Cenotaph Of Ignominy By Ogbu, Blessing Ekpere
The recent diplomatic row between Nigeria and the Kingdom of Morocco over a matter as mundane as a telephone conversation between the leaders of the two countries has pushed to the front burner the question of the sincerity of the government of the day, nay, the present political characters who, by virtue of one of the quirks of history, have become what pass for leaders in saner climes. For those who may not be familiar with the facts of this fiasco, we will give a compressed version of the development.
Few days ago, the Kingdom of Morocco, through the King’s Spokesman, issued a Press Release wherein it informed the world that the Moroccan King, Mohammed VI, had declined an overture from the Nigerian Government to engage in a telephone conversation with his Nigerian counterpart and to consider a possible invitation to Nigeria on the ground that such a request, coming at a time when Nigeria is going into a crucial poll, was inappropriate. According to the Moroccan Foreign Ministry, the request was “a devious move by Mr. Jonathan to curry electoral favour than a genuine diplomatic move”. The Nigerian Government asserted in rebuttal, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that the Nigerian President did, indeed, speak with the Moroccan monarch when the latter was in France “extensively over the telephone on matters of mutual interest and concern that have nothing to do with the conduct of re-scheduled elections in Nigeria.” The Ministry further added that “It is therefore preposterous to suggest that Mr President’s telephone call to the Moroccan monarch was intended to confer any electoral advantage on the President.” The north African monarchy reacted by recalling its envoy – standard practice where nations engage in diplomatic fisticuffs – and insisted that her Monarch never spoke with the Nigerian President on the grounds afore-stated. After days of hopscotch on the diplomatic space, the Nigerian Government owed up that President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan GCFR never spoke with the King Mohammed VI of Morocco. It attributed the ballyhoo to what it called misinformation. It then ordered the Minister for Foreign Affairs to undertake an urgent investigation with a view to identifying “All those who were responsible for the unacceptable act of official misinformation which has resulted in an unnecessary diplomatic row with another country and national embarrassment; to unveil the motives of the culprits” and to ensure that “prompt and commensurate disciplinary action be taken against the culpable person or persons.”
Expectedly, the major opposition Party in Nigeria, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has called on the President to apologize to Nigerians for lying. Let it be conceded that most, if not all, Governments from time immemorial and across the oceans have found occasion to lie at least once. It has been argued that lying is particularly prevalent in democratic states, where leaders need the support of the citizenry in order to execute their policies. The USA, the beacon of democratic ideals, is an example of how Government lies to expedite policy execution. For instance, it is becoming increasingly acceptable amongst Americans that the George Bush Presidency lied about the World Trade Centre and his subsequent war on Saddam Husseini. Other mind-boggling lies from God’s Own Country which have been unravelled by subsequent events included the lie told by Lyndon Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin incident which made Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution granting President Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardised by communist aggression. The consequence of that lie was America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Years after the Greer incident, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is reputed today not to be forthright about the so-called German submarine attack on the US Wickes-class destroyer Greer in 1941 with the hopes of rallying Americans to come into World War II. Richard Nixon, it has been generously documented, lied over Watergate, and Ronald Reagan’s untruth about the Iran-Contras is something historians always find time to analyse. In fact, the Government of President Barrack Obama, in 2011, through the Department of Justice, proposed a number of Federal Legislations which would authorise the United States Government to lie to the American people on queries brought under the Freedom of Information Act.
Though the Government, as a general proposition, is not required to lie to its citizens, there are exceptions where the Government can lie. It is not morally right, though, but it is politically expedient. Such exceptions include questions which border on national security, or where there is the need to fight crime through, for example, undercover operations. Though she is concerned with the constitutional implications of Government lies on the lives of the citizens, Helen L. Norton of the University of Colorado School of Law, argues in her article titled The Government’s Lies and The Constitution published in the Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 91, that Government’s lies can be devastating. She cites, as examples, lies told to resist legal and political accountability for its misconduct, to inflict economic and reputational harm, or to enable the exercise of its powers to imprison, to deploy lethal force, and to commit precious national resources. She also maintains that Government’s lies violate the Due Process Clause (under the American Jurisprudence, but which is equivalent to the Common Law doctrines of Natural Justice and the Rule of Law) when they directly deprive individuals of life, liberty, or property or when they are sufficiently coercive of their targets to constitute the functional equivalent of such deprivations. Such lies, she further submits, violate the Free Speech Clause (which is actually an agglutination of the fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of expression and the press, and the right to peaceful assembly and association guaranteed under sections 38, 39, and 40 respectively of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended) when they are sufficiently coercive of their targets’ beliefs or speech to constitute the functional equivalent of the government’s direct regulation of that expressive activity.
In his book, Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying In International Politics, Political Science Professor John J. Mearsheimer establishes that lying between countries is actually relatively rare. He discovers, in the course of his research, that lying between nations happens occasionally and submits that what is far more common is leaders lying to their own people on foreign policy matters. The rare occasions where Governments have been caught lying, according to the Professor, are in areas of strategic cover-ups which include but are not limited to arms sale and acquisition, territorial expansion and lobbying for positions in international organisations. In international politics, Governments do not lie over matters as prosaic as the existential status of a purported telephone conversation. They do not also lie, for instance, over the roles, real or imagined, played by nation-states in the electoral process of other nation-states. Few days ago, at a special briefing in Washington DC, members of an American Pre-Election Mission comprising representatives of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute disputed claims made by the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Ayodele Oke and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Rear-Admiral Gabriel E. Okoi, that the American delegation endorsed the postponement of the elections.
By lying against sovereign States, and, worse, by lying over every quotidian matter, the Presidency places itself in that awkward position where it struggles to impress the citizenry. Nigerians have since rejected the notion of accepting any word emanating from this administration as an article of faith. Why shouldn’t they, when this Government, a continuation of the PDP behemoth which has held both the economy and the humanity of this nation by the jugulars for the past sixteen years, has exhibited a character defect which beatifies the inglorious to the point of apotheosis? That explained when, at the inception of this diplomatic fracas, Nigerians were torn between which of the two leaders to believe. When you have a President who has visited Churches, Mosques and the habitations of devotees of African Traditional Religion to solicit for votes, it is difficult not to believe the Moroccan version of the dispute that the phoney phone call was an attempt by the Jonathan administration to attract undue electoral advantage to his campaign team. Should they, therefore, believe their Government or a foreign sovereign? Patriotism dictates they believe their Government. Commonsense counsels otherwise. Yet, commonsense counsels rightly; for though Nigerians were wont to believe their Government out of patriotic motivations, the systematic denudation of the basis of the citizens’ trust in the leadership of the country has been sustained, emphatic and made certain by no other than by the Government itself. The episodes of such denudation read like a litany in a documentary of despondency.
During Obasanjo’s era, instead of deploying the machinery of the State to deal with miscreants who had violated provisions of extant laws, the ex-President infamously declared that such obviously treasonous conducts as PDP family affairs which would be resolved as such. The manifest absurdity of this unmitigated impunity came to a head when Chris Uba and his thugs abducted a sitting Governor and wrecked havoc on Anambra State – with a complicit Federal Government looking the other way and blissfully treating the travesty as a family affair.
Tony Anenih was the Minister of Works when the sum of N300Billion (Three Billion Naira Only) was released for the rehabilitation of Nigerian roads. Under his watch, the entire sum was spent, yet Nigerian roads suffered further degeneration, with failed sections sometimes stretching to several kilometres. When Nigerians queried what fate could have befallen the humongous sum, since the roads did not assume the appearance of surfaces that were touched by the blessings of the Nigerian budget, the Esan High Chief retorted that Nigerians should inquire of Obasanjo where the money for his re-election came from. In a nation of about 170 Million people, with majority of the citizenry living below the globally accepted poverty level, with a large chunk of the children of school age unable to access a formal educational system, with infrastructural decay a monument to the Government’s inefficiency, one would expect the Minister to exhibit a modicum of sobriety in his response to questions on national issues. This is particularly necessary when those questions related to his stewardship. Accountability was the least Nigerians expected from the Iyasele of Esanland after the years of his stewardship was accomplished.
Disturbingly, accountability appears to be a scarce commodity among Nigerian public officials. We will not, however, occupy ourselves with the Government’s morbid disaffection for accountability and transparency in public accounts. Where would we start to recount the cavalier purloining of the common patrimony of Nigerians? Should we talk of the so-called subsidy scam, wherein the sum of N2.6 Trillion was claimed to have been expended in a year when only N245 Billion was appropriated for same? Or the N32 Billion Police Pension scam? Or the N5 Billion Teidi Pension scam? Or the N53 Billion NCC spectrum sale racket? Or the 24 million barrels of crude oil worth $1.6 Billion stolen through signature forgery? Or the missing N20 Billion for which the former Governor of the Central bank of Nigeria was persecuted, harassed and hounded out of office? What of the Stella Oduah N255 Million bulletproof BMW cars? These, and the immigration recruitment deaths of last year, for which the Minister of Interior, one Comrade Abba Moro, has not been punished, are few of the scandals that have been the defining marks of the PDP administration in Nigeria.
Nigerians will never forget the Press Releases from the Defence Headquarters and the State Security Service in the course of the war against terror. Certain information contained in those Press Releases are the exemplification of state-sponsored falsehood. Admittedly, matters relating to national security are not subjects that should be in the public domain. Yet, in such matters, there is a tenuous but fundamental differentiation between lying and not telling the truth. Or, it could be argued on behalf of the Government that the Defence officials were wrong, and that it was not a case of deliberate misinformation. Some charitable souls would therefore draw a distinction between lying and being wrong, and, it must be conceded to their sense of fairness that the two cannot possibly mean the same thing. But, that is when prudence should have been invoked. Regrettably, that too, like accountability, appears to be a commodity which is always in short supply with the Government. For instance, Nigerians recollect that on at least two occasions, the Defence Headquarters claimed that the leader of the Boko Haram insurgent group, Abubakar Shekau, had been killed. Prudence would have dictated that the Defence Headquarters baulk at the truth, instead of spilling forth falsehood which could be verified; as it indeed happened when, some days ago, Idris Deby, the President of Chad warned Shekau to surrender or be killed. Further authentication of Deby’s warning came from a recent video where Shekau was seen pledging allegiance to the rampaging ISIS.
The other day, Musiliu Obanikoro was caught on tape in what has become the Ekitigate scandal. In cahoots with Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, the recidivist Chris Uba, and Jelili Adesiyan who is the Minister for Police Affairs – these characters who have become, through a cruel joke of nature and happenstance, national leaders – they plotted the rigging of the Ekiti State gubernatorial elections using the instrumentality of the military. The name ‘Brigadier Aliyu Momoh’ suddenly was thrust on national consciousness as the epitome of a partisan military and the synonym of electoral heist. The dark agenda is to perpetuate the reign of the President who, by the way, declared that he never promised to stand for just one term whereas there are manifold documented and recorded evidence that he did. If he had declared, simply, that he would be contesting in clear exercise of his constitutional right, nobody would begrudge him that exercise of his constitutional right. The most that his opponents would have done would be to sulk. May be, it is in the genetic constitution of PDP public office holders to lie. After all, the Governor of Niger State, Alhaji Babangida Aliyu was reported to have declared that an aspiring politician must lie to be successful.
Today, Obanikoro, who was nominated by the President even at the height of public declamation against Ekitigate, has been cleared by the Senate with a mere bow. Possibly, he may be returned to the Defence Ministry to perfect the Ekiti strategy for the general elections coming up two weeks hence. Stella Oduah is gunning for the Senate under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party. Chris Uba is the arrowhead of his brother Andy Uba’s senatorial bid. Most galling, he is playing the role of a tin god at the national level of the behemoth. Brigadier Aliyu Momoh is still a serving army officer. Jelili Adesiyan remains the Minister for Police Affairs. Governor Ayo Fayose still runs amok in Ekiti State with a stolen mandate. Tony Anenih is the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees and the Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority. Comrade Abba Moro, true to his word, is sticking around to salvage the situation his greed and incompetence created. The Minister for Finance and the so-called Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, even with her Harvard training and her exposure at the World Bank sees nothing wrong with the missing trillions. The Minister for Petroleum, Diezani Allison-Madueke, recently ran to the Courts where she obtained an Order restraining the House of Representatives from inviting her to explain how she spent N10 Billion on chartered flights. And, what is more, the top brass of the Defence Headquarters who have killed Shekau at least twice are still occupying their offices.
When these sampled incidences are considered, then the indiscretion of Nigerian officials which finds opprobrious elocution in their ill-advised exportation of their excreta to the international community only serves in reinforcing the reputation of Nigeria among her peers as a cenotaph of ignominy. The lie from the Government over the phoney telephone conversation is indicative of the fact that the Government conducts its business under the awning of falsehood. Nigerians having decided, out of a state of ennui induced by the Government’s lies, to ignore the Government, the Government, motivated by the apparent lethargy of Nigerians, feels emboldened to extend its chicanery to another sovereign state with scant regards to the sensibilities of that sovereignty. It is however regrettable that, instead of complying with Professor John J. Mearsheimer’s model and Helen L. Norton’s postulations, the lies told by the Nigerian Government are self-serving lies; lies told to cover mind-boggling spats of graft; lies told to protect thieving cronies; lies told to preserve empires built with the proceeds of praetorian acquisitiveness and depredatory assault on the nation’s patrimony. When the Nigerian Government lies, it engraves another gravure on this stinking cenotaph which stands as a monument to national embarrassment.
Ogbu, Blessing, Ekpere, Esq., a Legal Practitioner, writes in from Abuja.
Opinion expressed on this page is solely that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Abusidiqu.com and/or its associates.