It was the late BBC commentator Alistair Cook who re-phrased the famous dictum thus – “Power Corrupts and Absolute Power is Absolutely Delicious”. He was referring to the illusions of grandeur people who occupy state offices have, thinking they have so much power that they can do anything they want and get away with it. Surrounded with a cabal of praise singers, those in power on our dear continent believe they can “enjoy” the power they have anyhow and often become so reckless that they undermine their power and threaten the stability of the political system.
A few hours before the French rescued former President Blaise Campaore and smuggled him out to Cote d’Ivoire, his presidential guard and assured him that he should not mind the protestors, they would deal with them and he will get the annoying Article 37 that was blocking the prolongation of his 27 year old reign. It was inconceivable to him that he would not rule for the rest of his days on earth. The same people who assured Campaore that he would continue his rule are today saying he must be investigated and prosecuted for the massive quantity of blood on his hands. So many other presidents have committed the same mistake thinking that because they enjoy the perquisites of power, there is no reason why they should not always do as they please.
The past week has seen the escalation of political recklessness in the country and my column today is devoted to cautioning those in power to beware about the abuse of the powers that they hold in trust for the people. This Saturday, police and DSS operatives stormed the office of the opposition APC in Lagos seizing and destroying computers, files and equipment. It is always an ominous sign when State officials start directly attacking the houses and offices of the opposition party trying to wrest power from them through democratic means. The same week, mobile policemen armed with APCs provided cover and security for seven ruling party members of the Ekiti State House of Assembly to claim that they have impeached the Speaker and Deputy Speaker who have a confortable majority of 19 members in the House. Also within the week, hundreds of soldiers under a senior officer escorted former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff to Borno State to organise political party networks for the forthcoming elections. This is the same person that the DSS has announced is being investigated for possible implication with the Boko Haram insurgency.
My most serious concern for the past week was what Senate President David mark has called the barbaric attack on legislators by policemen on Thursday. In what was clearly an attempted coup against the leadership of Speaker Tambuwal, the police allowed access to the National Assembly to Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha but locked the gate against the Speaker and his new friends from the opposition APC. The startled legislators were smart enough to realize that a coup was being organised against them and had the good sense to scale the fence and enter the grounds in spite of all the tear gas canisters being thrown at them by the police. It was one of the most shameful incidents in the history of our democracy in which naked State power was being used to try and change the leadership of the National Assembly. It was interesting that the Inspector General had announced to the country that Tambuwal was no longer the Speaker as if police duties include deciding who would be Speaker.
It would be recalled that last year, a certain police commissioner had been posted to Rivers State to try to organise for five members out of thirty-two members of the Rivers State House of Assembly to declare they have impeached the Speaker and then proceed to impeach the stubborn Governor Amaechi who has been a thorn to many in ruling class circles. The police had shown complete contempt and lack of respect to the Rivers State Governor in spite of the fact that he embodies the legitimacy of government at the state level. As I said at the time, it was reckless for the Federal symbols of power to be exercised by the presidency to openly undermine a state government because if power is used unjustly to destabilize one level of government, other powers can be used against other levels of government.
I know that all Nigerian Presidents are by definition very powerful, even if historically, some have been more powerful than others. Nigeria is one of the few remaining countries in the world where a President can spend billions of dollars, with or without appropriation by the National Assembly to carry out his heart’s desire. A Nigerian President can pick any one in the streets and make him or her a dollar multi-billionaire by simply signing and giving the person a piece of paper called an oil block allocation. Yes indeed, Nigerian presidents are very powerful and precisely because of this are unable to see that there are limits to their power and above all, there are risks in exercising power recklessly.
Part of the problem is that we live in a country where sycophancy is so advanced that every President is cornered into thinking that his every move is a masterstroke, no matter how stupid it is. This is a country where presidents are turned into intellectual and political slaves of sycophants who surround them with false and baseless narratives that constrain their action and isolate them from the realities facing the country. As I have said repeatedly, one area where Nigerian political science has clearly failed is that of deconstructing such narratives. Each successive Nigerian Head of State has been so besotted with the illusions of grandeur and “absolute” power at their disposal that they begin to think that they are God? As a Nation, we must learn to start telling our presidents that they are not God. That they are simply public officials constrained in their acts by the Constitution and the laws of the land.
I few years ago, we saw brute state power applied to impose a candidate on the PDP for the Bayelsa governorship elections. Troops were moved in to Yenegoa to create conditions for the emergence of Henry Dickson as the PDP candidate and the rest, as they say is history as former Governor Timipre Syslva was left to lick his wounds. We might well be approaching the time when it will be Dickson’s turn to be shoved out of power in a similar manner.
Our Constitution directs governance institutions to promote the rights and welfare of Nigerians. In recent times, Nigerians have been posing the question about the purpose of governance. Is it to punish the people or improve their welfare? The second question is whether governance is to promote the interest of a cabal or to promote the public interest. Contemporary political science has fused the two words – govern and ability into the concept of governability. Governability is the overall capacity for governance of any societal entity or system. The question posed today is the level of shocks the Nigeria system can take before it becomes ungovernable. Those who exercise power must always ask themselves what the limits to their action are.
One of the major principles of statecraft is that although force is a central element in political systems, it cannot on its own sustain a polity. Rousseau reminds us that even the strongest is never strong enough to remain the master unless he is capable of transforming force into law and obedience into duty. In other words, the governability of modern political systems depends on achieving results that uplift the people and create consensus on how the system operates. The Nigerian state has no monopoly of the means of coercion. As our state loses the capacity to contain internal insurgency and state power is used to impose politicians in power, serious questions about legitimacy are posed. When we begin to see that very high State officials such as the Speaker or a Governor are being harassed and intimidated by the police and other security agencies rather than being protected, then we have a problem and ultimate responsibility to ensure that we maintain our democracy lies with the President.No tags for this post.