WEDNESDAY COLUMN BY USSIJU MEDANER
This week, while getting ready for the normal weekly rite of deciding what to write about as a regular columnist, and already surrounded with a barrage of potential topics of discussion of national significance, I came across the expression of sadness of a serving senator in America who was literally angered by the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the Minnesota police officer who literarily kneeled on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes until he died. I was already bothered by the gross support for Kyle Rittenhouse – after the teenager’s killing of two and fatally wounded a third among the Black Life Matter protesters – by politicians who prefer not to see the insecurity their actions impose on the society as long as it delivers to them mass popularity and election victories. This import readily applies to the reality of Nigeria as well: where politicians throw caution to the wind as they orchestrate and fuel crises and killings across the country; and its corollary which is their apparent refusal to act in any considerable manner to arrest insecurity and more often than not exploit such situations ambitiously.
The dynamics of insecurity, particularly the political dimension that fuels insecurity across the globe have recently assumed an alarming level that calls for global responses. While the Arab nations are embroiled in non-ending devastating wars, terrorism and consequences of terror attacks, the continent of Africa has subtly and overtime become a robust playing field for all manner of physical attacks on its body and souls, turning the continent and its major nations into inhabitable settlements. Human life stopped being sacred a long time ago; the cost of taking lives suddenly by some events unexplainable becomes cheap. Men snuffing out lives of fellow men with reckless abandon as random assaults and killings have become the most common element of our existence globally.
News are no longer worth it and sellable without content of bloodletting, killings and dehumanising attacks all over the world; whether in Nigeria, or in the American, or in the Middle East or elsewhere, the drum of wars and the actual wars are the real deals of the century and the sellable points of the prints and digital tabloids.
The developed nations of the world are in no way exempted from the worrisome trends that are fast overpowering global peace and security of lives in local settlements, cities and across international boundaries. While bandits, Boko Haram, and kidnappers were wreaking havoc here in Nigeria, the States of America and their streets have become as much an extrajudicial killing field responsible for the brutal killings of citizens on a daily basis. After a catalogue of killings by the White-dominated Police and the White Supremacists on the streets of states across the United State of America, it no longer really matter what the cause of the killings and maiming is, but the acts itself and the reality of the fact that there is no end in view to the absence of safety created by these killings that enjoy supports from political groups and leanings.
Yet, while the killings and other acts of insecurity in themselves are worrisome, more troubling is the influence of politicians and political rhetoric as both causative and incendiary factors. In Nigeria, the heart of the African continent, the link between politics, political interests and politicians’ carelessness to national insecurity, and the growing proliferation of terror groups across the regions is as obvious as the interchange between the day and night. In apparent selfish bids to get power and perpetuate holds on the same, power mongers and seekers would put on the table the option of hitting up the national polity and creating unrest to mount the seat of authority. Behind the weaponizing and sustenance of Boko Haram, the bandits, kidnappings and other notable insecurity in the country, has been the accompanying stories of powerful individuals who bankroll and directly and indirectly benefit from the atrocities; yet, we have been incapable, as a people and a nation, to react in the form of bringing to justice these men and women.
Not limited to Nigeria, the heightenings of politics and political participation have driven political players overboard, to the point where everything is admissible, as long as it offers electoral victory. Just as much as PDP in Nigeria opted to use herders-farmer conflict in the North Central state of Benue, splitting over to the South-South, and briefly in the South-western state of Ondo, as a political anchor to winning elections during the nation’s 2019 general elections, sponsoring the killings as much as sponsoring the reporting; it should equally be noted that the Republican party, under former president Donald Trump openly adopted the support for perpetrators of maiming and killings of the people of colour in the country to maintain its support base and hold on the white population.
The killing of George Floyd and the erupting Black Life Matter (BLM) protests across the country, the open show of support by the president for the killer police and ready desire to see outright responses that could lead to the deaths of more protesters as seen by the action of the former president in front of the Baptist church by the White House, revealed so much to the worrisome reality of the political class involvement in the growing national cum global insecurity.
At the height of the killings and the outcries, the political GOP elites openly declared support for the Police Department to the point where a serving senator openly declared that the conviction of the officer responsible for the killing of George Floyd is a miscarriage of justice and one that shows that the judiciary is against the Police. In another instance, the GOP, including the president, roundly stood up for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who brutally killed two citizens and wounded another in an unwarranted shooting some months ago. The praise for the teenager knows no bounds; it was claimed he is a hero, who stood up to defend the integrity of the white population and its territory against the usurping Black Life Matter protesters. The party raised money to secure his bail, and has continued to make financial assistance including struggling to create for him a victim image. We saw a party and a president that stood back watching as their state capitol was brought under siege by armed protesters doing their bidding and till date remain unrepentant as regards its defence of the capitol siege.
The same is the play in China, in Russia, in Israel and in almost every other nation of the world. Insurgency against the states and the people both locally and internationally is on the rise because the politicians see it and use it as weapons to political ends. Whether in the heavily desecrated Middle East, or in China, or in the race superiority and political domination struggle of the USA, or here in Nigeria, the currency is similar: politicians know the perpetrators of the harms against their citizens, and have no reason to either confront or stop the insecurity heightenings, because they exploit it and are the final beneficiaries of such terrors on the people.
Politicians are the architects of corruption, the brains behind most insecurity, and yet they remain almost untouchable both by the citizens and the laws of the land where they continue to subject the nation and its people to bondage of wastelands, unrests, internal wars and the consequential economic and social anguishes.
We are all living witness to the frightening politically orchestrated attacks on the very soul of the country in the guise of an ENDSARS protest some months ago. Till now, the import of the organised attack still weighs on the country, and the time bomb of the reenactment of the act is ticking as the seed has already been sown and nobody, not a politician, nor any of the field actors of the attacks has answered to the crime they committed against the country. It is the game plan of the current crop of politicians we paraded in the country, even if it takes a full blown war to get them to power, they are all in for it. These are people who are willing to create excuses enough for the Military to take over power in the hope of benefits they would get from the rearrangement of the systems of the country – not minding the backwardness it would further create for the country.
Why this minute population becomes the greatest challenge to national and global peace and nothing – yet – could be done about them is a question that begs for urgent response. How could the legal frameworks of the country be so impotent in response to the crimes this group keeps committing against our commonwealth; the assaults on the peace and sanctity of the nation and its people. Since when has the constitution of the nation become a toothless dog that only barks but never bite?
For a country like Nigeria that has remain under attacks by insurgents for over a decade, to have named at different times individuals with links that suggests critical involvements with the terror groups, and yet till date, more than a decade after, has not for once, commenced any serious investigation into any of those individuals, not to talk of getting a conviction against a single individual is a serious reality of the incapacity of the nation’s legal system amidst a weak civil society. In Zamfara state, for instance, the news was that powerful men including some politicians, senior military personnel, and community leaders, were the forces behind the bandits terrorising the state, as means to maintain hold on the state’s gold deposits; yet, it is all a forgotten discussion today. No one has been brought to justice in this regard, but business as usual. Why? Is it because the individuals are more powerful than the constitution of the land, or because the constitution is weak in its capacity to respond when the alleged offenders are powerful men? The only conviction of note was of one Army General, Hakeem Otiki who, as the GOC 8 Division in Sokoto, right under his watch, a bunch of soldiers stole money traced to him, that was meant to prosecute insecurity in the Northwest region where Zamfara is situated. But from the civil-political side, no conviction, no scapegoat till date.
When Benue state was turned into a killing field in the days preceding the 2019 elections, with claims of killer-herders being responsible for the maiming and fatal attacks on farmers and communities, what did the country do after the elections and the abrupt end of the killings and revelations that obviously pointed to the fact that the attacks and killings were the political handiwork of a group who saw the unrest as a means to winning elections in the targeted state? We stopped at discussing the barbarity of the act on both the media and on the street, and nothing else. The perpetrators, still walking free, are strategising on how to introduce the same barbaric tool somewhere else to achieve the same goal – winning at whatever cost. What prevents the full investigation of the fact of the acts and institution of legal proceedings to reveal the individuals and their involvements in the dastard crimes, to serve as deterrents to others?
The failure of the constitution to catch these perpetrators has become one of the major undoing of Nigeria as a country. The more we establish the weaknesses of our legal framework, the incapacity of our constitution to catch offenders, the more we welcome into the fold, more daring offenders. The more politicians will see procuring guns for thugs as a legitimate part of electioneering, and the more we let loose on our streets, killers with political backing.
So, is Nigeria’s problem really the constitution? Is the constitution really weak to convict these daredevil offenders? Is it the constitution that allows the forever delay of cases, interlocutory injunctions, and the grossly politicised usage of technicalities that have become the normal in our court systems and which have made conviction of criminals against the sanctity of the country a rarity for the country? So many cases come to mind; Dasukigate, the Diezani, the Saraki, Patience Jonathan and an unending list. What is the outcome of these cases after almost half a decade? What must be done to save the country from the cold, crippling lawlessness that has engulfed it; from the reality that is totally a stumbling block to real development of the country?
Sometimes in 2017, a one time governor of Osun State attributed the prevailing predicaments and other national inadequacies to a deficiency in the Nigeria Constitution. He was then of the opinion that the nation’s Constitution was embedded with challenges that limit its enforcement. Is it true that the nation’s Constitution is filled with elements that were deliberately inserted to make it unworkable? Does the Constitution fail to respond because it was fashioned to fail?
I do not really think the Constitution is weak, neither is it perfect but adequate; as it was the same Nigerian Constitution that could not be used to convict Dariye and the other governors for over a decade, that eventually got them convicted within six months – and currently serving prison term – when the will to convict arose. It is still the same Constitution that could no longer respond after then; the same Constitution that chose quietness in dealing with the Dasuki case and got several early convictions against several politicians overturned on technicalities.
We could choose to go the way of constitutional amendments in a bid to sharpen the sword of the document and yet, that would not lead us to anything different from what is obtainable currently. The problem of the Constitution and the applications of the nation’s legal framework as a deterrent to treasonable crimes and criminality are never in the soul of the Constitution but loosely in the hands of the men entrusted with the Nigerian Constitution.
The immediate past president of America, Donald Trump was a crook of the order of Nigerian politicians. Immediately after he lost the 2020 election and in his very many attempts to overturn the outcome of the election, went to court with over a hundred petitions against the election in several states and districts where he lost the polls. He was sure some courts were bound to give him favourable verdicts because the judges were either his appointees or that of former presidents from his Republican party. He was irritated when the Supreme Court he had intentionally prepared for that purpose, with even the appointment of a new judge just before the election, threw out his petitions, just the same ways other courts threw his cases out one after the other. The judiciary works in that country. The opposite is the case with the Nigeria Constitution and the court system; the soul of the Constitution and the court system are bound by countless entanglements dancing to tunes being played by elements and machinations outside the system.
The principle of a free and independent judiciary in Nigeria is a fallacy; a non-existing concept. The judiciary, as against the objectives and yearnings of democracy has become an appendage of the executives and more or less answerable to powerful individuals, money bags and political leaders in the states and the country at large. How do we explain the funds for the judiciary in the purses and direct control of the executives? How do we explain the governors’ regular purchases and gifting of luxurious cars to the judges? Have we forgotten the popular saying that whoever is responsible for you – materially – also enjoys control over you? In states, the judges are indirectly answerable to the governors and directions of cases are jointly decided on a table at the executive pleasure. A judge can be woken up by midnight to prepare an injunction because the governor needs it, and so we see injunctions and counter-injunctions flying around in a manner that insults the nation’s legal system and casts shameful aspersions on our seriousness to fight crimes and uphold justice. The judges presiding over our courts have become corrupted to the point that every judge now carries a price tag. Cases are no longer won by merit of facts, evidence and submissions but the magnitude of the sidekicks that exchange hands. Our courts have become a market for the highest bidders.
Our main problem is not constitutional and the solution we seek is not in constitutional amendment but institutional reformation. When the nation’s judiciary system is reformed and the independency of the judiciary is finally and truly entrenched; when it becomes literally impossible for judges to demand for or receive bribe as precondition for favourable verdicts, it would become obvious, how strong the Nigeria constitution is to responding to treasonable crimes and criminality of all folds within the polity.
Where do we then begin from, to solve the main national issues? We must go back to the table to develop working capacity to fight corruption which cannot be divorced from national insecurity. We must find a way around to clipping the wings of politicians who have made the fight against corruption an impossible task for the nation; and when that is done, if possible, discussing a free and independent judiciary, just as much as every other units of the administration of the country would become an achievable and affordable dream. Until then, calls for constitutional reviews and amendments would be a jamboree for another festering corruption while insecurity worsens.
Finally, it should be noted that to solve these protracted national issues is a call on all patriots; and all those who have sensitive responsibilities in the nation’s bureaucracy and leadership have greater roles to play in this noble endeavour. We already have the institutional structures in place but only signature reforms are ostensibly lacking. And it will be profitable for the nation to take the heed of addressing insecurity by not focusing only on the average police officer on the streets or by the desks, nor pumping out money hastily and without prudentiality, but by ensuring quality, productive leadership in all the nation’s security authorities, imbibing global best practices in intelligence gathering, particularly security technologies and cultivating the manpower and capacity to that effect. In the same vein, searchlights must also be pointed at the layers of oversights on the nation’s security institutions, including the various commissions and councils, for they equally bear the responsibility of the failure to curb insecurity in the nation.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!