Saturday, April 19, 2014

Yes, I Pardoned a Serial Treasury Looter but What Can You Do About It? By Ogaga Ifowodo

Published:

Presumably, President Jonathan and the members of the National Council of State who granted a state pardon for the convicted former governor of Bayelsa State, D. S. P. Alamieyeseigha, are aware of Section 14 (2) of the Constitution which states that “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice,” and accordingly “sovereignty belongs to the people … from whom government … derives all its powers and authority.” It is possible that Jonathan’s image-makers, better known as his “attack lions,” believe in this principle, just as much as they believe that the people are always ignorant, misinformed, mischievous, unpatriotic and wrong. Jonathan may also remember Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy, which we all learned in secondary school, as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Still, it is clear to the world, now more than ever before (assuming that further and better proof were ever needed) that Jonathan thinks or knows very little of the concepts of democracy and the people.  Neither matters to him in his sordid game of power-for-its-own-sake. Thus, no deed appears to him too indefensible to warrant discretion. He may very well be a king since he operates by the credo of might is right. Indeed, that is what he meant when he said “I don’t give a damn” about transparency and leading by example. And that is what he has told us again by pardoning a confessed and convicted kleptomaniac who also happens to be his former boss.  By this latest show of contempt for the will of the people, Jonathan thumps his chest and sneers, “Yes, I pardoned a serial treasury looter. What can you do about it?”

It explains why he hardly tried to hide his hand. For, he has to have known that his ruse of granting absolution to a poster-face of corruption by simultaneously pardoning persons “previously pardoned” would be exposed before long. But, then, Jonathan does not give a damn about what the people think; does not believe the people can think. He does not care if the world thinks as Transparency International does, that his “decision undermines anti-corruption efforts” and “encourages impunity.” Those blokes at Transparency International, like the ignorant fools under his rule, assume, erroneously, that he has to prove his anti-corruption bona fides by strengthening and not relaxing sanctions against treasury looters. One might be tempted to say that Jonathan has hammered the final nail into the coffin of the war against corruption, but that would be admitting that there was ever such a war. In any case, rather than review his action, he has set his attack lions loose on the people.

I think I know now the source of Jonathan’s ill-advised bravado, strikingly unbecoming of one whose ascent to power has been more a matter of sheer good luck (I can’t tire of the pun) than merit or accomplishment. In being so dismissive of Jonathan as weak, clueless and totally out of his depth as president, we may have unwittingly created a political monster. Like the poor boy picked upon by every kid in the schoolyard and neighbourhood and who, to restore his dignity, finally takes a stand, Jonathan is now totally blind to reason or consequence. He will take on all comers, even if every one of them be twice his weight; even if he must spit in the face of the people at every turn. At least, then he can go to bed beating his chest and saying out loud, “I did it! That should teach them to call me weak and clueless!” Every serious decision has become for him an occasion to assert his political manhood. The unreflective display of machismo is spawned by a desire to appear strong and decisive. In short, Jonathan is governed by the fear of being thought weak, like the tragic Okonkwo in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Yet, there are better ways for Jonathan to prove his political manhood. He could, for instance, have publicly declared his assets, thereby assuming the role of commander-in-chief of a real war against corruption. Or implemented all the recommendations of the Justice Uwais panel on electoral reform, thereby going against self-interest and the entrenched privileges of the powerful few who profit from rigged elections. Or prosecuted and jailed the trillion-naira oil subsidy thieves that bled the country white. He could convene or facilitate a sovereign national conference at which, for the first time since independence, we as a free people would agree on the articles of association for a prosperous, peaceful and equitable nation. He could … but none of these would project the image he craves of a strongman in a tall hat; they smack of bending to the will of the people, which is incompatible with an I-don’t-give-a-damn philosophy of governance.

Yet, for all the great wisdom we have been told informed the pardon, one crucial detail was omitted: an unreserved apology to Alamieyeseigha for his conviction in the first place. After all, how many treasury looters have been asked to explain the source of their instant wealth, never mind being charged to court? Bode George, Tafa Balogun …the few who did not get away scot free, must be wondering how much longer they must wait before getting their pardon.

Professor Ifowodo can be reached via his email account: omoliho@gmail.com

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