Montesquieu vs Nigeria

THE great French philosopher, Charles Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu was an eclectic writer. He started his writings innocuously enough in 1722 with a satirical offering: The Persian Letters, that made him quite famous within the French society. But his magnum opus was published twenty six years into his writing career, and that was his book; The Spirit of Laws. At the core of this book was a careful attempt to streamline previously muted theories about a form of government in which multiple actors with different roles and powers work together and check the excesses of each other all directed at the common good. A pivotal raison d’etre for Montesquieu’s theories, amazingly enough, was a spirited attempt at defending the executive from being hobbled by the almighty legislative power.

Fast forward to Nigeria of 2017 and we have a situation that would have shocked Montesquieu to his marrows. The very basis of Montesquieu’s theory on separation of powers was clearly based on the idea that democracy entails a government by gentlemen, who will respect the letter and spirit of the law. The concept of bohemian roughnecks taking over the reigns of executive power and ignoring all the other arms of government on the grounds that they do not have guns and boots could not possibly have permeated the inner recesses of Montesquieu’s mind. Nigeria’s decline into fascism can hardly be overstated going by series of unfortunate events. Firstly, the gentleman at Economic and  Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, Ibrahim Magu (who in my humble opinion has done a remarkable job in an acting capacity) was rejected for the second time by the Senate. The makers of the EFCC Act deliberately included a provision that the Chairman shall be approved by the Senate. The provision is simple and direct enough. The motives of individual Senators is clearly of no moment, after all Republican Senators bluntly refused to even interview Obama’s Supreme Court nominee with ill-disguised bad motive and in accordance with the American Law the nomination became of no effect. To insist otherwise would entail that we are elevating our individual prejudices above the letters of the law. As if the contumacy of the Executive as regards the chairmanship of EFCC is not bad enough, the Comptroller General of Customs, retired Col. Hameed Ali, decided by his own way of decision to throw muck in our collective faces. He issued a directive that owners of vehicles should march themselves pronto to the nearest Customs offices to verify whether the custom duties for the cars they bought in market overt has been adequately paid. Why he isolated cars remains a total mystery. Why not add shoes, bags, ties, electronics and others? The man by one fiat would have humbled even Donald Trump. He would have created a hobbessian state in Nigeria, whereby Customs men can storm just about anybody’s house and cart away 90% of their earthly possessions.  Into the fray jumped the Senate as our version of knights in shinning armour.  The Comptroller General has since reversed himself on this “law” that would have elevated him above mortals, but not in time enough to stop the Senate from insisting that he appears  in uniform. Ordinarily, one would think the Comptroller General would be ecstatic about wearing the uniform of a sort of General, being as it is that he retired from the army as a Colonel. Even when he appeared in APC uniform during the campaigns, his epaulettes were missing from his shoulders. But Ali has since embarked on the spat of the year with the Senators; he has cited a suit filed by an unknown third party as his reason for failure to appear before the Senate in his uniform. A more farcical argument can hardly be found. Since he commands thousands of combatants, who wear their uniforms with gusto and have guns and boots to match, the Senate can only battle him with words. The National Assembly will thus continue to lie prostrate, whilst might obtained via tax payer’s money continues to prevail. Not to be outdone, the Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal, has joined the fray.

This was a man who complained a few months ago that he was deprived of fair hearing by the Senate. The same man is now bluntly refusing to appear before the Senate to answer necessary queries. The farcical argument about filing a court suit without obtaining a court order has also been utilised by him. Nigeria took out quality time and deployed honourable men to draft our constitution and model it after the United States of American constitution. One would think that we should apply the constitution with the same spirit of “win some and lose some” that the Americans adopt. We have seen the head of American FBI humble himself before legislators severally. We have seen Presidents of America watch helplessly as their flagship projects are stymied by either the legislature or the judiciary. In all that happens, they carefully restrain themselves from attacking the very instruments that gave them power in the first place. An executive branch of government that undermines the other two arms of government is only scoring pyrrhic victory. Their “victory” with arms and boots leaves in its wake a confused and fractured mindset for both themselves and the watching public. The toxic example being set by today’s men of power will run through the gamut of the system and create power monsters amongst thousands of their imitators; all to our collective chagrin. *Mr. Emeka Odikpo, a lawyer , wrote from Lagos.

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