The year 2014 is turning out to be a disastrous one in Nigeria’s history. You can take it from Boko Haram’s insatiable murderous quest that has extinguished hundreds of lives, among them those of 59 school children in Buni Yadi in February, and their curious attack of Giwa barracks in March. Also in the same month, about 20 youths lost their lives in a shamefully conducted aptitude test by the Nigerian Immigration Service. Tracking back to January, there was the unnecessary and ill-thought-out antigay law signed by Goodluck Jonathan to pander to the Nigerian populace ahead of elections next year while thinking nothing of the many lives he has put at risk.
Seemingly the most innocuous of these noxious events so far is the sacking of the CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, three months before the expiration of his term. It would seem preposterous to equate Sanusi’s case with those in which lives were lost or put at risk, but his dismissal also has implications for the health and survival of our nation especially as it relates to the vital roles institutions play in making or breaking nations.
Sanusi, though, was not going to quietly absorb his blows and lie low. Like a canary that would not stop singing, he published his defense to the President’s suspension letter on March 16. In the letter, he responded to the allegations of financial recklessness made by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria. Since then, he has won a court case restraining the police from arresting or harassing him. The court also awarded him N50m compensation for government harassment against him. While both parties’ resort to the judiciary is commendable, the whole episode became a melodrama of sorts, causing us to miss the bigger picture.
Regrettably, a number of our public responses have been to coalesce around personalities. Even those who should know better, like respected lawyer Mike Ozekhome (SAN), condoned the suspension, describing it as “constitutional” and within the ambit of the President’s powers. This is incorrect. There is no such provision in the law to “suspend” and there certainly is no provision to “remove” without the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. Of course, he failed to point us to the part of the CBN Act that made it lawful or constitutional. On the other hand, an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr Aja Nwani Aja, countered that the sack had been done in “bad faith.” Aja acknowledged that Section 11 of the Interpretation Act provides that a president that appoints can also sack, but only to the extent that there is no specific act or law governing the position in question. In the case of Sanusi as the CBN Governor however, there is of course the specific CBN Act, and that renders the Interpretation Act null and void. This, for me, is a more honest rendering of the law.
The same day Sanusi released his missive to media houses, the coordinating minister of the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was being interviewed on CNN. She sidestepped questions about Sanusi’s dismissal and instead proffered a solution to the problem of entrenched corruption and under-development in Nigeria. “It requires that we build institutions,” she said. “It is unglamorous. It is work that takes time, but we have to do it.” If she were being more forthcoming, she would have admitted that “suspending” Sanusi does not help the cause of building institutions. It impairs it for two reasons: it vitiates the needed independence of democratic institutions, and it is unconstitutional.
That said, Okonjo-Iweala was right. Our history as a nation may not be long enough, but a recurring failure has been our inability to build strong and independent institutions. We have been far more obsessed with personalities, the region they come from and even the religion they practice, to the point that these people become an extension of our sentiments. When they leave the stage, reluctantly or otherwise, we take it personally. We saw that in the case of late President Umar Yar’Adua and the long delay before the then Vice President was sworn in as president. With Nigerians, it is not a case of soldier go, soldier come but barracks remain. When a soldier goes in Nigeria, he attempts to take the entire barrack with him. The effectiveness of our institutions has largely come to depend on the personalities leading them and not on established procedures that should guide their functionality. That is why little has been heard of NAFDAC and EFCC after the heady days of Dora Akunyuli and Nuhu Ribadu respectively. The resetting process that accompanies each glorious ‘era’ of an outstanding officer no doubt sets us back and affects our fortunes. Little wonder confidence in our public institutions has gradually eroded.
It is therefore unsurprising that we are currently ranked 93rd of 99 countries examined under The World Justice Project “rule of law index” in 2014. The problem is not that our institutions do not have sound operational procedures enshrined in law, but their implementation is mostly left to the discretion of the head of the institution. The law doesn’t bind them, they bind the law. It explains why the accountability meter in Nigeria reads low. Not even the Minister of Interior whose incompetence and cluelessness caused so many deaths during an aptitude test that was paid for has been held to account. Expectedly, this kind of atmosphere corrodes nation-building effort and enables corruption to thrive instead. And here again we got a ranking of 97 out of 99 countries on the “absence of corruption” index. In the ranking of “order and security” within nations, we are one place from last position! Even Afghanistan floored us here!
A careful consideration of our present political and economic reality leads to the conclusion that what we have in Nigeria presently is not a democracy. We can call it a kleptocracy, that is ‘rulership’ by a band of thieves whose overriding aim is to loot our commonwealth, the rest of the populace be damned! How much longer can we sustain the semblance of nationhood under these conditions? Your guess is as good as mine.
What is painful is that those in government don’t seem to understand that our present economic circumstance, coupled with their disregard for the rule of law leads to a loss of legitimacy, a weakened democracy, and overall, a recipe for state failure. In lamenting the declining fortunes of democracies in the past decade and half, The Economist opined that democracy often fails because of the absence of “rights and institutions that are equally important aspects of a functioning democracy”. In their seminal book titled “Why Nations Fail”, authors Daren Acemoglu and James Robinson were even more forceful. They argued that “countries differ in their economic success because of their different institutions, the rules influencing how the economy works, and the incentives that motivate people”. What is needed for economic growth, the authors said, is “an unbiased system of law and a provision of public services that provides a level playing field in which people can exchange and contract.” The role of institutions in providing these functions cannot be overstated. It is mere wishful thinking to imagine a world in which our people are prosperous, our democracy is thriving, and our country achieves its great potentials when our institutions are crippled!
For any country, institutions are critical to nation-building project. They must be independent to the extent required by law. The public officers manning them at any point in time must follow established rules governing how they are run. They must each understand their roles and act in sync like a well-trained military unit. All of them – the judiciary; institutions for fostering public integrity like the EFCC and the Code of Conduct Bureau; institutions for economic governance like the CBN and the Stock Exchange; institutions for public service delivery like the ministries and the civil service; political and security institutions – must be accountable to the public and provide the needed checks and balances to keep one another in line. They must be consistent, transparent, fair to all, and provide a level playing field for all citizens.
This is one important lesson we must not fail to take away from the Sanusi debacle seeing how his saga has become another episode in the countless Nigerian dramas. Considering how quiet things have become in the past few weeks, I am afraid this might just be the conclusion of another seasonal film. We will hibernate until another major drama explodes.
In justifying Sanusi’s “suspension,” the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, said it was “not an act of witch-hunting, neither is it a deviation from the anti-corruption drive of the Jonathan administration.” It is laughable to even suggest there is an anti-corruption drive in Jonathan’s administration. On his part, Sanusi’s reaction to his sack was to express his concern for the system. He feared for it, he said.
We all should too. We are probably five decades too late anyway.
Mr. Ojinnaka is studying and researching for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin
You can interact with him via twitter: @marcelojinnaka