THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE SERVICES VERSUS THE JUDGES: THE BIRTH OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM IN NIGERIA?

WRITTEN BY BANKOLE DOLAPO OTEGBEYE

ALSO WRITTEN BY BANKOLE DOLAPO OTEGEBYE

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“WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”

I first came across these chants in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, when I read the book many years ago. The plot was terrifying. The plot painted life under a totalitarian government. Animal Farm was tragic, but Nineteen Eighty-Four was scary.
In the book, the protagonist, Winston, wonders whether life had been better before the revolution or not, and he thought so because life became unbearable after the revolution so he began to investigate even though it was a crime to oppose the ruling party in any manner.
Finally, he understands the political situation when he reads Goldstein’s book, entitled The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. Goldstein’s book, which was ‘contraband’ explained the three principal slogans of the ruling party which are: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorant is Strength”. Winston’s view of the situation changed as soon as he was done reading Goldstein’s book, he further explained his understanding of the hopelessness of the situation to his girlfriend in the words “We are the dead”. You may want to read the events that followed. It was scary.

If I am asked to state the major problem of Nigeria, my answer would be ignorance. Maybe we, Nigerians, should begin treatment of ignorance. Ignorance is definitely a disease. The ignorance of some Nigerians to the implication of the Executive’s action must be treated

I will explain why the summary I have given above is the business of every Nigerian in a moment. But first, I must say that I do not intent to come off as arrogant, however I feel it is necessary to explain this to every Nigerian that can read. Quite true that many of us got good education, at least to an extent, however, we all did not study same discipline, in same manner, we are not expected to understand issues at equal level. This is why we have experts and we should consider the opinion of experts on matters concerning their fields when we can. So here is my expert opinion below, please consider it.
This “we versus them” approach that has been taken by the public on the Department of State Services and the Judges issue is unhealthy and needs to stop immediately. We need to start thinking with our heads and not our hearts about this revolution before we get to a point when like Winston in Nineteen Eighty-Four, we begin to wonder whether life before the revolution was better and by the time we realize what is happening all we will have left to say is, “We are the dead” and of course it will be too late by then.
This is not a fight between the majority and lawyers. In fact, if it has to be a fight of professionals then it is more of a fight for the Historians and Political Scientist than that of Lawyers. Although Lawyers are trained in a bit of History and Political Sciences and those of us who understood what we studied can tell you categorically that these are very bad signs of what is to come and believe me we won’t be talking out of loyalty or what most have described as blind loyalty to the profession when we say this.
The recent arrest of Judges by the Department of State Services is a prelude to the rise of an oligarchical party and totalitarian leadership and I will tell you how so.
The world suffered greatly from hardship as a result of the manifestation of the tendencies of men who were given too much power that they became power drunk; the period when there was concentration of state powers in the hands of very few or sometimes one man was grossly disastrous to mankind. In fact this historical quote of Lord Acton; “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” sums it up well.
As a result, mankind needed to evolve and the discovery of democracy was another eureka moment for mankind. Democracy is designed to ensure that never again should a person be so powerful. Laws, Principles and Doctrines were carefully formulated to meet this end. Among them are the Rule of Law, Separation of Power, and Checks and Balances.
Despite all of these, democracy has proven not to be perfect because of yet other tendencies of men to be corrupt and selfish. The problem of democracy in this regard seems to be that as a result of the methodological nature of democracy the corrupt and selfish men cannot be punished instantly and sometimes might completely escape justice on earth – this is definitely annoying!
Due to this, some countries have abandoned democracy half way and the people had turned back to celebrating the rule of a few. Like the ungrateful Israelites, they forget the benefits they have enjoyed from democracy and they quickly return to the past. Most often, these starts off fine as the majority bask in the warmth of the new era but shortly thereafter the sun gets hotter and it becomes a case of from frying pan to fire.
However, a few other countries stuck with democracy. The citizens realized that the methodology of democracy is only as fast as the reaction of the people because, in a democracy, power belongs to the people. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, this people used their power to impeach office holders and remove governments as frequently as necessary. They elected their best minds and they all worked together to develop various forms of democracy tailored to suit the circumstances they find themselves. It is needless to say that for people to be capable of identifying their best minds and to elect them over the average mind, such people are intelligent people. Examples of these people are the Germans who refused to go back to any form of Nazism even when the post-world war economic hardship was becoming unbearable. Others are the Italians, the Americans, and the English. One will think Nigeria will soon been in this league of people that can change leaders as frequently as it is necessary and ensure the election of their best minds having been given a second chance at democracy but the indicators are pointing otherwise.
Military rule in Nigeria started when men of the Armed Forces felt corruption was a justification to break the law and disregard the methodology of democracy. And truly there was serious corruption then like there is now so the people celebrated the Military. Then the result came and we had to become the most religious country in the world in search of deliverance from oppression by a few. Finally, in 1999 there came democracy again with an opportunity for Nigerians to build it and tailor it to become suitable to the Nigerian reality. Unfortunately, the same corrupt and selfish tendency of some men is troubling Nigeria’s democracy. Sadly, what is even more unfortunate is that Nigerians have gone half way into making the same mistake of the past, and that is why I am blowing this whistle to call us back.
In 2015, Nigerians decided again. In 2016 Nigerians must to stop and question whether their decision was to kill democracy by returning to an era where the fight against corruption was enough justification to desecrate democracy, just like we had in the Military era, on the first part, or whether their decision was to build democracy by choosing a leader whose job is to help in the construction of democracy and resist all temptation of departing from democratic methodology, on the other part. Sadly, it seems Nigerians are leaning towards the first part. The reaction of majority to the recent Department of State Services arrest of Judges indicates that Buhari was elected to fight corruption and he can do that by any means because there are no rules of engagement in this war. The praise and support that this administration is receiving for its impunity is reminiscent of a part of a documentary I saw title “The Real Story of Nigeria” showing the reaction of Nigerians to the first military coup. The interpretation of this attitude is that once it is a fight against corruption, it is okay to put democracy aside. Clearly, this is ignoring the lessons of the past.
How come a problem that has been identified since 1966 still lingers in 2016? Or could this be a case of wrong diagnosis? I dare to say we are treating the wrong illness. I have pointed out that every countries’ democracy face the challenges of corruption and that while some choose to abandon democracy, some others work on it and are better for it. The latter are now first world countries; need I say this that they are the wise ones.
If I am asked to state the major problem of Nigeria, my answer would be ignorance. Maybe we, Nigerians, should begin treatment of ignorance. Ignorance is definitely a disease. The ignorance of some Nigerians to the implication of the Executive’s action must be treated.
The democratic principle of separation of powers can only survive where all arms of government mutually respect the bounds of one another. So when the Executive wants to check the Judiciary, it must do so with balance. Democracy demands such degree of respect. People have cited various examples of countries where similar arrests of Judges have been undertaken but they have failed to acknowledge the degree of care taken in those cases distinguish them from this case.
In all the cases people have cited ignorantly, little doubt was left on the guilt of the Judges concerned before any cohesive actions were taken against them. The reason for this is not because the Judges were revered above the law, but it is to ensure that there is transparency thereby leaving little or no doubt in the mind of anybody as to the intention of the action. In all these countries including Ghana, it was a case of the fact speaking for itself before the arrest, not a case of using the arrest to gather fact. They recognize that is foolish to try to kill a fly on the testicles with the same force as when the fly you want to kill is on the hand just because you are angry.
The implication of the “Buhari approach” is that the Judiciary can become impotent because people did not stand with it when it was bullied. All Judges, including the good ones will begin to adjudicate on matters having very high degree of fear of the unknown and of the Executive. So whenever the Police and other members of the Executive acts ultra vires the chances of the Judiciary rising up to the occasion are very low as it has been diminished by the popular Executive. Remember, we the people will be the likely victim of the ultra vires actions of the Executive in the near future.
So many questions have been left unanswered here. First, did the Department of State Services have adequate prove to justify moving against sitting members of the Judiciary in this manner or was this move hoping to fish for prove? What does the Executive seek to achieve by creating a situation where sitting Judges will be under trial other than the Executive having something over the head of those Judges each time they look up to coerce Judges to do the Executive bidding? Why did the Executive adopt this show-of-power method, which by the way only puts the Judiciary on the defensive, instead of the clinical method of gathering good evidence and making a petition to initialize the suspension and recommendation for removal of the Judges by the National Judicial Council after which the Executive will have free hand to operate? Where did the Department of State Services get its mandate to operate in this manner, and what law gave it such power? If the Executive cannot provide satisfactory answers to these questions then we the people have lost our power to con artists but we are ignorant of that fact.
The body language of the Buhari-approach says “War is Peace” and we cheer on as this theory of oligarchical collectivism is been applied in our faces. I refuse to agree that war is peace because I am not ignorant. It is only in time of war that there is no law. When the Government acts like there is no law it means we are at war. And the only reason people will celebrate war is if they believe it is peace.
The second theory of Oligarchical collectivism that “Freedom is Slavery” will soon follow. The Executive have usurped the powers of the Legislature by making its own law conferring powers on the Department of State Services to act ultra vires and we are cheering and dancing for Big Brother. Meanwhile, the Department of State Services is becoming unconstitutionally stronger like the Thought Police who will later be used against the same people cheering now after they are done undermining the powers of the other two arms of government and elevating the Executive to supremacy leaving no one capable of challenging the Executive. As my fellow Nigerians usually say, “na that time our eyes go clear”.
The third theory of Oligarchical Collectivism is that “Ignorance is Strength” and this one is what fuels the engine of oligarchy. In Nigeria, this fuel is becoming more abundant. Many people are not looking well enough. Majority take decisions without thinking of the long term implication. Ignorant of the dire consequences of both allowing anyone act ultra vires and encouraging mediocrity as the best means to an end, many people feel empowered by this Executive impunity. In fact some of them will tag me a pro-corruption agent and personify this opinion as ‘corruption fighting back’ because of their blind loyalty to Big Brother and the war against corruption. At this point, I may have to laugh scornfully for they say what the elders see sitting down, the young ones fail to see even when they climb the tallest trees.
Taking a leaf from the Presidential press release on this matter, I will rest by stating that: this is not a war against the Executive; it is a war against ignorance.

“Initially, I thought to myself that Buhari was being distracted by all these uncovering of corruption plots, now I think Buhari is the one distracting us Nigerians with the plots after all…”
– ‘BAMIYO G.F.

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