There is a specious argument making the rounds in favour of the many pseudo-democrats in Africa who pose as democrats but are masquerades indeed. Unfortunately of late, the rhetoric usually comes from a much respected elite and every so often from pseudo-intellectuals who try to bamboozle you with their vast knowledge of history and from their knowledge of contemporaneous indexes and antecedents of immediate and remote instances of individuals who have led the supposedly greatest nation on earth successfully. On his inaugural media chat with journalists a few weeks back, and which was beamed right across the seven continents of the world, Nigeria’s President and Commander-in-chief, Muhammadu Buhari told a bewildered citizenry and the rest of the world that he would rather keep a suspected treasury looter in jail without bail than obey a court ordering him to let the accused go prepare himself for trial. While Mr. President’s cheerleaders, his worst enemies, were saying ‘Aye, aye, ride on Mr. President!’ a few of us were scratching our heads, wondering if we indeed heard him aright. The gist around town was that we were irredeemably corrupt to the extent that all we need is a dour and hard-nosed soldier like Mr. President to whip us into line. At the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, we aver that it is because Nigeria is a civilized country with a people trying really hard to be a democracy, a people trying to promote the rule of law, and indeed is under a body of laws like the 1999 Constitution (as amended), that makes an accused person innocent in the eyes of the law, and has rights under the law which Mr. President must respect and protect.
It is at this point that pundits and intellectuals favourable to the anathema of impunity for the law unsheathe their scimitars from their scabbards. At an informal sparing session, they glared at me first with an all knowing disposition before sitting me down for a compulsory haircut – or a lecture – the theme of which is that at our present condition, all of that grammar that I espoused above concerning our country being a civilized country is fit only for a trash basket. In theory yes we are a democracy but in practice, we would only move forward if we have a dictator who is ‘benevolent’. They have admonished me to look at the case of the United States where more than ten of the 44 presidents have been soldiers – soldiership to mean that since these former guntotters were personages trained, paid and equipped to kill, then that method of suasion and governance by force is what we would need – to be whipped into line and frog-jumped to move forward. Like they have said to me for the umpteenth time, the perception of Nigeria is one of irredeemable corruption and if there is any way to prevent us from tipping into the morass and miasma of anarchy, we must have ‘strong’ persons like a Robert Mugabe, a Muhammadu Buhari and a Mobutu Sese-Sekou. They tell me that countries like China, Venezuela and Russia have ‘strong’ individuals who drive the system and enforce the law, push the economy and promote justice.
But I am convinced that that argument – that we are likely to succeed as a nation with leaders who have been former soldiers to whip us into line – is specious. Around 2008 just after he was elected president, America’s 44th president who was a community organizer, lawyer and professor told us that Africa had no business with strong individual but strong institutions – and we clapped for him. Yet today, the only reason why anyone would be thinking that we would need soldiers to flog us into line is that we are a traumatized people who have been bruised and battered by the military to the extent that we have begun to love our bruised and battered psyche and ego. But if any of us out there has read Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, we would have immediately come to terms with the fact that a soldier without his gun, a sailor without his ship or a pilot without his plane is the weakest mortal on the face of the earth. They are like fish on land. So then why do we assume that former soldiers would do better in the business of governance than most of us who live on Civvy Street?
From our research, we found out that it is indeed true that former soldiers led the US. But not one of them was a dictator. They led. They did not rule. When you rule, you obey the law and make it impossible for anyone else to break the law. And if those synonyms are a bit difficult to get by, I dare say by way of explanation that having to serve in the military has nothing to do with disrespect for the law or with human life or with the brashness usually arrogated with soldiership or soldiering. Being disrespectful of the law or for other human beings is a personal idiosyncrasy rather than a collective one. Being a soldier is about service and a duty to the fatherland. Those who served the United States, after their discharge from the military as pilots, sailors, or as a retired five-star general did so with total submission to the spirit and letters of the United States Constitution. They did not disobey court orders and were not disrespectful of the fundamental rights of their people. We at the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, recognize that facts are what make up three-fourths of the law of the land. Such push to know the facts get us to certain frontiers where we have found out that of the 44 presidents who have led the US, the greater number of those presidents were not ex-soldiers but are listed in Wikipedia as farmers (James Madison), writers (J.F.Kennedy), lawyers (Franklin Roosevelt), surveyors (Thomas Jefferson), actors and broadcasters (Ronald Reagan), community organizers and lawyers (Barack Obama), school teachers (Lyndon Johnson), tariff collectors (Chester Arthur) a football player (Gerard Ford), and an editor (Warren Harding).
At ANEEJ, we hold dear the fact that even though a man may be a thief or that he has taken money that could take care of a million people, or that he has killed, his right to fair hearing under the law is what establishes us as a civilized people. Our beloved president must realize that we are no longer in the 90s where he was an absolute ruler. In the 90s as a dictator, it was fashionable for him to jail, and re-jail a man like Adekunle Ajasin, former civilian governor of Ondo State, even after a military tribunal had freed Ajasin twice. This is 2016 where the rule of law guarantees the right of a suspected criminal access to the instruments of governance. Denying a suspect these rights, and proclaiming on world media that the suspect cannot be granted bail because he did this or did that makes Mr. President jury, judge and prosecuting counsel all rolled in one. The suspect is already guilty as charged, so case closed.
And perhaps what seems to baffle some of us is that even though Mr. President has some of the brightest chaps, versed in law and the economy, to guide him through the minefield of Nigerian politics, these gaffes keep popping up. Is he not listening to them? Are they not telling him what to do? Is there a bed in Aso Rock where a tyrant sleeps on?
Written by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, ANEEJ.