Sunday, 3rd December 2023

The Mmesomas and culture of impunity – Part 1

By Martins Oloja
09 July 2023   |   4:00 am
I had reminded Nigeria’s leader then Muhammadu Buhari who marked the fifth anniversary of his second coming into power in Nigeria that week that there was one critical factor that could prevent him from making history.

When a leader encourages the culture of impunity, the society is lost and it makes the work harder for the rest of us (Wole Soyinka)

The powerful feed ideology to the masses like fast food while they dine on that most rarefied delicacy: impunity (Naomi Klein)
Nothing’s as dangerous as power with impunity (Isabel Allende)

But if the laws are to be so trampled upon with impunity, and a minority is to dictate to the majority, there is an end put at one stroke to republican government, and nothing but anarchy and confusion is to be expected thereafter (George Washington)

Terrorism doesn’t just blow up buildings; it blasts every other issue off the political map. The spectre of terrorism – real and exaggerated – has become a shield of impunity, protecting governments around the world from scrutiny for their human rights abuses (Naomi Klein)

The main challenge is what to do in the face of double standards. Those who should be rendered accountable under international criminal law, the Kissingers of this world, enjoy de facto impunity, while those who come from countries that have long been targets of hegemonic abuse are used as poster children of accountability (Richard A. Falk)

The ultimate enemy of Democracy is not the drug dealer or the crooked politician or the crazed skinhead. The ultimate enemy is the New King that has become so powerful that it can murder its own citizens with impunity (Gerry Spence)

There are two things. There was the moral responsibility, and that, first, is creating an atmosphere where the security forces can kill with impunity, where they can turn up at a place, shoot seven people – really at point-blank fashions – and then get away with it and be, in fact, promoted. And then there is the actual responsibility, the governmental responsibility. My aunt’s government forbade us, initially, from filing a police report – which is every Pakistani citizen’s right under the law (Fatima Bhutto)

What I fear most is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse. (Isabel Allende)

Once the law is broken with impunity, each man regains the right to any means he deems proper or necessary in order to defend himself against the new tyrant, the one who can break the law. (Allan Bloom)

In a well-governed state, there are few punishments, not because there are many pardons, but because criminals are rare; it is when a state is in decay that the multitude of crimes is a guarantee of impunity (Jean Jacques Rousseau).

The hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong (Marcus Tullius Cicero)

No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity (Thomas Jefferson)

Impunity should be condemned in any corner of the world (Rigoberta Menchu)

In an Inside Stuff article on “impunity and apologies” published in The Guardian, Sunday, May 24, 2020, P.13,, I quoted the same words on marble above to simplify the purpose of the article then, which was to kill two birds with a stone: to mark the 5th anniversary of the Buhari administration (which came up on Friday, May 29, 2020) and to advise the official managers of Covid-19 under the aegis of Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the danger condoning lawlessness at that time too.

I had reminded Nigeria’s leader then Muhammadu Buhari who marked the fifth anniversary of his second coming into power in Nigeria that week that there was one critical factor that could prevent him from making history. And the factor I identified then was the administration’s celebration of impunity culture that was emerging then.

I had then dealt with the low hanging fruits in the culture of impunity that was becoming the signature of the Buhari administration at that time in 2020. The origin as it was written then: The head of the presidential bureaucracy, the Secretary to the Government (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha who headed the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, was constantly apologising then since April 20, 2020 for some serious lapses in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. First, he apologised for the shoddy and dangerous handling of the burial of then Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari who joined his ancestors on April 17, 2020. The burial arrangement was a classic case of celebration of impunity: The then Information Minister, (a member of the PTF on Covid -19) Alhaji Lai Mohammed had earlier told the nation that those who fell to Covid-19 power would not be buried anyhow and the remains would not be released to the family members. That rule was flagrantly flouted as Kyari’s body was flown from Lagos to his residence in Abuja where the other rule on physical (social) distancing was curiously violated up to the burial ground where undertakers and health workers were also observed to be very careless and endangered. So many senior public officers including many from the president’s office were at the burial site and they failed to observe physical distancing rule. It was quite remarkable then that the SGF indeed did the unthinkable: apologised. This was strange but noble. That calmed frayed nerves about that exhibition of impunity. But I had then asked the following rhetorical questions: “where were the queries to duty bearers whose irresponsible attitude caused the apology? Who was suspended for the mediocrity displayed on that Black Saturday?”

Again within that same week, the same SGF had to apologise on behalf of the Task Force for police authorities’ brutality on Covid-19 frontline workers including medical personnel, journalists who were detained for allegedly flouting Covid-19 curfew (order). The illegal detention of essential workers took place a day after the same SGF (on behalf of the president) paid tribute to the frontline workers and reiterated adequate protection for them.

Specifically, on Monday, May 18, the SGF and PTF Chairman said, “…specific directives had been issued to security agencies to strictly enforce the measures…I therefore admonish Nigerians to observe the restrictions in full. I however wish to assure our essential workers such as the frontline medical personnel, the media, the environmental health workers, farmers and agro-allied service providers, oil and gas services, aviation, the power sector and a host of others that they will be adequately protected. Your obligation is to always carry your valid means of identification…”

There was no ambiguity in this reiteration of an extant protocol. So, where did the police get their directive for “stricter enforcement of the curfew without exemption”, which the IGP had to reverse that same night after more than 50 essential workers were detained in Alausa, Lagos police station for allegedly violating the order? The SGF again apologised for this police strange overzealousness and gross violation of a presidential order. Yet no one was queried. No one was punished after a series of apologies. Are the police too big to be queried? Who authorised the unlawful order that SGF had to apologise for? Those acts appeared then as part of low hanging fruits at issue. Yes they are but they are fruits. The SGF’s remarkable apologies would have been more meaningful if there had been concomitant suspension of some top officials in the presidency and some senior police officers as I was saying. After all, once upon a time, President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) one day showed that the law must rule even the Inspector General of Police when an IGP, Tafa Balogun was arrested by an officer of the law who was an Assistant Commissioner of Police and Chairman of the anti-graft commission, the EFCC then, Malam Nuhu Ribadu (now National Security Adviser), IGP Balogun was promptly prosecuted and jailed. This happened in this same Abuja.

As the question continued then: “Why has the controversial role of the police, specifically in this Covid-19 warfare not attracted the attention of authorities in Abuja? Haven’t they read reports across platforms that the police have been compromising all the rules of lockdown in the cities and along inter-state routes? Who allowed the Almajirai curious migration from the core North to even the remote parts of the Niger Delta? Who have been permitting night bus travels (daily) from even Lagos to different parts of the country during/since the so-called lockdown? Why have the police become so lawless and uncontrollable in this dispensation?”

And so I had then noted: “So, as Mr. President is warming up to cross over to his sixth year in office, he should note that a culture of impunity, which has given rise to mediocrity everywhere we go, should be deftly dealt with – beyond rhetoric. Our leader should not celebrate the fact that all the professional bodies and civil society organisations and the vibrant media that fought for this democracy that he and his people are enjoying have since dozed off. Curiously, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) could not even bark in early 2019 when Abuja powers through an Administrative Tribunal (Code of Conduct Tribunal), went on rampage, set aside constitutional provisions for removing the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Walter Onnoghen. They removed Nigeria’s CJN in a twinkling of an eye without allowing even one judicial pronouncement. To me, this was the greatest celebration of impunity culture since we returned to democracy in 1999. What was worse, even a section of the media published blatant lies against Justice Onnoghen. That section of the media published fake news items in support of ‘state terror’ that the then CJN allegedly kept $3 million dollars in a foreign account and registered 55 houses in Nigeria – all in a bid to remove him before the last election (2019). They did. Till the present, nobody has sued the media that published that damaging lead story even the Tribunal discovered was indeed fake. How can the powers that be and even the NBA and the complicit media organs seek or find peace after unleashing this jungle justice on Nigeria’s Chief Justice? Some day, when we have a nation, one hopes there will be genuine remorse and then an apology to Justice Onnoghen who is still not free to travel to even Ghana.”

Now that Ejikeme, Joy Mmesoma, the 19-year-old student of Anglican Girls Secondary School, Uruagu Nnewi, Anambra State, has confirmed the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board’s (JAMB’s) allegation and confessed that she actually manipulated her 2023 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME result, it is a time for another introspection on our growing culture of impunity. Will she and others who committed these grievous offences be punished? Impunity means freedom from punishment or from the unpleasant results of something that has been done… It denotes exemption from punishment or loss. It means exemption, freedom – immunity from an obligation or duty.

The new administration in Nigeria needs to deal with this emerging culture that has made us to forget the fact that even the Chairman of an anti-graft agency in our country is on suspension over allegation that the institution he presides over is corrupt and so he too may not be above board. What is worse, the predecessor of the suspended EFCC Chairman too was curiously retired from office after serous alllegations that he too was corrupt and a Judicial Commission of Enquiry’s report on the Acting Chairman was never made public.

***We will continue with more examples of this terrible culture next week