Fellow Nigerians, by the time you’re reading this, the sad news would have hit the roof about the cold shoulder received by our former anti-corruption Tsar, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, from his new suitor, the People’s Democratic Party. It is most shocking that the romance did not last long after the beautiful bride decided to give her marriage a second chance. Nuhu had long been in the circle of PDP before he was mercilessly dealt with and he had to seek refuge within the ACN fold. It is not yet clear what he was promised and why he trusted PDP so much that he decided to jump ship and return to the land ravaged by soldier-ants.
Many are saying Nuhu should have known that a virulent husband can never change his terrible ways. A man who slapped you black and blue when you were legally married would always do worse when a wife later becomes his girlfriend. That is the lesson our Brother seems to be learning the hard way for allowing himself to be sweet-talked by a consummate playboy that PDP seems to have become in Nigeria. I had planned to examine the role of our judiciary and the media in the fight against corruption before the news of Nuhu’s latest ordeal exploded on social media.
The war against corruption has suffered too many casualties in our dear beloved country that most people begin to wonder if ever there would be any chance now or later of winning this gargantuan battle. The long list of our fallen heroes is long and scary. Hardly have we seen any man of integrity go into power and come out unblemished, scandalised or traumatised.
What makes power so attractive and irresistible in our clime?
The question also is why do otherwise great folks decide to set fire to all their achievements in life in order to be in the corridor of power for the few years left on earth? Nuhu didn’t have to jump into PDP to get any appointment. I’m sure he would have maintained his innocence if he was made a Minister, Ambassador, or offered any such assignment. Even if he got the gubernatorial ticket, I’m not sure Nuhu has enough grassroots popularity to win the contest in Adamawa as easily as that. Anyway, all that is now a matter for another day.
Let me now return to my original piece on the physiology of corruption in Nigeria and why it thrives so freely. I shall attempt a simple dissection here today and hopefully come up with compelling reasons on why many of us often fall into temptation. It is going to be difficult to find saints and angels around here. We always talk about corruption as if it is synonymous with people in government alone but that is far from the truth. It has become endemic and all pervasive.
Corruption takes different shapes and shades which we must examine to appreciate the magnitude of the big challenge at hand. Some are subtle, others are loud. The simple forms of corruption usually emanate from societal needs. Ours is a nation where poverty is a crime and there is no social welfare package on ground to ameliorate the chronic suffering associated with being under-privileged in our society. Even the middle class has been virtually wiped out. It has become a case of everyone for himself and God for us all.
Poverty can be divided into two parts as such; those that don’t have anything and those who don’t have enough to maintain body and soul. Those who don’t have, and they are always in the majority, are naturally turned into beggars and desperados. Those who don’t have enough are forced to improvise and look for opportunities to explore and exploit within the system. What makes matters worse is the fact that every segment of our society has been badly affected and afflicted by this menace of lack syndrome. If we assume that the matters of our executive and legislative leaders call for urgent concern and concerted response, how do we deal with the pitiful state of our judiciary and the pitiable condition of our media? The first is supposed to be the enforcer of law and order while the other is the traditional watchdog. The virtual collapse of both has made it difficult to expect any hope of a saner environment soon.
I shall start with the Judiciary which has been described as the last bastion of the common man. Under the Constitutions of Nigeria at different eras, the Judiciary has always enjoyed a high pedestal. It is empowered to examine legislative actions and determine whether they are consistent with the Constitution. The independence of the Judiciary is sacrosanct and must be critically guarded. It must be free from all encumbrances and interference from both the executive and legislative arms if a nation is to progress. It would be difficult for the Judiciary to fight to reduce corruption and governmental recklessness when it has also acquired the bad habits it has been tasked to adjudicate upon and curb. Unfortunately, all manner of inconsistent and embarrassing judgments often emanate from our courts and this ignoble act seems to have reached a crescendo.
Everyone who cares would have noticed and noted the systematic decline in judicial reliability. Even the President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr Okey Wali, was moved to issue a cautionary note against the propensity of the judiciary to court trouble for itself by engaging in unethical dealings and interactions. He cited specific instances of presiding judges hobnobbing with and compromising its sanctity by allowing itself to be manipulated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Assets Management Company (AMCON) and warned that this has become a dangerous trend that must be stopped. This coming from the official leader of the Nigerian Bar shows the seriousness of this matter. While we may continue to condone and manage our many problems, we cannot afford to ignore the grave and utter danger of exposing our judiciary to the whims and caprices of those who may use and abuse their unfettered power to oppress and intimidate fellow citizens.
I simply do not envy the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mouktar, a woman of immense courage and brilliance who has been fighting hard and tenaciously to sanitize the judiciary. The biggest task is how to wrestle her constituency from being overrun and totally hijacked by powerful government agencies and its foot-soldiers. There is no corruption worse than kangaroo actions in law courts. I had warned during the tenure of Nuhu Ribadu in 2007 about attempts to ascribe too much power to his agency which may be prone to exploitations. My attitude was simply that if we use extra-judicial means to catch a thief today, it may also be used by an ultra-powerful organization that seeks to act worse than the previous one. The latest of such is the AMCON which has almost become more powerful than EFCC and ICPC combined. At the rate it is going it may soon command the power of life and death, if unchecked. It is unfortunate that we keep rekindling the cycle of monstrosities. Its objective are clearly stated in the law that established it yet it has been gifted some draconian powers in recent time. These powers include seizing, confiscating and detaining assets of debtors. And it can enforce these steps by applying to the courts ex parte, without notice to the other parties to the suit. This appears too one-sided and should ordinarily be invoked in matters of utter urgency for the protection of movable assets and so on.
By its limitless power, this statutory body can through executive fiat seize the assets of innocent parties without being heard by the courts. The danger lies in cases where it is later discovered that the supposed debtor did not owe as much as being claimed, his/her business may have been totally crippled before the court even hears the pending suit before it. The Nigerian judiciary appears to have simply capitulated in favour of AMCON and now acts as its rubber-stamp. The Federal High Court has shown more interest in AMCON cases than even in criminal charges by agreeing to sit on cases involving AMCON from day to day and if necessary even on Saturdays. Nigeria would have become an Eldorado if all other cases were so expressly dealt with. I doubt if murder or even terrorism cases enjoy this same special status.
What is more disastrous is how the Federal High Court has encouraged and allowed direct interface with AMCON and the judges of the esteemed court. Seminars have been organised for judges without anybody considering possible conflict of interests. How would a party to a suit in court organise seminars for judges who may preside over its matters?
Every care must be taken to protect the judiciary just like the Media, my own constituency. Now and then people ask me how the Nigerian media can be made more responsible to the people and my answer is that the people themselves must invest in the media. The media that is forced to depend almost totally on government patronage for survival can never be free to discharge its traditional obligations to the people as expected. Journalists are not masquerades from heaven; they are human beings with their own families looking up to them for succour. They suffer the same fate as the judges described above who are engaging in rendezvous with those who may have cases in front of them later.
Ordinarily, the media gets its income from adverts but that’s not the case in our country. In civilised countries, companies would advertise because of the several benefits and the important and unarguably necessary advantage of proclaiming your products to the public in a competitive market. But here, adverts are difficult to come by because it is not always about how good you are but about those you know. Many brand managers don’t care if no one would see their adverts as long as you know how to befriend them. The matter is further compounded by a society that does not recognise the media as a business but rather as a charity. Reporters are seen and treated like lambs of God who must carry the sins of the world and die for a thankless nation.
Let me illustrate this with event planning. The children of wealthy parents are getting married. They fly abroad for shopping. They pick exotic locations as venues for their ceremonies. They are ready to pay $100,000 to some musicians, comedians and even splash some serious cash on expensive champagnes and spirits but forget to add the media to that budget. A parent once boasted to me that the hotel being used in Lagos for the wedding was costing about N40 million but they were not ready to pay the media a kobo although they desired that the world see and experience the occasion and their display of God’s wonder in their lives. Who then would showcase the beauty of the wedding to the world if not the media? All the money spent will expire that day except the publication that can be kept for many generations to come.
Unknown to them, covering an event is nothing other than an advertorial. Africa has not yet reached the stage where celebrities can help a magazine sell millions of copies. Our people simply have not imbibed a reading culture. But the same people would pay a fortune to kill a negative story. This is what has turned many journalists into pen assassins who believe the only way to get some revenue from rich people is by terrorising them without any pity.
It is such a shame.
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