We have spoken, perhaps with monotonous regularity, of the enormous powers in the hands of an Executive President of the Federal Republish of Nigeria. In fact, he has the powers of life and death over other mortals. That’s what the issues of presidential pardon and executive clemency are all about, plus the power of nolle prosequi which he can exercise through the office of the Attorney – General of the Federal Government.
As soon as the President gets inaugurated, everyone bows before him and we are quick to promote him above all the laws of the land. For as long as he is in office, and, indeed, for the rest of his life, he is granted immunity from persecution from civil and criminal cases. In essence, the Executive President cannot be charged to court for whatever he does.
In our present democratic experiment, impeachment of the President is out of the question as the extra-ordinary majorities of votes required at the National Assembly are impossible to attain. Barring death or accident, once elected, the Nigerian President is sure of running out his four-year term, no matter how bad he becomes.
The same cannot be said of a British Prime Minister who is constantly faced with censure votes and possible loss of confidence in Parliament.
Knowing very well that no matter what he does, he cannot be impeached or removed from office, the Nigerian President does what he likes. He can sometimes dip his hands in the Excess Crude Account and take any amount to appease say the cocoa Farmers Association in utter contravention to the constitutional provision which stipulates that no amount can be taken from the Consolidated Revenue Fund without legislative authorization and approval.
While the Constitution creates the three branches of Government – The Legislature, Executive and Judiciary – and intended them to be equal but separate for the purpose of providing checks and balances on one another, the Legislators, in a manner of speaking, soon turn themselves to glorified errand boys to the President; perhaps inadvertently. One example here will do.
The President is also part of the legislative process. To become law, any Bill passed by the National Assembly must be assented to by the President.
Recently, there was the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB it was an Executive Bill, which means that the President presented the Bill and pleaded with the National Assembly to pass it for him.
Members of the National Assembly worked hard, day and night, knowing when to pull the tricks; and eventually passed the Bill.
By the time the President did his little bit of signing the Bill into law, you needed to see the Senate leadership jumping for joy that the President had assented to the Bill. This is a role reversal. In a situation of equality the President should have been the one jumping for joy that the legislators had obliged him!
One disturbing trend in Nigeria is that in our modern history, anyone who attains that giddy height becomes a super human and he is free forever! He does no wrong! From Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to Dr. Yakubu Gowon, to Ibrahim Babargida to Alhaji Shehu Shagari to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the trend is the same. They can do no wrong!
They are incorruptible because they are final. Let us take the hypothetical case of a Nigerian resident who wants to go into cow farming at the end of his sojourn in Government can easily become the most successful cow farmer in the world in a single fiat!
It will go like this he will design a very good name for the programme and launch it one year to the expiration of his tenure. His handlers will know exactly how to carry this to all the states so that each Governor will donate 1,000 fat cows, which must be imported from nearby countries. A scramble will ensue among the Governors as to who will be on the first line of supply!
Before you know it, the programme kicks off with 36,000 hefty cows. This is not corruption and it doesn’t come on any Asset Declaration Platform. It is, however, stealing by any name. it also shows that our anti-graft war is still scratching on its surface. We haven’t started yet.
At the Constituent Assembly, we voted for hefty pension packages for past leaders. We did not want to be part of that country where a past President would have to be caught moonlighting by driving a taxi to augment his income.
All the same, at no time did our Constitution envisage placing past leaders above the law as we are now doing.
We remember Julius Nyerere (1922 – 1999). He was a past President of Tanzania. After undertaking a guided tour of the farm holdings of a past Nigerian President, he had this to say: “All this cannot be for one man in one life time”.
What Nyerere saw might have been a small part of one man’s holding in half of the man’s life time. Yet, we are here trying bicycle thieves and sentencing them to seven years imprisonment.
South Africans know better. Recently, the immediate past President of the Republic, Jacob Zuma was accused of corruption while in office. Zuma escaped to another country. He was tried in his absence and sentenced appropriately He later returned to South Africa. He was quickly shown the prison gates and he walked into prison where he is currently doing time. The rest is now history. That the Talakwas of South Africa went on rampage to protest his handling did not matter. That’s a country!
In 1974, impeachment proceedings were brought against the 37th President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal! That smart Lawyer saw what was coming and he quickly resigned from office just before final impeachment votes were taking. It is instructive to note that Nixon was never the same again. That’s a country!
Whither Nigeria? One way of explaining the scramble and the cut-throat competition for the highest office in the land is that it provides an opportunity to be placed above the law permanently. It provides an opportunity to grab.
But in the civilized climes, the President is the servant of the people. He serves at their pleasure. A President can only take what belong to him. If he takes one kobo that is not his, he goes to jail. A presidential candidate raise funds for his campaign. If one day, he forgets his wallet at home, he takes $100 for lunch from his campaign Organization, that $100 makes him a sure candidate for prison.
He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. We must stop walking governance on its head. For a start, we must quickly find a recruitment process for the soldiers of the anti-graft war. We haven’t started yet!
Where really did the bottom fall off on all the equality we had at creation? A Governor who does not know when to change to the ruling party will must likely move from Government House to prison at the end of tenure. Meanwhile, a President who was perhaps not too good walks our streets in unfettered freedom and opulence for the rest of his life. What an irony of fate! The land is enveloped in total injustice.
But there is still hope. We are not despondent. After this passing phase, people will realize that service to humanity is the only rent we pay for being here. Not a kobo of all the humongous accumulations will travel with anyone in the final hour. So, they don’t even need the stupendous accumulations, after all. When we get there, everyone will act well his part and society will be the better for it. Though times don’t last but though people do!