Legitimacy in Governance
Legitimacy in Governance
Gani Fawehinmi Annual Lecture
On January 15, the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar association held its fourth al Gani Fawehinmi Annual Lecture in honour of the well known and respected civil rights lawyer and founder of the National Conscience Party.
Among the invited speakers at this very widely reported event was Segun Sango, general secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement and former chair of the NCP in Lagos until the Lagos chapter left in the NCP in August 2007 (LAGOS CHAPTER QUITS NCP).
Below is Segun Sango’s contribution.
Legitimacy in Governance
It is a special privilege to be invited to speak at this august event. Accordingly, I would like to express profound gratitude to the organisers for the opportunity given to contribute on this edition of Gani Fawehinmi Annual Lecture. For several decades and more than any Nigerian adult alive today, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, (today’s Honouree) has positively impacted on the conditions of lives of the ordinary Nigerians through his pronouncements and activities.
Unfortunately however, the vast majority of Nigerians presently still live in a condition of permanent misery and political bondage. What therefore must be done to permanently change things for the better? Put differently, how best can we ensure that the pro-masses struggles and aspirations of Gani and all others fighting for a permanent decent life for the people do not end in vain?
Within this context, it is my firm opinion that the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has chosen a very, very appropriate theme for this occasion: ‘Legitimacy in Governance and the War against Corruption’. Evidently, this is a two-in one subject. Nonetheless, both in content and form, they are highly inter-related phenomena. However, for the purpose of this presentation, I shall attempt to treat the two aspects of the topic separately, while of course, underlining the similarity in steps needed to be taken in tackling the challenges posed by the different subject matters. According to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, the key operative words, which define legitimacy, are ‘fairness’ and ‘acceptability’. So, how do we achieve fairness and acceptability in the governance of Nigeria? As a socialist, I wish to emphatically state, straight away, that the philosophy, which underpins contemporary Nigeria, can never, ever yield fair and genuinely acceptable governance. This is not withstanding the fact that current Yar’Adua’s administration is attempting to give an impression of a break with the past by tinkering with some of the most blatant excesses of Obasanjo’s rule and incorporating few opposition elements into government life.
Put differently, the prevailing socio-economic arrangement ultimately means that only crooks and plain treasury looters would always have upper hands in controlling the polity and economy of the country. Sadly, this will be the case regardless of how progressive the Electoral Act or how free and fair the conduct and the result of particular elections may seem. What informs this patently apocalyptic conclusion?
THE REGIME OF PRIVATISATION AND LIBERALISATION
The reigning doctrine of privatisation and liberalisation directly runs counter to the needs of the economy and the interest of the vast majority of Nigerians. Even the 1999 constitution imposed by the military frowns against this phenomenon. Among other provisions, sections 16(2c) and (d) and 18 (1) of the 1999 constitution provide as follows:
‘Section 16(2c): The state shall ensure that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group’.
‘Section 16(2d): The state shall ensure that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens’.
‘Section 18(1): Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels’.
Against these clear provisions, the wholesale privatisation and liberalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, side by side with relentless commercialisation of education and health services, severally and collectively constitute an institutionalisation of unfairness in the struggle for political power. No matter what may be said to the contrary, the acceptance of a situation where individuals and corporations are permitted to convert to their own exclusive private properties what belongs or what ought to belong to all is the most graphic endorsement of inequality and corruption in the society. It should not come as a surprise that the most visible consequences of privatisation and commercialisation are job losses, compromise of standards, increase in prices, etc.
Contrary to the illusion usually peddled by bourgeois strategists and all pro-capitalist elements, there can never be a fair or just way to implement privatisation of public properties. Abinitio, it is the principle that is faulty. Once this unjust principle is accepted, bureaucratic arbitrariness and nepotic practices are inevitable by those saddled with governance.
For instance, top placed political leaders and civil servants, effectively backed by capitalist individuals and corporations, at central and state levels, have been using their positions for the past eight years or so to sell and buy public assets, to themselves and to their capitalist backers, at cheap, give-away prices. Largely, these elements have been acquiring these public properties and interests through the most crooked manipulations of laid down rules and with looted public funds!
Suffice to stress, this phenomenon has created a situation where the vast majority of ordinary Nigerians have become virtually alienated from politics and governance. The brazen riggings and manipulations, which for instance characterised the conducts of all the major ruling parties during the 2007 general elections, in their areas of strength, was primarily due to the fact that none of these parties genuinely represents the interest of the masses. Of course, characteristic of a rotten ruling elite, tens of millions of Nigerians were falsely claimed to have cast their votes for different ruling parties during the farce called 2007 general elections. However, this is nothing but a blatant falsehood. In fact, the working masses had staged seven nationwide general strikes against the policies and rule of these vampires in government.
But, why, unlike Kenya, there were no masses led protests to last April’s blatant riggings, especially perpetrated by the PDP, which controls central government and by extension the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)? Put simply, apart from a few states like Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, etc., the vast majority of people across the country did not bother to vote in the elections because they could not see any fundamental difference between the main parties contesting for power at central and state levels. Therefore, it is my submission that the ‘do or die’ character which politics has acquired in contemporary Nigeria is the direct product of a socio-political arrangement where only self-serving elements and looters dominate politics.
THE ELECTORAL PANEL
Against the background of widespread rejection and criticism of the farce called 2007 general elections, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, on his assumption of office, has put in place an ‘Electoral Panel’ saddled with the task of coming up with appropriate suggestions and proposals on how to conduct ‘free, fair and acceptable elections’ in the future. I wish to state, with all emphasis at my disposal that this is another goose-chase exercise.
(1) President Yar’Adua as the chief beneficiary of the worst election ever conducted in Nigeria, totally lacks the moral and political capacity to initiate or put in place an arrangement that will truly ensure fair and acceptable elections. Those that used every foul and corrupt means to put him and his colleagues in power did so to protect their own interests and will not challenge the prevailing unjust social economic order that is the source of their power and wealth.
(2) The Electoral Panel, without prejudice to the credentials and personalities of some of its members as presently constituted lacks total legal and political legitimacy. The membership is entirely made up of handpicked elements by the President without any form of legal authority backing same. For these reasons, the outcome of the Panel’s proposal will ultimately depend on the President whims and caprices. Equally, since the members were not elected by any group of people or association, they would totally lack the power to mobilise people for the implementation of whatever they may have agreed upon. Here it is very instructive to note that similar presidential handpicked political panels like this had been set up by the past governments. The most recent being the so-called National CONFAB set up by ex-President Obasanjo. After spending tens of billions of Naira staying in the best hotel in Abuja, while not junketing different foreign countries, at the end of the day not a single resolution or proposal agreed upon was presented as bill before the National Assembly let it alone becoming a law. The fate of Yar’Adua’s handpicked Electoral Panel, for reasons stated above would not be different from this type of inglorious end.
(3) On a different note, the idea behind the creation of this Panel has wittingly or unwittingly lent credence to the false impression that the problem of ‘free and fair election’ in Nigeria is a primary function of a defective electoral law. Defective and undemocratic as the existing Electoral Act is, no one can point out a single instance that justifies the kind of blatant manipulations which characterised elections in Nigeria at national or local government levels. For instance, the existing Electoral Act frowns at a situation where huge sums of money are spent by candidates and parties in order to win offices at all costs. The Act enjoins the media to give adequate and equitable coverage to the activities of all political parties. Yet, elections after elections, hapless Nigerians have been treated to situations where ruling parties at all levels spared no expense to win power at all costs, where the main media, both publicly and privately owned only give massive coverage to the highest bidders, invariably those in government and their money bags allies. While the existing Electoral Act makes detail provisions for the actual conduct of votings and countings on the election days, the corrupt ruling elites have however, over the years, perfected the nefarious art of ballot boxes snatching, over inflation of results and declaration of huge votes, where no elections ever held. Consequently, all genuine change-seeking elements must braze up to the brutal reality of the fact that organising ‘fair and acceptable elections’ in Nigeria, go far beyond the issue of ‘progressive’, ‘equitable’ Electoral Act or Panel.
In today’s context, ensuring ‘legitimacy in governance’ would require the most concerted campaigns against privatisation of public properties as well as privatisation and commercialisation of social sectors like education and health services. If in the name of privatisation and liberalisation, a few individuals acquires the right to own what economically belongs to us all, mutatis mutandi, they will equally demand the rights to owe and control the entire polity. It is therefore imperative that all genuine change-seeking elements together with the labour movement across the country should urgently prioritise the formation of a political party, which places the needs of the people above the profit consideration of capitalism. Only this kind of party will be able to bring about a situation where the masses would be actively and consciously involved in politics and as such be in a position to ensure that no treasury looters and anti-poor politicians get elected into office.
THE WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION
This aspect of the topic is very straightforward. It admits the fact that corruption is a big social problem militating against the development of the economy and the welfare of the citizens. Secondly, it recognises the existence of an ongoing war against this social cankerworm. According to a World Bank estimate, over $400billion have been looted by capitalist politicians and their contractor allies from the nation’s wealth in the past 4 decades or so. There is no doubt that if these looted resources are made available and judiciously used, the economy and the living standard of the people will not be as deplorable as they are at the moment. It is therefore imperative for every right thinking and change seeking Nigerians to vote for a total and merciless war against corruption in all ramifications. In this regard, the deceptive removal of Nuhu Ribadu as the chairman of the EFCC by the Yar’Adua government constitutes a pointed signal that this regime is not prepared to continue with the limited anti-corruption activities which the EFCC under Ribadu has championed in the past few years.
I wish to stress that this is a very natural reaction. A government and party that is exclusively dominated by corrupt contractors and treasury looters can not sincerely be expected to encourage any form of struggle against corruption. In this regard, all genuine change seeking elements and anti-corruption advocates have to face the reality that Nuhu Ribadu as an anti-corruption crusader was at best an ‘happy accident’. He got appointed to his post because the World Bank and IMF, demanded the government to form an anti-corruption body. So, right from the beginning, his capacity to prosecute corrupt public officers had always been subject to the limitations imposed by the circumstances of his appointment. At a stage, the EFCC acquired a notoriety of an institution meant to harass and arm-twist those in opposition to the powers that be at central level.
Against the background of pervasive corruption, which pervades every sector of governance, it was easy for the EFCC to find grounds to investigate and charge elements that had opposed, or fallen out with, the Obasanjo administration. This is one of the reasons why the EFCC has only been able to successfully prosecute an infinitesimal proportion of elements that have for all practical purposes and intent subverted the essence of governance through corruption. Lest I’m misunderstood, I am not enumerating these facts to derogate, underplay or rubbish in any sense whatsoever, the courageous and stunning exposure and prosecutions of certain highly placed public officials which hitherto would have been considered “untouchable” by Ribadu as EFCC chairman. But, if despite and in spite of the institutional and operative constraints faced by the EFCC, the Yar’Adua government still was uncomfortable with Ribadu’s leadership, this only goes to show the gross limitations of placing the task of a successful struggle against corruption in the hands of individuals, particularly individuals, who accidentally got appointed by the corrupt ruling elite.
Therefore and as I argued above, an effective fight against corruption in contemporary Nigeria will first and foremost require a fundamental attituditional change towards policy in general. This, among other things will involve a pointed rejection of the prevailing privatisation and liberalisation principles. Instead, all genuine change-seeking elements must henceforth prioritise the creation of a political platform that opposes any special privileges for leaders and controls its representatives. Such a platform could then fight for public ownership and working peoples democratic control and management of all societal resources with a view to meet the needs of all.
I should not be misunderstood. Public ownership of the means of production and resources on its own is not an automatic solution to the prevailing mass misery in the midst of an inexhaustible abundance. The collapse of the economies of the former deformed socialist countries like USSR, Eastern Europe, China and others plus the mindless corruption which destroyed most public enterprises and ventures hitherto run by the successive capitalist governments in Nigeria only goes to underline the fact that nationalisation and public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy if not built on rigorous democratic control of the working people themselves would ultimately lead society back to square one. Nationalisation and public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy is an imperative step to take before society can ever seriously begin to talk of meeting the needs of all and not just of a few as glorified by capitalism. However, it is important to underline the fact that the immeasurable advantage of this system can only be actualised only if the working people and the entire democratic forces and institutions from time to time maintain a scrupulous democratic control and management of the entire economy and polity. Without this, those entrusted with the running of public enterprises and polity will inevitably ruin the show through outright corruption and sheer mismanagement.
All said, I am irreconcilably opposed to the regime of privatisation and liberalisation because this regime directly helps to promote certain social evils:
(1) It directly accelerates the rate at which politicians steal because currently, due to high oil prices, the government now has more money with little or no social commitments.
(2) It provides easy avenues through which publicly looted resources are invested.
(3) It is responsible for the existence of an unprecedented hike in the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
(4) Overall, this has created an atmosphere where leaders have become so corruptly rich that they don’t have to bother to address the needs of the people while in office because they know that they can always use their ill-gotten wealth to perpetrate themselves and their surrogates in power at all times.
For all the aforestated reasons, it is my humble opinion that an effective and sustainable war against corruption will require, at the least, a government truly elected by the ordinary Nigerians themselves. Yes, I fully support the demand that every detected treasury looter and corrupt public officials be fully prosecuted by the EFCC and all other related agencies. I totally support the demand for more serious punishments for all convicted corrupt elements. But we do not want to see one corrupt crew simply being replaced by a new gang of looters, something that has unfortunately occurred in other African countries like Zambia and Kenya. However, the only way this would ever happen on a sustained basis, is for all change seeking elements and ordinary people themselves to build a movement that can put in place an independent working peoples government that is based primarily on the interests and aspiration of the masses. Unless this approach is embraced, the war against corruption will remain, essentially, a cosmetic exercise that depends on accidental occurrences.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi has recognised this long ago when he stepped outside the courtroom to form the National Conscience Party (NCP) whose central goal was the Abolition of Poverty. Due to certain reasons which I cannot presently go into the NCP which despite all odds had a big political prospect at the inception has now been shattered largely as a result of its current national leadership’s right-wing inclinations. Nonetheless, I’m firmly convinced that if the kind of this initiative by Gani way back in 1994 in forming the NCP that should now be revamped alongside the labour movement and across the country to build a viable party of the working masses. The alternative is to continue to live under ruinous illusion that somehow, some day, capitalist exploiters and treasury looters would on their own begin to strike to meet the needs of the people.
Thanks for listening.