There is little doubt that Nigeria parades some of the best and brightest lawyers in town. But that, one suspects, is with strict regard to the letters of the law. Perhaps, that is expected. Since Aristotle, no one man has dared to know it all. Today, we may only know in part and leave the rest to others, or perhaps to the gods.
Nothing illustrates this lack of grasp of all aspects of a matter in issue than some comments voiced by a list of lawyers, etc. It is in the matter of the arraignment or otherwise of certain military officers. The case is in respect of the indicted military officers’ alleged complicity in the murder of some police officers. A report reads:
“More lawyers and activists on Tuesday descended on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami [SAN], for his decision to remove the names of 10 soldiers named as accomplices in the kidnapping charges involving an alleged Taraba State kidnapping kingpin, Bala Hamisu, also known as Wadume, and others.” https://punchng.com/taraba-killings-trial-activists-lawyers-lampoon-malami-over-exclusion-of-killer-soldiers.
But before we go further, let us recall as follows. There was once a colossus in Nigerian politics. Arthur Nzeribe, for such was his name, had in one of the many cases of his life retained the services of one of Nigeria’s legendary lawyers, Rotimi Williams [SAN]. In the course of legal proceedings, Williams whispered to Nzeribe that he, Williams, was through with the case. He could not continue to serve him as a counsel in the matter. Nzeribe, who was reputedly a billionaire, then if not now, felt slightly embarrassed. Was the great lawyer coy in asking for more money? Before Williams could explain, Nzeribe threw in a sweetener of N 1,000,000.00 in the way of additional, but unsolicited, legal fees. By the way, those were the days when a N 1,000,000.00 could finance two medium size industries, with some change for cash flow.
Anyway, Williams confided to his client, the moneyman Nzeribe, that the matter was beyond cash. As Nzeribe recounted it himself, Williams told him “I am an ancient mariner. I know when the waters are rough,” and thus not navigable. That was a subtle hint that the matter had become extra-legal, extra-judicial. Apparently, the state via the judiciary showed interests in the matter. In such circumstances, it is clear, Williams seemed to imply, that those interests were not jusiticiable, were beyond any advocacies in law.
In other words, there are clear limits to the law, even if they are not so stated. This is especially so in all dictatorships and, alas, in much of Africa. Africa is a backwater region forever tending towards dictatorship and culturelessness. Of course, in all dictatorships, the law, as is, is a compromise between its letters and the personalities of the incumbents. And that compromise is rigged in favour of the sitting powers. In other words, if the matter is thus African and thus a dictatorship or nearing one, legal matters are forced to yield to ‘guided,’ not advocated for, outcomes.
Now, many have accused the President Muhammadu Buhari regime of dictatorship under the cloak of being an elected democracy. Whatever the true position is, one thing is certain. The Buhari regime, to the extent it is anything at all, is certainly maximalist. It is as near a dictatorship in deeds as it is democratic in mere words.
And the signs, if not the wonders, of this fact are abundant. As it concerns us here, then the following. About, if not all of the operational security top brass, are in the hands of a nepotistically preferred elect or cabal under Buhari’s Nigeria. Even Major Dangiwa Umar, retired, a Saul who has come to the end of his patience or resources, joined issues with the Buhari regime on this nepotism matter.
The implication of this nepotistic exclusivity of possession of security powers is that such a man orchestrating it is doing so to play a dictator, to play a maximalist leader. And such as one, as dictators are wont, wants Nigerians, a diverse and composited peoples, to trust him, while he trusts only his closeted kind.
But there is a tale thickener in all dictatorships. It is that, despite the façade of stability, dictators, one and all, are a paranoid people. And the logic of this is in the ancient question of: Who will guard the guards?
Ironically, by excluding a large swathe of peoples from power, by concentrating power in a charmed small circle, the dictator, counterintuitively, suggests to the praetorian guards that what they are guarding – his dictatorship – is so priceless a treasure. Ironically again, it is this very pricelessness that drives the praetorian guards to want a share of it. You pay a rogue gatekeeper to the extent of the illegal treasures he is hired to secure. More, nature tends to disperse, not concentrate, powers. So, tension, imagined or real, ensues. Would the praetorian guards not take over the very throne they are hired to guard? This alone drives the dictator to a paranoia for which there is no cure, save in his democratization of power. So, it is either he democratizes power, that is, quits dictatorship, or the longevity of his throne is to be purchased by ceaseless and increasing concessions to these nepotistic or closeted guards. That’s why in all dictatorships the military are the Brahmins of power. They and the political incumbents constitute one caste of power. In fact, the two, the military brass and the political leadership, are not distinguishable, whether in North Korea, China or Saudi Arabia. Or lately Nigeria?
However, sharing in the same caste is just first level of concession. If for whatever reason a nation is at war, the generals, usually a barracks people, are thrust into acquiring power-cashable gravitas. This explains why all successful generals at the frontiers are a threat to all dictatorships at home, at their metropolises. Thus, these generals, immediately they are successful and returning home, are quickly cashiered or quarantined by being promoted into irrelevance. Examples abound, but possibly the rustic human butcher, Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, suffered such a fate in the hands of the dictator, General Yakubu Gowon. Others in that line of fire include General Zhukov under the dictator Stalin. In other words, generals in war are an especially powerful cadre and are feared by incumbent dynasts.
Now, when you twin up generals in war and under a dictatorship, you have a perfect devil’s brew. First, the dictator depends solely on his generals as “his legitimacy” for being in power via their skills at trained violence. Two, the generals acquire new powers for being at the theatres of war, gaming and playing with live ammunition, and the temptations of Caesar. Of course, being modern generals, they would have studied Caesar. Caesar, returning from pacifying the Gauls, marched down on Rome, and forced things happened. Certainly, one good Caesar gingers another.
In other words, to the extent there is a dictatorship and there is war in a given jurisdiction, the ways and means of the generals constitute patterns of behaviour outside the jurisdiction of the law. Law has meaning only to the extent it is backed by coercive powers. Powerless, the law cannot stand. And generals in war know this.
So, fiefdoms of powers and sub-sovereignties are quickly carved out by the generals. This is especially around their theatre commands and contiguous buffer zones. In other words, nothing done in that sub-sovereignty under the general can be tried under the law without clearance by the generals.
And the generals hint on this by their subtle threats or show of knowledge of the powers they contingently wield. In other words, they tell that the safety and stability of the system, in times or terms of war and dictatorship, is in a shared contingency, even if undeclared. And it is not a Nigerian thing. As we write, the same thing happens in Syria. Just as it is with Nigeria, the Syrian security system is in the hands Assad’s fellow Alawites. And the Alawites generals are known to hold themselves unaccountable to the law. Also, it is their wont to carve out sub-jurisdictions of which they the Alawites generals are in near-complete control. Things happen.
So, it is not a Nigerian thing, we repeat. It is Nigerian only to the extent that Nigerians have acquiesced to their being run as puppies in an Animal Farm.
Immediately you acquiesce to being an animal or zoo farm inmate, you must come to knowledge that you can’t try a general or his boys in your ‘lore courts’ for any of their ‘acts and scenes.’ Doing so amounts, intended or not, to calling for the fall of the present regime or order of powers. Those who so do don’t wish them well. This is the lesson of history. All else is in humour.