Thursday, 27 February 2014

Between strong institutions and strong individuals

                                              Late Sani Abacha
Since the country gained independence in 1960, she has not been able to build strong institutions but strong individuals that are preventing the country from progressing. These individuals are stronger than all the institutions put together and are rendering them incapacitated. Thus, institutions in the country have become mere toothless bull dog that can only bark but cannot bite. It is pertinent to note that no nation can develop without strong institutions. It is strong institutions that make nations to function adequately and properly. By strong institutions we are talking of institutions that perform their statutory functions and take decisions independently based on the laws and policies upon which they are established. Strong institutions operate in accordance with their terms of reference and rule of engagement. Strong institutions do not allow interference or coercion from strong individuals before they perform their duties.

Thus, the Judiciary, Police Force, Customs Service, Immigration Service, Prison Service, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC), Code of Conduct Bureau, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Armed Forces, just to mention a few, are institutions. But can these institutions perform their functions independently without external influence from strong individuals? Can the police arrest former military heads of state, presidents, governors or other public officials?
 Strong individuals are persons who wield enormous power and dictate to institutions and people what they should do. Some strong individuals in the country are past and present military heads of state, presidents, governors, ministers, commissioners, justices, judges, army officers, police officers, wealthy individuals etc, just to mention a few. Strong individuals are usually above the laws of the land. They are treated as sacred cows-untouchable. They can order soldiers to massacre a whole community and they will not be held accountable! Strong individuals can manipulate and influence any of the above mentioned institutions to their personal advantage. If they have interest in any court case, they simply pick up their mobile phones and tell the judge in charge of such a case to decide the case in their favour or their relative involved. Where strong individuals hold sway, the votes of the people do not count but the wishes and caprices of the strong individuals do! Strong individuals usually rig elections in favour of their candidates at the detriment of the masses. Likewise, Election tribunal cases are also decided in favour of the candidates of strong individuals and not according to the merit of such cases.
What are the disadvantages associated with having strong individuals instead of strong institutions. The first drawback of having strong individuals is that it encourages nepotism where incompetent persons are imposed in positions of authority. The second disadvantage is that court cases are not decided on the basis of merit but on the dictates of strong individuals who wield more power than others. The third disadvantage of having strong individuals is that it promotes massive corruption. The greatest tool employed by strong individuals is financial inducement which they use to pervert judgment. This is why court cases linger on for years without being concluded. Strong individuals can make inflammatory statements like “we will make the country ungovernable for President Jonathan”, “blood will flow”, “I will kill you and nothing will happen” etc and they will fulfil such threats as it is happening in the country presently but such strong individuals will not be invited for questioning. They move freely because they are strong individuals-sacred cows. Strong individuals have investments that are above their incomes, live above their means, get oil blocs without following due process but can never be questioned on how they acquired such wealth and properties. The fourth disadvantage of having strong individuals is that it breeds all manner of crimes such as militancy, armed robbery, human trafficking, prostitution, kidnapping, assassinations etc. This is because they use the less privileged as willing tools.
 State governors as strong individuals can dissolve local government councils without conducting elections but appoint their stooges! The judiciary that supposed to correct these anomalies are usually appointed by the state governors. For instance, states governors appoint state Chief Judges who are subjected to them. In Nigeria where there are many strong individuals, one strong individual can prevent a serving Senator from seeking re-election to the Senate, decides who becomes governors, senators, Members of the Representatives, chairmen of local government areas without opposition from anybody. A strong individual can obtain perpetual court injunction not to be tried for corruption and an institution like the EFCC cannot appeal such injunction in court. Under the Land Use Act, strong individuals as former or serving heads of state, presidents, governors, chairmen, commissioners, ministers, etc can seize millions of hectares of land from the masses and go scot-free!          
However, in countries where there are strong institutions, the reverse is the case as everybody is equal before the law. In Ghana, in July 2009, American President, Barack Obama made a startling revelation when he said, “Africa doesn’t need strong men, it needs strong institutions”. When there are strong institutions, things are done according to the laws of the land. Strong institutions ensure that all the citizens in a country are equal before the law. Strong institutions guarantee equal treatment to all and sundry by the law. Nobody is treated as sacred cows while others are treated as second class citizens or less human! A close observation on how nations are run by their leaders reveals that strong institutions play a very vital role in ensuring good governance. There can never be good governance without strong institutions. In fact, strong institutions act as checks and balances on the leaders as well as the followers. Strong institutions bring justice to all and sundry.
For instance, a strong judiciary can adjudicate on cases that involve the high and mighty of the society without fear or favour. So, the law that bids the ordinary citizens also bids the very important personalities. It is instructive to note that since independence, no former military head of state, president, governor, chairman, minister, commissioner or other government official, has been tried and jailed for corruption when there are evidences of corruption around us. The few former governors that have been arraigned in courts have their cases adjourned perpetually. This is why corruption is endemic in the country because people are not punished for their fraudulent practices.
When there are strong institutions the police can arrest any person who violates the laws of the land irrespective of their social status or standing. In this country, there are certain persons that are above the laws just because they are former military heads of state, presidents, governors, chairmen etc. So, there is absolute lawlessness across the country as Nigerian leaders carry on with impunity as they know that they can always escape justice at all times.
In countries where there are strong institutions, everybody is equal before the laws irrespective of their social status. It is on record that former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi was jailed four years on August 1, 2013 for tax fraud. Also, former Peruvian President, Alberto Fujimori, was jailed in 2009 for authorising death squads and corruption. Likewise, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was jailed for corruption and complicity in the killing of demonstrators during the protests that ousted him from office in 2011. His corruption charge was that he accepted gifts from state-run publisher al-Ahram. Former Mongolian President, Nambar Enkhbayar was also jailed four years in 2012 for misappropriating gifts intended for a monastery and illegally privatising a hotel along with other charges. In May 2009, Mr. Samuel B. Kent, a Federal District Judge of Galveston, Texas in America, was jailed 33 months for having lied about sexually harassing two female employees. A Deputy Communications Minister in Ghana, Ms. Victoria Hammah was fired within 24 hours for having said, “I will not quit politics until I make one million dollars”. Can any Nigerian of such statuses be jailed or sacked over such offences? I doubt it!
Is it not worrisome that since the country gained independence in 1960 no former military heads of state, presidents, governors, chairmen, ministers, commissioners and other public office holders have been tried and jailed for corrupt practices or other wrongdoings? It is because there are no strong institutions but strong individuals. Strong institutions take decisions independently based on the laws establishing them without taking directives from any individuals no matter how highly placed such individuals may be. It is noteworthy that a country with strong individuals can never progress because the commonwealth of the people is illegally shared among the few strong individuals who live like the lord of the minor! This is why Nigerians live in penury in spite of the gargantuan oil money flowing into the country on a daily basis! Therefore, there should be concerted efforts by all Nigerians to build strong institutions that will stand the test of time and move the country forward.
Dear VME readers, do we need strong institutions or strong individuals in Nigeria? Please leave your comment in the comment section. Thank you very much.

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