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The power and the frustration

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Dan Agbese

Dan Agbese

In my idle moments, I sometimes find myself entertaining the unholy sneaking feeling that in his quiet moments of contemplation, President Buhari must sometimes find himself ruing the day he decided to seek the people’s consent to be a civilian president. The electorate gave him the thumbs up. He is now in Aso Rock directing the salubrious wind of change.

I would imagine that Buhari’s first political culture shock must be that he is a lot less powerful than he had hoped to be. The Nigerian president is actually powerful in a rather perverse way. He can afford to ignore the constitutional limits to his powers and choose to be lawless in the mistaken belief that the president can do no wrong. That is not a decent path in a constitutional government. Democracy is the only form of government that promises so much freedom yet allows only an elbow room to exercise it.

Buhari can do nothing with immediate effect, see? The constitution empowers the national assembly not to let him. Constitutional government is, arguably, a collective decision-making institution. If he wants to spend money, he must ask parliament for its permission. Even some of his statutory appointments are subject to the approval of parliament. The small men can deny the big man his wish. Oh, sweet democracy!

All that pales beside these. Buhari sees thieves and rogues who have stolen this country blind laughing, not to the bank, but in our faces, mocking us because we are not smart. He cannot lock them up and leave it to each person to discharge the onus of his innocence. He sees the lucky beneficiaries of the generosity of the country’s most generous president, Goodluck Jonathan, making quite a splash with the former president’s largesse and he can nothing. He can only set EFCC after them. The commission may shake them down and see the kobo drop but the Naira holds firm in their pockets.

Buhari sees the national assembly in disarray, with its principle officers enmeshed in allegations of corruption. Each to save his own skin, if not his legislative seat. Breaking the law or dragging through the cesspool ought to be something strange to the hallowed chambers where laws for the good governance of our country are supposed to be hammered out. It is no brainer, I presume, that a lawless legislative chamber cannot give birth to good laws. Buhari cannot dissolve parliament or even sack the men who, in the expressive phrase of Dan Etete, former petroleum minister, choose to dance naked in the market place. The constitution gives him no such powers. It is his luck to see these men enjoying a hearty owambe in the market place – and laughing like the untouchable big men and women they are.

Look on the bright side here, brother. You may be nauseated by the irony of the honourable whose behaviour makes the dishonourable wince, but we must be grateful to them for inadvertently opening their rotten legislative chambers to full public view. Now, we know that the much loved prefix distinguished (for senators) and honourable (for the House of Representatives) is too tattered a piece of cloth to cover up their naked perfidy and duplicity. We have picked up a new word from them. You see, corruption has many aliases, such as family support. In the desecrated chambers of the national assembly, it is known as padding.

Chief Obasanjo in his blunt way has said: “Integrity is necessary for all systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state houses of assembly and the national assembly. What sort of laws will they make?” Perhaps, they will make laws for the protection of rogues and armed robbers. None of our institutions is untainted.

I bet that the president must be shocked by the comprehensive corruption that has shredded the integrity of his professional constituency, the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The transformation of service chiefs into service-thieves is not just the case of individuals falling by the road side. It points to a more fundamental malaise in our body politic. We are all guilty of the love of money. Reminds me of what Malam Adamu Ciroma once told me. He said: “Never say anyone is incorruptible unless he has been exposed to the temptation and resisted it.”

The institution that once touted itself as the anti-corruption knight in shining armour, and came out to do battle with the ten per centers, has lost its soul too. Ah, yes, khaki no be leather. It must be truly painful to the president because the one institution that should partner with him to rescue this nation from the vice-grip of corruption has been eaten by the termites of venality and greed.

To whom should the president turn in his efforts to clean up the society? The judiciary? This third arm of government too has not risen above the common failings of the rest of us. It has managed over the years to fail the common man as his defender and protector from the arrogance of men of power and influence in the society. I am saying nothing new when I point out that some judges sell their judgements to the highest bidders.

Senior lawyers and judges are routinely in cahoots in subverting the law. A good content of a Ghana-must go bag makes the law blind to facts of a case and deaf to the wailings of justice. Those who are called government judges are the willing tools, always willing to do what pleases the government rather what advances the course of justice and the rule of law. Their service comes with a good mess of pottage.

I fear that the president’s anti-corruption fight has no support system. Not from the legislature and, certainly, not from the judiciary. Spare some thoughts for him. He is condemned to the loneliness of the long distance runner.

Being thus hemmed in cannot be a small problem for Buhari. President Obasanjo was both irritated and frustrated by the constitutional provisions that made the most powerful president on the continent practically powerless. He took matters into his hands, as witness his unconstitutional decision to suspend two state governments – Plateau and Ekiti – for six months. We understood his frustration with the system but the constitution does not permit a president frustrated with its tardy ways to turn himself into what Tell magazine called the imperial president.

Of all the president’s numerous sources of irritation, the dance of the absurd in the national assembly should be his greatest worry. The national assembly has been turned into a house of commotion. How could these men and women make sensible laws for the good governance of our country amidst the challenge of their individual struggles? It is a moot point whether padding is illegal or criminal, there being, I suppose a thin line between what is legal and what is criminal – in the informed view of the legislators.

Small men love to watch big men fight. But this has gone too far and taken something away from the integrity of law-making and constitutional government in our country. We should stop laughing now at the antics of these men. Our constitutional government is imperilled by their dishonourable and shameful conduct. Our constitutional government is set up to rest on a tripod, not a bipod. One diseased leg causes the wobbling of the healthy two legs.

This has enormous implications for the Buhari era. He cannot afford to remain aloof and expect the ill wind in the national assembly to blow out on its own. That would be too trusting of the neutrality of fate in the affairs of man.


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