By Ita Offiong
Recently, the famous human rights activist and the Lagos based lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana SAN had cause to draw the attention of the Federal Government to what he described as a worst case of impunity in PMB’S government. The word ‘impunity’ may be variously described to mean actions by those in authority that do not have regard for the rule of law where such leaders also play God in the way they talk and act.
Citizens the world over view leadership as the opportunity voluntarily given to others to exercise power on their behalf. Therefore, no informed citizen would be comfortable where leadership of his country operates as if they are above the law. That is why the key feature in the concept of rule of law is equality of all before the law.
Where a leader is seen to operate double standard by selecting which laws to obey and which to ignore, such actions would have connotations of impunity. Unfortunately, since the advent of this 4th republic, successive administrations seem to conspicuously wear the batch of impunity and display same with reckless abandon.
Chief Obasanjo’s government was in many opinions seen as a personification of impunity and was of course severely criticized for it. Today, many would still refer to him as the father of impunity. Take for instance the rampant cases of imposition of certain candidates on his party which he always gave a tacit approval to. These, together with godfatherism are the twin legacies many would readily attribute to him.
He also wielded unlimited power and exercised unrestricted influence in almost all areas of governance in those heydays of his administration. Governors were arbitrarily impeached by arm-twisting and threatening the legislators to do his bidding. State of emergencies were also declared without due legislative approval. He also ensured that any Senate president who tried to exert a certain level of independence was impeached, a development which led to that administration producing up to 5 Senate presidents.
It was the crescendo of this hubris that led to clandestine and surreptitious propositions for the third term and an attempt at amending the constitution to ensure his self perpetuation bid. This ugly development, indeed led to the suspension of the amendment of the constitution at that time.
The coming on board of late Musa Yaradua as the president in 2007 amplified the mantra of ‘rule of law’ and also raised the consciousness to its reality. The nullification of the election of the then governor of Kebbi state–Saidu Usman Dakingari, who was the son-in-law to the incumbent president in 2011 by election tribunal made many citizens to take that government serious for the first time. This would not have been possible in the immediate past administration. Yaradua’s administration did much to assuage the anger of Nigerians arising from observed shoddy election and impunity that characterized that process.
Jonathan’s government did much in fanning embers of impunity and also encouraged it not only by his body language but by words and actions. In fact, many analysts have said that Jonathan’s government institutionalized impunity as Babangida’s regime institutionalized corruption.
The unilateral decision of that administration to suspend the president of court of appeal, Hon Ayo Salami from office under the pretext that he acted in a way that showed no regard to the office of the then Chief Justice of Nigeria. Whereas this was allegedly done to prevent him from hearing the election petition against the president and this smacked of impunity.
Also the attempt by six legislators to impeach the then speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly in a 32- member house had all the trappings of the then president’s imprimatur. Future political development in that state confirmed that suspicion.
The withdrawal of security details from the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, and the forceful closure of the gate of the House of Representatives were clear cases of high-handedness.
The sacking also of the CBN governor Mohammed Sanusi for whistle blowing against the refusal of NNPC to remit $48 billion oil proceeds to Federal coffers was one decision of that government that portrayed it as despotic.
Many would also not forget in a hurry the overbearing meddlesome interference in that administration by the immediate past First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan when the constitution gives no such power to that office. A case in point was when she openly snatched away microphone from the then governor of Rivers state, Rotimi Amaechi in a public function.
But the impunity which is quite pronounced in the incumbent federal government is that which has to do with repeated flouting of courts’ rulings. The case of the former NSA- Sambo Dasuki and the leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria- Sheik Elzakzaki who were granted bail in many occasions but the government never appeared obliged to honour such directive.
Many also have come hard on this admistration’s graft war accusing it of being selective and appointments PMB had so far made are largely seen as being lopsided.
Strong institutional framework of government and the rule of law remain time-tested antidotes against impunity, therefore Nigerians should resist impunity as even the basic human right is not sacrosanct where impunity reigns supreme.