There are things I have discovered in this nation, some of which I think are necessary to share with other Nigerians. The first is that I have observed that truly all citizens want our nation to develop. We are all concerned about what under-development is doing to us; compounded by misrule. So, in our bedrooms, churches, buses, planes, offices and beer parlours, development is the issue. Unfortunately, there is no agreement on what should be the pathway to sustainable development we desire. Whatever a leader does comes under sectional scrutiny. The consequence is that we keep going round in circles.
The above is the first scenario. There is the second, which from my calculation is more frightening. From what I can see, high level of suffering, deprivation, hunger, and dislocation arising from ineffective leadership has made the citizens to criminalize political participation at the highest levels. Once any individual is elected or appointed into public office he automatically becomes a “thief”. Even if the man in question did not touch a kobo, any reference to him in the negative is quickly acknowledged and accepted as nothing but the truth. Everyone capable of comprehending events in this nation knows this is the situation and none appears concerned about it. The political class, who are victims of what a relation rightly called “Alaba” market syndrome, knows this and the danger it portends, but by their acts they seem not to mind. They, too, as if condemned by the gods to wallow in shame and possibly die miserably, now use this siege mentality (atmosphere of anything goes) for political gains and advantages. At the slightest of challenges, they rake up baseless allegations and rumours. Nobody cares in all these “madness” to check statistics and how many former political office holders can hold body and soul together six months or year after they exited public office.
Yet, this mob mentality is growing everyday, that just at the mention of stealing, all you hear in response is kill him, banish him, eliminate him! I was contemplating doing a full world on corruption and lack of vision; which one is most dangerous, when the furore over state pardon granted by President Goodluck Jonathan to some citizens took the centre stage. And trust us to resurrect our old ways; like in the past everybody is shouting kill them, banish them, Nigeria is dead and buried; regrettably only very negligible number has spared time to look at the issue holistically and from nationalistic perspective. The worst is that in the 21st century, a leading black nation that should be in the forefront of independence and black contribution to world civilization has opened its hands in surrender, calling on other nations to come in and decode her internal disagreements and contradictions. In 2013 we talk of International Community driving us on how to manage ourselves and our peculiarities. I am even appalled that “agents” of change are still making it look as if once we solve the problem of corruption by mob means the nation would find itself on the path of well-reasoned development. What a simplistic way to think! I don’t know how true this standpoint is, given that some time ago we were told and pushed just like now to believe that misuse of power and abuse of human rights were the issues.
I was in this country and practicing as a journalist when all these were happening. Like now, some Nigerians made name and fortunes from crusading on human rights; that era has come and gone and I am not very sure if we did make any progress in terms of real development. Developing a nation is more than demonizing a small section of the population. I am of the view that this nation must sit down to rationally estimate what the issues are and chart her path to rewarding development. That is my belief, which I strongly think has the backing of history. History of developed nations confirms that nations don’t develop by going forth and back over policy positions. Those that develop define the destination and choose the path and stick to it.
Now, to the issue of pardon; for me, the development raises some fundamental questions and issues. The first is whether we are ready to subject ourselves to the rules and regulations we outline for ourselves. My answer is, if democracy must succeed, the rule of law in all its ramifications must be taken seriously. It must form part of the political culture, in addition to patience. Democracy is about being systematic in approach to things; inclusive in this is that many groups and sections desire different things. So, patience and understanding is required. The second point is that state pardon, from what I can see, is a legal matter, in fact, a constitutional one. To that extent, the prescriptions on what should be done are very clear. I am intrigued to see many of those complaining agreeing that the law empowers the President to grant state pardon to any category of offenders he deems suitable for such gesture.
I watched Presidential aides labour to explain that the president took the action on the strength of approval from the Council of States stipulated in the constitution. From the dictates of democracy, this can be said to be excellent, even though it does not remove the fact that issues of pardon when strictly applied are within the Exclusive Powers conferred on a President under the executive Presidency; the kind we operate. So, the buck stops on the President’s table. Was the pardon right? In my view, it is right! What I think many have quarreled about is the morality and timing as it relates to one or two of those pardoned whose offences touch on corruption. The fear being that it can cast a blur on the fight against corruption. Strong positions they are, and in fact contain some sense. Yet, equally true is the fact that those alluded to have also passed through the tedious and humiliating paths of accusation, investigation, trial and conviction. Some have served sentences. So, for me, the issue of affecting the fight against corruption is diminished by the fact that no sane person would deliberately desire to pass through this path only to wait for pardon in the statute book. What is more, I do not subscribe to the view that punishments should mean destruction; my lot is cast on the side of punishment being for transformation and restoration.
I want to believe that those who inserted the provision of pardon knew that some valuable personalities could become victims of misconducts and that a way could still be provided to give them the benefit of hindsight, so that heir talents can still be available to the larger society. All of us may be equal, but the reality is that some for reasons of accomplishments and strength of character can be more equal. This is a recognized phenomenon all over the world. Tony Nyiam at a point was a fugitive for whatever reasons, but today I am one of those very pleased with his quality contributions to the task of national development. This would not have been if he did not receive a pardon. I know what the late General Emeka Ojukwu meant to the wellbeing of the Igbo and to the upliftment of this nation since his return from exile. The greater good we saw from him was possible because the government of Shehu Shagari saw good reason to grant state pardon to a genius. The two instances of pardon mentioned above did not in any way mean encouragement of treason. Commit treason today and you will go to jail. The same way I don’t think Jonathan, by this gesture, is saying go and steal or go and destabilize a government. It has been taken to this level and given wrong interpretations because of the kind of politics we play here; politics that has little or no room for all sides to an issue.
Otherwise this action could have been viewed differently and the aspects of reconciliation and restoration played up. And that is what I see. In a true federal state, one of the beneficiaries would have been battling with the mood of the people of his state, not the Federal Government. His crime, no matter how grievous, was against his state. And if the politics of this nation is what I know, I don’t think the people in that state would want their son destroyed or incapacitated permanently. The same way I don’t think the spirit of any good law is to permanently destroy and make useless her citizens. The disagreement, from my deductions, has been more of morality. Unfortunately, as important as it is, morality can sometimes be a very subjective matter. Whatever is the case, what this nation needs most is love. When we love ourselves and nation, it will be difficult to think of doing it harm; let us take up the challenge of re-inventing ourselves by strengthening the institutions and letting the real sustainable change come by way of instilling processes that would allow only sane and equipped individuals, call them the best among us, to climb to power and authority. That is the way to go. Let us see President Jonathan’s action from the standpoint of restoration and reconciliation. Experience tells me that a great joy has been unleashed to the benefiting families, and who knows they may become real arrows in the development of our great nation.