Thursday, 27 November 2008

Rule Of Low

Some suppress freedom in the name of law and order
- George Washington

There is something uncanny about the notion of reward for sacrifice in our political lexicon. First, the saga unravelling around Nuhu Ribadu now has shown us that you cannot win against the bad guys in this country. Instead of receiving a pat on your back for your sacrifice, be ready to reap the whirlwind. Second, the ill-treatment of the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission by the security agencies is a signal for those working to sanitise the society in various sectors that it is not worth their while after all. It is a sign that if you stick out your neck in the name of patriotism, or as Kennedy called "what you can do for your country," someone is going to chop it with a sharp blade after you might have vacated your seat. Since crime pays, fighting crime wouldn't pay. It's for the same reason that many people in service who have seen graft and other forms of atrocity have decided to keep mum. They must have seen how keeping your mouth shut had paid off handsomely for others.

A good example of a patriot who paid a high price for his audacity is Malam Nasir El-Rufai. Here was a man who, in his zesty commitment to a-righting the wrongs in the nation's proudest city stepped on many big toes. Granted that the bulldozing of homes had caused a lot of agony, but no one was interested in the fact that the abuse of the Abuja master-plan was done intentionally by the perpetrators, many of whom were among the 'untouchables' in the country. Little surprise that such people went for El-Rufai's jugular as soon as he stepped out of office, swearing revenge. The man must have regretted ever serving Nigeria the way he did, and that must have been one of the intentions of his detractors.

Nigeria will always find a whipping boy for its past pains. Ribadu is the new kid on the block. His frenzied fight against corruption had earned him powerful enemies, and that should not surprise anyone. This country is a jungle of sorts - where the big fishes swallow the small fishes, aside their swallowing of each other. It has made the top numbers in any corruption index, local or international. Fighting corruption was something of a refrain during the various regimes since independence. It was during the last Obasanjo Administration that the fight was given a true fillip, with Ribadu as commander. You could blame Obasanjo for many atrocities, but the kind of bloody nose given to corrupt leaders had never been seen in the past. The governors and their collaborators were hitherto untouchable; they were law unto themselves.

We can't forget too soon - the forgetting nation that we are, though - how excited we all were whenever Ribadu's EFCC made a big catch, announcing the recovery of gargantuan sums of money stashed abroad by some of the pen-robbers calling themselves our leaders. The nation had salivated from those huge exposes and Ribadu was hailed as a hero, a fearless cop who went after anyone suspected of a caper. Even though the EFCC was/is handicapped by the immunity clause in the constitution, which gives cover to the undeserving execs, Ribadu wasn't deterred. In recognition of his work, many nations and international organisations began to take Nigeria serious for once. EFCC won many garlands and additional donations.

But here is a disclaimer. I am not calling Malam Ribadu a taintless saint. There are many accusations against him, principal of which is that he was used by Obasanjo to fight the government's perceived enemies. You can't exonerate the chairman from those accusations because the fact of their veracity had stood out so prominently. Here are a few samplers: Atiku Abubakar and Orji Uzor Kalu were hounded by EFCC operatives even when they had obtained court injunctions. Also, many candidates for election into various political posts were unjustly disqualified by election tribunals and INEC based on perceivably cooked up reports sent in by the EFCC. Nonetheless, these charges, in spite of their weight, and if they are true, cannot reasonably compare with the main fight against corruption led by Ribadu. This is meant to say that the EFCC chairman had done more good than harm in the overall fight against graft. If that is so, why should he be crucified for the simple reason that he is not there?

The surprising thing about the whole saga is that Ribadu's victimisers are none other than government officials who should otherwise be using taxpayers' money to protect him. More surprising is that the hounding is being perpetrated by a government whose stock in trade is invoking some nebulous rule of law. Examined carefully, however, it can be surmised that the Yar'Adua Administration is appearing to be predicated on the rule without the law. In recent times it had demonstrated this penchant for lawlessness, thereby constituting a risk to the survival of democracy. Its harassment of the independent media is an example. Another is the current demonization of Ribadu. What it will do next is left to be seen, but it can almost be guaranteed that it would soon kick again.

But is it necessary? It is the idle mind that should ordinarily be the devil's workshop. Aren't there enough problems in the country to occupy the government? Electricity supply has gone from bad to worse. Clean drinking water is a luxury for most communities in the country. The roads are still death-traps. The crime rate is sky-high. Disease and squalor are on the rise, beating all imagination. And corruption, the turf where Ribadu attracted his travail, is still an ugly spectre. In fact, under the same rule of law cover the EFCC has since mellowed down, allowing public officers from local to federal levels to feel freer to steal. Many fraudsters who had fled the country during the Ribadu years are surging back. Is that not enough worry for our leaders to spend sleepless nights over? Should Ribadu be our priority in these sad times? What is Nigeria's benefit in stopping one police officer from graduating from some elite school?

Let's for a moment pause to imagine that Ribadu had purchased all those mansions and duplexes around the world, then what? In such a situation, a government which prides itself on the observance of rule of law would simply gather its facts and sue him. He is not above the law. Even so, he would not be pronounced as guilty outright until the facts have proved it. Failure to do it this way, as has happened, is an indicator of the government's determination to rule the Nigerian way - outside the law. The commando-style. Anyone in this government who believes that this is the best way to go, taking revenge against men like Ribadu, should remember the Chinese saying, "Let him who seeks revenge dig two graves." They should also advise President Yar'Adua to stop mouthing the rule of law mantra. He should stop pretending and act without shame - like his predecessor - within the “rule of (the) low.”

(Published in my column in LEADERSHIP on Thursday, November 27, 2008)

A Zamfara Stalwart’s Tale

The place of mai shayi is a newsroom of some sorts. It’s a place where you get to hear some of the most tantalizing stories in town. Mai shayi, or tea-seller, is found in almost every street corner in the north, the Hausas being arguably some of the leading drinkers of tea on Planet Earth. I have been a connoisseur of commercial tea for ages because of my love for the earth-shaking revelations that usually emanate from tea drinkers.

One thing I learnt from that, however, is never swallow hook, line and sink the news you hear there. Believe everything at your peril. As a journalist, publish it at the risk of your professional demise. Some of the most imaginative and fiction creators do sit there. They will tell you stories of events you’d never heard before. Samplers: exactly what is wrong with President Yar’Adua’s health; how Turai could transform from First Lady to First Citizen; how Aliyu Modibbo Umar was shown the door because of his misunderstanding with Governor Danjuma Goje, rooted in his alleged ambition to replace Goje in 2011, and (don’t laugh!) Barack Chukwuemeka Obama’s Igbo origins.

That notwithstanding, there is something uncanny about the stories you hear at the mai shayi’s: the depth of analysis is uncanny. The arguments are punchy. And sometimes the revelations are rewarding. I have seen that in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State, recently. The city has countless tea-selling joints. Top on the topics usually discussed at such places is the nature of politics in the state. The city is one of the hotbeds of political activism in this country. You could feel politics pulsing in the town, coursing through the veins of the residents like an angry river, translating into energetic analyses. Like every state, the concern of the people is to have a caring government in place.

Three words stand out during debates on the political future of Zamfara State: MAS Two Times (or MAS Twice as some say). It means that the executive governor of the state, Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi (MAS), having won election and is spending his first term in office, deserves to rule two times. That is assuming that he has already ruled once.

All over the state, especially in the capital, colourful posters bearing the photographs of His Excellency MAS are pasted on walls, roundabouts, government and private offices, cars, buses, et cetera. The first impression a first-time visitor would have is that the governor is a beloved figure among his people. Indeed, one of his aides told me that the posters are a proof of MAS’s mass appeal. He assured me that nobody was forced to paste the posters on their car bonnets or house walls. It was a spontaneous appreciation for the way Shinkafi has turned around the fortunes of the state, he said.

I am an untiring searcher of beloved leaders, especially in Africa where most leaders are regarded as common thieves and gangsters. I know many states where governors can no longer drive by safely among their people without fear of being attacked, verbally or otherwise. If MAS were such a chummy leader as to have his name painted all over the town, it’s okay by me. But why all the hue and cry? To get an answer, I decided to take some tea at a hut outside Gusau Hotel one morning. As fate would have it, a hot conversation was already underway over the MAS Two Times campaign. Obviously a stranger in town had raised the matter with a political stalwart, a diehard supporter of Governor Shinkafi, arguing that it was too early to start campaigning for second term after only a year in the first term. The stalwart argued that MAS Two Times was the best thing that had happened to the Zamfarawa; in it lay the hope and aspirations of the average Zamfara citizen. The governor of the state has demonstrated his love for the people through hard work and native political calculation. According to him, Shinkafi has sworn to work for the welfare of the people in the first two years of his first term. The governor, he explained, has asked that during this period, political stalwarts who helped him acquire power should exercise patience and not expect to be paid immediately as was the practice before. They should allow him to work. That is why Gusau and the rural areas are wearing a new look as graders have been rolled onto the roads, working as if democratic rule in the state had just begun. He said the political jobbers would be paid after 2009, i.e. in the second half of the governor’s first term. Which means that between 2010 and 2011, the government of Zamfara State would be ‘dashing’ money left, right and centre to political stalwarts as compensation for their role in the 2007 election. Developmental projects nko?

Then what happens in 2011? I wondered out aloud. The stalwart, who exuded an air of confidence, looked at me pityingly, perhaps assessing my ignorance about Zamfara politics. His answer was that if MAS spends two years doling out the gravy, he would be rest assured to win the 2011 polls.

This story is couched in native wisdom, horned in the furnace of grassroots politics only a Zamfara man could explain. It could all be fake, though. But let’s assume that the tale is correct after all, then what? It would mean that the MAS Two Times campaign is an ingenious plan in the battle of Zamfara three years from now.

In seeking to know a deeper background to the tale, I discovered from chats with some other political jobbers that the MAS Two Times campaign was sponsored by Shinkafi. It originated from the disagreement between him and Alhaji (now Senator) Ahmed Sani Yerima, who ruled the state for four years from 1999. The former’s attempt to grip the camel’s reins in the state’s politics while the latter sits in the saddle created the revolt at Government House now unfolding as MAS Two Times. The campaign aims at showing Yerima that he cannot continue to rule forever. He has had his chance; therefore, he should allow his successor to enjoy his turn. Shinkafi should have his way, really, as long as that would not lead to violence. Yerima should face his job in the Senate while offering an elderly advice to his political ‘son’. Trying to rule in the Senate and in Gusau is like trying to eat his cake and have it.

This was published in my column in LEADERSHIP