When Government Is a Punishing Rod

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By Onikepo Braithwaite Email: onikepo.braithwaite@thisdaylive.com Twitter: @TheAdvocatesTD

Last week, a friend of mine, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, asked me what I thought was the reason why Nigerians run for elective office/struggle to be part of Government? My response was that, most of them do so because of the nomenclature and perquisites that go with the various offices – so that they can be called ‘Distinguished’ (Distinguished Senator), or Honourable, or His or Her Excellency, Governor this and that, Honourable Minister (though this is an appointment not an elective position, these days, partly reserved for party members who were unable to win their elections) and so on. It is simply a means to achieve their personal ends – ‘shi ke nan’! Many of these elected officials have absolutely no aims and objectives, and certainly, no plans to play their roles properly, or to better the lot of Nigerians or Nigeria. The fact that so many of them are facing corruption and money laundering charges, is an attestation to the fact that majority of them do not care or mean well for us and our dear country, Nigeria. They only mean well for their pockets and/or their personal ambitions, while they mete out harsh punishments on the people! Due to space constraints, I have only used three illustrations today, which include the Federal Government, Kogi, Kaduna and Lagos States (though many other States are in the same boat as Kaduna or even worse, with regard to insecurity).

What is Government?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Government is “the group of people who officially control a country”. Sections 4, 5, and 6 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2018)(the Constitution) provide for three equal arms of Government, that is, the three groups of people who control Nigeria – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. These three arms of Government, are further replicated in the State setting. I have always maintained that though the three arms of Government are co-equal, sadly, over the years, the Executive has done all it can to relegate the Judiciary to a distant third position.

However, while it is a given that the different arms of Government have failed Nigerians, many of the State Governments who have failed their people abysmally seem to have escaped being blamed for their dereliction of duty, as we often fail to beam the searchlight on them, concentrating mainly on the Federal Government, the Judiciary and the Legislature.

Constitutional Provisions Relevant to this Discourse

Every person in Nigeria is bound by the provisions of the Constitution (Section 1(1)), while every arm of Government, whether Federal or State, Legislative or Judiciary, is bound by the provisions of Chapter II of the Constitution – the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, and Section 13 therein, mandates them to conform, observe and apply the provisions of Chapter II. Specifically, Section 14(2)(b) & (c) of the Constitution provides that the security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of Government, and ensures the people’s participation in our Government in accordance with the Constitution, while Section 17(3)(c) & (d) mandates Government not to abuse the health of the people, and to provide adequate medical and health facilities for us.

Again, I reiterate the fact that the Federal Government allocates a security vote to all the States which the State Governors singlehandedly control, and are meant to spend on securing their States.

Health

So, when you have a Governor like Yahaya Bello, who is constantly showcasing himself exercising in his gym on social media, but doesn’t care whether his people die from Covid-19 because of his baseless and brainless belief that the virus is ‘no big deal’, or his State is Covid-19-free, one cannot help but wonder how a person who does not comprehend the essence of governance, got into such a high office in the first place. Governance is not about wearing the latest designer sunglasses, or showing Nigerians that you are physically fit, nor is it about wasting scarce State funds (if that is what was expended) on useless television adverts, in a bid to make yourself more visible to Nigerians and promote your personal ambitions. This is why Section 6(6)(c) should be one of the first provisions, that is deleted from the Constitution. There must be accountability.

The whole of Nigeria was very much aware of the period when the first batch of the Astra Zeneca vaccine would be arriving in the country, yet, Kogi State is the only State that is yet to take delivery of its own ration, because their cold storage is not ready. As at today, most States except Kogi, have almost completed the administration of the first batch of vaccines. If there was accountability, any resident of Kogi State would have taken Governor Bello to court, either for not providing adequate Testing Facilities and Isolation Centres within the State (if they are inadequate), and certainly, for not putting the State’s cold storage in order, in anticipation of the arrival of the vaccines timeously. Similarly, if anyone died because of the Governor’s foolhardiness, at least the State Government should be held responsible in damages, even if he cannot be sued personally because of the immunity to suit and legal process which he enjoys by virtue of Section 308(1)(a) of the Constitution. He deserves to be held personally responsible (see Sections 17(2)(b), (c) & 33(1) of the Constitution).

Kidnapping: Kaduna State Et al

Last Friday morning, as I was watching the early morning 5a.m. News showing a clip of the Parents of the students abducted from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Kaduna State (the Kaduna Parents), I burst into tears and started sobbing. As a Parent myself, I pray never to experience what they, or the Chibok Parents, or Leah Sharibu’s’ Parents are going through, let alone the fear that the terrified children in captivity are feeling. Leah’s situation is even more frightening, as she is younger than the Kaduna students, and is all alone (I burst into tears again).

I was therefore, more than taken aback with the comments of Mr Sunny Moniedafe last Thursday on Channel TV’s Sunrise Daily, when he said something to the effect that it was not necessary for the Kaduna Parents to be kept abreast, since the Government was handling the kidnap situation. On that programme, Mr Moniedafe was described as an APC Stakeholder, but more importantly, an aspirant for the position of APC Chairman come June, 2021 when the Party’s Convention is scheduled to hold.

It was heart wrenching to hear a Kaduna Parent, Sani Friday, also a staff of the Forestry College, pleading with Good Samaritans for assistance, in the event that the Kidnappers make direct contact with the Parents for a ransom payment, stating that they had heard nothing from Government as at the time he gave the interview (I believe that with the subsequent outcry and peaceful protest by the Kaduna Parents, Government has finally granted them audience). While we do not expect the Government to share the nitty gritty and strategy of their rescue plans freely so that their arrangements are not compromised, the Parents have a right to hear from Government, be comforted by them, even participate to whatever extent is permissible, in assisting in the rescue of their children.

As for the Parents ‘calming down’ as Mr Moniedafe advised, because the Government is ‘handling it’, I wonder whether he would feel the same way if it was his children in the hands of killers and rapists, and whether he would not be running from pillar to post to secure their speedy release. I wonder what would make the Kaduna Parents feel confident, encouraged and calm that their precious children will be rescued? That Government will handle their own issue the same way they have handled that of the Chibok Girls, in which almost seven years later (six years since this administration came into office), 112 out of the 276 girls who were abducted by Boko Haram are still unaccounted for, or the same way as that of Leah Sharibu who was the only Dapchi abductee that was not released, and is now being rumoured to have borne two children for a Boko Haram Commander while in captivity? Is that what any of us Parents has planned for our daughters? Teenage pregnancy caused by rape, fathered by a cold-blooded killer? Absolutely not.

As a Parent, it could be that I’m being emotional, but, my view on the kidnappings of the children is that, if the Federal and State Governments encourage Parents to send their children to their schools, it is their responsibility to keep them safe while they are there. As long as the children remain in the schools, the Government is their custodian, and is therefore, responsible for rescuing them, whether by paying ransom or any other means. Both the Federal and Kaduna State Governments, are culpable for their negligence. Nigerians, particularly Government, already have the foreknowledge that schools with boarding facilities, especially those located in the North are a prime target, yet nothing tangible has been done to secure them. If the consequence of negligence on the part of the Federal and/or State Government is to pay a ransom to rescue the children, so be it; because aside from these evil criminals, the next set of people to blame is Government, both Federal, State, and the law enforcement agencies.

Lagos: The Plight of Wale and his Fellow Residents

Again, last week, a friend of mine, Wale, who resides in a two bedroomed flat in Mushin, came crying to me that a flyover which would go over the railway tracks in that axis, was to be constructed. Naturally, the provision of infrastructure is good news, except when the interest of the people is not taken care of.

To the best of my knowledge, Nigeria is still proudly maintaining her position as the new poverty capital of the world. Majority of our people, are going through unprecedented lack and hardship. So, when Wale informed me that the Lagos State Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) in cahoots with some of the APC Chieftains in the area, had more or less compelled residents to accept N50,000 as compensation and relocation expenses since some properties are to be demolished to make way for the flyover, I told him that I did not believe him – the Lagos State Government could not do something that is clearly so heartless, callous, unfair and inhumane to its people, particularly as Section 17(2)(c) of the Constitution provides that ‘governmental actions shall be humane’. Wale added that, the acceptance of the N50,000 from LAMATA (or whichever agency is responsible for paying off the residents) was accompanied with a proviso that they would have to vacate their residences within seven days upon receipt of payment!

Wale explained to me that as an old tenant, he pays an annual rent of N300,000 for the two bedroom flat that he and his family occupy, but that today, everywhere he had gone to try to secure an alternative accommodation, rents seem to have doubled to N600,000 (plus N230,000 agreement fee and commission). So, like Wale, many of the people in that axis are in a quandary, as they are being effectively rendered homeless by LAMATA, an agency of Lagos State Government. Is Government really serious about reducing the crime rate? With these types of moves, my answer would have to be no.

Even though I have had the benefit of perusing some of the documents in respect of this matter, as Wale made them available to me in a bid to substantiate his claims when I insisted that his allegations sounded unbelievable and outlandish, I will still give Alausa the benefit of the doubt, that either they cannot be aware of these acts of injustice that are being meted out on the people of Mushin by their conscienceless staff, or on the other hand, if Alausa is aware, it must as a matter of urgency retrace its unjustifiable and inequitable steps, and pay these residents compensation that is commensurate, that is, enough money for them to secure similar accommodations to what they are currently occupying. In fact, that kind of sudden relocation, should additionally be rewarded with a premium for inconvenience.

Conclusion

It seems that not only are elected and appointed officials not particularly interested in playing their roles properly, Government always seems to take actions which are inimical to the interest of the masses. The purpose of Government, is inter alia, to secure the happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice (Section 16(1)(b) of the Constitution), not to inflict unending suffering on the people. In every part of the country, the man on the street is in pain and suffering. Government must strive to do better, starting from today. It is also rather unfortunate that, voting out elected officials (which is the punishment for non-performers) remains nothing but a theory in Nigeria, as vote buying and election rigging hinders the ability of Nigerians to vote out erring politicians, even if they wish to.