Thursday, June 13, 2024

The constitution in the trash can

The burgeoning ranks of ex-this, former-that admitted new members this past week with the dissolution of federal and state cabinets. But those who may be tempted to jeer at the men and women who have lost the right to be baby-sat by our overworked policemen and women, must resist the urge to do so. This may merely be an interregnum in their political career. Some of them will be recycled into political reckoning in the time it takes to say Jagaban.

Many of them have been recycled many times and acquired a string of ex-this, ex-that. No big man is put out to pasture for long in our country. Take note that none of them will join the crowd of young men, university certificates in hand and worn-out shoes on their feet, pounding the pavements in our towns and cities in search of jobs made increasingly scarce by economic and social policies that increased the wealth of the rich but diminished the chances of the poor to eke a living. Take note that none of them will be looking for accommodation in Ajegunle and other ghettoes in our towns and cities. They have all feathered their nests. The divide between them and us is permanent – do not forget that.

The appointment of persons to federal and state cabinets is a constitutional matter; so is their removal from office, either through reshuffles or at the end of their tenure as prescribed by the constitution. What is certain is that come May 29, less than 24 hours away as you read this, the current crowd at national and state levels will yield place to a new crowd of men and women.

New big men and women will be anointed to carry on the essential political task of ruling or ruining the country and raping its economy at national and sub-national levels – in the interests of the people, of course. What is also certain is that each of these men and women will go home without anyone checking to see if those of them who went into public offices with transparent rib cages have now come out of them with opaque rib cages and looking like fattened cows and bulls.

We always knew, believe me, that public offices offer the oft irresistible lure of making people eat more than their stomachs can comfortably accommodate. Perhaps to prevent public officers from overfeeding themselves with obvious consequences for their cheeks and girths, not to talk of the harm to federal and state sub-treasuries, the framers of our constitution set up the Code of Conduct Bureau.

The bureau is permitted by the constitution to look over the shoulders of our public officers every four years to ensure that the itchy finger does not become the tool for financial (mis)management.

Section 11(1), Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the constitution provides as follows: “Subject to the provisions of the constitution, every public officer shall, within three months after the coming into force of this Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office and thereafter –

(a)   at the end of every four years; and (b) at the end of his tenure, submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of  18 years.

This was intended to be a very important constitutional provision first inserted in the 1979 constitution as part of efforts by the departing generals in 1979 and later by another set of departing generals in 1999, to fight corruption, or at least prevent it from becoming a way of life in the giant of Africa.

It is now the most abused constitutional provision, turned into trash by those who are supposed to enforce it. No one cares about it. This is a greater pity than you might at first think for a country grappling with the challenge of planting its feet in the wind.

The constitutional provision under reference is intended to inject some degree of moral imperatives into how we are governed and thus establish a culture or tradition of moral authority that guides political decisions.

The general belief that there is no morality in politics is fiction. It is impossible to have good governance without the moral authority of political leaders. Where political leaders think little or not at all about the moral imperatives of good leadership that should infuse their actions and decisions, the results are: hollow rituals of governance mistaken for governance, culture of impunity becomes a right, a culture that treats accountability by our public officers as an irritant, and the cankerworm that remains buried in our collective conscience, known as corruption.

The arrogance of greed, wealth and power has denied our political, religious and traditional leaders the right to talk to the people with any measure of moral authority.

We used to listen to our traditional leaders; not anymore. We used to hang on every word that fell from the mouths of our political leaders; not anymore. We used to believe that our religious leaders spoke with divine authority and we had a duty to take their every word seriously; not anymore. They have all been corrupted by the arrogance of power and lure of filthy lucre.

We could reclaim the moral high grounds by the provisions of section 11 to part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the constitution. Under the provisions of that section, the Code of Conduct Bureau is empowered to crosscheck and ascertain that the declaration of assets and liabilities is factual in every particular. But the bureau lacks the means of carrying out this essential function.

Declarants get away with murder here. The law does not require them to make their declaration public. They have happily taken advantage of this to make the constitutional imperatives a nullity.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo made the declarations of their assets and liabilities public in 2015. I welcomed it as the dawn in responsible political leadership. I spoke too soon because the president’s men and women – All Progressives Congress (APC) governors and ministers – were apparently unimpressed by what the two men did. They acted alone. No one followed their footsteps. Their reluctance to follow their leaders reflected the vacuous moral leadership in our country. If followers do not follow their leaders to do the right, nothing can go right. Leaders are not supposed to act alone; they are supposed to bring the weight of their moral leadership on their followers to follow.

Do I see any hope in the horizon as a new group of political leaders step in tomorrow? I do not yet know where the horizon is, believe me.

Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese was educated at the University of Lagos and Columbia University, New York. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in mass communication and journalism. He began his journalism career at the New Nigerian Newspapers, Kaduna, and has edited two national newspapers, The Nigeria Standard and the New Nigerian. He and his three close friends in the news media, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, and the late Dele Giwa, founded the trail-blazing weekly newsmagazine in Nigeria, Newswatch, in 1984. He held various editorial positions in the magazine and was Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. Agbese is a well-regarded and respected columnist in Nigeria. He wrote popular columns for the Nigeria Standard and Newswatch magazine. He is the author of Fellow Nigerians: Turning Points in the Political History of Nigeria, 1966 - 1999; Nigeria their Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, Footprints on Marble: Murtala H. Nyako, The Six Military Governors Voices of History, Conversation with History and three journalism textbooks, Style: A Guide to Good Writing, The Reporter's Companion and The Columnist's Companion: The Art and Craft of Column Writing. He has also contributed chapters to several books on Nigerian politics. Agbese's much-admired style of writing has been the subject of a thesis by students in the University of Jos, the University of Ibadan, and Benue State University.


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