Nigeria: A Bill for an Act to Curb the Powers of Death

17 April 2021

Abeokuta — It is high time the powers of Death were checked and circumscribed by legal instruments. But for equity, there should have been mass mobilization for Death to be arrested, summarily tried and sent to life imprisonment or straight to the guillotine. There is a litany of injustices perpetrated by Death against citizens. A prima facie case can be established; his guilt can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But our laws do not permit a man to be tried for an offence that has not been so codified. Hence, there is the need for the national legislature to enact a law to curb the powers of Death.

There are mountains of plaints against Death. His predilection for arbitrariness, impunity, mischief, whim and caprice must be checked. No one should be invested with such an absolute power. As Lord Acton observed, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

I had developed some bond with Henry Boyo. Within weeks of our interactions on the Editorial Board of Daily Independent, we formed some chemistry. His passion for the economic prosperity of Nigeria was unrivalled. Here was a self-made man, who needed nothing from Nigeria. Although he belonged to the upper class, he identified with all classes of the society.

On a daily basis, he railed against the voodoo economics of the country. He did not exactly use the word 'folly' though every of his listener or reader would conclude with that word. Why should the Central Bank of Nigeria pump trillions of Naira into the system or wet the system with overflowing liquidity and then turn round to complain of too much money in the system, fuelling inflation? Then at one fell swoop, the same CBN decides to mop up the excess liquidity by borrowing back through the commercial banks the same Naira it, of its own volition, injected into the system, at a colossal interest rates or loss to the public exchequer? It's like working for the commercial banks at the expense of the masses. Or it's more of working for the money bags at the expense of the masses through monetary instruments like the Treasury Bill.

If it was a one-off egregious act, it could be overlooked. But every month, the apex bank converts the dollar proceeds for the three tiers of government into Naira at an arbitrary rate, flooding the system with Naira, which keeps the Nigerian currency on the canvas against the dollar. Since virtually everything is imported in the country, you have truckloads of the same castrated Naira looking for the dollar! Hence the more the increase in our dollar-denominated revenue and external reserves, the more the Naira allocations pumped into the system, the poorer Nigerians become, as too much Naira chases a stronger dollar. And Henry Boyo would shout from the rooftops, in broadcast and print media, especially through his columns in the Daily Independent, Punch and Vanguard. His prescription was simple and unimpeachable.

Here is Henry Boyo's refrain: "There is no greater instigator of excess liquidity than the constant substitution of Naira allocations for dollar-denominated revenue. This is the poison in our economic system. Truly, our nation's development will remain stunted for many generations if we do not tackle this problem. I will not be part of the band of deceit that will trumpet cures to symptoms of a disease rather than recommend a frontal attack to the real cause of the disease. Indeed, the evidence is clear that our people have become poorer despite increasing dollar revenue and reserves in the last three decades!

"Certainly, no economy can perform creditably when cost of funds to the real sector remains at over 20%, while stable consumer demand remains severely constrained with annual inflation rates of 8-12%. Sadly, CBN and our Economic Management Teams have never been able to construct an appropriate growth model which supports low cost of funds (i.e. 3-6%), low inflation rate (1-3%), with a non-monopolistic and open forex market that will drive the elusive quest for economic diversification and inclusive growth. Systemic Naira supply, clearly also, is responsible for weaker Naira exchange rates, as CBN's weekly auctions of modest dollar rations, are pitched in a market against excess Naira supply, which invariably creates an imbalance in favour of the dollar! Surely, the adoption of dollar certificates for government allocations of dollar-denominated revenue will eliminate or critically reduce the burden of excess Naira liquidity and therefore give the Naira a fighting chance against the dollar in the Forex market."

Some of us have near pathological aversion to Lagos traffic. Any opportunity to escape the raucous city is lustily craved. A worse situation was thrown up by the endless construction on the Lagos-Ibadan highway, especially the blockage of a section of the road, which exacerbated the traffic-jam.

Hence I avoided Lagos, as much as possible! My plan was to visit the "Centre of Excellence" in December 2019, when a section of the highway necessitating the closure, hopefully, would have been completed. Surely, I would visit Sir Henry Boyo in his Allen redoubt.

Alas, I was caught unawares. I was intensely embarrassed. It was sort of a double whammy - some melancholy occasioned by denial of legitimate entitlements in a previous employment. Boyo was not afflicted by any serious illness as to warrant the exercise of the powers of Death.

It was arbitrariness and naked abuse of power by Death.

I still feel hurt. I feel intensely embarrassed by the indiscriminate, if not reckless action of Death. Boyo was a complete gentle man that could not hurt a fly. Although he was old enough to sire me, he related with me as a colleague and friend. He was a wealthy industrialist, completely self-retiring. But for his love for his country, regularly expressed in print and electronic media, you hardly would have noticed Boyo in any public space.

Again, in the early days of 2021, I had planned to call one our aunties to express best wishes to her. Although she was 75, she was still full of life. Alas, it was again another abuse of power by Death. She only complained of a minor illness and within a few hours, Death, without any scruples, remorse or human feelings, exercised his unrestrained powers! Absolute powers corrupt absolutely. Gani Fawehinmi, Chima Ubani, Bamidele Aturu, Yinka Odumakin, Innocent Chukwuma! Haba, Mr Death! Please, what were their offences?! Why did you cut short their lives?

There must be procedures to guide Death in his choices. There must be A Bill for an Act to curb the powers of Death, to provide guidelines for the exercise of the powers of Death.

It is true Death cannot be held accountable for murders, accidents, killings or illnesses but the timing of the exercise of his powers must align with the law of natural justice. For instance, it's the height of injustice for Death to allow a sickness to linger for months and years, gulping thousands and millions of Naira in hospital expenses and still strike in the end.

The era of arbitrariness is over. Henceforth a life must run its full course before Death is permitted to exercise his powers. A good example of a life that ran its full course is to be found in the Great Book, in Genesis 49:33: "And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people." In effect, Death has no absolute power. His powers can be circumscribed by an Act of Parliament. After charging his children at an old age, Jacob literally invited Death to exercise his legal powers. There was no room for arbitrariness. No room for whim. No room for caprice.

Soyombo, media practitioner and public affairs analyst, writes from Abeokuta

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