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FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT IN THE ABSENCE OF MORALITY AND THE RULE OF LAW


By: Chris Onyishi  
 Published  May 2nd, 2012

I had once imagined what the Person inside the famous Lagos based musician (Lagbaja) would look like – and how he would react – if for one occasion he was singing on the stage and one uncanny person just stood up and unmasked him.  I also once asked myself if there was any difference between “Freedom of Information” and “Freedom for Information”.

What has happened now is that the National assembly’s exposition from the oil industry probe is tantamount to one uncanny fellow unmasking the “Lagbajas” that make up the cabal which the President was once afraid of unmasking. What is left now is to see what the President and his cohorts as well as the operatives of the oil industry will do.  We have already seen what the shameless members of the cabal look like and we are getting a wind of what they want to do in the national assembly to make a mess of the probe.

The President, in his usual bravado, boasted that he will not spare anybody.  This is what Late Afro King legend – Fela Anikulapo Kuti – would refer to as “shakara”.  A President who could not ask the inordinate and irresponsible Heads of the agencies and government establishments involved in the subsidy scam to resign or vacate office – in order not to obstruct the probe – is boasting of not sparing anybody.  He had spared everybody, except the masses, when he could not effect a change of guard in these agencies at the right time.  And anybody who has followed the activities of President Jonathan knows that he barks more than he bites and that he is too simplistic to understand when to take action and when to gamble into logical decisions.

“I am sure he is not going to spare anybody found wanting and there are no moves...I am the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters. Any slightest move here, of course, I will be the channel. “. That was how the President’s Adviser on National Assembly Matters wants us to see her President’s determination not to toy with the National Assembly probe.  Most often the government people talk to us as if they are talking to fools and that is the most agonizing aspect of our rulers’ unruly behavior.  This President has in his domain not less than five Probe or special committee’ reports dating back to the eras of Presidents Obasanjo and Yar’Adua and he has not done anything with any one of them and here comes an adviser telling us what she wants us to hear as if we do not have common sense of our own.  The spirit of continuity of a state does not suggest that it is only what you initiated that you will conclude.  An administration worth its salt can dust up fine reports during past administrations and implement them.

What has happened to Justice Muhammadu Uwais-led committee on electoral reforms? What has happened to Oronsaye’s committee report on rationalization of overlapping public agencies?  What has happened to Oputa Panel Report and so many others before them?  It is on record that the whole mess in the subsidy scandal got to a crescendo within the first 10 months of President Jonathan’s occupation of the Aso Rock.  So what is the big deal about zero corruption in this administration as the honorable adviser would want us to believe.

The truth is that if a President fails to bring erring members of his cabinet to book or make them give way for exhaustive probe in a negligence case that is as clear as the air, then the inference could only point to the fact that the President himself is no longer worthy to command the respect of the citizenry and – by sheer prudence – should himself resign from office.  This is what obtains in civilized democracies.  But the worrisome thing is that when people get to power in Nigeria, they fail to understand what development means.   They see development just in the scope of sharing national wealth to their cronies.

When I proclaimed, in my earlier piece, that President Jonathan – and by extension his administration and PDP at large  – had not disappointed me, many may not have appreciated the content of that article. 

It was Albert Einstein who once proclaimed that “a perfection of means and a confusion of aims” seemed to be our main problem.  Going by the national assembly’s probe exposition on the magnitude of fraud going on in the oil industry and judging by the amount of money mentioned variously in their report as either stolen or misappropriated by those who were entrusted with regulating and fashioning out how best we run the oil industry, one would agree that Nigeria is indeed a nation of means, but at the same time a nation saddled by a bundle of uncreative and uncharitable rulers who are immersed in a confusion of aims.

In the beginning President Jonathan and his cohorts gave an impression that there was a cabal operating in the oil industry that is constantly manipulating the oil subsidy to their advantage. With his best economic team – spear headed by the trio of Dr. Okonjo Iweala, Malam Lamido Sanusi and Ms. Diezeani Madueke – he held that the only way out of the strangle hold of this body of “Lagbajas” on our economy – and by extension on us all – was to raise the petrol pump price from N65.00/liter to N141.00/liter in no utter deference to the hopelessness, feeling and rejection by the citizenry.

Ours seems to be a nation moving from ludicrous to idiocy with the twitch of every second.  A nation where every rational being had wondered why heads of government agencies involved in monumental official perfidy and who have brought so much pains to millions of Nigerians  – by their irresponsible actions and official misconduct  – are still sitting tight in an administration that pledges, by passage of every second, transformational agenda.

It is the summation of the aforementioned official recklessness, unpatriotic tendencies, selfishness and perfidy from our rulers that I begin to examine the efficacy of the freedom of Information act, recently, passed into law by our tough-talking-but-none-acting President.

With due respect to the initiators of the FOI bill and their foresightedness and the craftiness and doggedness of the Assembly men and women who eventually arm twisted their ancient colleagues in smuggle the Bill into Law, I am less enthusiastic about the efficacy of the law.  We have witnessed, times without number, how successive PDP controlled central government and state governments even down to Local Governments – from the days of Chief Obasanjo – have defied the rule of law and thrown caution and morality to the wind in the handling of governance of the country.

The first upset the users of the Freedom of Information law will continue to experience, for a very long time if nothing tangible is done, is that government agencies and the government itself –  in all the three tiers –  will put defiant resistance to providing information for purposes of scrutinizing their nefarious activities. 

The second upset is that, experience has shown that the morality level of our rulers is less than that of beasts in the wild and, even when journalists or investigators extricate information that reveals glaring moral bankruptcy and gross irresponsibility and ineptitude on government people, they would not have the morality to relinquish office on their own.

 The third confrontation to the application of the FOI law is that Nigerian rulers observe everything but the rule of law.  They will stampede an already commercialized judiciary into irresponsible judgments. And as we have seen severally, they will selectively obey judgments as they deem fit in very slim cases where a very negligible number of courageous legal luminaries defy them to hand down sound judgments.

After observing the above huge dimensions of the impediments to the FOI law, a clarion call is only very necessary here to Labor, Civil liberty organizations and other agents of and agencies for positive change to realize that nothing has really changed – in the mentality of our rulers and their morality and observance of the rule of law – except that there is now an added tool that could be deployed in the war against corruption and anarchist rule.  It will not amount to callousness to say that we have never had leaders of nationalist tendencies in this country since after independence.  And to that extent, a nationalistic followership has never evolved.  This is why a group will wake up in this twenty first century to defend a President who hails from their domain on a warped argument that he should be left alone because he did not start the rot.

It is pertinent to note that we have never deluded ourselves to think or say that we never knew that our rulers are mere senseless, uncreative and unpatriotic adventurers who have squandered our national resources with utter recklessness.  The Freedom of Information act, as beautiful as it may sound and look, requires concerted efforts, from all well meaning statesmen and women, to be brought to take hold in our peculiar environment where people at corridors of power see themselves as mini gods and obey the rule of law only when it will not hurt them but not when they are found guilty.

Nigerians at large should begin to be involved in determining their own future.  And with the FOI act, we are all equipped to, at least, ask questions without having to be hounded helplessly.  The judiciary should realize that there is no law without judiciary and there is no justice without laws that are well interpreted and applied.  And it is only justice that is accurately reported to the citizenry – by the Press (The Fourth Estate) – that breeds the confidence in the citizenry that will engender nationalism which, in turn, will bring about a nation we all will be proud of. Let us all massively deploy FOI Act for the good of our country.

Chris Onyishi (ctekchris@yahoo.com)

Abuja, Nigeria.


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