Apr 16, 2007

Ogoni: Corrupt Institutions in Nigeria

A joint statement issued by UNPO President, Ledum Mitee, and other activists voice concerns over Nigeria’s failing state institutions and calls on Nigerians to join together in the struggle for true democracy.

Below is an article published by Vanguard:

Being a statement jointly issued by Prof. Wole Soyinka - Democratic Front for a Peoples Federation (DFPF), Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu - All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Michael Orobator - Ethnic Nationalities Movement [ENM], Professor Kimse Okoko - Ijaw National Congress (INC) Barrister Ledum Mitee - Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Chief Bisi Akande - Action Congress (AC), Solomon Asemota SAN – co-ordinator on the April polls

Introduction: We, as concerned Nigerians, have watched in disbelief, how the executive arm of government in Nigeria has reduced the other arms of government, the legislature and the judiciary, to subordinate institutions. We, however, hasten to add that the judiciary is putting on a principled fight to assert its position as the ultimate resort in any dispute between power and the powerless. The executive dominance of power in Nigeria is as a result of military interference in the government of the nation. For far too many years under military rule, the executive doubled as legislature and dwarfed the judiciary. Since returning to constitutional democracy, the executive has found it difficult to function just as an arm of government and has regarded itself as the “major” government with the other two arms as subordinates. 

One would even argue that the executive under military regime saw itself as having “conquered” the other two arms of government, the legislature and the judiciary. Since the introduction of constitutional democracy in 1999, the executive has resorted to political subterfuge to dominate the legislature and the judiciary. The greatest weapon at its disposal, unfortunately, is the fact that while the legislature enacts laws, and the judiciary interprets them, the executive which enforces the law, have done so, selectively and with nonchalance.

Political control

In extreme cases, it has subverted the law.  It is in this connection that a number of us concerned Nigerians have decided to draw the attention of all Nigerians and the international community to the harm which the executive arm is doing to Nigeria as a nation that is supposed to operate under the rule of law.

Rule of law: We feel obliged to stress the inherent danger in the personalization of political conflict at the expense of the dignity and authority of the law. While the eyes of the public are blinded by the powerful media lights focused on ‘big names’, the little man or woman is easily forgotten and ground under the heels of authoritarian and conduct and culture of impunity that percolates all the way down to the lowest levels of society. Rule of law is a fundamental legal principle, which recognizes the supremacy of law. It is the doctrine that every person is subject to ordinary law of the country. It is also a doctrine that general constitutional principles are the result of judicial decisions determining the rights of individuals in the courts. Under the rule of law, the Supreme Court cases make up the bulk of what is constitutional law. It may not be apparent to the ordinary Nigerian that the executive did not want to re-instate Governor Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State after the ruling of the Supreme Court.

It took a threat from the then Chief Justice Alfa Belgore to call out judges throughout the country on strike to compel the executive to restore Ladoja as governor. Ex-Governor Ngige, while legally the governor of Anambra State, was subjected to series of “attacks” and denied security details in Awka the seat of Anambra State government. In contrast to these two cases, the speed with which Deputy governor Akala was accorded full-blown governorship privileges showed most blatantly where the sympathies of the executive lay. The executive has made it a habit to decide which court order it is prepared to obey as most recently reinforced by the ongoing saga of Governor Dariye. In effect, the executive does not believe in the rule of law, because it controls all the instruments of coercion, which it can use, not in defence of the people, but to force Nigerians to bend to the whims and caprices of the executive.

1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: The objects of the constitution are as contained in its preamble and section 1(i) provides that is has binding force - on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria and public officers are required to swear to the oath of allegiance to preserve, protect and defend the constitution.

The oaths of office of the president and governors the heads of the executive arm at federal and state levels, read in part as follows: “I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, solidarity, well being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.  The oath of the office goes further to state: “I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct, or my official decisions, that I will, to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the constitution … I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear favour or ill-will … I will devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of Nigeria.”

The constitution, as a whole, has provided for us the basis on which to assess the executive, and pass judgment.  The conclusion we draw from this, is that the executive in Nigeria at all levels has not discharged its duties to the best of its ability, in accordance with the constitution and laws, in the interest of the sovereignty, solidarity, well being and prosperity of Nigeria. On the contrary, the executive has inflicted poverty on more than seventy percent of the people of Nigeria who live on less than one US dollar per day in a country that produces two and a half million barrels of crude oil per day sold for over sixty USD per barrel. The executive has allowed personal interests and/or political intrigues to influence its conduct and decisions, and it has not devoted itself to the service and well-being of the people of Nigeria. Rather, it has devoted itself to the well-being of the narrow political class and cabal to which it belongs.  And, above all, the executive has treated the constitution and the people of Nigeria with contempt.

The executive arm of government is holding Nigeria to ransom. It has, over the last eight years, constituted a corruptive influence on the legislature. It is a common occurrence, for money from the executive to pass to the National and State Assemblies so that a principal officer of the Assembly can be impeached. It is also not unusual for the executive to bribe the legislature. In corruption cases, both the giver and the taker are equally guilty; the situation becomes hopeless when the executive that is supposed to execute the law that is offering the bribe. The legislature has no power of arrest and prosecution. It is the executive because of its total shirking of its responsibility and its preoccupation with participation in crime which it is supposed to prevent, detect and prosecute, that has reduced Nigeria to the sixth most corrupt nation of the world.  The executive has failed Nigerians in its responsibility of upholding and enforcing the law.

State fund: The executive is the custodian of state funds. The fact is that the executive has netted over 400 billion dollars since the discovery of crude oil in the country and there is nothing to show for it other than poverty, insecurity and misery. There is no comparison with the Asian countries of Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore, who were British colonies and gained independence about the same time as Nigeria. The executive converted state assets to personal funds and stashed most of it abroad, and today their functionaries parade themselves as “owners,” “conquerors” or “emperors” of Nigeria. We reject the notion that poverty is the cause of corruption. The armed policeman on our highways who demand bribe from okada riders is not poorer than the okada rider.  Rather it is greed and inefficiency of the executive resulting in bad governance that are the main causes of corruption.  When a crime goes undetected and un-prosecuted by the executive it breeds more criminals.

Security: The constitution provided under section 14 that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The executive by omission or commission has become the instrument of insecurity in Nigeria. Arms and ammunition purchased for the protection of Nigerians have been used against Nigerians. We have just been informed that “the Police inspector-general Mr. Sunday Ehindero, disclosed “that the Federal Government had taken delivery of a large consignment of weapons including 40,000 pieces of AK-47 assorted rifles with10 million rounds of ammunition, 30,000 K2 rifles with 10 million rounds of bullets, 10,000 units of Barretta pistols with two million rounds of bullets to boost the capacity of his men to firmly contain cases of insecurity in any part of the country during the electioneering period.”

We had thought that democracy, as a process, will be passed on to our children, in which case boy-scouts and girl-guides will be at polling booths and stations to assist in the process and thereby learn. Unfortunately the executive, because of its monumental short comings, has decided to make it a do or die affair, with AK-7 rifles rather than a piece of paper, the ballot which is the symbol of democracy. The executive through INEC has decided for the people of Nigeria those who they do not want to rule, and has selected those they want to rule Nigerians, and all the manipulations and scheming by INEC is geared towards that direction, so that the executive will have puppets in legislature who will do their bidding.

Executive interference in the judiciary: The executive, having failed in its primary responsibility, has decided not only to pollute the spring of justice, but also to destroy her temple. The executive has refused on many occasions to obey court orders as a result of which lawyers in 2006 had to go on strike. One would have thought that the executive learnt its lesson from this development but, instead, it remains recalcitrant. The contempt which the executive has for the courts no doubt encouraged attacks on some judges outside and inside their courts.  It is in the circumstance, safe to conclude that the executive, especially the Presidency, the police and INEC are challenging the freedom of all Nigerians and the fundamental basis of our democracy.

The executive is intimidating the judiciary with demolition order, removal from the Bench, etc, in order to “conquer” or hold the judiciary “hostage"   Nigerians must resist the ugly development, otherwise when all Nigerians resort to self help, there will be anarchy and Nigeria may cease to exist. A group of Nigerians have been compelled due to no fault of their own to resort to self help, and we wish to warn that if the executive continues to see itself as the government of a conquered people, then the ethnic nationalities in different parts of the country will have no choice but to resort to the same self-help methods, and there will be chaos in the country.

Professional bodies: Nigerians are in the habit of boasting of the number of professionals the country has. The bar association boasts of having more lawyers than the rest of the other black African countries put together. The same is applicable to the medical doctors, pharmacists, teachers, university dons, etc that constitute the civil society. Where are the pastors, the imams etc.

Why the silence in the face of blatant evil committed with impunity by the executive? We can only attribute the silence to the fact that the leadership of these associations and civil society organizations have been held hostage by the executive.

We therefore call on all to join us in this struggle. We think too often of peace as the mere absence of conflict, but peace is a pro-active condition of society. We have peace only when life functions in accordance with the laws of life. We have peace in a country when all the citizens obey the laws of the country. We have peace in a state when necessities of life in the state are properly expressed in law which is adequately enforced. Only when proper provisions are made to express the demands of life of the Nigerians in terms of law, binding upon individuals as well as institutions, and are adequately enforced, can we have peace.

We had planned to picket INEC on March 29, 2007, then march peacefully to the National Assembly to submit a petition to the Senate urging their support and protection of the rule of law and the judiciary. Unfortunately the National Assembly has decided to go on recess at this crucial time. We have no doubt whatsoever that they went on recess, either on the encouragement or at the behest of the executive, not because of any altruistic motive. They are yet to live up to the title of “Honourable” which they enthusiastically flaunt. In the circumstance and before the executive renders the rule of law and the judiciary prostrate, all citizens must rise to defend the Constitution, the rule of law and the judiciary.