by Senator Ihenyen
“When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you” is one popular saying most of us usually fail to pay very good attention to. Even Jesus had a version of the saying. “Don’t focus on the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own eye,” he said.
There are times in our national lives when we point accusing fingers on others but fail to see that we might just be talking about ourselves.
When Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was in power, there were wars of words mostly between the Northern political players and their South-western counterparts. It was during his eight years in office in a democratic dispensation that we had issues such as Sharia to contend with, including the rise and rise of Odua People’s Congress (OPC), against the background of the challenges they posed on national security.
When Alhaji Musa Yar’adua of blessed memory came to power, Niger Delta militants threw challenges at his feet in their agitation for the political and economic inclusiveness of the suffering Niger Delta in the Nigerian federation in the spirit of fairness and equity.
Today, there is no one who is not aware of the great challenges President Goodluck Jonathan has been facing, especially in the hands of Boko Haram. These curious developments just seem like some kind of a game in the hands of those who have mastered how to play it for the purpose of sectional, tribal or religious interests.
Perhaps, it is from the background above that we can better appreciate the current situation in our polity where almost everyone – Nigerian leaders, political party chieftains, presidential aides, sectional elders and groups, religious leaders, critics and even Nigerians in the street have been pointing accusing fingers at one another. Of course, the rest of their fingers point directly back at them. How did we get here?
Before one can make any attempt at answering that question, perhaps we need to look at one big accusing finger.
Last week, the well-known political critic, Junaid Muhammad, had reasons to draw the nation’s attention to the recent developments in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the national level. According to the Russian-trained medical doctor, the ruling party was heading to a serious political crisis in Rivers State; a development that would constitute great security threat to the state.
In the course of warning the PDP, Dr. Junaid blamed the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, for her “irresponsible, unconstitutional and bizarre, illiterate actions” and role in the crisis.
While noting that the Nigerian constitution does not provide for the office of First Lady and confers no rights, privileges and/or responsibilities on spouses of the President, Dr. Junaid stated that Mrs. Patience Jonathan “sees not only Okrika but the whole of Rivers States, as her personal domain to exploit, abuse and destabilize as she sees fit because her husband Jonathan happens to be the president.”
From his point of view, it is “illegal and completely ultra vires the constitution for any citizen, president or his spouse to usurp executive powers, and go about throwing their weight, as if they were legally recognized holders of such offices according to the law”. As a matter of fact, he stated that at the time of writing his press statement, “the commissioner of police in Rivers, his command structure and other security services are at the command of Patience Jonathan, and by her and presidential orders, most security facilities due governor, the speaker and others so entitled, have been withdrawn… professional thugs and all manner of criminals are being recruited and pressed into service to destabilize the elected government of Rivers State.
“If the de-facto commander–in-chief, the de-facto defence Minister and army commander Gen. Ihejirika who is an in-law to Patience [Jonathan], and his police and S.S.S. counterparts, are behaving in openly political partisan manner as heads of Jonathan’s personal militia, it goes without saying that Jega’s INEC will hold no elections worth the name.” He then called on Nigerians who cherish democracy to stand up and be counted.
This time, the characteristically dog-attack response did not come from the office of the presidency, with undoubtedly enough competent hands to do the dirty job. The response came from some Abuja-based Lawyers under the aegis of League of Rivers Lawyers in Abuja.
Assumed to be members of a noble profession, the lawyers urged the leadership of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF to urgently call Dr. Muhammad Junaid to order over his comments on Dame Patience Jonathan.
In a tone laced with sarcasm, the lawyers asked Junaid to proffer solutions to the menacing activities of Boko Haram sect in the north. This, according to the League, was more worthwhile than dissipating his energy blaming the wife of the President over the crisis in Rivers State.
The League, through its Chairman, Timi Briggs frowned at what they saw as derogatory remarks and use of foul language on the First Lady. In the course of pointing fingers at Dr. Junaid, the League wondered why Dr. Junaid was acting “like a gangster”:
“Rather than dissipating energy and time talking about Rivers State politics when his region is on fire and its economy broken by the activities of Boko Haram sect, Dr Junaid has remained dumb and helpless. By calling Mrs Jonathan names, Dr Junaid is behaving like a gangster by saying that Mrs Jonathan has no right to comment over the affairs of her state.
“If Dr Junaid is looking for what to talk or work to do, the collapse of the Northern economy, rising unemployment, illiteracy and alarming insecurity under his nose are enough engagement rather than abusing Mrs Jonathan. What is his interest in Rivers State? Why is he crying more than the bereaved? A character like Dr Junaid thinks he has a monopoly of odious language and rascality because he is one of those deceiving Governor Rotimi Amaechi to be spending public funds to betray his brother and pursue a Northern agenda.”
If you ask me, in a free market of “odious language and rascality”, the League went too far. In pointing one accusing finger at Dr. Juniad, the other three fingers clearly point back at them.
Firstly, are the issues of economic collapse, rising unemployment, illiteracy and alarming insecurity in the north particularly, not also issues affecting us all as a nation-state? Since when did their “brother” in the South-South become the President of the Ijaw nation or the Niger Delta? And if at all, since when did it become a “northern agenda” if a Governor of a state in the South-South chooses to exercise his political right to contest for an office alongside his counterpart from one of the northern states in the same country?
I am seriously hoping the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in which I happen to be a proud member, is not involved in this shamelessness. With all due respect, the League of Rivers Lawyers in Abuja has not demonstrated any appreciable ethical standard in such an issue of national importance. And I equally hope that because I am not a Rivers state indigene, it does not, in the wisdom of the League, make me ineligible to express my opinion on this issue. I don’t have to be from Rivers state, nor Edo State, nor Cross River to exercise my constitutionally guaranteed right of free expression as a Nigerian citizen. Being a Nigerian more than qualifies me to so do.
We have seen bad eggs in the legal profession providing the “legal framework” for the system of corruption to run efficiently in this country. The League of Rivers Lawyers in Abuja should not add to the burden that I believe all responsible Nigerian lawyers have had to bear in a society that is increasingly losing its sense of national values, social justice and fairness.
How else could one describe the reaction of the League, particularly when it said: “What did Mrs Jonathan do that other First Ladies did not do and even more? Nigerians saw it happen where a first Lady was the de facto President and was calling the shot in Aso Rock and yet Dr Junaid saw nothing wrong with that. Or is Mrs Jonathan being abused by Junaid because her husband is a President from a minority tribe in Nigeria?”
In effect, the League appear to have conceded the fact that truly the President’s wife has been doing the acts Dr. Junaid has accused her of. Is it not questionable to accuse a Nigerian citizen of reducing the First Lady to a bully in her state because he is a “northerner” only to end up saying other First Ladies did even worse? Is this not also contrary to their statement that the “First lady has not done anything in Rivers State that will warrant her to be insulted by Dr. Junaid and his ilk.”
Lawyers are assumed to be advocates of truth, fairness and justice in the society. Lawyers are also assumed to be learned, but when we allow politics turn us blind or myopic, would such assumptions not become necessarily rebutted? And with the way some of the newspaper reports have carried this news, not a few Nigerians would have concluded that it was a press statement from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
This League appears to be the bereaved who is not crying at all but would not allow his neighbours cry over the crisis in Rivers State. According to the Lawyers, “the political crisis in Rivers State PDP is not new in Nigeria. It is normal in a democracy…”
Since when did it become normal for a Commissioner of Police to contradict the position of the Governor of the State on such an important issue as security of lives and property in River State? Perhaps, Chris Ngige’s last days in office in PDP’s Anambra has been forgotten in a hurry.
Truly, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As a Niger Deltan, I had grown up despising the “born to rule” attitude largely held by northerners. Honestly, it could be nauseating sometimes, particularly when some of the “northern elders” from that part of the country practically demand power as if it’s their birthright, and threaten blood in the alternative. Ironically, not a few elements in the South-South have also recently joined the bandwagon, uttering statements that are not in any way near responsible. Two wrongs don’t make a right. It never will.
One hardly finds up to 10% constructive opinion these days. Whether President Goodluck Jonathan is from the South-South or not, the Ijaw man with his team has woefully lost the first half in the presidency. And if he is unable to raise his game in the second half and turn the tide around at full time, he should simply take the next flight to Otuoke and spend more time with his wife. Nigeria is bigger than them or any of us for that matter.