By Suyi Ayodele
THE appointment of Hannatu Musawa as Minister of Art, Culture and Creative Economy by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the latest impunity and I-don-care-attitude any leader can display. Musawa has been in the eye of the storm in the last one week or so, when the news broke that the young minister is still a serving member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), observing the mandatory one-year service to Nigeria as prescribed by the constitution and the NYSC Act. Since the news flew to town that the ‘Honourable’ minister still has some four months to go for her to complete the mandatory one-year NYSC scheme, there has been a lot of arguments as to the appropriateness or otherwise of her appointment by President Tinubu. The beauty of the whole ugly situation is that Musawa has affirmed that she is indeed a serving corps member somewhere in Abuja. According to the information in the public place as released by the management of the scheme, the minister was mobilised in 2001 for the programme and was deployed to Akwa Ibom State. After the three-week orientation programme, Musawa sought redeployment to Kaduna State and on arriving in Kaduna, absconded. She only resurfaced in 2023 to complete the scheme she abandoned unofficially and was graciously posted to Abuja. And while still on the programme, our new husband, who promised to appoint technocrats to manage every aspect of our lives, could not find any other competent hand than the serving corps member to be appointed as a minister.
I am looking for my old secondary school Government teacher, Mr. Abayomi Olugbenga Oduntan. He taught me some government principles back then in form four that he needs to clarify now. My late father had absolute trust in two people – the Anglican Reverend in our All Saints’ Anglican Church, Oke Bola, Ikole Ekiti, and anyone who answered the name, teacher. I grew up to believe also in those two personages. This probably was why I could not doubt some of the things Mr. Oduntan taught me in those formative days. But now I am old enough to ask questions and I have one to ask my old teacher. While on the topic: “Sources of Constitution”, Mr. Oduntan said that apart from Acts of Parliament, conventions, customs, and traditions, military decrees, and opinions of statesmen; one major factor through which a constitution can be derived is “pronouncements by courts otherwise called judicial precedents”. He went ahead to say that pronouncements by courts, especially the Supreme Court, formed an integral part of the Nigerian constitution. The Ijebu man from Ikorodu, Lagos State, added that the Supreme Court, being the highest court of Nigeria after the abolition of the Privy Council of the colonial era, its judgements are as good as the law, final and cannot be discarded. In essence, my old teacher gave us the orientation at that tender age that whatever the Supreme Court says is final and cannot be changed. I would like him to answer, in the face of our current situation, if he still believes in what he taught us then and if indeed, the pronouncements of our Supreme Court are final and sacrosanct!
Before the coming of the current locusts in power and their predecessors in 2015, Nigeria was stratified into three distinct groups of the super-rich, the super-poor, and the not-too-fantastic-middle class. After the eight years of the ruinous regime of General Muhammadu Buhari, everything about the middle-class was removed, the super-rich class elevated to a higher height, and the super-poor taken deeper into the pit of deprivation, want and untold agony. No society is created equally. That is why social scientists devised the idea of social stratifications to differentiate among the various groups and standings using the parameters of wealth, income, family background, education, and power or influence. Notable among these social scientists are Karl Max and Max Weber. Even in the seemingly egalitarian society of this world, dichotomies still exist among the various segments of the population. The only difference being that while the advanced world gives a semblance of fairness to the inequality in their societies, the poor nations of the world are too brazen in showing that inequality is the norm rather than the exception. In Nigeria for instance, an unborn child knows that men are not born equal in the 1914 contraption of Lord Lugard. The unborn babies of poor Nigerian expectant mothers know the difference between the maternity wards their expectant mothers attend for pre and postnatal sessions and where the mothers of their counterparts from rich homes go to. Even death which ordinarily should have been the leveler has been hijacked by the Nigerian elite such that the poor dead and the rich dead don’t appear to close their eyes the same way.
It is a huge crime, and an unpardonable one for that matter, to be poor in Nigeria. This is because two different laws apply to the rich and the poor here. While the Holy book, the Bible tells us that the poor, we will always have in our midst, the way and manner the elite flaunt impunity in our eyes are too despicable to behold and interrogates the validity of the holy injunction. Ours is a country where the poor pay taxes to take care of the rich and the elite, while the duo takes advantage of the porous system, we run to feed fat on the sweat of the downtrodden. While our judicial system has been programmed by the wicked leadership of this generation to punish the poor who commit any infraction with the speed of light, the same judiciary treats cases of the rich with a speed slower than that of the snail. That is why it is possible for us to have those who, Nuhu Ribadu, the first Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), labelled as “the most corrupt governors in Nigeria” in 2006, in control of the country today. Most unfortunately, one of such “most corrupt governors in Nigeria” is the one who appointed Ribadu as the overseer of the nation’s security architecture! Yet, the same EFCC, almost daily, prides itself as having “secured the convictions” of internet fraudsters, petty thieves, and other lesser felons. The axiom of one partridge not being taller than the other (Aparo kan o ga ju kan lo) does not apply in Nigeria.
The problem did not start with the appointment of Musawa as minister by President Tinubu. The first problem here is with the NYSC authority which decided to indulge the deserter with a new posting to Abuja of all places. The question we should ask NYSC is if there are no rules and regulations guiding the conduct of corps members. If for instance a corps member absconded the way Musawa did, and resurfaced later, say a month or a year, is there no punishment for such an infraction? Here we are talking of a young lady who absconded some 22 years ago! I remember two or three of my fellow corps members back then in Black Gold, Kaduna, who for one reason or the other, had their service year extended and were posted out of Kaduna City to some remote villages where they were closely monitored. If Musawa absconded in Kaduna in 2001, why was she redeployed to Abuja when she chose to show up to complete her service 22 years later? Where exactly was she posted to in Abuja for her Primary Assignment? Where has she been holding her weekly Community Service? Who are the fellow corps members of this super corper?
And coming to her appointment as a minister, what happens to the screening by the various security agencies? How come none of them detected that the ministerial nominee is still a youth corps serving member? I will gladly excuse the Godwin Akpabio-led senate in this case for the simple reason that I knew that nothing enviable can ever come out of anywhere the Akwa Ibom politician superintends. The current Senate President’s case, in my own estimation, should not be mentioned wherever decency, decorum and morality are at stake. From his eight years as the governor of his home state, to his first political voyage to the senate; his jumping of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s ship to board the All Progressive Congress (APC)’s canoe; his stay as Minister of the Niger Delta Ministry in the inglorious Buhari administration, and his scandalous entry to the senate for the second time, there is nothing Akpabio will do that will shock any normal human being. His is a complete circle of the rots in our system and it is therefore not surprising that he presided over the session where Musawa was ‘cleared’ as minister-designate. So much for Akpabio and his decomposing hallowed chamber! What about the appointing authority himself, President Tinubu? Does it mean that our new husband did not take time to check out the profiles of his appointees? Are we by any shred of imagination saying that like his insentient predecessor, Tinubu is also an absentee president who, like Mrs. Aisha Buhari said of her husband, “does not know any of the people working with him?” The buck stops at the president’s table in the appointment of his ministers and aides. While political allies can make suggestions to him as to who to appoint in each state of the federation, the onus is on the appointing authority to know his would-be minister by the minutest of all details. The argument that he is a busy president and cannot be blamed for relying on the judgements of political associates will not hold water here. What happens if a known armed robber is suggested to the president? Would he go ahead and appoint such a felon just because a ‘trusted’ political ally nominated him or her? What then is the difference between Tinubu and Buhari, who on many occasions appointed dead people to boards of parastatals?
So, why am I looking for Mr. Oduntan? In all the many arguments for and against the appointment of Musawa as minister, the one that struck me most is that of Mr. Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). I picked this argument not because it is the best of all the arguments, but because of the inference the senior lawyer made to the judgement of the Supreme Court in a case like this. While condemning the controversial appointment of the minister, Falana referred to the case of Modibo vs. Usman & Ors (2019 LPELR-59096(SC). In the citation, the learned Silk presented the concurrent judgement of the justices of the Supreme Court, which dismissed the appeal of the appellant, who had contested and won election into the House of Representatives while he was undergoing national service. The apex court justices ruled that it is absurd for a youth corps member to contest the said election in view of the provisions of the constitution and the NYSC Act. “The appellant could therefore not be eligible to contest the said primary election while still undergoing the compulsory one-year service period. The law will not allow the appellant in this appeal to benefit from his wrongful act”, ruled Justice Okoro JSC, who delivered the leading judgement. Falana, thereafter, drawing from the provisions of the Nigerian constitution submitted that: “It is crystal clear from the authoritative pronouncements of the Supreme Court in the case of Modibbo v Usman (supra) that a youth corps member is not competent to contest any election in Nigeria. In the same vein, a person who has not completed the compulsory one-year youth service is not competent to be appointed a Minister in Nigeria since the Constitution has prescribed the same qualifications and disqualifications for election into the House of Representatives and appointment into the post of a Minister.” I need my old teacher to re-teach me if indeed the judicial precedent cum pronouncements of the Supreme Court are part of our constitution, and if indeed the Supreme Court is the final authority. These new men of power, and in power, are making nonsense of what my old teacher taught me years back.
Now imagine if Musawa were to be the daughter of a farmer in one of the Iyeke-Orhionmwon villages! We are indeed back to the Orwellian era of the unequal treatment of equals, as espoused in the allegorical novella, “Animal Farm”, by George Orwell. As in the case in the beast fable, we have had in the argument for and against Musawa’s appointment, characters like Napoleon, the proponent of the inequality of the animals on the farm, Snowball, who tried a challenge of the Napoleon order and Squealer, who is always ready to propagate the proficiency of the new Lord of the Manor at the expense of common sense and morality. It is therefore not entirely baffling that as glaring as the President’s impunity is in this controversial appointment, we have in our midst ‘legal juggernauts’, who are battle-ready to play the devil’s advocate in defense of the comedy of errors that Tinubu has been dishing out since May 29, 2023.
As for President Tinubu himself, I don’t know what the president saw in his corps-member-minister, Musawa. I don’t know what expertise the lady is bringing to the table. My concern is that if Musawa is all that important such that Tinubu’s cabinet would have missed her pedigree were she not appointed, Tinubu could have waited for the next four months to allow the super corps member to complete her mandatory service. While we thank the president most profusely for his attempt to “empower the Nigerian youths” by Musawa’s appointment, doing so in flagrant violation of the very constitution he swore to uphold, makes the “youth empowerment” unmeaning, tactless, pure impunity, crass arrogance, and lack of respect for the people, whom they said all came together: “to make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution.” If indeed Section 1 (1) of the Constitution, to wit; “This constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal republic of Nigeria”, is sacrosanct, I leave President Tinubu with the injunction of our people thus: “Alatise lo ma mo atise ara e lo difa fun onikun to mo ika ati alaso to mo a tun ro”, which, when translated, will mean, he who is in a conundrum should know how to wriggle out of it.
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, August 29, 2023)