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RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: Nigeria’s democracy; The good, the bad and the ugly

By News Express on 30/01/2016

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We are today going to deliberate on three key or thematic issues: The good, the bad and the ugly of Nigeria’s democracy. We shall deliberately start by highlighting some salient good deeds noticeable in the way and manner we practice democracy, to demonstrate to the world that despite the tough economic situation faced by millions of families, degenerating to a state of absolute poverty, we have observed that majority of Nigerians have chosen to protect democracy and save it from the atrocious misconducts of those holding political and bureaucratic offices in the land.

THE GOOD

We note with joy that some institutions of government are waking up from functional slumber, and have begun to reshape their outlook, to comply substantially with best global practices. That is, respect for rule of law, respect for human rights and/or profession of readiness to accord respect to the constitutionally guaranteed human rights of all Nigerians.

We note with joy that the Nigerian Army headed by Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai has begun the mainstream of respect for the human rights of Nigerians in their internal security operations. The Department of Civil-Military Relations in the Army, from our very recent visit and observations, has been given a pride of place. We challenge those heading that department to concretise and actualise the comprehensive aspirations of inculcating respect for human rights of all Nigerians in the non-commissioned military operatives. However, there are still a lot of issues with this demand of most Nigerians; and it is a reality that most military operatives are yet to imbibe the lessons of respect for human rights. We got assurances from the Chief of Army Staff that his operatives and officers are more than ready to comply with Rules of Engagements, which embodies respect for the human rights of Nigerians. We challenged the army chief – who has submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the National Human Right Commission – with the petition over the encounter the military had with the Shiite Islamic movement in Zaria, Kaduna State. And to the claims a massacre, he submitted that his operatives followed the time-tested and time-honored Rule of Engagement, even as he denied that operatives engaged in extra-judicial killings.

We call on all parties to the current petition being entertained by the National Human Rights Commission to give peace a chance and await a dispassionate resolution of the entire issue. The Nigerian government should also take measures to ensure that there is no cover-up in the emerging allegations of arms smuggling, in which Iran was singled out by an Islamic cleric in Kaduna. The case of illegal arms shipment into Nigeria some two years is about to be swept under the carpet. The Nigerian government, till date has not given Nigerians the exact update about that celebrated case whereby some Iranians were arrested with heavy weapons at the Apapa Port in Lagos. Again, few weeks back, a leading mastermind of the Islamic State was stopped in Lebanon Airport, en-route Nigeria, on the invitation of some persons in Nigeria. Let Nigerians demand transparency and proper accountability in this regard.

We also challenge the army chief to fish out the military operatives who allegedly shot and killed protesters in the South-East, who were calling for the release of Mr Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, and director of Radio Biafra. 

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

“The prickliness of democracies towards elected and unelected representatives is encouraged by the fact that democracy thrives on separations. In monitory democracies, for instance, everything seems disconnected: civil society from government, representatives from those whom they represent, executives from legislatures, majorities from minorities, civil power from military and police power, parties from voters, experts from laypeople, consumers from producers, journalists from audiences, the young from the old, workers from capitalists, lawyers from clients, doctors from patients.”

According to the university teacher of politics, both government and civil society are internally fragmented in a democracy. These multiple, criss-crossing separations are necessary conditions for citizens’ equal freedom from concentration of power. Democracies, says John Keane, “try hard to take the sting out of imperiousness. They resist the call for social unity and political concord. Those who wield power are reminded constantly of their (potential) powerlessness. They are kept permanently on their toes by the push-pull dynamics set in train by differences.”

Last month, a teacher of criminology at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, went overboard and sounded like a peasant farmer with no former education: he told the Nigerian media that he is opposed to the notion of rule of law that would regard alleged offenders as being innocent in the eye of the law. He was angered by the fact that alleged thieves of humongous public funds are being granted bails by the Federal High Court's in Nigeria. This man was supported by someone who is identified in the media as a Lagos-based constitutional lawyer, who also frowned at this idea of fair hearing for those former government officials accused of heist of security votes. Shortly after, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, was reported as literally bullying High Court judges, warning that the executive arm of government will catch up with them and jail them, if they fraternise with suspected thieves of public fund. These statements are unconstitutional because Section 36 (5) of the Constitution recognise that suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty: not in the court of public opinion, but in the competent courts of law. May we remind the current administration in Nigeria at all levels that, since what we profess to practice is democracy, they don’t have the leeway to tinker with principles of this novel way of administering the various governmental structures.

Those elected and inaugurated to govern Nigeria for Nigerians are constitutionally obliged to play by the rules of the game, and must never be allowed to deviate to the practice of tyranny, which is absolutely antithetical to the underlying principles of democracy anchored on respect for the rule of law; respect for the fundamental human rights of all and sundry, and institutional building for good governance. Besides, the Constitution provides for clear separation of powers by all the three layers of political administration, to avoid fusing absolute power into the hands of a single ruler.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) embodies some of the essential elements/provisions that must be complied with totally by all authorities and persons to guarantee smooth implementation of good governance; and there are critical safeguards against arbitrariness on the side of the head of state. For example, Section 14(1) provides as follows: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.” It therefore follows that those holding political offices must be careful not to fall into the temptation of dictatorship and tyranny. The best way to guarantee the life of Nigerian democracy is for officials of government to resist the urge to undermine constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law. Those urging President Muhammadu Buhari to disregard these constitutional principles on the altar of opportunistic chase and persecution of perceived political opponents, in the guise of anti-graft war, are only misleading the administration. Inevitably, if the president disregards the constitutional provisions that guarantee separation of powers it, therefore, follows that the demise of democracy becomes imminent.

In carrying out the fight against corrupt practices, those heading the respective agencies of law enforcement – such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – must be immune from executive interferences. The only way to ensure that this happens and the anti-graft mechanisms are seen as completely non-partisan is for the National Assembly to create legislative safeguards against executive interference. If that is done, the wheel of democracy will be allowed to run constitutionally. Both the former and current presidents had, in their respective handing-over and taking-over speeches on 28th and 29th May 2015, accepted the indubitable fact that democracy can only survive when the key players play by the rules of the game.

Erstwhile president in his speech stated thus: “My Administration has emphasised giving a free hand to our anti-corruption agencies, such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). We preferred that they mature into strong institutions instead of being the images, the hammer and the anvil of a strong man. We must encourage them to abide by the rule of law and due process, instead of resorting to dramatic or illegal actions orchestrated for cheap applause.”

The current president, during his inaugural ceremony, addressed the importance of separation of powers thus;

“Elsewhere, relations between Abuja and the states have to be clarified if we are to serve the country better. Constitutionally, there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers of government, but that should not mean the Federal Government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments. Not least the operations of the Local Government Joint Account. While the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of its operations, it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked. As far as the Constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.”

However, there is a considerable atmosphere of mutual suspicion that the current government has embarked on large-scale witch-hunt of political opponents, in the guise of prosecuting key officials of the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration, facing allegations of corruption relating to the operations of the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSO) to the former president, Col. Sambo Dasuki. Even before letting the accused persons have their days in court of law, as prescribed by the Constitution, key government officials, including President Muhammadu Buhari, have demonised all those arrested as thieves. The media has made caricature of these accused persons, and the propaganda circulating is that the last ruling national party was made up of thieves. This is wholly untrue, because majority of those who are core members of the current party in power at the centre, the All Progressives Congress (APC), were for many years leading members of the PDP, which they now seek to demonise. Unfortunately, the anti-graft agencies have joined the bandwagon of singing the anti-PDP chorus so much so that many independent observers are worried that Nigeria is sliding towards dictatorship.  All lovers of democracy must join hands to stop the drift from democracy to autocracy in Nigeria; and we must give justice to all irrespective of political or ethno-religious affiliations.  Augustine of Hippo (354-430) rightly stated. “If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers.”

Importantly, judges and lawyers must safeguard the independence and integrity of the judiciary and not let bullying tactics of some government officials to frighten them into submitting to dictatorship of one man. It is the height of bullying for some lawyers like Femi Falana to continue to shout out allegations that are untested and unsubstantiated against key officers of the last administration, especially his continuous bullying of erstwhile Finance Minister, Prof (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, over the so-called arms procurement scam. Senior lawyers should stop media-bullying tactics, for these are antithetical to democratic tenets.

Falana’s attempt to link her with Dasukigate for no just reason is unconscionable and wrong. The credibility of civil society is damaged when we allow ourselves to become political tools.

*We must fight corruption but the blatant politicisation demonstrated in Falana’s frivolous petition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is not good for the country.

*The ICC is for blatant human rights violations like the Shiite issue, not for this politicised petition.

*The obsession of Falana and Adams Oshiomhole with Okonjo-Iweala is abnormal. Was she the only minister in the last government?

* Why don't they talk about her legacy in You-win, Treasury Single Account (TSA), Sovereign Wealth Fund, etc?

•Being excerpts of Onwubiko’s address during a recent media round-table organised in Abuja by HURIWA. RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source News Express

Posted 30/01/2016 8:04:01 PM

 

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