By Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi
Last weekend, the news media was awash with reports about former President Olusegun Obasanjo going to Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to process his driving licence. When I saw the headline, questions probing its newsworthiness flooded my mind: And so what? Why is it of public interest? Is it not a basic requirement of law for every driver to have a licence? In a putdown way, I provisionally concluded that the seeming shaggy-dog story passed the rigours of gate-keeping, because, it had the merits of page fillers.
However, as I read the news report, it dawned on me that it was rich in symbolic gestures. It could be an object lesson in civil conduct. Better handled, it would have fostered greater public awareness about the new driver’s licence. This would have encouraged the general public to buy into the new regime of driver’s licence.
Obasanjo is commonly perceived to have a genius for spinning morality tales from everyday occurrences. Perhaps this is why his reputation for being a barrack-room lawyer has ballooned. It may also explain why many discontented Nigerians do not consider him worth listening to. Some listeners of Ray-Power’s call-in programme, Fact-File, who called on Thursday 14th March, as the programme x-rayed the security situation in Nigeria vis-à-vis Obasanjo’s call for collaboration with foreign experts, expressed concerns about his “capacity to advice” the Federal government. Others questioned his sincerity of purpose. Similarly, many comments on online news portals about the said visit to FRSC were less than positive.
There is nothing in the report that shows he was playing to the gallery. So, it pays to simply assume the best. That it wasn’t a plotted drama of showmanship. Even if it was, there are sunny issues the report elicited. Its newsworthiness and significance can best be appreciated within the context of our sad historical evolution and the need to kill the Goliath of authority abuse that threatens to destroy our corporate vision of a better society.
The militarisation of governance in Nigeria caused many socio-political and economic ills. It entrenched “barrack culture” in every facet of our national life. Arbitrary conducts were unchecked. Adherence to prescribed standard of civil engagement was commonly seen as a luxury that cannot be afforded. The progressive principles that govern public institutions were hardly obeyed. Jobbery became commonplace. Centres of governments took on the defining character of war rooms. Flagrant disobedience to court orders left us a notch above primitives in the ladder of civilisation.
This culture that respected persons more than principles made our laws more like cobwebs. They strangulated “little flies” (non-elite Nigerians). But they were shattered by “big birds” (elite Nigerians). Breaking the law and avoiding justices became a power game, a high art of the affluent. It gave lawbreakers an air of prestige akin to owning luxurious holiday resorts in plutocratic havens around the globe. In a sense, this culture made might right. Sadly, might wrongs everyone when it usurps the moral eminence of right.
This sad culture also made chief executives of public institutions men Friday of political elites, their wives and cronies. At the expense of the general public, security personnel were even detailed to their kept women.
No doubt, anarchy eventually becomes the prevailing spirit of a society where selective obedience to rules and regulations is an accepted norm. This is truer, particularly, where institutional capacity to enforce compliance has been eroded by anti-progressive forces.
Mendicant revisionists who see Nigeria’s socio-political evolution with rose-tinted spectacles are predictable. They may want to refute this. It will be near-impossible for them to rationally and convincingly contest that we did not tailspin to such level of social disorder and absurdity, if they recall the proceedings of Oputa Panel. That is a case in point that suffices.
During Obasanjo’s reported visit to FRSC, he noted: “If I have to drive, I must have a valid driver’s license like others.” This suggests that Obasanjo has cultivated the salutary attitude of his professional counterpart, the Roman centurion. The centurion said to Jesus: “I am a man under authority.” In Nigeria, we have men of authority everywhere. Men under authority are endangered social group. This is encapsulated in the prevalent “do-you-know-who-I-am?” attitude. Isn’t this how we say, we are laws unto ourselves? Isn’t this the way we intimidate poverty-stricken law enforcement officers into submission?
It could be inferred from the earlier quoted statement credited to Obasanjo that he is aware of this fact: To overturn the culture of authority abuse, we all must respect the spirit of the times we live in as manifest in the remarkable shift from vertical (command and control) order to the horizontal (collaborate and connect) order.
In a collaborate-and-connect society, class distinctions are not accentuated. Wealth does not facilitate the travesty of justice. Undue coercion is abhorred. Power is not used as an instrument of dominance. It is deployed in humane ways to achieve common goals and elevate humanity to ever greater notches of development. Authority abusers ultimately become losers in the emerging social order.
Through the process of democratisation, Nigeria is gradually becoming a collaborate-and-connect society, where laws are not treated like menu on a restaurant table. Nigeria is becoming a society where citizens’ obedience to laws is not selective and premised on compatibility with belief systems, tastes or proclivities.
Our history is filled with leaders who by their attitudes say “do as I say, not as I do.” Obasanjo’s reported visit to the FRSC counterpoints this attitude. He might be saying, “do as I do.” This is a positive development. We want him to be a moral leader in an absolute sense. He should seek to actively expand the shrinking league of ethical leaders in Nigeria. If he does, history may adjudge it his greatest legacy as a statesman.
Indeed, we look forward to Obasanjo playing more statesmanlike roles. The garb of partisan politics does not fit him excellently anymore. His constituency should be enlarged, bigger than People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It should embrace patriots of all shades and colours across socio-political and ethno-religious divides.
This is important because the much-needed value reorientation that will drive the holistic transformation of our society requires elite support.
Nigeria is threatened by the Goliath of authority abuse. Can the gestures of Obasanjo like David’s stone bring down this giant?