Prominent lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Bamidele Aturu has raised some fundamental questions arising from the air crash involving Taraba state Governor Danbaba Suntai.Aturu in his welcome address at the 5th Annual Law and Social Development Lecture held at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja today said asked among others “What is a state as poor as Taraba State doing with a jet?”
Aturu said, “The air crash involving the Governor of Taraba State is unfortunate in many ways. We wish that he recovers as soon as possible. Nevertheless, the crash raises a number of questions that we must not allow our sympathies to overshadow. What is a state as poor as Taraba State doing with a jet? If it is true that he obtained his licence in 2010 while still serving as Governor, does this not show serious idleness on his part? When he recovers and we hope that happens soon we must demand comprehensive answers to these questions. We cannot continue to tolerate misplacement of priorities and misallocation of resources including the time of those who hold public offices. States that own jets should sell them and build roads for their people to show that they understand what governance is all about.”
Read the full text of his address below:
ERADICATION OF POVERTY IS POSSIBLE
Being Welcome Address by Bamidele Aturu at the 5th Annual Law and Social Development Lecture held at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja on the 29th of October, 2012
We thank the Almighty God for the privilege of being alive to organize this year’s annual lecture. We also thank all those who encourage us by attending these lectures almost as a duty. We pray that the Almighty God Himself will encourage and bless you in Jesus Name.
We welcome you most felicitously to this year’s Annual Law and Social Development Public Lecture organized by our firm. The topic of this year’s lecture is Social Security: Taking the Lives of Nigerians Seriously. We are privileged to have Professor Adele Jinadu, a leading political scientist on the African continent deliver the lecture. Mrs Ayo Obe, a decent legal practitioner and role model to the youth of impeccable character has also graciously agreed to chair the event.
The question may legitimately be asked: why social security? This year’s lecture is coming against the background of serious erosion and degradation of whatever is left of the humanity of the people of Nigeria by the actions, inactions, policies of those who occupy public offices and miscreants of all shades who exploit the comprehensive incompetence of state actors and institutions to maim, kill and destroy lives wantonly. Our people are daily and routinely made victims of natural and man-made disasters due to no fault of theirs. It is clear that democracy is already denuded of any civilized meaning in our clime, if the truth must be told.
Nigeria now a vast killing field
Since the last general elections in the middle of last year no day passes, it seems, without one story of bestial murder or the other. Only yesterday some of our compatriots were wasted by some anarchists as they were praying to God in Kaduna. While the security agencies nauseatingly reassure us after each killing that they are winning the war against terror, evidence around us show clearly that they have no idea on how to stem the routine indefensible mass murders of our defenceless people. Political leaders from the presidency to the councilors move about with an armada of armoury as if Nigeria is truly at war. The politicians, without doubt, believe that they are more important than the people otherwise they would not be protecting themselves with the weapons and security personnel who ought to make Nigeria safer for all Nigerians. The time has come for us to condemn in the strongest term possible the irresponsible shirking of the constitutional duty of the state to protect its citizens. The state is useless if it cannot protect the people. Yet in our country today armed robbers, religious zealots, kidnappers and all sorts of criminals take and waste lives with an ease that is truly scary. All the government tells us is that it is on top of the situation and that the killings are unfortunate and unacceptable. We know that they are unfortunate at least to the victims and their loved ones. But are they really unacceptable to the security agencies that now seem to have accepted them as a way of life in our country? All they do is to rush to the scenes of the brutal carnage and cordon it off. Is that all that security entails? The Federal Government should declare a state of emergency in the security sector. I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not asking the government to declare curfews or harass citizens by merely deploying soldiers on our roads. No. I am not asking for a police state or postponement of elections when they fall due. The elements of the emergency must include immediate scaling down of the security detail of our public officials to no more than 1 personnel for chairpersons of the Local Government Councils, 10 for Governors and their deputies and no more than 50 for the President. Ministers and Commissioners should arrange their own security at their own cost, just as we do. Our security officials should be deployed to do what they were commissioned or recruited to do, namely providing security for Nigerians and not just for the politicians. At another level, we must begin seriously to think of making it a constitutional right of all Nigerians to bear and own arms. The present hypocritical situation where only the criminally minded and their patrons monopolise the use of arms is nothing but itself a crime of aiding and abetting the routine killing of defenceless Nigerians. That, I should say, is a crime against humanity. The government has already made people defenceless; the law must not make us be without defence. Of course there could be other elements. But these are our own immediate proposal.
The ALUU 4 and the Mubi Senseless Killings
The recent gruesome murder of four undergraduates of the University of Port Harcourt and students at the Polytechnic in Mubi reveals how low we have sunk as a people. It shows that the lives of Nigerians now count for nothing. We would like join other people to demand that the culprits be brought to justice speedily to send a very strong signal that that type of animalism is not going to be tolerated henceforth. The police must get their acts together. They should bring proper charges against the suspects before a court of competent jurisdiction. Bungling of the case will be regarded as aiding and abetting crime.
Flood Disaster and the Disastrous response of the State
We have an Ecological Fund in the country, yet when the floods which had been accurately predicted by NIMET came with fury, our governments and their agencies were caught napping. The Fund of course had since vanished as a result of the mindless corruption that defines and typifies our public service. Just consider it. If public officials can loot with impunity pension funds belonging to senior citizens who served Nigeria loyally and selflessly in their prime, is it Ecological Fund that will be immune from the kleptomaniac looting of the politicians and the civil servants? The response to the flood disaster was simply disastrous: create makeshift hovels or camps and then dump people there without the slightest regard for their hygiene, safety and security. The Federal Government after the inundation responded by setting up a Begging Bowl Committee (BBC) to weep around the world so that we can draw international sympathy and a few dollars here and there. That committee was and is uncalled for It is a reckless waste of resources and time. If the disaster required international assistance there would be no need for a committee as it would have provoked a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and assistance. When Nigerians and governments across the world gave financial assistance to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake that caused havoc in that country, the country had no Begging Bowl Committee. That we set up a committee simply made us a laughing stock in the comity of nations. I call on the President to disband the Dangote-Olisa Committee as a matter of urgency. God has immeasurably blessed us that we do not need to promote begging as a culture.
Callous Attempts to Flush out the Poor
There is an increasing tendency among the ruling elite across the country but most noticeably in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory to victimize the poor for simply being poor. When their houses are not being demolished without notice or adequate notice as in Makoko and FCT evictions, their miserable means of livelihood are being denied them on the ground that that very means constitute a nuisance to the aesthetic fancy of the elite as can be seen in the draconian ban of Okadas (motorcycles) from plying 475 roads in Lagos State without an alternative means of livelihood. The point must be made very clear that the majority of the poor are not because they chose to be poor. They are poor because of our irresponsible elite that steal and corner the resources of this country mindlessly. They are poor because of the greed, corruption, fraud, inefficiency, ineffectiveness and wickedness of those who occupy public positions in Nigeria. To blame the poor for their victimized state is certainly an immorality and crime worse than rape. The Okada case is in court so I say no more on it. Nevertheless, it needs to be stressed that it is futile to think, as the elite do, that the poor will simply vanish from our space. That is not going to happen. They will only be forced by the draconian laws and policies to seek all sorts of countercultural and criminal survival strategies. It is good to make Lagos and our other urban cities look like London or Dubai. But it is pointless to make them Londons populated by paupers. May God truly help us to sleep with our two eyes closed on our beds! Having said this let us make it clear that we do not support the violence unleashed on government properties by some okada riders as a way of protesting the ban on the use of Okada in Lagos State. The matter has already been submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. Parties and this also include the State government, and their agents such as LASTMA officials and police officers, should not attempt to foist a situation of complete helplessness on the court. It is wrong for any okada operator to take the law into her hands and it is also wrong for government and its agents to seek to enforce a law that is being challenged in court, the pendency of which case it is aware. To do otherwise is to trample on the rule of law and to promote a culture of impunity, an ill-wind that blows no good. I urge Lagos State Government to show example by stopping the implementation of the law until the court, incidentally its court, decides the matter one way or the other. That is the only way to convince people that we are democrats, not when we label ourselves in the media as such.
Corruption, greed and waste
It is clear to all now that the war against corruption has completely lost steam. What many of us do not understand is why governments and their functionaries still insult us by mouthing their so-called zero-tolerance for corruption. The correct position is that our governments at all levels now have zero-tolerance for anti-corruption war. The Otedola-Farouk scandal remains an open sore that will not get healed until and unless either or both the dramatis personae is or are prosecuted forthwith. That scandal makes a mockery of all claims that there is a war against corruption in Nigeria. Nigerians will not allow the matter to die down. The police have shown gross incompetence in the handling of the matter. The file should be withdrawn from whoever is at present investigating the allegation of bribery and given to officers or agencies that know what they are doing.
The only amendment that would make sense is for the National Assembly to make crimes of corruption strict liability offences that would require the defendant show that she is innocent and justify how she came about her stupendous wealth and not for the prosecution to prove that she is guilty. The Constitution should also make it clear that there would be no interlocutory appeal in criminal cases. Without these safeguards corruption cases will go on endlessly as we are already seeing with the oil subsidy scam.
Reckless spending by states and the Federal Government needs to be checked urgently. One example which we have always brought up is the indefensible sponsoring of pilgrims to Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia. This is wrong and constitutes an unconstitutional frittering away of public resources. Those who want to go on pilgrimage should use their own resources. Religion is a private affair. If governments do not stop this unlawful practice, we shall consider instituting actions against all of them. The same goes for sponsoring of lawyers in the Ministries and in private practice on jamboree trips to International Bar Association Conferences where Nigerians do not make any presentation except to present their rowdiness and gaudy lifestyle. These jamborees explain why our roads are not motorable, our schools have collapsed and there is general poverty in the land.
Governor Suntai’s Air Accident
The air crash involving the Governor of Taraba State is unfortunate in many ways. We wish that he recovers as soon as possible. Nevertheless, the crash raises a number of questions that we must not allow our sympathies to overshadow. What is a state as poor as Taraba State doing with a jet? If it is true that he obtained his licence in 2010 while still serving as Governor, does this not show serious idleness on his part? When he recovers and we hope that happens soon we must demand comprehensive answers to these questions. We cannot continue to tolerate misplacement of priorities and misallocation of resources including the time of those who hold public offices. States that own jets should sell them and build roads for their people to show that they understand what governance is all about.
Ultimate Cannibalisation of PHCN
Governments of some of the states of the Federation notably Ondo, Ekiti and Edo States are up in arms against the sale of the successors companies to private entities. They are alleging underhand dealings in the way and manner the Bureau of Public Enterprises managed the bidding process. We have said it often that privatization of public enterprises is an illegal and immoral parceling of Nigeria and the commonwealth among public functionaries and their cronies. It is difficult to get the point being made by the states. If they believe the lie told by those who insist that they must sell everything that belongs to us to private persons on the ground that governments are not suited to run utilities profitably, why are they also interested in running the same utilities? Are they not governments? The truth of the matter is that it is against the letter and spirit of the Constitution to sell PHCN. If we fight corruption and put the right people at the helms of PHCN, the Corporation will deliver. Government should retrace its steps and allow those who want to compete with PHCN do so by bringing in their money and setting up their own distribution companies. PHCN should be left in the hands of competent and incorruptible public officials to serve the masses of Nigerians. The privatization or cannibalization of PHCN should be halted immediately. Power is too important to be conceived strictly in commercial terms. Indeed, we see the right to adequate and uninterrupted supply of electricity as a fundamental right.
A Case for Social Security
Professor Adele Jinadu will assist us to examine all the issues around social security at the lecture. But we need to add our voice here. What is happening in Nigeria today is that the people are bearing the brunt of democracy. That is the oxymoronic situation that confronts our people. It is as if democracy pauperises the majority and enriches a few. While airlines are disappearing private jets are increasing; while roads are vanishing, posh jeeps are emerging; while public schools are dilapidated, private schools that underpay their staff and teach rubbishy values are dotting our landscape; while public hospitals have collapsed, our ‘leaders’ and their spouses jet out to treat common cold in foreign countries at our expense; while many people cannot afford to eat one meal (square or not), some individuals spend more than the national minimum wage on a meal in 5 star hotels. We can go on and on. The time has come for us to pressure the National Assembly to pass a law on social security for the poor in Nigeria if the country is not to explode. It is not a crime to be poor, more so as poverty in Nigeria is government induced. Education and access to healthcare must be free for all categories of Nigerians. Unless we pass and have a social security system, liberal democracy is imperiled in Nigeria. We can eradicate poverty if we show the will to curb the greed of those who occupy public offices in Nigeria.
I thank you once again for finding the time to attend this lecture. May God bless you richly and save our country!