This last week, Chris Araga, a United Kingdom-based Nigerian, with whom I grew up in Kwara State was distressed about news coming from home and the way Nigerians reacted to it. Araga is one Nigerian whose passion for fatherland, even I, who reside here, cannot match.
Before the general elections last year, this man spoke in at least two public events where Nigerians in London met to discuss their country. Not just that, since the unfortunate kidnap of the Chibok girls in April 2014, Araga and another Nigerian, Charles Kehinde Alasholuyi, have maintained a daily campaign for the return of these girls. It is an uncommon passion for a country whose loyalty to its citizenship is questionable.
Almost on a daily basis in the past couple of months, this brother of mine and I would find something to discuss about Nigeria. What we can do to make it better, how to improve the quality of citizenship and what have you.
So, when news filtered in last week that the 2016 appropriation bill presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015 was missing, we found another matter for contemplation.
His shock was with the trivial way in which a lot of Nigerians took the news of the confusion about the budget. He couldn’t understand why anyone would make jokes of the situation like we did. In his bewilderment, he sent me the following: “…someone said we should just print a new copy of the budget? In their view, what is the problem here? Why the fuss…” He was plainly flustered by the reaction of his compatriots to this issue. But then, should Nigerians make themselves happy?
My own immediate concern was that rather than see it as a matter of immense national dishonour, a lot of our compatriots had regrouped into their sentimental cocoons.
One of the arguments presented by those who are fiercely loyal to President Buhari is to lay the blame at the doorsteps of Senate President Bukola Saraki. In the imagination of these people, Saraki, having swam against the tide of his All Progressives Congress in attaining office, must have orchestrated the disappearance of the bulky document just to embarrass the President and his party.
Supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party argued that the situation indicated that Buhari and his team were out of their depth on the economic front. They felt that the administration had realised that the budget it presented in December was unrealistic and that rather than walk back to the National Assembly tail between legs to retrieve the budget, the Presidency found a way to help itself by smuggling the document out of the parliament.
I thought that none of these should be the primary concern of Nigerians. I opined that the occurrence of such an event was sufficient to dampen any itch for cantankerous partisanship. And that whatever might have happened to the budget, the greater culprit would be the absence of functional systems and institutions in Nigeria rather than the partisan garb that we were adorning this with.
But such is the inclination in this country lately, the quality of public debate here is at a disheartening poor. Our reaction to issues has become habitually knee jerk with some living in incurable naïve optimism while others have adopted a perpetual cynical posture. The result is that we are unable to distinguish between adoration for individuals and loyalty to country, oblivious of the danger we invite when men are stronger than institutions without interrogation.
Take the argument about deference to the rule of law, for instance. Nigerians are unable to reach a consensus about the need for the rule of law to guide the current onslaught on corruption.
Criticisms have recently trailed the refusal of government to allow some of those on trial enjoy the bail granted them by law courts. Some other people argue that none of those who are alleged to have stolen monies meant for the purchase of arms to prosecute the war against insurgency in the northeastern part of the country should be able to plead the rule of law. “Did they remember the rule of law when they shared the money?” They would ask.
But in doing that, we make a total mockery of the very essence of democracy. My Black’s Law Dictionary defines the rule of law as: “A legal principle of general application, sanctioned by the recognition of authorities, and usually expressed in the form of a maxim or logical proposition called a ‘rule’… The rule of law, sometimes called the supremacy of law, provides that decision should be made by the application known as principles of laws without the intervention of discretion in their application.”
The effect of the foregoing is that the country is governed by a set of rules to which all parties have agreed to subject themselves. At the moment, the country’s constitution provides that accused persons are presumed innocent until proved otherwise. It also leaves the decision as to the guilt or otherwise of accused persons to the courts. The courts are also guided by a set of rules which determines whether an offence is bailable or not. If the rule says that an offence is bailable, and an accused is admitted to bail by any court, no one should stop such an accused from enjoying the bail. If the law changes in future to the effect that we should systematically dismember corrupt people, that becomes the rule even if repugnant.
The rule of law therefore compels the President not to stand in the way of those who have been granted bail just as it compels Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, to appear before a court which has subpoenaed him. In the event of a failure to appear before a court, the rule of law allows the same court to issue a bench warrant for his arrest no matter where he may be in the country. Nigerians must be clear about this and shun every shred of partisanship when issues that revolve around the sanctity of the rule of law are concerned.
It is the failure of the citizenry to reach a consensus on the supremacy of the rule of law no matter whose ox is gored that encourages those we vote into office pull the wool over our eyes and take us for granted in pursuit of personal agendas.
So on Tuesday, Saraki read a communication from the President asking the National Assembly to work with a corrected version of the bill which he had sent and discard the version he presented in December. This was close to one week after Saraki insinuated that President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang, “doctored” the first document and attempted to “smuggle” the new version into the hands of the senators.
The President’s letter conceded that there had been some corrections but underplayed the events of the last one week when he euphemistically said, “It appears that this has led to some confusion.”
But we should let Mr. President know that Enang’s alleged fly by night method puts the country in ridicule and sweeping that under the carpet runs against the ethics of his office. Especially when there are legitimate ways in which this budget could have been withdrawn.
It is curious though that Saraki would so easily give away Enang as he did last Thursday. It is not clear whether the shot was fired to hurt the Presidency in furtherance of the evident crisis of confidence within the ruling party.
And if our people were not so star struck and split in their appreciation of issues of national importance, we would be demanding explanations from the Presidency and the National Assembly for the shenanigans of the past few days.
As it appears, whoever perpetrated this unheard of action gets away without as much as a slap on the wrist even in the form of a public apology. But the country and its people will bear the indignity of the action.
Source : PUNCH