Abuse of state power

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

If we are not a nation of laws, what are we? What is the point of legislation if ultimately it can only have teeth at the discretion of the executive? A presidential democracy would run amok all too easily if laws can be ignored with impunity, funds appropriated without legislation, and tenured officials fired on virtually a whim. Truth is, even as the legislature and judicature are separate arms of government, the extent to which they are powerful is effectively dependent on how much leeway the executive allows them. In the hands of a crafty politician or official, executive powers can thus be easily abused. When the legislature issues a warrant of arrest for an official who has ignored its summons, say, who carries out the warrant? And the judiciary? Without the police, prison service and other elements of the security establishment, how would it function? And since the president of the republic can only be one man, real power and influence essentially reside with his officials. In Nigeria, much of that power is vested in the secretary to the government. Fears that the government scribe was all too powerful informed earlier reforms to wrest control of the civil service from the scribe’s office, with the creation of a head of service portfolio for that function consequently. To ensure the state house would be able to exert more control over the apparatus of government similarly motivated former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to appoint a chief of staff, a tradition that has endured. Despite these additional layers, the government scribe effectively ranks third in the executive branch, just after the vice-president. The president’s chief of staff ranks fourth, with the head of service just after. As all government decisions can only be gazetted by its scribe, all the safeguards to ensure the government cannot be held hostage by the occupant of the office are convolutions that after much ado must still find their way back to his desk. Needless to say, the secretary to the government must not only be sound, he must be scrupulous. So when the government is curiously slow-turning or error-prone, look no further than the office of its secretary. And even as government apparatchiks may be many things unbecoming, past government scribes have been just extraordinarily deft.

Reinstate Chinelo Anohu-Amazu
In the penultimate week of April, the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, finally opened his eyes to numerous allegations against Babachir Lawal, the government scribe. Now suspended, Mr Lawal is being investigated by a panel headed by Yemi Osinbajo, the vice-president. Primarily, Mr Lawal is accused of having profited from funds meant for humanitarian aid in northeastern Nigeria, where a famine is imminent and numerous are displaced due to an ongoing war against insurgents. Should Mr Lawal come out of the probe unscathed, it would be most unprecedented; even in “anything goes” Nigeria. Still, as important as humanitarian efforts in the northeast are, they pale in comparison to more recent acts by the scribe under the cloak of officialdom, and perhaps with the misguided blessings of Mr Buhari. They border on rule of law; its letter and spirit. One in particular. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, erstwhile in charge of the country’s pensions regulatory body, was recently fired without due-process. The manner of her sack not only violates the pension law, but the appointment of her replacement. Firstly, Mrs Anohu-Amazu ought to have been informed in writing about her imminent sack. Secondly, as the pensions agency chief’s office is tenured, there are specific infractions that the incumbent must commit, as stated in the governing law, before a sack can be sufficiently motivated. Thirdly, if these thresholds are adequately exceeded, the replacement to complete the tenure of the departing official must hail from the same geopolitical zone. Fourthly, anyone who has an interest in a pension firm is not eligible for the position. There is no evidence in the public domain as yet to suggest that any of these procedures were followed. Besides, just a little more than two years into Mrs Anohu-Amazu’s tenure, pension assets have not only almost tripled with efforts afoot to bring the informal sector under the agency’s net imminent, staff welfare has never been so good, protesting staff assert. She was also hitherto one of the few women and southeasterners in the current administration. More painfully, Mr Buhari might be totally in the dark about this most unjust and unlawful act under his name. If Mrs Anohu-Amazu must be fired, due-process should be followed.

Overt spies
Also being probed is a cache of cash in hard currency found in an exclusive apartment block in a highbrow area of Lagos; which apparently houses some of Nigeria’s most influential politicians. It has since emerged that the National Intelligence Agency, statutorily in charge of espionage for the government abroad, may have been assigned the monies by the immediate past administration for a “covert” operation. There have been numerous allegations and rumours about who really had the cash hidden there. The version which seem plausible is that the central bank acted on instructions by the highest authority in the land at the time, to release certain sums for what should ordinarily be genuine government business. Some context is necessary at this point. Spies do require that cash be available for their work in a manner that ensures that their activities remain secret. And that is the thing: their activities must remain secret. So imagine the ridicule this latest episode has exposed the intelligence services to in the international espionage community. This is no trifling matter. All that James Bond stuff most of us think espionage entails is simply this: balderdash. In this day and age, a lot of their work relies on the most basic and essential characteristic of their profession: secrecy. When foreign agencies cannot be sure that even that basic competency is assured, then they are not likely to offer the type of international cooperation that every agency, particularly those of developing but troubled countries, require. It is also why Mr Buhari needs to get the security services in line. A situation where the anti-corruption czar and the chief domestic spy are so publicly at loggerheads, a state governor and speaker of the country’s lower house of parliament are daring each other over security budgets and necessarily secret government operations have become so overt – no matter how supposedly altruistic the motives may be – does not augur well for any country’s national security.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/abuse-state-power/

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