Time For Nigeria's Leader To Emerge
AT the most recent Obafemi Awolowo Foundation ‘Dialogue’, Professor W A Fawole stressed the necessity to distinguish between the Leader and the Ruler in politics. It was a very well thought-out distinction. Recent events have indicated the necessity to observe that distinction in Nigeria’s judiciary as well.
If you were baffled by the on-going clash of the titans in the judiciary, then I am in good company. Because the Faculty of Law in a university often takes away some of the best brains in the Humanities, I have always respected lawyers. And when they are appointed judges with power added, I have always feared them in addition. For a judge is, in my view, the most venerable ‘critic’ in our community: his estimate or assessment of issues referred to him, especially in a disagreement between two ‘parties’ is considered to be so balanced that, when at all challenged, it is challenged only before a higher judge; and when the challenge to that is determined at the peak of the judicial pyramid, the rest of us mortal men accept or forever hold our peace.
A village child, like I was, can compare the awe with which adults regard their Court Judge with that he has reserved for the egungun (‘masquerade’). But the judge beneath the wig, like the egungun behind the mask, is only human. In both cases, for the veneration to last, the play acting must be perfect; which involves looking and acting different from the rest of us. The day the egungun publicly doffs his mask is the day the local children come to know that the figure they had always adored is no other than the rascal living in the house next door.
How could our revered judges forget that? For, they unwittingly turned their position into public theatre. They did not hear the anguished voices of admirers who whispered: “my lord, your halo is slipping!’ How could they wait until everything but the wig slipped off? They bared all. And it was a pity they did not let the wig slip off, too. For their strip-tease could not tease or fascinate if they were not also stripped of that great symbol of age and wisdom! Seeing such “abomination of desolation standing where he ought not”, some Nigerians did, for once, fear that the end of Nigeria was truly approaching. If you were one of them, with respect, I drop out of your good company.
It is, of course, a shame that everything seems to be collapsing in Nigeria: governance, security, education, … and now, the judiciary. But, if I may make reference to the egungun again, his appeal is not that he never falls; but that when he slips and falls, before anyone knows, he is up again, bouncing and somersaulting and entertaining as ever, as if nothing went amiss. His manager quickly sees to that.
It is not too much to expect that the ‘manager’ of the Nigerian show will soon do all that is necessary to put the judiciary on the march again. Having done absolutely nothing so far, his over 100-day-old administration may start with that. Having been shocked by the unexpected public show, our concern now is not that they do not slip or fall, but that they rise quickly, learn from the experience and serve us better. The judiciary of the United Kingdom, which is so much respected here and throughout the world grew into what it has now become. There had been times it had in its ranks some of “the finest judges money can buy.” At one stage, though long ago, its chief judge was reported to have confessed at his trial to the effect that—and this is more of a paraphrase since I do not have the report with me: In any trial, I take (bribe) equally from both sides, so that my judgment cannot be tainted by any consideration of money. We are grateful that Nigeria’s clash of the (judiciary) titans is not along that line. Of course, that English judge received maximum penalty, undoubtedly the sort that deters others from copying the chief judge. Compare that with Nigeria’s culture of impunity, and begin to reckon what we need to do to attain Britain’s kind of change. It is expected that, by the time the present clash in Nigeria’s judiciary is over, appropriate punishment will have been dished out both to lift the spirit of justice and to deter others from such shameful misbehavior in future.
The end may be near. But it may also not be near. For me, even this most unseemly clash within our judiciary is not a portent of imminent collapse. But it should sound a warning that things are going worse. How much worse before a real tumbling down, who can tell?
But before anyone despairs, let him draw comfort from other human communities that once had periods of depression: moral, economic, and other. The United States is very highly respected in Nigeria. She stands so high in the world today, not because she never had problems but because, whenever they came, she threw up leaders who rose to the challenge and solved those problems: during the Great Depression, Roosevelt; when the problem of security became a great national challenge, J Edgar Hoover.
The transformation comes through a successful combination of factors: a programme of reform, a determined reformer-leader, and a commitment that runs through the reforming team. These are not strange to Nigeria; as there have been successful reform programmes in Nigeria a few times since Nigerians began to rule their country: all regional government programmes from 1953-1960, the Federal Military Government’s programme from 1976-1979, and from 1979-1983 the UPN programme of change in the South-western states as well as the PRP economic programme in Kano and Kaduna States. What Nigeria has never been lucky enough to have is the election at Federal level of a reformist party or a reforming leader.
Even so, President Goodluck Jonathan can still seize the initiative from his party and do what his predecessor did not do: set Nigeria on the path of change as the nation marks 51 years post-independence. Obafemi Awolowo did underline the distinction between the elected head of government as Ruler and as Leader. The Leader and the Ruler are two very different kinds of actor in the politics of any human community. Before the elections, Jonathan did not have the kind of party which could fashion out a programme and have champions or prospective midwives of the programme the way Awolowo had them in the 1950’s and in 1978. He could therefore be forgiven for his extremely late start—if there will indeed be a start one day. From his sometimes encouraging pronouncements, he seems to see hopes and possibilities for Nigeria. Let him now assume the boldness and courage of a one-term President, choose two or three areas in which he intends to lead Nigeria out of its rottenness, and pick courageous men and women who will boldly reverse Nigeria’s ill-starred path into the doldrums. Let his daredevilry begin with the Judiciary, Security and the Police. That should give him firm ground to stand on in the inevitable battle with corruption. If he tackles those effectively in the next three years, he shall have established a sure and lasting foundation for Nigeria as a future power. Will Jonathan be a ruler or Nigeria’s true leader? Time—and Nigeria’s problems—will tell.
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