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Not this Senate, not the judiciary

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Law Mefor

The buck being passed around today over poor governance will eventually stop at the President’s table. It is not quite likely that Nigerians would blame the Senate or judiciary for the Federal Government’s failure to deliver the dividends of democracy to them. All considered, the Senate can be said to be doing pretty well in making governance easy despite the antagonism that it has faced from the executive arm since inception.

The bipartisan nature of the current Senate and its sagacious leadership by Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu remains venerable. It is keeping in the true tradition of a Senate, which is supposed to be a moderating force between the more tempestuous lower house and the executive arm. This explains why the ruling party and the opposition party hardly come to play.  The Senators act more based on issues and most of the time, they are near unanimous in their decisions, showing that the opposition is not out to make the government to fail.

The reason why the citizens of any country change their government is to give an alternative that holds the promise of a chance to bring in refreshing perspectives to governance. I believe this was the exact reason why many Nigerians voted in the All Progressives Congress. For the better part of the two years, the ruling party has been blaming former President Goodluck Jonathan, who though messed up quite a bit, can no longer be justifiably blamed for the poor performance of the government that took over from him to fix things.

The present government may have inherited a bad situation, but, like a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Chukwuma Soludo, said recently, they made it worse. This is why many Nigerians are now surprisingly shouting, “Bring back our corruption”.

Also, I believe in the J-curve. It is the assumption that new things tend to get worse before getting better. But the apologists who flaunt this theory have not addressed how much longer Nigerians should wait for the depressive downturn of the curve to look up. By this time next year, another general election would be only nine months away. What this means is that the APC does not even have one full year to

restore the vanishing hope. Thus, if things continue this in way, what will the APC most likely tell Nigerians in order to win again; that Jonathan left an empty treasury and an Augean stable that would require 16 years to clean and make right again? It will take greater propaganda fireworks than was witnessed in the buildup to 2015 general election for Nigerians to fall for it again.

One thing that many have glossed over is the fact that democracy and military dictatorship are polar opposites. An attempt to mix up the two in the present government is causing the upheavals in the economy and the polity. The closest it comes in a democracy is where and when there is a state of emergency, where sweeping powers are granted the President to bypass due process. But there is no state of emergency to warrant carrying on as if the other arms of government do not matter.

In a military regime, the three arms of government – comprising the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – are fused in one individual. In a democracy, in order to avoid the tyranny of one man, the arms are not even fused in three persons. As institutions, the arms are run by teams. So, any presumption that the three arms can be fused in President Muhammadu Buhari without first securing for him emergency powers is not only wrong; it also shows how things got messed up in the country in the last two years.

It started with the ruling party getting off with the notion that the President can muzzle the other two arms. That was why the party tried to force leaders on the

Senate and the House of Reps. Since then, the executive arm has been frantically trying to change the leadership of National Assembly, much to the distraction of the red chamber and to itself, with the active support of some Nigerians who should be protecting our democracy from tyranny, including some senior advocates of Nigeria who are deliberately interpreting the laws upside-down to get into the good books of Buhari.

One of the President’s campaign promises was to rid the country of corruption. His intention to do this has always been there. But the political will is one of the many factors that must align properly for the fight to be successful. Even before the political will comes the legal framework. The ongoing anti-graft war, no doubt,  calls for stringent measures, such as fast-track courts and further amendment to the criminal administration act. But this has not been done and the resulting vacuum has led to frustrations in the regular courts, which the anti-graft agencies have wrongly interpreted as sabotage on the side of the judiciary and the legislature.

The accusations of bias against the fight against corruption are increasing by the day and critics easily find ready examples to argue that the fight is only cosmetic and showy and government is only making do with a few symbolic gestures as proof that it is serious.

The cases of the suspended SGF, Babachir Lawal and Ibrahim Magu of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission remain sore spots. The investigative panel headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to establish the facts, no matter the outcomes, is but a mere damage control and face saving move. Of course, it has been doublespeak all the way.

The sum of N500bn, being part of the funds for the proposed 2017 budget, we have learnt, has been sourced from loot recovered from corrupt public officials. Yet, the names of those who returned the loot remain a secret. Government claims that the monies are still undergoing judicial processes and that it would be prejudicial to name and shame the thieves at this stage.

Assuming this strange logic is true, what right has the government to spend the money if it does not belong to the government and the people yet? Or what legal protection is a man who voluntarily returned what he stole entitled to? Yet, we hear that the non-disclosure is intended to shield government from public odium as the true identities of many of the mindless looters would be an embarrassment.

So, clearly, it is all about politics and the leadership of this country  unwittingly playing politics with everything, including the fight against corruption and national security.

The EFCC, all the time playing to the gallery, is said to be carrying out plea bargain, which is the exclusive preserve of the courts and not part of its legitimate functions. The agency is said to be forcing people to return money to be let off the hook. For the government and the EFCC, therefore, the goal is the money and not stopping corruption by punishing it.  This is a wrongheaded policy, which is doing more harm to the anti-graft war than good. Why? Naming and shaming is not even enough.

The stealing of government funds, in small and large lumps, is a crime against the suffering masses and the Nigerian state, which ought to be severely punished. In some countries like China, culprits are executed to send a strong signal. In Nigeria, they are rewarded, since plea bargain is a sort of incentive to the looters and the would-be, who are let off to enjoy both their freedom and the balance of loots.

So, the government derailed its own programmes with wrong and unworkable policies. Also, it has not found the right calibre of experts to man crucial beats. For example, the Presidential Committee on the Fight Against Corruption headed by

Prof. Itse Sagay has failed woefully to help President Buhari to organise the fight in the way and manner that would succeed. Instead, it has encouraged the President to fall back on military tactics, which are antithetical to democracy and the result is resistance from the other arms of government and critical stakeholders.

The reason why the government is not making much headway, therefore, is neither the Senate nor the judiciary. It is all about wrongheaded policies, too many round pegs in square holes, differences in reward and punishment in the fight against corruption, lack of consistency and transparency and above all, a clear absence of swift legal framework, and undemocratic practices.

To save the slipping situation, the government needs a lot of rapprochement.  Also, it needs to replace some of its top hands and jettison its too many wrongheaded policies.

  • Law Mefor, a forensic expert and social psychologist, wrote in from Abuja

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