A tradition popularised by Olusegun Obasanjo has not been abandoned by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. It is that once one finds himself in Aso Villa he could declare, like King Louis XIV of France, "L'etat c'est moi" (I am the state). Today, the president and his henchmen have undermined the powers of government agencies, so much so that the latter have become mere puppets to be used in fighting the former's perceived enemies.
The man who once declared that he was neither a general nor a pharaoh looks set to become a despot. What Nigerians are currently witnessing under President Jonathan is a throwback to the ugly era of Obasanjo who caged almost all government institutions in preparation for a third term or life presidency project. That Obasanjo failed to achieve his ultimate ambition should serve as a reminder to both Jonathan and the public institutions being used that the victory of falsehood over truth can only be temporary. The EFCC, for instance, had its credibility badly damaged from the time Obasanjo started using it to fight his enemies. Only recently, the same EFCC was instructed to keep governors Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State and Muazu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State under watch because of their perceived presidential ambitions in 2015. Last year, the Jonathan government used the security services to hound former Federal Capital Territory minister Malam Nasir el-Rufai for criticising it.
Hardly does any former public officer raise a voice of dissent against the Jonathan government, however mild and well-intended, without risking a summons from an anti-graft agency the next day. On another front, the ruling PDP is currently using INEC to block the opposition coalition's newly adopted name; and that was the week after the Kaduna State police commissioner personally drove to a radio station to waylay former Governor Ahmed Sani Yerima for saying there would be mass protest if INEC did not register the new All Progressive Congress. But that's not all. In an attempt to get at former education minister Obiageli Ezekwesili, the ICPC has arrested and interrogated Mr. Tom Chiahemen, a media consultant for the education ministry between 2006 and 2007, simply because Mrs. Ezekwesili had accused the Yar'Adua/Jonathan regimes of blowing $67billion left behind by the Obasanjo government in foreign reserves and the excess crude account.
But how petty and disingenuous could the Jonathan administration be? The resort to the use of public institutions for witch-hunt suggests a cover-up. It is unacceptable to use anti-graft agencies, INEC or the police for political advantage. It erodes the integrity of the agencies themselves, thus putting the nation's development in reverse gear. Since Ezekwesili made her famous statement at her alma mater, the University of Nigeria, late last year, the government has not countered it with credible facts and statistics. Maybe the allegation of misappropriating $67billion is true. The National Assembly and the NGOs that have been investigating the claim should redouble their efforts. And if the administration had nothing to hide, it should take Ezekwesili's challenge: debate the matter with her in a live TV programme.
Ezekwesili's case shows, for instance, that the ICPC is anything but independent. A body inaugurated in 1999 - long before she was appointed minister - was only able to investigate a fraud in the education ministry seven clear years after the crime was allegedly committed. This is a disservice to justice and a crude provocation of the public's patience at a time when trillions of naira are being stolen and the government is turning a blind eye. The absence of deterrence has put the entire polity in danger - a society without values is as good as dead.
We must return to the crusade for the rule of law - equality before the law, independence of the judiciary. Above all, President Jonathan and all future presidents of Nigeria should ensure that our public institutions are not weakened by interferences. During his first official visit to Africa as United States president, four years ago, Barack Obama delivered one most important message: "You don't need strong men but strong institutions". It's a pity that African leaders like Jonathan have, since that time, not picked any lesson from the American leader. Some African strong men who ignored Obama's message have since died or been overthrown.