Friday, April 23, 2010

This Culture of Impunity

If James Ibori, a man who served as governor for eight years, can decide to become a fugitive from the law, then all is not well. It could be for one of two reasons, and they are both not pleasant.

The first is that he understands that the law is powerless, and therefore can be broken with impunity: or he knows that when those in power seek to selectively enforce the law, they even break the law to do so.

Everyday we see manifestations of this culture of impunity at play in all aspects of life in Nigeria. It begins in the morning when you are going to work, and the usual traffic has built up, what do you see: a man in military uniform,or a political office holder with his security detail driving against oncoming traffic. We do not even bother to complain, instead we yearn to join them in their idiocy and madness.

You get to a place where you have to queue to be attended to, and again some fat cat office holder with a jobless policeman in tow, walks to the head of the line and demands to be served as if the rest of us do not matter, sometimes I believe they think we are some kind of office furniture. 

It is the same attitude their wives and children display when they are stopped by law enforcement agents, the first thing they would tell the hapless policeman is 'Don't you know me? They would then call someone on their mobile ,give the phone to the policeman, he would receive wonderful unprintable insults from the imperial personage at the other end, he would subsequently apologize to the people he had arrested for breaking the law, and promise to be of good behaviour next time.this scene is repeated countless times before the end of the day all over Nigeria.

The truth is that there are two laws: one for the rich and powerful, who are always in government, and one for those outside government. Ibori, probably, is suffering from some kind of power hangover, he has not come down from his exalted pedestal.

Barack Obama is the president of America, he knows he would be in trouble if he breaks the law. No one would shield him. How many times have we seen Senators and Governors resigning in America because of one indiscretion, the most famous example that comes to mind now is the Watergate Scandal.Can you imagine a Nigerian president resigning because PDP, his party, spied on ANPP, a rival political organization;this would  sound ludicrous to anyone in Nigeria. Everyday we see people in government getting away with murder,genocide and armagadon combined.

Meanwhile, in America people have resigned for things as' private' as having an affair. In Nigeria,on the other hand, the more affairs a politician has, the more he is hailed as a man of the people. People would even tell you they would volunteer their daughters too, for a share of the largess that is sure to come.

Until we get to a point in Nigeria when we are all equal before the law, we would always have cases like the Ibori fiasco. Government should not use the law to witch hunt people, the law should be applied because that is what makes a society civil. 

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