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