The fierce urgency of now By Nasiru Suwald

It was the legendary Ernesto Che Guevara, the famous South American revolutionary and serial inspiration of popular mass revolt against bad governance, appropriately called the Saint of Bolivia, who once quipped: “I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves” 

Guevara said this when the success of the popular movements was being solely attributed to him. Sociologically, it is an inherent character of the human experience to resort to self-help when his or her primal interests are threatened, especially at the moment when the object of threat meets with revulsion.

Putting it more graphically, no circumstance offers as much an illustration as Professor Attahiru Jega’s situation when, last week, news filtered-in from Kazaure emirate in Jigawa state, that he was attacked while leaving the town, after attending a marriage ceremony at the emir’s palace, as a group of youths sought to stone the convoy of the now much vilified chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission 

While a lot of people questioned the rationale of resorting to self help by the hapless community, others, especially those in the popular media and the greater community, tried to rationalize the act of stone throwing, by claiming that individuals that desired to enforce accountable governance in this zig-zag way, rightly or wrongly, passing judgement on the general perception of an average Nigerian that the election conducted by Jega’s commission was an exercise of spectacular fraud and that by stoning a public official was a valid method of registering a sign of disapproval against such individual.

After all, it is argued, that the number one citizen of the country, chief executor of Nigerian laws and President of the Republic, at the beginning of the year and immediately before the Bayelsa State polls, exhorted and even threatened to join the people of the state in stoning the governorship candidate.

Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan admonished at the time that: “Dickson you brought the people from Abuja to present flag, the only thing I want to do is to tell you that sometimes ago I was here in Bayelsa and the people stoned the governor. I was here and you must work hard for Bayelsa not to stone you, the day they stone you, I will join to stone you.”

The ambiguity of that utterance aside, I was one of those who took the statement on its face value because I could not understood how a president sworn to promote and protect the rule of law, can advocate an alternative vision of self help to elicit the notion of an accountable leadership.

Until when the Senior Special Assistant to the President on media affairs, Dr. Reuben Abati, differed in opinion and claimed that the usage of stone was mere metaphorical allegory, not a physical act of violent attack, but a mere wake up call and warning for public officers to sit-up and guard against pushing the people to revolt against the system, I took a literal view of the comments.

Yet far from the extra legal means of seeking solution to resolve disgust, the Nigerian political system has had many ways of ensuring good governance, where the electorates are able to hold elected leaders to account, from the periodic re-elections that forces an incumbent to seek a fresh mandate, to the mechanism of recall of public officials as an option to recompense betrayal of elected office, to the ultimate terminator also known as impeachment of individuals legislatively convicted of grave breach of official trust.

Indeed it is because of such frustrating situations, when adherence to such structured procedures of submission to the instruments of public authority cannot be guaranteed by the dictates of the rule of law that selp-help takes reign

A way of understanding this better is akin to a husband arriving into his house and finding his spouse subject to an attempted violent rape.  As in some jurisdictions, like the United States of America, the flight of rage of the affronted husband validly serves as a mitigating defence.

The question begs for an answer, especially in our own situation, what ought to be the proper mode of response in a situation where a husband comes home to find a wife under attack: does he strenuously defend her using all means available, or should he diligently seek refuge in law abidance, with a flight to the nearest police station to lodge a complaint of illegal harassment?

A similar scenario is the situation of a committed lover of democracy, finding him or herself in the victim of habitual ballot box snatchers and serial election riggers: should such individuals defend their votes or await the arrival of properly constituted law enforcement agents, especially in a Nigeria which has never had a history of ever prosecuting election offenders?

It is this dilemma that solemnized the marriage between law and sociology, the relationship between a codified body of rules with a society upon which such legal dictates are applied. For no matter the calmness and soberness of an individual, certain grave situations create an impulsive reaction of a flight of rage, causing the law to accommodate such acts under the Doctrine of Irresistible Impulse. However, for such doctrinal instrument to be applicable, the concept of fierce urgency of now becomes highly relevant, as certain crimes require the immediacy of reaction to serve as a mitigating factor upon judicial review.

Indeed in the short history of Nigeria’s electoral democracy, although there have been many rulings against individuals who profited from fraudulent elections, the highest sanction delivered against them is mere nullification of the questionable polls, while the time spent in office is declared as legally non-existent, even though the perks, privileges and actions of the vanquished politicians never assume such legal nullity.


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