pursuing is not a personal vendetta but what is good for the people we have the beginning of despotism. The suffering is not by the Governor but by the people.
If the mentality of a Governor is to what I have described, then what follows is even par.
Someone has a hotel and has sex/nude parties in his hotel – during COVID-19 – I would imagine that the proper action is to arrest the revelers. The most improper action is to knock down the hotels which are a denial of the Governor’s right to protect life and property. If such law exists in a state law books, it is against the constitution and against human rights. Those aggrieved have taken the laws into their hands and went to the Governor’s father’s village to disrupt houses there or fetish shrines. What is the principle lost here?
In Lagos, another Governor has managed, even against constitutional freedom, to pass a law in the Lagos state Assembly that allows the traffic police to seize any car that is driving against a one way street. The Assembly has no law against trucks that are parked in no parking areas, from Apapa, to Airport, to Tin Can, to Costain to Badagry. Why are they not auctioning those trucks? They are causing the gridlock in Lagos Ports!
To be continued tomorrow.
Dr Cole, OFR, is former Nigerian ambassador to Brazil.
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