President Yar’adua’s Era: A new dawn for the masses?
RULE OF LAW
This is one issue on which many bourgeois writers/cheer leaders have been praising President Yar’Adua to a high heaven. And here, many examples of President Yar’Adua’s “commitment” to rule of law as opposed to President Obasanjo’s supposedly militaristic presidency are readily recited for all those that care to listen. Few days after Yar’Adua assumed office, the Supreme Court nullified the purported election of Andy Uba as the governor of the Anambra State on the basis of the reasoning that Governor Peter Obi had not exhausted his constitutional tenure as Governor under the 1999 constitution, by the time of the 2007 Governorship election. Pronto, President Yar’Adua was said to have ordered that the Supreme Court order be implemented by the Inspector General of Police.
Arising from the 2003 massively rigged elections, many candidates who lost out filed petitions challenging the conducts at the various tribunals set up for that purpose. John Adah, a Federal High Court Judge who served in the Cross River State Electoral Panel, was dismissed by the National Judicial Council after being exposed for having collected tens of millions of naira from one of the litigants with a view to subvert justice. This man thereafter went to court to challenge his dismissal, not on the ground that he did not collect the alleged bribe but that he was not given “fair trial” before his dismissal. On the basis of bourgeois concept of fair trial, the dismissal of a proven crook was reversed. Again, President Yar’Adua instructed his Attorney General to effect the reinstatement of this fellow. During the inglorious era of President Obasanjo, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) acquired notoriety for a disposition of an institution that is above the law. All the constitutional provisions that prescribed how suspects should be apprehended and treated were often routinely disobeyed and disregarded. Then came President Yar’Adua, a consummate advocate of rule of law! The EFCC overnight suddenly began to behave as a civilized institution.
Unlike its previous attitude of detaining suspects indefinitely without trial, big time suspected treasury looters were being invited instead of being arrested and promptly released on bail within the constitutionally stipulated time. Expectedly, many liberal analysts have gone bunker praising President Yar’Adua so-called commitment to rule of law.
However, a critical evaluation of the instances where President Yar’Adua has openly demonstrated his own brand of rule of law clearly shows that his efforts at the end of the day will only reinforce the prevailing rule of capitalist fraud that dominates the society. Under President Yar’Adua’s rule of law era, governors that looted their state treasuries dry can be rest assured that no harsh treatment will ever be meted to them. Even in the unusual situation where they were tried and convicted like Alameisieagha, the removed governor of Bayelsa State, who got sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for looting money meant for the welfare of people but do not have to enter prison yard for single day. Towards the tail end of Obasanjo era, the EFCC voluntarily informed the whole world that over 31 governors of the 36 states of the country have various cases of corruption alleged against them. Under President Yar’Adua’s rule of law milieu, only 3 of this number have so far been charged and promptly released on bail, to continue to bestride the country like invincible conquerors.
The arbitrary delay by Osun state judiciary in connivance with the state government to grant bail to 3 detained student leaders of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) (Akinola Saburi, President Students’ Union; Olatunde Dairo, PRO Students’ Union and Taiwo Hassan, National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign) graphically shows government attitude to human right and rule of law when youth and working class activists are fighting for their interest. These activists were in forefront of struggle of OAU students for democratic rights and improved learning and living condition on campus but were incarcerated on trump up charges including conspiracy to murder, attempted murder etc. However, when the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh was recently exposed to have spent N628 million in just about 60 days in office allegedly for the “renovation” of the official quarters of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker respectively, President Yar’Adua, in his maiden media broadcast promptly offered an olive branch to the embattled Speaker, of course, in the name of the rule of law! The President speaks: “I assure you that the federal administration had zero tolerance for corruption but the due process for rule of law must be followed”. He cautioned Nigerians against rushing into judgment “over the pages of newspapers in the media without waiting to give the accused the chance for fair hearing. This is what we have to do in this country. This administration has zero tolerance for corruption and absolute respect for the rule of law. We must follow the rule of law in whatever we do. We can not summarily rush to judgments”. He added the following clincher: “It is an allegation which the House, when they come back on Tuesday will investigate. It was a contract, which was originated, executed by the House of Representatives following its own rules and regulations. And I understand it was awarded by the Tenders Board, which the Speaker chaired”.
The riddle here is this, why did President Yar’Adua go into detailed and factual testimony on an issue that is yet to be investigated? The plain truth is that President Yar’Adua’s rule of law only applies to big time looters. Even then, neither Yar’Adua nor the official Panel even commented on the main issue – the absolutely scandalous use of N628 million to increase the luxury which the House Speaker lives. It does not extend to hundreds and thousands of small scale looters, fraudsters and other common criminals and many Nigerians that up till today still languish in detentions without trials in the EFCC offices, police stations and commands across the country.
PUBLIC DECLARATION OF ASSETS
Immediately he was sworn into office, President Yar’Adua made an open declaration of his assets. He had similarly done so while serving as governor of Katsina State. In a polity saturated with wholesome corruption, President Yar’Adua’s decision in this respect has been cited as an example of a president that would operate zero tolerance for corruption. Partly to follow Yar’Adua’s example and partly due to pressure of some public commentators, including the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Vice President and a few of the governors have since made open declaration of their assets. Here, there is a naÄve belief that corruption will at least be drastically reduced if top public officers are made to declare their assets before assuming powers and after leaving office, openly. However, as nice as this idea is, the current exercise, as has been conducted so far, clearly shows that nothing much positive could be achieved either in fighting corruption not to talk of it having positive effect on the living standard of the ordinary citizen.
In a country where public officials are known to have unlawfully looted tens and hundreds of billions of naira, the fact of an ex-two-term governor declaring a total assets that is worth less than N1billion certainly portrays President Yar’Adua in some positive light. In fact, going by the president explanation, a large portion of this sum was inherited from his late father and senior brother, late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, both of whom incidentally were top government officials in their era. In a country where almost 70% of its citizens are living below poverty line, the system which makes it possible for an individual like the modest President Yar’Adua, to personally (excluding that of his relation and children) own assets worth hundreds of millions of naira needs to be seriously re-examined in order to be able to meet the needs and aspirations of the masses.
In any event, public declaration of assets as have been so far demonstrated, shows that it is not only modest multimillionaire like President Yar’Adua that can make political points out of such exercise. For instance, some of the few governors that have openly declared their assets have done so in billions of naira. For such elements, it would be difficult at the end of the day to pin them down with an offence of treasury looting once they claim that whatever money they then owned is derived from their publicly declared wealth. In fact, there is a joke in town that top politicians would not mind to make false declarations of none existing assets in anticipation of money to be looted while in office!
This terminology, “due process”, did not originally emanate with Yar’Adua’s presidency. Indeed, it is a concept borrowed by President Obasanjo government from imperialist institutions like the World Bank, IMF, etc. However, it is President Yar’Adua that has given this idea more domestic popularity in his short stay in power. For a long period to come, Obasanjo government will be remembered for its crooked subversion of all elementary rules and decorum in governance. Thus, realizing that this is one of the major reasons why that government was roundedly hated by most Nigerians, President Yar’Adua has cleverly adopted the posture of someone who would like things to be done in accordance with laid down rules. In this respect, the president has given a directive that all incomes generated by the federal government should henceforth be paid into the Federation Account as provided for by the 1999 constitution. For most part of his inglorious 8 years in power, President Obasanjo was operating an illegal Account, called Excess Crude Oil Account, outside the purview of National Assembly or any other authority, except himself.
Similarly, President Yar’Adua has equally ordered that the upfront deductions being made from allocations due to local councils ostensibly for the purpose of building a health care centre in each of the 774 councils across the country be stopped forthwith. According to him, these deductions are against the provisions of the constitution and principle of federalism. Also in the spirit of due process, President Yar’Adua has ordered the revocation of the sales of some choice government properties sold by President Obasanjo to his cronies, particularly those done in his last days in power. Different reasons have been given for these revocations. Some were revoked because they were allegedly not originally included in government houses meant for sales. Some were allegedly revoked because their occupation by private citizens compromised the security of Aso Rock enclave. Quite understandably, these actions have been presented as brilliant examples of the fact that a just president has come to power.
In reality however, severally and collectively, these actions, on their own, will not reduce corruption by an inch and or bring better living conditions for the masses. The directive that all money realized by Nigeria be paid into the Federation Account as opposed to the overtly crooked policy implemented by Obasanjo when he created a so-called excess crude oil account, parallel to Federation Account, on its own, is good. However, the very policy of privatization of state assets and resources ultimately means that the largest chunk of these resources will end up being stolen by top government officials and their capitalist contractors irrespective of the due process followed in collection and disbursement of these resources.
Recently, when the scandal broke out that a whopping sum of N628 million was spent allegedly to renovate the official residences of House of Representatives Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively, President Yar’Adua’s only concern was on whether due process was followed before the expenditure was approved. Therefore, transparency is not only about paying money into Federation Account, it is majorly about equitable utilization of money so collected, to improve the well-being of the majority as opposed to the prevailing unjust neo-liberal order where the overwhelming majority are perpetually rendered poor for the price of producing a few stinkingly rich individuals and capitalist corporations.
Yes, we concede that the up-front deduction from local council funds for whatever purpose is illegal under the 1999 constitution. But what does the president intend to do on the issue of the proposed health care centres for which deductions have been effected for quite sometime in the past? According to the president, less than 20% of the funds so deducted have actually been invested on the purpose for which the funds were made. So, we ask: Who is or are in possession of the funds so deducted? The president may have correctly revoked the sales of some choice houses to erstwhile cronies of Obasanjo, however, for as long as the principle of monetization and privatization remain the cardinal principle of governance, it is a matter of time before these same properties and others are sold to some other looters and the privileged individuals, even at far cheaper prices and conditionalities..
THE ELECTORAL REFORM
The 2007 general elections through which Yar’Adua emerged as president has been denounced by both domestic and international observers as the worst in the history of election in Nigeria and throughout the world. Thus, faced with the legitimacy crisis associated with a fraudulent election, which produced him, President Yar’Adua, right from his inaugural speech has been making promises to undertake a comprehensive reform of electoral system. Recently, a handpicked committee of about 20 persons was set up by the President to undertake the review of the electoral law in such a way as to enhance credible and acceptable elections in the future. For his gesture in this respect, encomiums have been poured on him by many elements including those perceived to be radical and or are opposed to the PDP and the emergence of Yar’Adua as President.
Commenting on this electoral reform panel recently, the immediate past President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Adams Oshiomhole had in the ThisDay of September 11, 2007 made the following submission: “We should pray for Yar’Adua to use the electoral reform committee to remove the shame that we cannot conduct a credible and internationally-accepted election. The electoral committee has eminent Nigerians who have what it takes to make the difference and would not be answerable to the presidency. I believe that the president made the right judgment in opting not to include politiciansâ€¦..The qualities of the members of the electoral reform committee especially that of the chairman Justice Uwais, the representatives of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Nigeria Bar association (NBA), two organizations that were extremely critical of Yar’Adua election, was an indication that the president has the political will to confront Nigeria problemsâ€¦â€¦â€¦.I think we should give Yar’Adua all the support he needs. It is not unusual in history that people who are beneficiary of a wrong system can also provide the leadership for the overthrow of that system.”
Coming from a prominent working class leader, the above quoted statement is an unmitigated political disaster. Pointedly, it should be stressed from the beginning that the brazen electoral robbery executed by the PDP, AC and the ANPP (where they also had some governmental control) in the name of 2007 general elections was not in any sense the product of any defect in the existing Electoral Act. The primary reason why that elections and the previous ones were always highly manipulated and rigged was the direct result of the fact those in power have always used their positions to loot instead of using the state resources to develop the economy and better the lots of the masses. Therefore, unable to win votes on their own merit, they have always resorted to a “do or die” tactics to procure victory at all cost. There is no single provision in the 2006 Electoral Act which could be used as a basis for the unheard of frauds and manipulations perpetrated by INEC and the ruling elites to give “victories” to those declared as winners of the farce called 2007 general elections.
Therefore, as long as the present capitalist arrangement which gives legitimate rights to a few individuals and corporations to convert to their own exclusive properties, assets and resources which otherwise should be used to better the life of all, is in operation, there can never be a real free and fair election, no matter how progressive the electoral law may be.
Besides, the setting up of the electoral panel should not be seen as something spectacular by conscious working class elements and youths. In fact, the President action in this respect has merely confirmed the fact that Nigerian masses are still firmly held under an era of governmental motion without movement. For the past 21 years, particularly since the era of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida military dictatorship, bourgeois governments seemed to have perfected the idea of setting up unelected political commissions with a deliberate intention of diverting attention of the poor working people from crucial issues and or to deceive them. Thus, Babangida set up what was called the political debate on future of Nigeria headed by Prof. Cookey. The Cookey commission, as the body was widely known, traversed all sections of the country collating views on the system that Nigerians wanted. At the end of the day, the commission found and reported that majority of Nigerians preferred a socialist system to the “dog eat dog” capitalist system presently in operation. Without giving a second thought to the colossal time and resources invested on this exercise, Gen Babangida threw out the entire proceedings and the outcome of the commissions under the false pretense that his regime would not like to impose an ideology on Nigerians! When the late General Sanni Abacha in turn, through military usurped power and subsequently faced a serious political crisis of legitimacy, he decided to set up a highly undemocratic body called Constitutional Conference. A significant proportion of Abacha’s constitutional conference members were outrightly handpicked while the rest were purportedly elected through dubious elections which in reality was resoundingly boycotted by the vast majority of people across the country.
Today, nobody hears or says anything about Abacha so-called Constitutional Conference. Faced with mounting agitation for the convocation of a democratically elected Sovereign National Conference (SNC) that would have power to draw up a new constitution for Nigeria, former President Obasanjo sometimes in 2005 decided to set up what was popularly known as National Political Confab to draw up a comprehensive agenda to redesign Nigeria. The confab, whose members were entirely handpicked, was launched with fanfare. Apart from being lodged in the most expensive hotel in Nigeria, huge public funds were subsequently expended by the confab members to traverse the various zones in the country. At the end of the day, nothing positive comes out of the whole futile exercise. Against this background, the point therefore has to be stressed by socialists and working class activists that nothing positive would come out of Yar’Adua’s own handpicked panel. At best, the panel members, particularly its officers, will attract some momentary publicity in the bourgeois media during the assignment and especially when submitting their reports to the president. Thereafter, their own reports will be consigned to the dustbin of history where it really belongs.