The Myth of Rule of Law in Nigeria
By Mohammed Ibraheem Zakzaky
Once upon a time before the harshest realities of the human condition dawned upon me, when it was open season for my mind and body, when possibilities were endless, when the limits of the horizon where no more than undiscovered territory, I was naïve enough to take inspiration from wherever it came. I innocently found myself attuned to the simplest of things, as a child I took it all in. in short my mind was as virgin to life as virginity itself. This was before I ever saw a Richard Branson commercial. I see now that back then by the grace of God, and the incalculably implausible and undeserved bounty of God, I was lucky to have a mother who could make a four year old child capable of reading and writing in three languages with enough proficiency to demonstrate in view of many spectators. My mother did not do this alone. To me it seems that whenever I try to look back to those days I remember a detail less than I wish I could. Pictures of those times are now burnt out of most memories, withered by time, and beyond any visible reason for being worthy of reference, yet they are of incalculable value to me.
In what seems to be an excruciatingly cruel turn of events, I can honestly say that I have been given much and much has been taken from me. It would sound good to me if I could possibly tell myself and you that I had gained much from the many gifts that I got in life, unfortunately the truth is very complicated. The truth is that I was full beyond capacity with information, information that I think I was too young to comprehend, let alone use. I needed help to make sense of things. And I was lucky to get help. Through no effort of my own, and thanks to all that exists outside of myself, I did get the help and guidance that I needed. No amount of words and expressions can ever come close to even an expression of the debt I owe the many people who formed the village that raised me. To be frank the very thought of it scared and continues to scare me to shreds. I would much rather just skulk into the safety of darkness and confinement if I could.
Being born and raised in Nigeria, I am no stranger to the idea of all rules and laws being bendable, to the whim of anyone bold enough to try to bend it. For example my first car was a 1983 model Honda civic, which I drove back in 2005, during which time I rarely seemed to ever miss a ‘random’ check by the Road safety, Police, Army, NDLA and even the local vigilantes. Although I always made sure to have all the necessary papers to be free of molestation, I was forced to learn that it was also of equal if not more importance to have some “change” in the car. In fact having loose change to pay bribes was necessary if I wanted to extricate myself, and maintain any part of the “I am a punctual person” persona. All Nigerians know what I am talking about, it is an undeniable reality in which we collectively all live. You will eventually be unable to adhere to being a principled citizen, even though you have spent some twelve years of your life singing the national anthem and reciting the pledge at least every morning of five days of the week, you will be forced to resort to the antics of shades of grey.
“Do you know who I am?!” It seems that if you can learn to say these words in the right tone in the right situation, you can do anything in Nigeria. It seems to be an easy and yet difficult skill to learn, but it can be indispensable on a day to day basis, only I have never seem to have been able to learn the “do you know who I am” process. Of course I am not above often keeping company with those who have perfected the “do you know who I am” procedure. It’s easier than showing a man with a gun your driver’s license, your custom duty, vehicle registration, fire extinguisher, triangle, DRTS, CRW, POC, A & G, only for the man to make it clear that he will waste your time, if you will not give him something. Once upon a time I would actually try to go along with the charade of it. Only to be unofficially talked out of it, of course someone would have given something to someone by then. As soon as you submit to being arrested and charged, the officer will always show you a ‘better way’ for the sake of time conservation. It is a simple reality, that simple folk like me and you have been forced to live with.
Corruption and abuse of power is not an exclusively Nigerian problem, it exists everywhere and in every country, by varying degrees of magnitude. Those entrusted with power for the simple purpose of protecting the masses from incomprehensible and intractable forms of evil intent can and will end up becoming a force of oppression over us the masses. They will at one point or another, abuse and exceed that power to the point that their victims may feel direct oppression. The sticks, machetes, AK 47s, APCs, and grenades at their disposal become tools of their “HURRAH!,” as a celebration of their newly discovered right to do as they please, to whomever they please. Most of the time a fraction of a thousand Naira note is more than enough to save you the trouble, if you know how to offer it, which is all good and fine.
The problem is when this extortionist form of corruption grows to the point where life and property become fair game. When those we entrusted with power in search of security, end up abusing that power. I did support the APC ‘change’ agenda, I cast aside my personal grievances and supported Buhari and Nasiru El-Rufai, when Buhari won the election I considered it a victory for Nigeria, a victory that could form the basis of national pride in having a tested and true democracy.
El Rufai’s Victory in Kaduna state was especially a triumphant moment for me. To me they had belled the cat. I do not regret wanting ‘change,’ I still have no reason to regret it. But if I knew that El Rufai could confidently not only turn a blind eye to the murder mutilation and dumping hundreds a mass grave and follow that up with the demolition, looting and desecration of my grandmother’s grave, I would never have supported the man’s bid to power.
Nor would I have rendered support to the President, who is clearly unbothered by the occurrence of this outrage under his watch. Ever since the events of December 2015 in which the Nigerian army massacred over a thousand unarmed men women and children, the federal government has been jumping between at one point denying involvement and shifting the blame around, then at another citing what they seem to insinuate as justified reasons. After an entire year under lock and key the federal high court finally decided in our favour giving the respondents’ ample time to either comply or appeal. During that time we made many attempts to contact the Director General of the DSS, the Attorney general of the federation, Inspector general of police, only to have the doors shut in our faces. The simple truth is that court order has been contemptibly ignored by the relevant authorities.
Most disturbing of all is the spreading of false information and hearsay by the newspaper Daily Trust. First they carried a story from an alleged spokesperson for the presidency who is either a traitor for giving confidential information to the press or a liar for not wanting to be named. The actual spokesperson of the president who did speak and is known as Shehu Garba, had earlier spoken publically in which case his words where the complete opposite of this mambo jambo public interest nonsense. To follow up this disinformation rhetoric the newspaper has further tarnished its image by further more shamelessly reporting false news, claiming that the Director General of the DSS, the Attorney general of the federation, have exercised the right to appeal the court order. Claiming that they do not believe that they should be made to pay the fifty million Naira awarded by the court and the house that is meant to replace the one destroyed by the army, due to the unlawful detention of my parents for over a full year, which is direct violation of their fundamental human rights. While remaining completely silent on the release order.
No such appeal has taken place, and I wonder how Daily Trust seems to feel that they can just report hearsay as news and get away with it. This type of rumour mongering seems to be the shameless norm for some these days, I’m sure you have all also heard an equally unsubstantiated claim that the president is dead. It appears that this form of pranking that is an insult to the intelligence of the average Nigerian has become the norm rather an exception. First of all if the respondents are unable or unwilling to pay what is a tiny sum compared to what the Nigerian army destroyed of my father’s property, they are fully capable of releasing my parents, for it will cost them nothing, and there are millions of homes that will fling their doors open all over the world to my father so that the provision of a house is of little to no consequence to us. At any rate when my parents do get released their first order of business is to seek proper medical attention, not accommodation or money. It is also important to note that the federal high court case has absolutely nothing to do with compensation for the crimes of the Nigerian army whatsoever, as that is an entirely different case all together.
The simple truth is that although Nigeria does have a constitution, and is theoretically a democracy, those with power are above this covenant of the state and may do as they please with whomsoever they can. From the lowest ranking Civil Defence officer to the president himself, none is really held accountable for their actions provided they know how to stick to oppressing the defenceless. The president himself once upon a time fell into the same situation, you would imagine that someone who has experienced such things to at least refrain from doing the same to others, but alas this is not the case. I wonder how this government intends to lecture us about rule of law, when it has among other things decided to simply ignore the law on a mare whim. The only relevant laws in this country at the moment appear to be those of the jungle.