Opinion

Pat Utomi: The Ultimate Reign Of Impunity And The Journey To Anarchy

What makes for happiness in today’s Nigeria. My bet is it has to be ignorance. It is said to be bliss but if it were not bliss I could not imagine what else would make anybody able to read newspaper be disposed to smiling in Nigeria today. Let us take the headlines of a few of the newspapers before me as I put pen to paper.

‘Governors sabotaging Judiciary says CJN’ (Guardian 18. Nov). FG introduces austerity measures. Again, Female suicide bomber kills scores in Azare. (Vanguard Nov 17); Naira in free fall against dollar. (Vanguard Nov 19). In Extra-Constitution al Move, Ten members Takeover 26-man Ekiti Assembly (This Day 18 Nov). All these are front page banner headlines. For those who know more than the News Editors are willing to allow past their gates into the newspapers the reality goes with more foreboding. Where are we; how did we get here and what will this pregnant moment birth.
A few things are easy to see, about the journey to where we are; the gradual institutionalizing of impunity; the neglect of institutionalizing discipline in the management of the economy; and the failure to manage a small wound has become a deep sore in the insurgency that is increasing the loss of Nigeria’s sovereignty over significant territory and gathering despair among the poor and the weak in a country where the gap between the few well off and the many impoverished is widening and not possible to justify in the logic of contribution to the commonwealth. Can such a social order be justified and what is the realistic end game as the reign of impunity threatens the rule of law to its foundation and raises issues of regime legitimacy.

Let us begin with the threat to the judiciary. When the Chief Justice of the Federation, Mariam Aloma Mukhtar addressed the opening session of the 2014 conference of All Nigerian Judges of the lower courts in Abuja, she lamented that judges in the country where functioning in ‘’deplorable and unsecured conditions’’.

In the months leading up to the conference judges had been assaulted and beaten up in states such as Ekiti where a minority number of legislators have also convened, all in support of the goals of the ‘’sworn in’’ governor. In one of the most egregious molestations of the idea of separation in the doctrine of separation of powers, the Ekiti Judiciary and Legislature have been castrated. Seven of 26 representatives have elected a speaker and the so called Governor says that’s okay. How Nigerian leaders have the effrontery to call what we have here a democracy amazes me.

What gets to me more is how our political class cannot educate themselves to understand what they owe the future, and that institutions are the key to that future. At the heart of the building of institutions is the rule of law violated so shamelessly in not only the issues in Ekiti but also in courts locked up in states like Rivers, abuse of elections in such places as Delta in the last Local Government elections, creating the impression that politics is not about ideas or service but the domain of the crooked and the self-obsessed. It is in the hope that lessons can be learnt that I have continued to point to British Historian Niall Fergusons of the 1787 constitution of the United States of America as one of the most profound efforts at institution building in human history. Those institutions have helped America become one of the most prosperous nations ever created. Instead of recent experience shows our political class in some of the most disgraceful “de-institutionalizing’’ practices known in modern nation states. The current rape of our institutions may eventually be history’s biggest source of indictment for the PDP.

Then there is the free fall of the Naira and the panic in economic management because of an anticipated and long expected fall of oil prices. Almost all who have been to Abuja and interacted with leading policy makers speak of panic in the corridors of power on matters of the oil price decline and the failure of policy to be elastic enough to absorb minor shocks. I have been puzzled by the fact that all the scare has been about crude oil prices coming down not even to the so called budget benchmark price. Yet already many states are unable to pay monthly wages when due. This has to be evidence of widespread abuse of the integrity of budgeting and pointer to the massive corruption evidently at play in the deployment of resources for budget goals.

From the 1980s when Chief Omowole Kuye as budget director at the Federal level talked about self-adjusting budgets to proposals people like me made years ago about three revenue accounts; a Distributable pool Fund, otherwise known as FAC account today; a stabilization Fund, and a Future Fund; we are still so vulnerable to shifting prices in what was normally a very volatile oil price market until the rise of India and China lengthened the cycle.

The DPF I had proposed be funded from not more that 50dollars a barrel while all revenues between USD 50-80 go to a stabilization Fund to be drawn down if oil prices ever fall below the budget-benchmark. Every revenue over USD 80 would go to a future fund (The Sovereign Wealth fund). The bottom line in the panic is that it exposes the failure of planning in Nigeria.

What does not seem to have become clear to the leadership is that the reign of impunity has finally come to roost in the effects of financial recklessness playing out in panic on the economy on what should have been an easy adjustment, and the flow through of impunity in the rapid deterioration of the rule of law and the state of Nigeria’s institutions generally. These are major legacy issues. As bad, is the crisis of property rights. Beyond Hernando De Soto and the mystery of capital not being overcome by the trend of damaging institutions regulators use power to take over properties of others or prevent consummation of legal contracts because a predecessor approved of it, harming future investments prospects.

Remarkably just about all who have inflicted this damage, wittingly or unwittingly, are seeking to continue in office. The culture of resigning from office or not seeking re-election, even when we are not directly personally responsible for a wrong is helpful in the regeneration of governance systems. But here people for whose sake the country is so divided with threat of worse, want extension of their tenure, if possible beyond term limits.

Most of the big fear of 2015 which is not only affecting investments and the very legitimacy of the democratic process in Nigeria is because many in power do not realize that their decision to pass on this round could do both themselves, Nigeria, and how history treats these times, a world of good.

For the political class to be in song and dance campaigns, and effusive accolades poured out in newspapers to celebrate the birthday of a president when Nigeria’s sovereignty over vast territories is in question; innocents are dying from terror attacks; and poverty is savaging a majority of the people, is to give the impression that in us was found the generation Franz Fanon must have had in mind when he talks of the generation that discovered its mission and deliberately decided to betray it for in truth, every generation must discover its mission and choose to either fulfill or betray it.

Post script: As I was about post the foregoing, news came that the senate president David Mark had shut down the National Assembly. For more than 30minutes after I got the breaking news I watched on TVC an orderly session of the House of Representatives presided over by the speaker Aminu Tambuwal. Another breaking news coming at the same time suggested seven members of the Ekiti State House of Assembly had impeached the speaker. The total breakdown of the rule of law and the reign of impunity was proceeding at the same time as reckless spending of public resources and rent extracted resources on wrap around single adverts to congratulate the President on his birthday at costs higher than can provide good education for a whole Niger Delta town, made for much sadness about how we got here.

Our democracy had come unstuck. I heard House members on TV talking of rumblings in the barracks. Even if that was not true, such impunity at all levels of government by a ruling party as in Delta LG elections, Ekiti State Assembly and the National Assembly, is to say farewell democracy.

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Article written by Professor Pat Utomi, Nigerian Economist..

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