Political convention and laws of good behaviour – Part 1
A little while ago, three of our legislators had their Visas to the United States cancelled because they were accused of unwelcome sexual behaviour while in the US. A debate seems to have occurred as to whether they were “guilty” of such approach and that they, like every citizen, must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Legislators have a higher responsibility than ordinary human beings.
They are never shy to accept those responsibilities and in fact demand them – diplomatic passports, special name plates for their cars, police protection, unconscionable high salaries in a country where the average earning is below US$ 100 per annum; constituency allowances, travel allowances and so on. National Assembly members cannot, when they enjoy these benefits, fall back on the argument of Okoro Ade Abubakar, the common Nigerian, that he too is innocent until proven guilty. His call to social responsibility is higher and must respond accordingly.
In most countries, the National Assembly enjoys the benefits that had evolved out of several years of convention and practice. They have earned the respect of their people, despite the almost general belief that they are there for their private interests, not the national good. In most countries National Assemblies are not full of people, like in Nigeria, who had been Governors etc. and who use the National Assembly as a cover up or insurance against possible persecution for malfeasance while in office.
From 1979, a number of our legislators have been accused of similar behavior in the US and elsewhere. A number of Senators in 1979 escaped justice in the US for similar offences and were fugitives from justice by fleeing back to Nigeria, having been accused in the United State of sexual offences. OBJ’s celebrated fight with his townsman rest, among other things, on similar insinuations. The President of International Monetary Fund (IMF), a prospective future President of France was accused in the US of unwanted and non-consensual sex act with a female room cleaner in the United States. He lost his Job and the chance of being President of France. We saw the spectacle of this great man in handcuffs going before a US judge.The case of the legislators did not go as far as this but that is all irrelevant.
There are certain behaviour not expected of our legislators, who like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. The general attitude of Nigerians to the accusations or allegations against our legislators is not indignation that our legislators can never behave in the way suggested by the maids. Their response is rather legalistic – case not proven. That is why we must evolve a code of proper behavior of our legislator which includes punishment for acts of moral opprobrium, acts tending to bring the reputation of the National Assembly to ridicule and disrepute etc.
Our legislators must respond to a higher call of duty and morality than the average man because they should be role models. That this aspect of their behavior is not emphasized is regrettable. We do not want empty peacocks as legislators. We expect them to be beacons of proper behaviour, a shining example of what a good African can be.
When the spending scandal broke out in the United Kingdom, what guided most reaction to their behavior was that their acts brought Parliament to disrepute. Politicians do not generally enjoy a high reputation of good behavior but that should never be a reason to behave in ways shoring up that view. That is why they are expected to pay their taxes, not to fleece the government by irreverent and unsupportable claims etc.
Now to the US! These friends of ours are as two- faced as any politician. They love to preach transparency, good governance, public responsibility etc. but are themselves careless in failing to keep to their own preaching – believe that what they say is the proper thing to do. That they do not always do so is neither here nor there. They love to point at the failings of other cultures, nations and people but their own history in government, business, morality and everyday human behaviour cannot be followed as examples of good conduct.
The Afro American Congressman of New York, Rev. Powell Jnr was subjected to the most relentless pursuit of persecution and discrimination than any other human being in US congressional history. The activities of the Huey families in Alabama remain the epitome of political crassness, election manipulation and racism ever. They ran the K.K.K. The oil families of DuPont, Rockefeller and hundreds of thousands of whites who went west to exploit gold and other minerals can never be condemned enough for their inhuman treatment of indigenous Indians and blacks.
We know the US history of slavery, slave trade, discrimination etc. but they have been able, despite these shortcomings, to pull themselves up by the boot straps, to repair the evil they see in themselves by organization, civil rights and implementing good laws and affirmative action. There are still vestiges of arrogance that American citizen cannot be subject to the laws of other countries – they try to inculcate this in countries they have tried to help – Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Vietnam etc. when the Americans refused to allow their advisers to be subject to local laws.
The fear of US citizen being subject to laws in other jurisdiction was responsible for their refusal to sign up to the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court etc, including their unending troubles in Okinawa, which has a long history beginning with the Whiteman refusing the jurisdiction of Courts in India, China and Japan as early as the 17th century. The hatred of Iranians and Iraqis for the West is in large part due to the laws and behavior patterns of the West beginning from Egypt, throughout the Middle, Central and Far East from the beginning of this century.
Conventions and practice are sometimes even stronger than laws – that is why the National Assembly must evolve such conventions and strengthen their disciplinary committees. When I was a civil servant the convention was if you were in court accused of any crime, you were “interdicted”, simply means your case is before a court or disciplinary panel. You stopped going to work until you have purged yourself of the allegations. If freed, you came back to work and all arrears were paid to you while the matters were being tried and investigated.
That is why I think that the Senate President and indeed all those political office holders accused of crimes or malfeasance should stand down; clear their names, before returning to office. I know this sounds harsh especially as the constitution is clear that one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But these are not simple issues of law; they are issues of morality and culpable public conduct. How could you investigate a judge while he is still in office or is sitting on a case where the accused doubts his impartiality? How could you investigate the Audit Department of an Institution while the Internal Auditor is still coming to the office? Or a Police Commissioner when he is still in charge of the command you are investigating?
To be continued tomorrow
Dr. Cole OFR, is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil.
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