From the killings of innocent villagers by Katsina State bandits to the abandonment of more than 600 corpses in a Delta State hospital, life has become very cheap in Nigeria. Demoralised by what I see around me, I thought it was going to be another of those weeks of doom and gloom. But it was not until four friends visited me yesterday afternoon that I made up my mind to let things pass this week. I had asked if any of them could offer me an idea on what to write about. The first suggestion was a big No. I definitely was not going to write about the turf battle in Aso Rock that has pitched the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd) against the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari. I know both men very well, though my decision has nothing to do with my relationship with the duo. Monguno was Commander, Guards Brigade under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua so we worked together and Kyari was on THISDAY editorial board (which I chair) before his Aso Rock assignment.
It is a measure of the lack of discipline under this administration that senior officials of state have for years been squabbling in the public arena without President Muhammadu Buhari calling anyone to order. I have highlighted some of these issues in the past, including the open confrontation between men of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and State Security Service (SSS) operatives on the streets of Abuja. That is aside the unprecedented letter the then SSS Director General, Mallam Lawan Daura wrote to the Senate to counter the presidential nomination of Mr Ibrahim Magu as EFCC Chairman.
In April 2018, following the receipt of the Senate ‘Report of the Ad Hoc committee on investigation of the arrest episodes of Tuesday 21st November 2017 among officers of EFCC, NIA and SSS’ dated March 2018, I wrote a column titled ‘A National Security Endangered’. After raising critical questions, this was my conclusion: “When added to inter-agency squabbles between the military and the police—whose men have become easy targets for extermination by armed robbers and sundry hoodlums—we are face to face with the precise reasons why our national security is today in tatters. What is baffling to most observers is how President Buhari has allowed the institutions of national security to be freely carved up into clashing and competing private fiefdoms of ambitious and lawless chieftains who have carried their fights into the public arena. Tragically, it is this dysfunction between the security agencies and the unhealthy rivalry among their heads that has led to the current state of general insecurity in the country.”
While the president should understand that his laidback approach to leadership is not working and those leaking national security memos should be fished out and sanctioned, I would rather not comment on this issue for now. The friend who sought my view on the ‘Roforofo fight’ in Aso Rock understood the point I was making and apparently so did the others. They nodded their heads in agreement before a second asked, “What about this issue of the Supreme Court usurping the powers of the electorate to dictate who becomes governor in a state?” When I frowned, he added: “Let me explain. The popular election of David Lyon as Governor of Bayelsa State was upturned not because he did anything wrong but because his deputy used multiple names in his certificates? Is it worth voting again in Nigeria when five people could just sit in one courtroom and decide on who becomes the governor of a state regardless of who the people voted for?”
As I shook my head again, the others joined in prevailing on me to address the issue. I explained that I am actually doing rudimentary research on the issue of the court and elections in Nigeria for a piece I intend to write within the next few weeks. I told my friends to wait for the column which would deal with the issue comprehensively. Just when I thought I had satisfied them, the third said: “I know this is not a trending issue but it is something that I believe you should educate some of us on because it makes no sense. Like the convicted former governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State who completed his tenure at the Senate in prison and earned his full entitlements, the Senate is saying the same applies to the former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu. Why would the National Assembly not declare vacant the seats of people convicted of criminal offence and are serving terms? Does it make sense to be paying criminals from our public treasury? That is something you should write about,” he said in a commanding tone.
I explained to my friends that there is nothing in the Constitution that empowers the Senate to declare Kalu’s seat vacant. In the United States, from where we borrowed our presidential system of government, the way it is dealt with is the application of moral burden. When lawmakers are convicted in that country, and in many others, they resign or are forced out, when the law does not explicitly dictate that they lose their office. For several months, I followed the case of Congressman Duncan D. Hunter who eventually resigned from office, leaving vacant a seat in a constituency he and his father, Duncan L. Hunter, had represented for nearly 30 years. Accused of spending $250,000 of campaign funds for personal use and falsifying federal campaign finance filings to cover up the thefts, Duncan eventually pleaded guilty.
At the height of the controversy, American commentators had decried a situation in which the only way to get the seats of any member declared vacant is to secure a two-thirds vote as “there is no law requiring removal of a Congressman convicted of crimes, even if the member is imprisoned and unable to cast votes”. In the case of Hunter, Miriam Reftery specifically wrote last June: “…as long as Hunter remains in office without resigning or being formally expelled, his staff can legally continue to handle constituent casework, such as helping constituents who have problems with federal agencies,” even while he is serving terms.
So, despite being convicted and now serving terms, Kalu, like Dariye before him, may choose not to resign his seat, since his colleagues would never vote him out. The issue here is whether it is right to deny the people representation on account of personal misfortune? In other climes, once convicted of crimes, public officials resign. Since that is not yet the case in Nigeria, we should not blame Kalu and others for earning jumbo salaries, even from behind the bars!
I was about to see off my friends when the fourth one who had not said anything since they arrived finally spoke: “Let me post to you something that has been circulating on WhatsApp. It is titled, ‘Did Naira Marley initiate anyone into a cult?’ Maybe you can write about it.” I laughed almost hysterically. Naira Marley. Why would I comment about Naira Marley? Despite protestations, my friend drew his handset and posted the piece to my mobile phone. Like all WhatsApp posts, I don’t know whether it is a real life story or someone made it up, even though it had a byline. It reads:
“I am just coming from my daughter’s school right now. Their principal called me around 9am this morning to report to school over an emergency. I panicked and drove over only to be told that my 15 years old daughter and most of the girls from her class and other senior secondary classes are to be suspended for being members of a female secret cult. They were about 25-30 girls, all kneeling down with their hands up. I was shocked and I asked for further explanations. The head teacher said that a teacher who was disciplining late comers found out that one of the girls had her pant inside her school bag and on further investigation, it was discovered that she wasn’t wearing any. When she was flogged and interrogated further, she confessed that she was a member of the Marlian cult in school and that part of their rules was that they must not wear pant to school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I was shocked. The head teacher told me that she was flogged some more until she mentioned all their members from SS1 to SS3 and unfortunately, my daughter who is a born again child of Zion was involved. The devil has succeeded and my daughter has entered cult! I was handed her letter of two weeks’ suspension and shame nearly killed me. The daughter of an elder and deaconess, I battled hard to hold my tears. I had to bring her home and God in heaven knows that I will beat that Marlian cult out of her today and her father will finish the work when he comes home this night…”
At a point I stopped reading the post and shrugged my shoulder so my friend got the message: I wasn’t interested in discussing Naira Marley. But after they left, I could not but reflect that the issues they raised capture, in a casual sweep, the connecting thread to the institutional, moral and ethical morass in which we are caught as a nation. While everyone is screaming ‘insecurity’, very little effort has been made to engage the root causes at the level of ideas and institutional collapse. We run a presidential system which presupposes an overall national chief executive. But what we have are enclaves of power working at cross purposes. To worsen matters, there is also an attendant collapse of the moral and ethical basis of our society, as depicted by the story of the high school girl caught in the Marlian web. Now, you hear of traditional rulers throwing punches at meetings attended by senior police officers!
At this most difficult period in the life of our nation, we need leaders in all sectors and across all spheres—religious, traditional, political—who will step up to bring us together. What we have instead are people who exploit our differences with their polarizing rhetoric, essentially for personal gain. It is therefore no surprise that this leadership vacuum is being increasingly filled by all manner of fringe and freakish fellowships like the Marlians and an assortment of cults and gangs. The only way to stop the virtual unravelling of our political and social order and restore a measure of sanity is through a vigorous reassertion of presidential power in a manner that entrenches discipline in Aso Rock and unites the country.
That was what I pondered after my friends had left me alone yesterday. Resigned to not writing my column this week, I subconsciously began to sing:
Shebi omo Jesú ni wo
Gbe’se ko t’ésu mole
Gbe’se ko t’esu mole
Shebi omo Jesu ni wo
Gbese na, gbe’se ko t’esu mole…
As I was lost in contemplation, one of my friends who forgot his mobile handset rushed back only to find me humming and he exclaimed: ‘You are singing Naira Marley?’
That roused me into consciousness and I replied: God forbid!
El-Rufai @ 60
Even the most implacable foes of the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, would concede that he is one of a few public servants in Nigeria today who believes in the primacy of ideas. And in every assignment he has handled in the public space, he has distinguished himself. At 60, I wish him many more years in the service of our country.
• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com