“Ngige, Dariye and the Presidency: The Morality of the Absurd” -Part II, Nigeria World, Monday, December 6, 2004

On Plateau State, yes, the President may be right in questioning the morality of Governor Dariye’s continued stay in office. However, while the President would prefer that Governor Dariye resign as a matter of honour or be impeached by the House of Assembly, that is not as simple as it seems. Law and morality are not always harmonious bedfellows.

When politicians and public careerists are saddled with scandals that raise moral question in regard to their continued stay in office, it often becomes a matter of individual judgment call to opt out of public service by voluntary resignation or to rely upon law and due process to run their full course with hope that the result would exonerate the accused. Either way, it is a personal moral judgment call for the individual involved. Such judgment is based on a number of factors, including but not limited to the individual’s confidence in his/her ability to effectively function in office while the scandal is being investigated, and the individual’s belief in his/her innocence and anticipated vindication of the law through due process.

Here some examples come to mind: Gary Condit, the California Congressman who had extramarital affair with a missing-and-later-found-dead intern, Chandra Levy, did not feel that his extramarital moral burden was such that he should quit office while Ms. Levy’s disappearance was being investigated. Condit believed in his innocence regarding the suspicion of his complicity over the disappearance of Ms. Levy. Innocent he was found to be, but that was not good enough to send him back to the Congress. At the appointed time, the people of the Democratic Party decided otherwise. Condit lost his long-held seat in the US Congress.

Bill Clinton was able (according to him) to function effectively as the President of the United States while investigations into the Monica Lewinsky scandal lasted, and he served a full term despite congressional impeachment. More recently, the former Governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey had to quit office only last month after “openly coming out as gay” earlier in August. He admitted to an extramarital affair with a male partner. Former Republican Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lot, sensed a loss confidence in his leadership arising from a reckless racist remark. He threw in the towel, paving the way for Dr. Bill Frist.

Back home, Governor James Ibori of Delta State did not run with the scandalizing allegation that he was an ex-convict. He believed in his innocence and the House of Assembly agreed with him. So far, the courts appear to believe him also. If he had run with the weighty pull of moral burden, real or imagined, how could he have redeemed his name and political career albeit that the last is yet to be heard on this matter? Cross River State’s Governor Donald Duke is taking the battle to his accusers and is set to redeem his name from allegations of certificate forgery; he does not need to step aside to do that.

In advanced democracies, political office holders are more likely to resign at the slightest suspicion of loss of confidence from the people. This is so in cultures where politicians are in politics for service; where they truly consider themselves real servants of the people. When politicians lose the confidence of the people to whose service they are dedicated, it is time to seek another calling. You do not serve people against their will. Here in Nigeria, the dynamics are different. Both the politicians and the people they represent have different considerations. Indeed, people from a troubled politicians’ ethnic or immediate local or base constituencies pressurize “their man” to remain in office despite outrageous scandal because it is “their turn” to occupy the office in issue.

Apart from the complicity of the people, in some cases, resignation is not always the first and best option, especially given the frivolity with which political opponents can manufacture and stage their attacks and campaigns of calumny in our polity. Fortunately or unfortunately morality has little or no official enforcement power. Where it is possible, in Nigeria, most scandal-riddled politicians prefer to stretch the course of the law and due process. That appears to be the part Dariye has elected. As irritating to the Presidency as that may be, it is a choice permissible under the law. This is more so for as long as the House of Assembly is still maintaining a seemingly studied approach to the unfolding drama.

Dariye is well within his right to hide under the law. That is why according to George Chapman and Charles Dickens the law is such an ass. Dariye can only run but not hide, and for a while that is. Yet, he is entitled to insist upon his innocence and due process. In a democracy, it is important that all actors recognize the supremacy of the constitution and due process. It must be humbling for the President to realize that even though he is the executive President, his powers are limited by the law. You do not get all you want. If the National Assembly has been living up to expectation, this is a lesson the President would have long learnt.

Ngige and Dariye, for different reasons, must be thankful that this is not full-blown military dictatorship. There is no doubt, again, for different reasons, that if the presidency has its way, they would have since left the Government House. With regard to Dariye, my unsolicited advice is that if he has nothing convincing to say in regard to the redemption of his name, he should maintain a low profile and pray that the House of Assembly and the people do not change their mind soon, or that the London Metropolitan Police does not pull the rug off the House of Assembly’s feet. A friend of mine has this electronic signature counsel that accompanies her e-mails which I recommend to Dariye. It reads: “It is better to be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth and erase all doubts”.

For the President, continued harping on Dariye gives the impression of his intolerance for due process and democratic norms. Such a disposition personalizes governance to a level of absurdity. The sooner the presidency comes to terms that the extant Dariye strategy is permissible under the law, morality not withstanding, the better for the polity. It is this attitude of personalizing governance that makes the public agencies and their heads to think that they do their job at the behest of the President’s instincts. Thus, it takes a presidential intervention for the security agencies to allow suspected enemies of the government to travel out of the country. Sometimes, the police have to wait for “orders from above” to tackle breakdown of law and order.

If the President is genuinely concerned with morality, he should use his sacred and God-given office to tackle the moral and legal crisis of resort to self-help by his party members and loyalists in the abduction, humiliation, attempted forceful removal of a governor and brazen destruction of public property in Anambra State. He should ponder the moral crisis posed by acts of arson, banditry and brigandage in a component state under his watch while “his” law enforcement authorities turned a blind eye. In ignoring the larger picture of the morality and legality of the peoples’ stolen mandate in Anambra State, the Federal Government under the watch of the President has immersed itself in deeper moral crisis.

What is the moral basis upon which the Nigerian state continues to treat with pomp those complicit in treasonable attempt at forceful change of government in Anambra State? What is the moral premise upon which the Federal Government characterizes criminal conducts as political or family affair? When has politics and family become the synonym of brigandage, anarchy and criminality? What is the moral plank upon which the Nigerian State continues to indulge, legitimize and ratify at the highest level of governance a “culture of impunity” in the polity? What is the moral basis upon which the President insists that the collective interests of good governance and Anambra people should be subjected to the interests of his “young man who worked hard to help the PDP win [rig] the last election in Anambra State”?

In pondering these issues the President would appreciate that his lumping both the Anambra and Plateau crisis as having a moral undertone is not as simple as he sees them. In fact, it is the Presidency that has a greater moral burden in particular regard to Anambra State. Surely, those who dwell in a moral glass house should not throw moral pebbles. It will be foolhardy to see the crisis in Anambra State as an exclusive Anambra affair. It is a crisis of our democracy which all well-meaning people should work hard to ensure that it is not allowed to snap our country and democracy (no matter how tainted) into the unknown.

If Ngige is murdered, (God forbid) no one can accurately predict the consequences of such event on our fragile democratic polity. It does not matter that those who ought to know better are almost certain that if that happens, everyone will wake up the next day for business as usual; leaving Ngige and the crisis behind as a “footnote”. It may well be so, it may well not be. I cannot bet on either. There is still time to avoid the unknown. Not to do so now reduces morality into an absurdity of sorts.



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