When Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami threatened that the Federal Government could impose a state of emergency on Anambra State to curb growing insecurity and to facilitate free, fair and credible conduct of the governorship election on November 6, little did he expect that his comment would generate so much anger in the public sphere. By his comment, Malami invited public scorn. He bit more than he could chew. He must have the thick skin to endure outrage directed at his person and the office he occupies.
No sooner did Malami flag the possibility of a state of emergency in Anambra than he was quickly assailed by the state governor, Willie Obiano, who wasted no time in calling Malami to order. He also approached President Muhammadu Buhari to register his official complaint against Malami, who now seems to assume powers he does not have.
Historically, Malami has developed a deplorable reputation for acting outside the powers accorded to his office. An Attorney-General and Minister of Justice is not a military dictator. And Nigeria is certainly not an autocracy in which one man can threaten everyone in the country.
It was not only Obiano who expressed indignation at Malami. Other prominent leaders in the South-East also criticised the Justice Minister. The leadership of the Igbo sociocultural group, Ohanaeze, also deplored Malami’s threat.
Obiano and other critics of Malami made a logically sound case why a state of emergency should not be imposed on Anambra State. The state might be experiencing unusually high incidents of killings but the level of insecurity in Anambra State is nowhere near the state of anarchy that has gripped some northern states for more than a year.
By pointing to the grave security situation that exists in some northern states such as Zamfara, Kaduna, Borno and Niger, Malami’s critics exposed the sinister plot to foist on the people of Anambra a governor or administrator they did not elect.
Malami’s hypocritical comment about Anambra State shows that double standard has become the Federal Government’s approved way of managing the country. Why would Malami overlook the dire security situation in the North and suggest the imposition of a state of emergency in Anambra State? This resonates public comments about the high-handed way the government has been killing youths in the South-East who are agitating for autonomy while the same government negotiates with terrorists in the North who are offered state funds and resources in the attempt to get them to renounce violence.
In some northern states such as Zamfara, Kaduna, Borno and Niger, to mention a few, bandits, kidnappers and Boko Haram terrorists have made life extremely dreadful and hazardous for people. In those states, people are picked up from their homes and on the streets and held against their will until ransom has been paid. The unlucky ones are slaughtered like animals, as has become common experience in some communities in Benue State. In Kaduna, bandits target schoolchildren, university students and members of Christian religious communities. They kidnap them and demand millions of naira or dollars as ransom.
The breakdown of law and order in these and other states shows clearly the collapse of civil society and the disintegration of Nigeria as a geographic entity. In the northern states, life has become nasty and has no value any longer. These are the states that Malami should consider appropriate for imposition of a state of emergency, rather than Anambra.
Here is Malami’s duplicity. He is concerned about the possibility that the governorship election in Anambra State could be disrupted or ruined or that it may not even hold. But he is not concerned about the disorganised routines and lives of people held hostage by Boko Haram terrorists, bandits and kidnappers in northern states.
This is not the first time Malami would provoke civil society. In May 2017, he generated controversy following unsolicited, disreputable and tyrannical comments he directed at citizens promoting the idea of restructuring Nigeria. Many people found it strange that a man who served as the chief law officer of the country would not allow civil society to have a conversation about reorganisation of the country.
What people found particularly offensive was the manner in which Malami expressed his opposition, including the words he used to convey his disapproval of the idea. He had said, with a note of resoluteness, that anyone campaigning for reorganisation of the current federal structure should deploy their time more productively in other areas because the government would never allow that idea to gain support.
Oddly, the same Malami who expressed strong views against calls for restructuring admitted that reorganisations and reconfigurations of national systems were standard practices in different countries. Following that contradictory argument, many people wondered curiously thus: If that was the case in different countries, why did Malami argue that restructuring would never occur in Nigeria?
Malami expressed his views at a conference on “Federalism and challenges of dynamic equilibrium in Nigeria: Towards a national strategy.”
The conference was organised by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in Abuja. At the conference, Malami said: “Change is a gradual exercise, which must be democratic and subjected to legislative and administrative processes as provided by law. We must use democratic means to reform our federal system. We need to recognise that both federalism and democracy are mechanisms for managing diversity.”
I thought it was duplicitous for Malami to speak about democracy and legislative frameworks and yet be resistant to reforming Nigeria. This is a case of doublespeak. People supporting the reorganisation of Nigeria never mentioned they would not observe democratic processes or constitutional requirements. Malami also created the wrong impression by suggesting that people advocating restructuring were single-minded about achieving their objectives without national dialogue, without legislative resolution, and without negotiation and cooperation.
What this implies is that Malami does not believe that civil society has the right in our constitution to freely express its views, even if those views are incompatible with the government’s position.
Part of the reason the government that Buhari leads lacks clear direction and purpose is that officials prefer to live like ostriches by burying their heads in the sand, rather than speak the truth, by failing to articulate a road map for ending the current state of insecurity in the country, and by failing to restore some semblance of order so that people can take back their lives from criminal groups.
This is a government that promises many things but achieves little or nothing. When policies fail, officials try to evade responsibility by blaming ordinary people or the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Ministers appointed to serve express preference to be served by the people. It is a ludicrous reversal of roles. When ministers and other officials of state say they are committed to enhancing the welfare and safety of citizens, it implies they are committed to using citizens to achieve their self-centred objectives.
This is the environment in which we live. When people complain about poor governance and widespread corruption, they are marked out as troublemakers who must be silenced. You have to wonder whether state-sponsored terror or criminality has replaced the rule of law. At the moment in Nigeria, there is no rule and no law. Too many people are behaving anyway they like.