I beg your pardon
By Tunji Lardner
This time, not even the fig leaf of hiding behind the National Council of State could morally justify and mollify public opinion about the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to especially pardon his self described ‘boss and mentor’ the former governor of Bayelsa state Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. While embedding this egregious pardon in the cynical calculus of Nigeria’s ethic representational politics; a spineless ex-general here, a thieving bank manager there, one or two dead politicians sprinkled in for good measure to tote up the numbers for the arithmetic of national character, and as it turns out, even in this act of magnanimity he got his sums wrong. Three of those pardoned had already been pardoned before by another head of state. It is therefore crystal clear that the intentionality of President Jonathan was to free and rehabilitate Alamieyeseigha; possibly in preparation for his run in 2015.
It is also clear that he was, as is increasingly the case, playing to his South-South constituency gallery, while willing to sacrifice the larger Nigerian sensibilities and concerns about our international standing regarding the almost mythical fight against corruption. No surprise here really, like most Nigerian politicians, his parochial nativist instincts trumps National interests every time, and besides, he after all has publicly told us that he does ‘not give a damn’ about what we really think of him and his governance. So as his voluble and gratingly meretricious spokesman Doyin Okupe said directly quoting the president ‘that this is an action that has been taken by the National Council of States and I have no apology for that.’
But what is to be said about our National Council of State, our own secular conclave of elders, the Nation’s pre-eminent congregation of leaders comprising the President, the Vice President, all former Presidents, all former Chief Justices of the Federation, the leadership of the National Assembly and all state governors. Indeed our national constitution stipulates that the Council of State is established under Section 153 of the Constitution. In the Third Schedule, it is stated that: “The Council shall have power to (a) advice the President in the exercise of his powers with respect to the – (ii) prerogative of mercy.”
In the best of times this august body represents the collective embodiment of our values, ethics and morality as a nation-the gathering of the wisest men in all of Nigeria- what advice did they give Mr. President on this issue? Granted that this enquiry is now moot and the question rhetorical; it none the less raises some very vexing issues about the moral bankruptcy of our present political elite.
In unanimously granting a cross-dressing felon like Diepreye Alamieyeseigha a presidential pardon, the council of state was taking care of one of their own, in him they respectively recognized a fellow wayfarer on that tortuous road to the destruction of Nigeria, and so their collective act of esprit d corps in the warped logic of national politics to date is perfectly understandable. There is after all honor amongst thieves, and in this instance, thieves of all political stripes.
However, what about the rest of us? How does this explain the sociology of our corruption and our own collective reluctance to criminalize and punish corrupt practices by establishing a rules based, legal, rational, fair and equitable justice system that ensures that if your do the crime, you will do the time. What does it say about great amoral wall we have collectively built (and maintained) between our private ethics and our public morality? What does it say about our willful ignorance and denial about tremendous opportunity cost of the grand theft ($400billion by some estimates) by our leaders since 1960?
What does it say that increasingly we are degenerating into a country where the usual societal disapprobation of shame and or guilt can no longer modify behavior? What does it say about our collective complicity in allowing this audacious act of state impunity to happen, with absolutely no fear of retribution? Above all else, what does it say that we as a nation have lost that collective sense of treason- treason for the avoidance of doubt, defined as ‘a violation of allegiance to one’s state or the betrayal of trust or confidence’ by engaging in acts injurious to the collective well being of the state to which one bears allegiance. By this definition it seems we are all guilty in varying degrees of co-creating this treacherous state of affairs.
With all the organs of state fully represented in executing this pardon, we can formally and without equivocation state that Nigeria as a country represented by its ‘democratically’ elected leaders has lost its moral bearings and the ship of state is unmoored and drifting in its own self created sea of anomie. We are all in a leaking ship, in dire straits, piloted by a Captain lost in the fog of his own confusion and heading for the rocks. Contrary to what the apologists might say, it is not the hard technical numbers about GDP growth and other economic indices that guarantee that nations thrive and continue to evolve; it is their collective sense of identity as a nation, their binding set of values, their body of laws and their collective moral codes and their clear consensus about what is good and what is bad, and their collective will to insist that their represented leaders always seek to do the public good, and punish them if they do the bad.
Not so in this case, to fully understand our relationship with our ruling elite, we sadly must again turn to the president’s mouth piece and alter ego, Doyin Okupe, who rationalized the issue thusly, “It is like a parent, it is not every decision a parent takes that is palatable or acceptable to the children. But in due course, we always find out the parents were right,” His condescending characterization of Nigerians as children bound to obey the decision of their parent, in this instance, Mr. President and the council, while galling, actually speaks to a larger truth.
Nigerians over the last five decades and especially since 1999 have allowed themselves to be infantilized by the political elite. In truth, we all are members of a large fractious and thoroughly dysfunctional family headed by immature, venal, abusive, violent, and untrustworthy parents who prefer the ‘do as I say, and not as I do’ style of parenting. A trait compounded by years of military misrule and our own lax moral values. We can pardon our leaders and not seek to hold them accountable, because we (the children) ourselves are always exonerating our respective bad behavior and do not want to be held accountable for anything. In this Nigerian family, any and everything goes, you are encouraged to behave badly, because everyone is doing the same and can statistically be assured with getting away with it.
In the same way it can be argued that a nation gets the leaders it deserves, we can also make the case that the children of this grotesque family definitely have the parents they deserve. Our parents are right to expect that again in this instance, we will throw our typical juvenile tantrums, cry out in disgust, stomp our feet in muted rage, even fling a few toys, but in the end we will return to our humdrum sedated selves busying ourselves with the ever grinding business of life in Nigeria.
But I do beg your pardon sir… I find the decision unacceptable and unpalatable as well as wrong in its entirety.
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