The race is not for the swift.” That proverbial wisdom of the great King Solomon came into play in the Lagos Marathon where young men and women had to sacrifice speed for distance. While Governor Akinwunmi Ambode set the athletic figures in motion last weekend, hardly did he know he confronted the nation with a figure of speech.
Long distance, by its nature, calls for endurance, managing the borderline between athletic and lethargic. The opposite – the 100 metres race – inspires the fleet-footed, the blood afire, the eyes alert, the heart beating like the petulant wall clock. The first is an eagle, the latter a meteor. When Ambode was sworn in, he entered the position with the temperament of the long-distance runner. But he got badgered. The traffic. The crime. The chaos. His accent. Anything.
But patience outlasts. Now like a torch light through a fog, the path ahead is clear to many. The cacophony has subsided. Not out of a rush, but out of a methodical working of government. So we see that while one man spent N4.6 billion to placate priests under Jonathan, about the same sum gave Lagosians helicopters, cars, boats, motorcycles and automated gadgets. Result? Crime rate cascades, traffic sanitises, etc. Now Oshodi prefigures a modern 21st century park-and-ride. Road transport workers now bow to a republican ethos, rather than the old, manipulative barbarity. Roads are looking up; some dark alleys are lit up at night. The narrative continues.
But the marathon that Lagos birthed beckons the national stage to a more intricate matter. Some are saying that law should give way to impunity. They are not saying it in that language but when some commentators are caviling at the courts for releasing Dasuki, they are ignoring the power of law in a democracy. Law is a slow grinder but, to paraphrase poet Longfellow, it grinds small.
The debate is one of the few where you cannot question the nobility of both sides. Those who call for law want justice. Those who are impatient with the law want to punish the thieves of our patrimony. The war on corruption has revved up the rage in the streets. But it is still a muffled indignation. The Naira figures were stunning, but as billions top billions, we are losing our capacity for shock.
For many Nigerians, there is no need to try these men. Just jail them. Former Chief of General Staff under Babangida made a public comedy when a business titan was being tried. “We are going to jail him,” he announced in a press conference. His media adviser, Nduka Irabor, crouched towards his ears and noted that he needed to be tried first. In an apparent deference to the advice, Augustus Aikhomu bellowed, “Yes, we shall try him and jail him.” Under the military, it was a laugh act. Impunity bustled in their veins. Even then, we realised the folly.
It seems this is what some are calling for. I have wondered over DasukiGate. Have we heard from Dasuki? What if Dasuki merely acted on instruction, and what are the details of instructions? Do we convict without being convinced? The worry of many is the corruption of the courts and our lordships. But there is a double standard here among many Nigerians. The courts have not been innocent for a long time. Some are calling of mass action in place of the law. They have stopped short of saying it, reflecting the impotence or lack of rigour of their ideas. They seem to say “we want the law, but the law cannot work.” Is that not a recourse to impunity?
This brings to mind the new sorry tales coming out of Ekiti polls. New revelations from Tope Aluko have not only reflected the failings of our electoral system, but also the shortcomings of our judiciary. More importantly, they show that many are in office who should have been in jail. The courts fail us. But the mob cannot replace the courts. Neither should official impunity. The Buhari administration was the product of law. It cannot overthrow that same process without enthroning hypocrisy. In a democracy, the quality of the law prospers on equality before the law. In an earlier article on this subject, I noted that only a movement against corruption can make the anti-corruption drive work. It is still a Buhari move, not a mass sentiment. If it is a mass sentiment, it is a muted and callow one at best. The people support Buhari, but they are not sure how to help him other than to encourage him to break the law. He said the judiciary is his headache. It has been the headache of this democracy for a long time.
Those Marxists and civil society mavens who are angry with the law, should focus not on Buhari but the bench. They should encourage open disgrace of judges. We should also encourage mass protests against unpunished electoral criminals. The Ekiti elections that ousted Dr. Kayode Fayemi as governor ignited lines of prescience from then Lagos Governor and now three-in-one minister Babatunde Fashola, SAN. In his takeaways, he showed how imbecility is accepted as official result. He endured many flaks then. We all know better now that Fayose’s victory has been disgraced in public.
That is the sort of society that emerges out of impunity. No society has prospered or even prospered for long on impunity. Even in the age of the divine rights of kings, the English under Oliver Cromwell led a revolt that led to a chain of events that brought England back to the full virtue of political liberties, especially after the Glorious Revolution. After the phony glory of Lenin’s coup, Russia grabbed Gorbachev’s coattail out of the impunity of almost a century. Putin is still harking back with agony. Chinese writer Mo Yan recounts the consequences of the Cultural Revolution in his excellent novel, The Garlic Ballads. Its economy groans today because it is at pains to open the country to the virtue of law instead of law and order.
In the modern era, the First World War ended with the streets exploding with calls to punish the Germans till their “kids squeak.” The Versailles Treaty handled justice cavalierly. It led to the Second World War. The Nuremberg Trials redressed the mistake in the open with fair prosecution even though the world was witness to Nazi butchery. Apartheid ended in South Africa not by subjectivity but by subjection to the law. De Klerk was South Africa’s clerk of change by law.
The answer is to organise mass movements against the judges and line up scapegoats. It should be carried out as an urgent matter for justice. All the civil rights gains in the United States were sown on the streets and media and reaped in the courts. The U.S. justices also resisted the change. But once the streets screamed, the courts yielded. That is the way of democracy. Buhari is coming round to this virtue even ahead of the irascibility of the ideologues. Witness the new draft laws he sent to the National Assembly.
The looting of our treasury was massive, but justice must come with imagination. It is, like the work of Allan Sillitoe, the “loneliness of a long distance runner.” We need first to make the law work by holding the bench to account. I won’t ape Shakespeare who said: “The first thing we do. Let’s kill the lawyers.” We cannot do it in a hurry, however angry we are. A Yoruba proverb says, words are the key to unlocking mysteries. Governor Ambode gave us the figure of speech to recover all the outlandish figures and punish human figures who wronged us – the endurance of a marathon. As an African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go fast, go together.” That’s how Americans succeeded in the Progressive Era in the turn of the 20th century. We also can. But the law alone, the bench alone, the president alone, the EFCC alone, cannot do it.