History Lessons on Doing the Right Thing the Wrong Way, By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

Source: pointblanknews.com

Since the co-ordinated and forceful encounters between the State Security

Services (SSS) and the judiciary on October 9, many have dusted up legal

tomes, interpreting the National Security Agencies Act with

characteristically Nigerian gusto and parsing words from answer to

Typically for this season of digital information, there is a great deal of

information but very little knowledge. Anonymous WhatsApp broadcasts

bearing staple concatenations of our fantasy gossip have quickly become

credible sources. What we know is that the SSS operations are

controversial within and beyond government.
Around the country, many believe that the judiciary is corrupt and that

the judges, an irresponsible legal elite who are the source of Nigeria's

problems, are getting their deserved come-uppance. Senior Advocates of

Nigeria – no less – have been reported as asking Nigeria's president to

furlough the rule of law for some time. This, at last, is the overdue

radical surgery that the “fight against corruption” needs.

It was Groucho Marx who wrote: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great

world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot

to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Law books

may excite the wordsmiths but history crystallises our pathology.

To be sure, there's a lot about Nigeria, the judiciary and the legal

profession that requires correcting. The current conversation on what is

happening with the judiciary takes place – to borrow from Dr. Hakeem

Baba-Ahmed – between “a generation weaned on a solid history of a proud

African people and one which has read no history at all.” After nearly

three decades of military rule, Nigeria is mostly a country in hock to mob

martial mentality created by an army that “caused a war and fought in it,

then claimed credit for keeping the country united”. The army has

conditioned the country to ape the worst of their instincts at the price

of collective failure in institution building.
It began in 1966. Politicians were making incredible money in the face of

misrule. Nigerians were genuinely angry and baying for blood. On January

15, Kaduna Nzeogwu declared that “our enemies are the political

profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes

and demand 10 percent”, accusing them of having “corrupted our society and

put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.” 50

years from that memorable declamation, “10 percenters” morphed into “100

percenters”. How did that happen?
Having led the coup, Kaduna Nzeogwu could not take power. General

Aguiyi-Ironsi did. Six months later , in July 1966, it was his blood that

was the burnt offering for yet other soldiers bearing salvation.

Thereafter, soldiers took the country into a heedless war and, after 30

months, said they had ended it and kept Nigeria together. With this, they

appear to have arrogated to themselves a right – in or out of uniform – to

rule and a mission to extinguish our collective demons.

So, in 1970, General Yakubu Gowon, mistaking success in a battle for

conquest in war, released a nine-point programme preceding what he

announced would be his hand-over of power in 1976. Item 3 on that

programme was “eradication” of corruption.
In 1974, Gowon told an incredulous nation that 1976 was no longer feasible

as handover date. Murtala Mohammed, who succeeded Gowon as Head Boy in

Barewa College, overthrew him in July 1975 complaining that Gowon was

guilty of inability to “fulfil the legitimate expectations of our people.”

Thereafter, he went on a spree of purging everywhere including the courts.

Taslim Elias, then Chief Justice, was turfed out “with immediate effect”.

In his place, Murtala appointed Sir Darnley Alexander, a naturalised

Nigerian, who loved a bit of a beverage and was a happy man. Super

Permanent Secretary, Phillip Asiodu was fired – amongst over 150 senior

public officials relieved of their positions – because his Grade II

teacher wife reportedly had over $10 million in asset. Nigerians were

Murtala Mohammed was tragically killed in February 1976, succeeded by

General Olusegun Obasanjo. By 1979, when General Obasanjo handed over

power to civilians, the view was settled that Murtala's purge had worsened

corruption, not solved it. So, when Obasanjo handed over in 1979, his

successor, Shehu Shagari, felt the need to launch an “Ethical Revolution”

to attack corruption.
In the end of 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari shoved aside Shagari because

– you guessed it! – corruption ostensibly got worse under Shagari.

Buhari's War against Indiscipline (WAI) replaced “Ethical Revolution”.

Soldiers flogged Nigerians to their hearts' delight; made us all frog jump

and thread mud on our bellies at their whim because we were all supposedly

corrupt and undisciplined. How these indignities were supposed to wean us

of corruption wasn't immediately evident. Tribunals were set up to try the

corrupt. They sentenced many politicians to decades or hundreds of years

in prison. Less than five years later , the same politicians were in

control of President Babangida's endless transition programme.

Meanwhile, 19 months into his regime, Buhari was overthrown by his then

Chief of Army Staff, General Babangida (IBB), who accused his erstwhile

boss of corrupting and abusing the security agencies, especially the then

Nigeria Security Organisation (NSO). Babangida initiated a review of

security agencies at the end of which, in 1986, he promulgated as a

military decree the National Security Agencies Act, creating, among

others, the SSS. We are now fighting over its powers. By the time IBB

stepped aside in 1993, Oxford University's Ike Okonta wrote memorably that

he had “corrupted democracy and democratised corruption.”

General Abacha took over thereafter de facto and, upon procuring his fait

accompli in November 1993, promised swift transition to civil rule but

hung on and desired to use corruption to make himself civilian president.

By the time the country returned to democracy in 1999, President Obasanjo

told us it would “not be business as usual.” But not quite three years

later, he was using the lamentable Justice Egbo-Egbo to sack governors at

night and frustrate procedures by day. Shortly thereafter, Obasanjo was

plying the National Assembly with billions in cash to change the

constitution and give him a prohibited life presidency. The rest of the

story is current affairs.
This tale could go on but my point should be evident. Without a sense of

history, Nigerians are always desperate to get suckered by the next strong

man promising to fight corruption in even more inventive ways. We are

never short of enthusiastic “patriots” who want to see “elites” – the

hated big men and their mistresses – put down in disgrace. It's all part

of what Lawrence Summers has recently described as the “Renaissance of

populist authoritarianism.”
One final inflection point from history for those interested. In 1984,

most Nigerians believed President Shagari's Minister of Commerce, Alhaji

Umaru Dikko, was virulently corrupt. Dikko was in exile in Britain. The

task of bringing him to justice needed a scalpel, not a hammer. General

Buhari, as military Head of State then, decided to have him abducted from

exile. This was flagrantly unlawful. It failed. That foreclosed the chance

of ever bringing Umaru Dikko to justice.
If 1984 was a tragic first time, 2016 could be the farcical encore. There

is never a right way to do a wrong thing but there is sometimes a wrong

way to do the right thing. When that happens, the damage can be lasting.

Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Interim Chair of the Section on Public Interest &

Development Law (SPIDEL), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), writes in his

personal capacity.
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