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Sam Omatseye: White sepulchres – The backstairs strategy of President Jonathan


Sam Omatseye: White sepulchres – The backstairs strategy of President Jonathan

by Sam Omatseye

If we want to decipher the difference between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and today’s leader, President Goodluck Jonathan, we should examine the style and content of the emergency rule in the three beleaguered states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. When Obasanjo unleashed his, he came across as a bull. He rumbled into town and made it known that he rumbled into town. He flexed his muscles. He defied the law. He acted the soldier ingrained in his DNA. He was like the hawk in Ted Hughes poem, Hawk Roosting, where the bird asserts,

My feet are locked upon the rough bark/It took the whole of Creation

To produce my foot, my each feather:/Now I hold Creation in my foot.

Jonathan acted the serpent, long, ruthless, devastating, but deceptively unobtrusive. Obasanjo did not exercise power unobtrusively. He let everyone know that the cowboy was in town, rode imperiously on his horse, shot his gun first in the air to daze and intimidate the residents. Afterwards, he gunned down a few for effect and stamp of his superior brow.

Jonathan entered town as though he did not, and he allowed the situation to slide into slime, so he could act on the sly. He could then bring down the hammer, and when the hammer lands, few would realise that he had employed the sledgehammer on a fly.

That is the style of this President. He wants everyone to perceive him as the innocent one, the harassed and the victimised. We can see that in the declaration of the state of emergency.

Last week, I asked a question, and the answer is already here. I wondered what the President meant by his assertion that the governors would remain in charge in the meantime. I also asserted that he had no right to exercise powers that he did not have.

But the President played a fast one on the electorate. First, he declared the state of emergency, so he could draw applause. After that, we saw the fine print. He played it also on a naïve National Assembly that succumbed almost as if unaware of the rudiments of the principle of power.

When the terms came out, the serpent’s venom dripped on the Northeast. According to the terms, the President has a right to “provide for the utilisations of the funds of the governors and local government chairmen.” It passed unaltered through the Senate.

The House of Representatives, rather than checkmate it, fell for the ruse by adding that it could be used to “provide for the protection, documentation, return, re-integration, resettlement, rehabilitation, compensation and remuneration of persons affected by this order.”

Can all the job of the state not fall under protection alone? Only that word cedes the whole authority of the state governor and local government to the hands of the president. The damning line in the provision says that the President can give directive to the state governor and any designate. Does the word designate not imply that the President can install a parallel structure of governance in the state and funnel funds through the structure? That designate could be a soldier or a civilian, but it will be a person in whom the President is well pleased. He or she will be the de facto sole administrator obeying the President.

Is this not a backstairs strategy to deligitimise the democratic structures? Is it not a way for the President, who is plotting a strategy to win in 2015, to map up means to mop up the numbers for electoral victory?

But more importantly, this is an imposition of tyranny in the guise of democratic powers. When money flows out of a democratic structure – governor, local government, state assembly -, it means life is out of it. The governor cannot function without the money. The state assembly cannot pass law and the local government is impotent. They will be coerced to beg for their constitutional rights under the constitution.

What the President has done is a familiar terrain in history. He wants to douse democracy by applying false democratic means. Hitler was watched, as though through a trance by his people, as he employed democratic methods to impose Nazism on the country. At some point Germans glowed in its corporatist dawn with a gloating sense of nationalism before it destroyed them. Ditto Francis Franco of Spain. Democracy cannot overthrow democracy.

The emergency law was based on a democratic constitution and its execution fails if it defies the democratic tenet. What is left is tyranny. It is laws like this that have made law and political theorists over the ages to be wary of laws and the need for vigilance. It was not for nothing that Thomas Jefferson called the Law “the tyrant’s will.” And William Lloyd Garrison, who saw years of battle against oppression, declared, “that which is not just is not law.”

With the emergency law in place, what we have in the three states are not democratic structures but white sepulchres. They glitter, exude grandeur, but are like the ceremonies of the dead. The governors, local government chairmen and lawmakers are somnambulists. They are sleeping men and women walking around a palace. They are like mannequins and statues of honour. They can only look and not see, while we look and remember what they represented.

I wrote in this column a few weeks back how the President is gradually amassing dictatorial powers, and this is another feather on that cap. Politics is a game of power, but democratic power does not endorse a game that concentrates power in a man or a cabal. The expression “imperial president” is a fancy way of calling a president a monarch in a republican milieu. It is wrong. We might think that stopping a governor from flying a state-owned jet is nothing even though he was picked out of a many aircraft that violated basic laws. We might think that locking up Leadership newspaper editors is nothing. We might think that slamming a police presence without law on a local government headquarters is nothing. We might think a law that prohibits anyone except the president to fly a jet without members of the family is nothing until the presidential election. But that is the germ of despotism that wipes out the gem of democracy.

With the introduction of the emergency laws, the President has slammed a private tyranny. So, while the Boko Haram insurgents wield class and ethno-religious violence on the citizens, Jonathan wants to impose political violence on the political structure. It is like a snake unleashing venom on a rat. Its muscles tremble and die.

The President, in his style, may not take all the money, but will deliver enough to pay some bills, like civil service salaries, rents, etc. The rest will hide under the pursuit of security and public order, as the law says.

The way out, as the governors concerned have indicated, is to go to court. The executive and legislature have failed. Next to God, it is the judiciary. I hope the court, under an increasingly brilliant and independent Supreme Court Justice, will echo the line of one of its own: “If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.” That was Louis Brandeis who understood the difference between law and tyranny.

Thanks, Gov. Uduaghan

Many years back, I visited the Eku Hospital, near Warri in Delta State. That was my place of birth. I drove through it, wandering in what ward I breathed my first. But I was depressed that the hospital known in the past as a measure of medical excellence had fallen to a morass and decay. I learned that the place is back in structure and facility, thanks to the state Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.

– This Best Outside opinion was written by Sam Omatseye

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