In Search of a Benevolent Dictator

“Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me, may ruin overtake them by surprise—may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin”

King David (Psalms 35:7-8 NIV)

I must confess that starting a political discourse with these two verses from the Book of Psalms may not seem normal, but then, what is normal in today’s world? This article could have been prefaced with the famous Golden Rule, but David’s outcry came to mind, and I think it suits perfectly.

In Psalms 35, David tried to outdo Jeremiah in articulating his lamentations over the actions of some persons who viewed him as their enemy. Since people try to undo their enemies, these persons “figuratively” dug a pit and set a trap for David, without thinking that pits lack DNA sensors and would gladly entrap whoever is unlucky to step into them. Similarly, in contemporary times, we keep permitting certain situations because we feel they serve our purposes, but we then act shocked when we become victims of those same permittances.

Bringing it home to Nigeria, I have repeatedly found myself enmeshed in debates with Nigerians who believe that Nigeria needs a “benevolent dictator” to become a better nation. Interestingly, despite having had more than three decades worth of dictators running the show unencumbered by any considerations for the “rule of law”, yet having these dictators plunder the country with impunity, oppress the citizenry, assign public resources to themselves and their families and friends, and blatantly murder opposing voices; people still believe that we need to find a person with unrestrained powers who is committed to ignoring the corruptive tendencies of absolute powers in favour of expediting national development.

At the moment, thanks to the currency change being championed by the Central Bank of Nigeria, there are debates over whether the bank and the President are right to ignore an ex parte order of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. For this article, we will define any discussion of the legality of the court’s order as beyond our battery limits. Let us simply agree to stick with discussing obedience and the extent of free will.

To start with, how can we sanely decide when and how to obey a court order? Why do we feel President Buhari must obey the Supreme Court’s order regarding the currency change but must not obey repeated rulings by a Federal High Court directing that the rabblerouser Nnamdi Kanu should be released from custody?  Why did we not demand that the government obey the courts when they directed that Dasuki and El-Zakzaky should be released? Why did we not demand for enforcement of judgements where the beneficiary was not in the public’s good graces? We had the homes of some judges raided without recourse to Nigerian laws and we were fine because we saw them as irredeemably corrupt, hence, the indignity they suffered was viewed in positive light. We even had a Supreme Court Chief Justice removed unceremoniously in a manner that appears to contradict Nigerian laws, but we excused this because he was deemed corrupt. For almost eight years, we hailed Buhari for ignoring pesky court rulings, but now, we want him to obey one, right?

Similarly, some State Governors have now announced that they would revoke the Certificate of Occupancy of any commercial bank that chooses to obey the Central Bank, as the industry regulator, rather than the Supreme Court. Even governors who have blissfully ignored several court rulings against their offices have suddenly started parroting the inviolability of the courts as if they even give a hoot about any court ruling that goes against their wishes. Some have even started sealing up shops that refuse to take the old naira notes that have lost their legal tender status. While many of us hail these governors as “fighting for the masses”, we have failed to ask that if a governor can render a business homeless at the twist of a finger, what is to keep him from channelling such a power against political opponents?

For a country with a lengthy history of evils executed by “strongmen”, we seem unready to appreciate the need for institutions that do not kowtow to anyone. Whereas Lady Justice is supposedly blindfolded, we would prefer for her to have one eyelid surreptitiously open to see which side we are on and tilt her scales accordingly. Unfortunately, we cannot have it both ways. A key paradigm of the rule of law is that we obey it rather than attempt to subvert it, and even when we feel a law is faulty, we ought to be circumspect when changing it, to ensure we are changing it for the betterment of everyone rather than introducing loopholes that could later work against us.

Image Credit: beyondthepulpitmabc.wordpress.com

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