In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
Democracy involves fair representation and equal treatment for all. In a democratic system,
everyone should be equal before the law in its application and where some animals are more
equal than others according to George Orwell; it further leads to breakdown of law and order.
This is why in Law, it is often said that justice must not just be done but must also be seen to
be done. This puts a strain on perception.
Impunity is simply exemption from punishment for wrongdoing. It could also be defined as
getting off scot-free for malfeasance. What this does is that, it creates a perception in the
hearts of people, that the law for the rich is different from that of the poor, the law for the
mighty is different from that of the downtrodden, and the law for kings is different from that
of its subject. This leads to open resentment in the society.
One of the major reasons why we are where we are as a nation is because of impunity. The
law is supposed to be a leveller of all men irrespective of status or standing in the society. As
the Proverbial Book states, where there are no laws, the people perish. I must also say that
where the laws are not applied correctly and fairly, nothing could be more apropos than
anarchy in the land.
Some scholars have argued that immunity engenders impunity. Section 308 of the 1999
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended provides immunity clause for the
presidents, vice-presidents, governors and deputy-governors. This serves as a shield against
all forms of frivolous litigations that will distract governance and it provides immunity to the
occupiers of these offices against civil or criminal proceedings while in office. The principle
is based on the Latin maxim which quips “rex non potest peccare” which means the king can
do no wrong.
However, over time, this portion of the Constitution has been abused in form of “Executive
Rascality” as officials in these capacities can do anything without recourse to the law,
knowing fully well they cannot be punished for their actions in office. When leaders cannot
be held accountable in their respective offices, it becomes harder to be held accountable after
leaving their exalted offices and even if they are made to account for their infractions
afterwards, their actions and inactions in office will have affected many adversely with its
effects which may last for a lifetime.
We also have “unofficial immunity” which is imposed on government appointees and
officials on the basis of their relationships with the appointors. You will agree with me that
the presidents and governors cannot be everywhere every time, hence; people must be
appointed to assist them in some areas. Over the years, we have seen abuse of offices, where
political appointees assume the position of demigods inflicting untoward pain on the citizenry
and formulating policies that are anti-people, some with the principal’s consent, and others
without the principal’s consent.
How on earth can you explain fiduciaries of government diverting monies meant for the
people to personal use? How do you explain government officials occupying positions of
trust, betraying the people? How do you tell pensioners who spent their youthful lives
contributing their hard-earned money to secure their future, only to be told after retirement
that these monies have been diverted? How do you explain to civil servants that they can’t
have their full salaries as and when due simply because the previous government took loans
and left the state indebted? How do you explain to citizens that they can’t get basic
infrastructures simply because the cost of governance is high? How do you explain palliatives
meant for the people hoarded in warehouses and nobody has taken responsibility for that till
date? How do you explain to the masses that the police meant to protect them are abusing
them again and again? The list is endless.
The time has come, when we must rise and demand accountability from our leaders. The time
has come when we must throw away primordial and primeval sentiments that will hamper the
prosecution of people found wanting. The time has come when the governed must question
the government as to how they are being governed. The time has come when people who
make and break the laws must face its consequences. The time has come for our nation to be
the haven of peace. The time has come for Nigeria to be that perfect country for Nigerians.
The time has come when impunity must come to an end permanently.
I must note that evil thrives not only when iniquitous men engage in nefarious activities but
also when good men remain silent. There are times when silence is not golden, as being silent
means consent. Leaders must learn to live by examples and they must lead from the front.
Finally, in the words of Donald McGannon, leadership is an action, not a position.
Usman O Abdullahi is a writer and a public affairs analyst, based in Lagos and can be
reached via firstname.lastname@example.org