Absolute Silence Corrupts Absolutely – Ibrahim Suleiman

Aminu Tambuwal, David Mark and Goodluck Jonathan

Aminu Tambuwal, David Mark and Goodluck Jonathan

Power corrupts, it is said, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Tony Benn, the iconic British labor former parliamentarian and minister, proposes his own adage at the onset of the so called war on terror. Powerlessness, he says, corrupts. When your absolute power renders other people absolutely powerless through sustained plunder, abuse, dispossession, denial of justice and state terror you are setting the stage for a mighty confrontation, since absolute power which corrupts absolutely breeds absolute powerlessness which corrupts absolutely. Indeed powerlessness is in itself power, and in many cases, it is corrective. Legitimate power is upheld by a system of checks and balances, in which case prudence, discipline and constrain and justice obtain.

Legislature is the organ to check the exercise of power by all other components of the state, so that the entire system works in perfect order, and does not fail, does not collapse. It keeps vigil over the country with a flawless eagle eye. It talks, investigates, cajoles, moderates, restrains; it keeps all power, including its own, within the bounds of law and constitution — for the good of the people, for the health of the nation. This is the role of the National Assembly. As a reservoir of the nation’s knowledge, experience and wisdom, it enjoys the unique privilege to make a difference: to make that difference, to ensure that the nation remains viable and on course is the main reason for its existence. But when it is silent, corruption ensues, when its silence is absolute, corruption becomes absolute. So, may we propose our adage in respect to the National Assembly — silence corrupts, absolute silence corrupts absolutely.

It is common knowledge that at least one fifth of the oil revenues accruing to Nigeria in the last several years, is unaccounted for – and this amounts to at least one billion dollars a month. The Minister of Finance affirms that this continuous and escalating scam undermines the economy and renders impossible the attainment of national developmental goals. Some suggest this ongoing, unrestrained exponential plunder of national strategic resources could lead to the collapse of the economy and social order. Nigeria bleeds profusely, but for how long? Yet apart from occasional, rather lukewarm, wailing and lamentation from the National Assembly nothing of a concerted endeavour to tackle the problem is forthcoming. Similarly, it is common knowledge that piracy conducted by Nigerians mainly from the Niger Delta represents a clear and present danger to the countries of West Africa whose economies are being ravaged and decimated. Nigeria is the only country that has the capacity to stop the piracy, but it has so far refused to act decisively, so the menace could easily escalate into a global phenomenon. The National Assembly is silent, absolutely silent. Its silence over what is obviously an existential threat to the country is a significant failure of the polity, and its eventual undoing.

Politicians need only to look at what is happening around the globe. People are discovering a collective voice, a spontaneous platform for protests which the state cannot control, a substitute for political opposition. People can now bypass politics to force a change they deserve, to dictate the direction and destiny of their country, to wrest control from their tormentors. According to The Economist [29 June, 2013], this week alone has seen protests in scores of cities across three continents. ‘The protests,’ it observes, ‘have many different origins. In Brazil people rose up against bus fares, in Turkey against a building project. Indonesians have rejected higher fuel prices, Bulgarians the government’s cronyism. In the euro zone they march against austerity, and the Arab spring has become a parma-protest against pretty much everything. Each angry demonstration is angry in its own way.’

The mood almost everywhere is changing: people demand integrity and cleanness in governance; they reject the ever-yawning gap between their legitimate expectations and what government delivers; they reject the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of those at the helm. They reject the exclusion imposed on them by greedy and rapacious power elite. They demand to be treated with dignity, fairness and justice. They want to play a part in their destiny. Where, they ask loudly and clearly, are our wealth? The National Assembly should note the wide discrepancy between the needs of the people and what government delivers as well as the misery of the electorate and the opulence of the elected. Nigerians want electricity, jobs, decent livelihood, peace, security, infrastructure; they want just to get out of poverty, to have their common wealth protected and judiciously utilized, to have the good life, which is their right and which is the obligation of government to provide. The National Assembly offers them instead a single six year term for the president!

In the protection and preservation of the life of the Nigerian Citizen, the general impression is that the National Assembly appears helpless in the face of the Armed Forces, who frequently act with cruelty and impunity against the Citizen and can’t be called to order. Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general, the United States commander in Afghanistan and David M. Kennedy, an emeritus professor of history, have suggested in The New York Times [27/5/13] that an army not meticulously and vigilantly supervised by a democratic power poses a grave danger to a nation. Citizens, they emphasize, cannot be mere spectators in the way their armed forces conduct themselves. A wise and prudent people will always have a watchful and a jealous eye over their military power.

If indeed you can’t control the Armed Forces forget about democracy. Emboldened by the feebleness of the democratic institutions the army has been venturing outside of its mandate. Recently it claimed to have discovered a link between the Lebanese resistance movement, Hizbullah and Al Qaida — organizations, it says, that America and Israel have declared as terrorists, and that it would show all Nigerians the proof. The proof so far is not forthcoming, only an embarrassing silence. It is the political power, not the military that should decide the political status of organizations and states. We can, however, sense a gradual, surreptitious and dangerous subordination of our army to Israeli strategic national interests and a steady erosion of Nigeria’s political and military independence.

If America and Israel declare an organization terrorist, so what? America, Israel and Great Britain declared the African National Congress as a terrorist organization and Nelson Mandela, the global symbol of freedom, as a terrorist. ‘The ANC is a typical terrorist organization,’ Margret Thatcher, as British Prime Minister, said in 1987. ‘Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.’ Terry Dicks, a British Parliamentarian, went as far as to call Mandela a ‘Black Terrorist’ who should be shot. Nelson Mandela liberated his country from bondage, went on to be President of South Africa, won the Nobel Prize, yet he was in America’s terror list until 2008. Mandela’s illustrious life is summed up by Anthony Bevins and Michael Streeter of The Independent: ‘From terrorist to tea with the Queen’, in reference to Mandela’s triumphant visit to Britain where he was accorded the rare honor of addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, when ministers, MPs and peers gathered to pay homage to a world statesman.

‘In Palestine, in Algeria, Cyprus, Yemen, Kenya, Vietnam, Iraq – after the peaceful struggle for independence in India, too – it was the same old story. Enemies who were to be liquidated, expunged, tortured, imprisoned – men and women whose very existence enraged their colonial or imperial rulers – would turn up at London or Evian or Zurich, in Paris or Washington and soon in Doha, to chat amiably with their antagonists,’ Robert Fisk writes with specific reference to the ongoing peace talk between America and Taliban [The Independent [23/6/13]. ‘Men of violence would suddenly become delegates. And lo, the ‘terrorists’ of the IRA, the FLN, EOKA, the Mao Mao, the NLF of Yemen, the Viet Cong and the Dawa party – and now the Taliban – all transmogrified into responsible chaps who would one day drink tea with their former masters and sometimes – Makarios and Kenyatta come to mind – with the Queen as well. After shaming themselves with torture, after negating the very values they claimed to represent – and claiming a hollow military ‘victory’ into the bargain – the superpowers stalked miserably off the stage.’

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