Still in Immunity Mode months into a change regime By Ropo Sekoni

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/Ogunye demonstrated in a jargon-free interpretation that the election of Senators Saraki and Ekweremadu as president and deputy president of Senate was based on forged rules and thus need to be declared null and void, if deliberations under existing leadership of the Senate are to have integrity.

Democracy is more than a political system; it is also a moral system. It is a political system which is characterized not by particular procedures, such as regular elections of government, but primarily by being based on certain fundamental moral principles. In a genuinely democratic society, the government’s policy must accord with those principles. And, furthermore, all social institutions must also be established and conducted within the same moral framework, which invariably includes equality, freedom, and respect for the rights of the individual.-A. V. Kelly

By immunity in this piece, I do not mean the formal protection against arrest and prosecution of president, vice president, governor and deputy governor which those who occupy these positions enjoy in our country and which makes leaders of the executive branch of government the most powerful and protected political office holders in the world. I mean the general lack of respect for laws, rules, and conventions among those accorded legal immunity by the constitution and those that are not covered by such protection. In other words, I am using immunity in the sense of an individual’s or group’s belief that he or she can do anything without being answerable to the principle of equality before the law.

It is intriguing that despite the fact that majority of Nigerians voted for General Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the belief that the new president and his party would be in a better position to right the wrongs of the past under the regime of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the culture of business as usual is still thriving two months into the Buhari presidency. For example, the recent lucid analysis by Jiti Ogunye of the conduct of lawmakers in the National Assembly, particularly in the Senate illustrates how the culture of immunity and disregard for laws, rules, and conventions reigned on June 9 in the hallowed chambers reserved for regulating the lives of the nation and its citizens through establishment of the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ that in normal situations sustain modern polity and civilisations. Ogunye demonstrated in a jargon-free interpretation that the election of Senators Saraki and Ekweremadu as president and deputy president of Senate was based on forged rules and thus need to be declared null and void, if deliberations under existing leadership of the Senate are to have integrity.

Even after the police have revealed in their own investigation that the rules cited by the Senate for its conduct on June 9 are products of forgery, senators in support of the outcome of the election still find it comfortable to warn the police and other security agencies against allowing themselves to be used to harass the Senate, senators, or their spouses. Put in other words, the senators are warning the police not to do their work: investigation and detection of crime and presentation of suspected criminals to the court of law for trial. Instead of showing qualms, senators involved in the election of officers in June now show bravado as they threaten law enforcement officials for attempting to perform their lawful duties. This attitude from 48 PDP senators and 35 APC senators signal disaster for change, if the other branches of government – the executive and judiciary – fail to act in defence and protection of the rule of law.

Stealing of the country’s patrimony, particularly crude oil in the millions still took place until July 3, according to President Buhari’s recent statement. This is an indication that the lawlessness that characterised the last government was still in vogue even after a new president had been sworn-in. The courage of politically connected oil thieves during the last administration to engage in illegal bunkering even months after their principals had vacated power shows how ingrained the culture of impunity has become. What this signals is that there are collaborators in all sectors of the polity, including the nation’s security system who are still ready to work with economic saboteurs even under the nose of an anti-corruption federal government.

Furthermore, using the media to deceive citizens through blatant lies that were a past-time of the administration in the last four or so years has not abated even two months into the new administration. For example, nobody in the country including those in power can say with certainty the exact location of the $15 million that was smuggled toward the end of Jonathan’s government to South Africa to ‘buy arms’ with which to fight the Boko Haram insurgency. As recent as last week, the South African High Commission was unable to confirm if the money had been returned to Nigeria. The South African envoy’s encouragement on July 23: “So, I advise you to check with the agency from where the money was released for the arms acquisition deal,” implies that the location of the money still remains unknown after several months of claim by the Jonathan administration that the funds had been returned to Nigeria.

As we write this piece, many citizens are rejoicing that the crisis in the House has been settled with Dogara’s acceptance of the list of APC nominees for offices other than that of the Speaker. People are forgetting fast the issue that the election of House Speaker and Deputy Speaker was conducted outside the framework of the laws that guide such elections in the House. Many of such enthusiasts are saying that we need peace in the House to be able to embark on the crusade of change. How realistic is the optimism that the crusade for positive change can be facilitated by House officers who finally agreed to a compromise after being given a deadline to ‘do the needful’?

It is not that actions and statements referred to in the paragraphs above had taken place in Nigeria that is a novelty in a country that had for decades become the poster child for political and bureaucratic corruption in the world. What is worrisome is that such unwholesome acts as conducting election in the federal legislature with forged rules; senators’ threatening of the police for planning to enforce the laws of the land; and solidarity messages from supporters of lawmakers purported to have used rules not known to the law smack of a growing tolerance for impunity under the nose of a regime of zero-tolerance for corruption.

It is not the capacity of President Buhari to fight corruption with sincerity and vigour that is likely to be a problem, given his own strength of character. What is scary is the capacity of a Senate led by leaders elected on the basis of forged rules to constitute a stumbling block to Buhari’s efforts to clean the Augean stables the president has inherited from the preceding administration. A Senate with 83 senators that passed a vote of confidence in someone elected about one month ago and with the temerity to warn the police not to ‘harass’ their members seems to have sufficient numbers to frustrate policies and bills designed by the president and his party to fight corruption. It is not out of place to think that the current senate leadership is in a position, if adequate care is not taken, to disrupt good governance by instigating crisis that can disrupt the change agenda.

The matter of election of senate leaders must not be left to compromise among party members, more so that police investigation has revealed that the election of such officers took place on the strength of forged Senate Rules. The executive and judiciary must not shirk in their own responsibilities on a matter that has been politically unsettling since June 9. This is the most appropriate time for the Buhari presidency to insist on equality before the law. If indeed there was forgery of Senate rules, those behind such forgery, regardless of their position in the polity and society, should be brought to book immediately.

Citizens who want their mandate on change to be put to good use need to stand firm and give support to the executive and the judiciary when they act to protect the country’s constitution, especially its commitment to the rule of law, without which democracy cannot deliver good governance. Citizens must not leave protection of the moral system that subtends all viable democratic systems in only the hands of office seeking lawmakers.