One thing I love doing these days to break the humdrum of the Nigerian narrative is to follow the Presidential debate and campaign in America. Once I came of age and began to understudy the wily ways of governance available to humanity, I have come to adopt the Presidential system of government as the ideal. One of my fancies is the openness of such system of government. The robustness of the campaign leading up to any election; the very fact that no one man arrogates to himself supreme powers, the plurality of ideas and discourses; the checks and balances all make democracy better than other forms of government especially in a knowledge-driven agora.
Way back in 1988 when Jesse Jackson squared up against Mike Dukakis for the Democratic ticket, I fell in love with America and its specially brewed democracy. Black man Jackson, the man the American people call by his first name Jesse, though lost to Dukakis, but his evergreen words continue to resonate with me and millions of his admirers across the globe. He offered intelligent answer to every question and he had the right recipe for every situation. While addressing the issue of race and the very fact that he would not win because white Americans in his party and without would not vote for him, he answered: “When they pull the plug on you, we are the same colour in the dark”. And that’s a fact of life. Whether you are black or white, the same circumstance of life and death, day and night, fresh air and fouled air, confront all of humanity irrespective of race.
Today, this finds a fitting premise in the Nigerian story. The Nigerian economy is in recession. Inflation is at an unprecedented 17 percent. Prices of goods and services are skyrocketing as if in a competition. Some call it stagflation which appears apt. Purchasing power of consumers is being corroded, money is in short supply and the value of the naira is equivalent if not less than the value of the paper used to print the currency. The auguries are just not pleasant and promising. At this point, we are all in the dark, and we are the same colour in this high-noon darkness. Whether you are PDP or APC, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Ijaw or Idoma; we are hit by the same heat wave of unemployment, underemployment, job cuts etcetera. We visit the same market; both the wailers and hailers.
We have been fooled since 1960 by the same elite group, civilian or military, who promised us better days each time they have reason to seize power by the barrel of the gun or via our votes – free, fair or foul. Yet, we fail to note that the inside of every hungry man, black or white, wailer or hailer, is the same: it is the picture of pain and despair.
Back to the majesty of American democracy! If you have been watching the US Presidential debate as I have been for several decades, you would have noticed the liberty of all Americans to freely quiz the candidates and watch them flail in a tortuous mental voyage in search of answers. Or you would have noticed the manner the candidates try to answer the questions even when they appear provocative. Some members of the audience would deliberately get provocative just to test the tolerance quotient of the candidates.
And just a couple of nights ago, it was again the turn of Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and Donald Trump (Republican) to face off in part two of their debate. All through the debate a combative and this time, it appears, a prepared Trump, was on duty. He took the fight to Clinton who as always had the upper hand. It was a better performance put up by Trump after the fiasco of the first debate. But something the panelists considered un-American and undemocratic happened in the course of the debate.
Trump told Clinton that she would be in jail if he wins for lying to Americans about using her personal email for state duties. The idea of one man (not a court of law) ‘convicting’, another was considered undemocratic. They questioned the democratic credential of Trump and likened his attitude to get Clinton jailed to the attitude of leaders in Afghanistan, Africa and other nations under despotic ‘democracy’. Never in American history, they recall, did a candidate threaten another with jail term. It was little wonder that as soon as Trump said to Clinton “because you will be in jail” when the latter told him how unfit he was to be in the White House, there was a loud sarcastic giggle from the audience.
The Trump outburst was considered un-American because Americans see themselves as the globally visible emblem of the finest ideals of democracy. In a democracy, institutions, not individuals, are the purveyors of the creed. In a democracy, the rights of individuals are respected including the right to fair hearing, dignity of the human life among others.
This is why the actions of men of the Department of State Services (DSS) recently stand condemnable and it should be so stated. In the course of chasing after some judges and justices of the Supreme Court suspected to have soiled their legal robes with bribes and bounties, the DSS took to the path of bovine primitivism by invading the homes of the suspects in unholy, surreal hours of night, hooded and armed to the teeth. And when their sufficiently terrified victims could not grant them easy access they broke down the doors like inebriated hoodlums, like unchained junkyard dogs. The cause was just but the process was flawed and barbaric.
The fight against corruption is a good fight and must be sustained; but you cannot fight corruption with corruption using corrupted and crooked processes and tools. And this is not because the victims of this state siege are judges (who cares?), but because in a democracy even the most notorious of suspects deserves fair hearing and a kindler, humane treatment. The wheel of justice grinds slowly not crudely, not harshly, not unfairly. But even in its slowness, it still shoves the guilty into jail, sometimes life jail, but that must be done by a court of competent jurisdiction. The judges or anybody, are not above the law but for the sake of the democracy that we profess to practise, they deserve some modicum of respect in the manner they are treated. If tomorrow, they are convicted in the court of law or by the National Judicial Council (NJC), they deserve the wages and consequences of their action.
I hold no brief for any thieving judge but I worry about the cruel violation of Administration of Justice Act, about the resort to procedural infraction in the course of investigation. If Nigeria is a democracy, then there must be manifest abhorrence for all shades of tyranny and Hitlerist tendencies.
We do not need to flaunt an AK-47 for the judges to see how serious we are with our anti-corruption crusade. We only just need to be civil, investigate them with civility, prosecute them in courts of law and still address them as ‘Your lordship’ even when we are escorting them to their new homes in prison only upon conviction by the court and not at the whims of a potentate vicariously pulling the strings from the safety and comfort of his rocky abode. Meantime, let’s have more anti-corruption soap opera.