To catch a thief…By Sam Omatseye
The law embraces the apparent thief. The thief catcher, however, has to answer to the law. That is a paradox with a Nigerian DNA.
So we saw Sambo Dasuki, bright-eyed but subdued, in his dark-hued danshiki walk voicelessly out of the court, flanked by lawyers and associates. We wonder what roils inside his billion-dollar soul. He has said little. He has neither denied the flurry of statements from so-called miscreants who famously crackled out of his office with choice dollars. Neither has he defended himself.
Like a ram on sacrifice day, his face only reflects a muted melancholy. In dazed stupor, the ram keeps mum before the ominous eyes of butchers, the ferocious glitter of knives, the bowl awaiting its entrails and offal, the platform on which its neck will squish under the descending blade, the innocent giggle of children drooling for a happy meal.
Of course, a small dug hole that indicates that burial is not an option except for the waste and blood that will rush out of the buxom flesh when the sullen ceremony of cutting and slashing is over.
All of the butchery represents the people, who have already made judgments on Dasuki. But that is the majority opinion, but not the majority opinion of the law. Two majorities? By law, majority opinion is the opinion of a few people on the bench. It reflects the superciliousness of lawyers and judges that they equate their narrow standpoint with the viewpoint of all of us.
President Muhammadu Buhari must be privately moaning this. He believes the guys stole. They broke the law. They farted on our holy of holies. They danced on the grave of our fighting men. They adorned themselves for that. Everybody knows it is wrong. So, why are they surprised when they are not allowed on the streets, but away in outer darkness, the key thrown away somewhere in the marshes of Bayelsa?
With his septuagenarian laugh and martial eyeballs, Buhari is still not a temperament for 2016. He is a romantic of the 1980’s. In the presidential chat, the ramrod man of still winsome mien sparked fire in the eye when he reminded the questioners that somebody took N40 billion from the Central Bank, that the IDPs are groaning, that a man call El Zakzaky with his rambunctious men defied the army, and a good government is not supposed to sit idle and watch impunity like a Nollywood show.
A deep chasm lay between the questioners and the former general. For him, it was a case of good versus evil. That made him into a sort of messianic force. The others thought good began with law and you could not be right with mere appeal to might like Greek philosopher Meno. If they invoked law, Buhari echoed law and order.
Yet those who want law believe also that the good ought to be punished. The irony is that the law, as Thoreau famously said, never made anyone a whit more just. So, there. Kanu, by common consent, railed against the law. The Shiites have no right to deny anyone the right to move. Those who stole our money must account.
But this is a democracy, and one of the lies of democracy is that majority always wins. This is one of those test cases of majority in a coma. Buhari’s war on corruption is a noble cause. But by defying the courts, it is a case of impunity chasing impunity. Two wrongs, where is the right?
The real problem is that the war against corruption is not a movement. For now, it is still Buhari’s war. He is cheered, but from afar. It is a war of one for all, but the one is lonely. In a democracy, a sense of consensus can help drive the battle. It happens in what political scientists and sociologists call corporatism.
That implies that all institutions instinctively work as one to pursue a collective interest. Liberal thinkers suspect such ideas because they bear the seed of tyranny. John Stuart Mill in his famous book, On Liberty, calls it the “Tyranny of the majority,” but Marxists wear it as an epaulette of honour.
It has happened many times where a shared value or set of values is enshrined into the spirit of the law. But Buhari lacks the charisma, the strategy and even energy of moral suasion to spark such firelight of fervour across the land. If he had it, he would not have to disobey the judges.
The bench would understand that thieves and miscreants have no place on the streets and they will find the law to keep them under lock and key. Gani Fawehinmi once told me in his chambers that, “if there is a case between a rich man and a poor man, I will find the law for the poor man.” It was a statement of values.
The United States had a movement in the Progressives Era at the turn of the 20th century. With the big corporations running rampant with men like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, etc, a spirit bubbled in the country to checkmate the acquisitive excesses of capitalism. Journalists, courts, businessmen, churches and a cadre of politicians were caught in this redemptive aura. The most famous member was Theodore Roosevelt who became president, one of their best ever. The movement succeeded.
The danger is the possibility of a slide into dictatorship. Mussolini, Franco, etc exploited it. They did not triumph. French philosopher Rousseau designated it as “collective will” or “general will.” Mills objected and craved individual sovereignty.
But both men, while denying it, agree that unfettered individuality and state-backed totalitarian control will destroy society. As Machiavelli – no lover of freedom – noted, “where everyone is free, no one is free.” French philosopher Michel Foucault noted test cases in his book, Madness and Civilisation, and concluded that inside freedom creeps subtle malignancies of tyranny.
Buhari will have to look for the laws to help him. Or exercise patience. The civil society and media also need to isolate such judges as moral pariahs. They may know the law. But they might not know justice. Law is meaningless without justice. The individual is important. We cannot pursue the law without a Dasuki, or a Kanu or an El-Zakzaky knowing that the law took its full course.
That is the essence of liberalism and the strength of democracy. Sophocles’ The ban play, Antigone, pursued the subject of individual right and state right. There was a famous line that “under the cover of darkness” the people support Antigone against the king. Zulu Sofola’s Wedlock of the Gods pursues the conflict of the individual and collective will.
In his column, my former teacher Biodun Jeyifo (Happy 70th Birthday, by the way) reflected on a law now in the cooler to fast-track corruption cases, a thing Femi Falana has also harped upon. It is the measure of Buhari’s advisers that the legal framework for this battle was not put in place before launching the warfare.
Not even the emotional framework is ready. Part of the problem is that Buhari is part soldier, part democrat, but the soldier has failed to part ways with the past. It’s a schizophrenic tension. He can learn from Churchill, De Gaulle, Eisenhower, etc who sloughed off their martial coats.
If, for instance, Buhari steps down today, there is not a structure, not even a whiff of it, to point to the debris of his legacy. Not yet. He can start now.