By Charles Iyore
- Cancer in our body politic
The ogre of impunity has taken on a more vicious life of its own and is threatening to consume us as a nation. Beginning with early roots in sentiments of tribe tongue and creed, this cancer in our body politic, has destroyed our capacity for rational and constructive thought. This is evident in our collective acquiescence to glaring miscarriages of justice, now reaching monumental heights.
Its capacity to drill away, at the depths of our construction foundations and weaken our nation building efforts, is not treated with the seriousness it deserves, -ask the Chinese about dealing with anti-trust conduct.
Impunity according to the Webster’s dictionary means one’s exemption from punishment, or the freedom from the injurious consequences of one’s action.
The colonial masters carried on with such impunity backed by the barrel of the gun, in their violent sackings of Benin, Kano and Ijebu-Ode and in other smaller punitive expeditions. The native struggle for home rule, against that background, was therefore not difficult to sell.
The minimum expectation at independence was that the yoke of an uncaring leadership, answerable to a remote monarch, had been lifted and that our new leaders with whom we struggled, would treat us with a measure of decency and strive to defend the public good rather than protect remote foreign interests. But alas! that was not to be, as selfish groupings quickly emerged, using whatever veil of subtle aggregation they could find, to foist an even more violent administration than the colonial masters could ever muster. The shout of the new elite all over the land was, “we are now in-charge” That “in-charge” came with no responsibility it seems, but absolute right to do as you wish.
Wives of politicians would shut out lowly women in groceries’ markets by paying prices over and above the odds for goods. Arriving on market days in coordinated colour dressing in chauffer driven cars.
Politicians would announce their arrivals in ridiculously large American cars, with trumpet fanfare sound horns. Our brow beaten commoners withdrew in fear, but soon realized that the only game in town was politics.
Such was the attraction, that the noble profession of “politics for service” (oselu), became the draw of most scallywags. Many were to boast later, that you couldn’t get a better return from any other profession than in politics.
They believed they had to be in it at all cost, including eliminating people who stood in their way, and once in office, you are advised to assume all ownership rights with scant regard for the responsibilities. This was the model in the North, East, West and South, moderated only by the often imperial control of the regional Premiers, most of whom had to vet education scholarship lists and land allocation to check abuse. Such an elite conduct, lacking in any modicum of self-regulation and constantly seeking to compromise all trade and exchange arrangements was not sustainable.
There my friends, laid the rub!
It was against that background that the populace welcomed the military intervention, which sold itself as corrective and found the best speech writers to deliver winning national addresses. Very many “musical chairs dance sessions” thereafter, to the staccato of bullet fire, it has become clear that the malaise of leadership impunity, is actually an elite preserve and that all that has been going on, are visage changes from flowing Agbada, or Boubou to starched uniforms.
This my friends, is our reality!
The Anatomy of impunity.
For impunity to thrive, you must first destroy free expression. The free expression of the Egba and Aba market women, natural to these climes, which the many colonial punitive expeditions curtailed, has been under different kinds of attack, ever since the colonizers left.
The attack in its current presentation, is by infiltrating the student unions, stopping the professional groupings from unionizing freely, traditional rulers becoming authoritarian and our leaders of institutions, universities and MDAs becoming emperors. The leaders of the faith groups are not too far behind, in the mix of the new lordships. If you throw into all that, the lack of a clear understanding of the concept of money and the a la carte approach, to using free market economic principles for national production, it is easy to see why we are in such a sorry state.
Those who demonstrate impunity in exercise of authorities they hold in trust, whether by documentation or by other agreements, are very often deluded in their judgment of time and chance.
Impunity as in my earlier analogy is a cancer. Cancer cells and the cells they infect by spreading will all die, sooner rather than later. So it is not uncommon for the new elite to complain about ward’s ingratitude, partner insincerity, and to frequently accuse each other of selling-out. These mutual suspicions are the underlying sentiments unsettling our national discourse and obfuscating the ideological clarity, needed for policy formulation.
Attempts at controlling outcomes by some leaders, is what has led to the administration of ridiculous oaths of allegiance, not in mutual fraternal responsibility, but in Mafiosi style, grand puppeteering. Whether North, East, West or South, this model has consistently fallen flat on its face, because the human will, is difficulty to appropriate by another individual, no matter how apparently powerful he is.
And so ultimately, impunity neither leaves the perpetrator exempt from punishment, nor does it free him from its injurious consequences of action.
Effects of silencing free expression
How come an adult university lady undergraduate cannot make her friendship choices freely without threat from the cultist? Cultists who hold territories for the institutions’ contesting leaderships.
For how do we explain the fact that the very same arguments of marginalization are played out at all levels of public administration from Federal through States to Local governments, and I dare say the wards?
That tampering of free expression, is what makes true democratic representation difficult. The use of social media, and the strong opinions of gadflies, (otherwise called activists) cannot match the effect of popular student union actions, or measured professional positions, the likes of which made the Tafawa Balewa government, reverse Nigeria’s foreign policy position or the “Ali must go” protests. The desire to keep the majority silent, is what drives the push for press curtailment as with decree 4 and the other administrative moves, always in the works.
It was against this background of disorder fueled by impunity that one was opportune to be at a leadership studio vetting of the ascetic general by a broad group of patriots in 2011. I was impressed by the painstaking fielding of questions, but also taken aback by the total lack of discussions regarding development programmes and the shape of the economy after electoral victory. The retorts were always, let’s win the elections first. Politics has primacy.
I was, therefore not surprised at the yawning gaps that emerged in the team building, when what was wished for, became reality in 2015. Filling of the team positions fell to the whims and caprices of the Sovereign. He also, was beside himself, as he who couldn’t understand the ridiculous demands from erstwhile trench partners. Whereas many were earlier bonded by the discipline of shared doubts and fears in the trenches, fresh victory brought out a narrow desire for the debauched sharing of spoils. Those false starts are, in my view, the reasons for the fluxed state of affairs that we are in today. Meritocracy, pragmatism, and the honesty of war execution (opposition), were thrown out of the window, at victory.
This for me, was a return to the “we are now in-charge mentality” and only wise b half.
A way out?
We need to return to those initial elite conversations, but now broadened and with institutional focus, to reverse the “we are now in-charge” assumptions of 60 years ago, and replace it with the mantra “how can we make a difference together”.
These conversations can be enriched by the new trend of virtual meetings and social media. We need to break the chains of those wrong initial assumptions and begin to tolerate each other’s foibles and we all have them. This time, these conversations should include clear policy presentations and choices.
They should not just be about power grab and a dash for the treasury keys.
These conversations must find ways of restoring free expression in youths, trade unions and associations. They must find ways of using policing to close ungoverned spaces and offer the leadership that we are so capable of providing for Africa.
We must not fail to plan this time, or we would be condemned to repeat it.
• Charles Iyore
Partner, DNA Capital Dioncta@aol.com
Darenth Kent England