THE recent reported assault against some citizens by some state governors is worrisome and unbecoming of persons holding such a high position. Governor Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto State, according to media reports, allegedly flogged three members of staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria for denying his community electricity. The governor was said to have invited the Business Manager, Giwa Business Unit, Sokoto, Moses Osigwe, to his personal residence, and allegedly lashed him thoroughly with a horsewhip. He also allegedly instructed two mobile policemen to also beat the man until he became unconscious. It was an unfortunate display of Nigeria’s ‘Big Man’ mentality.
Two other PHCN employees were said to have been similarly beaten up by the policemen. The sad incident has provoked a threat of mass action by the Nigeria Labour Congress in the state. According to the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abdulwahed Omar, “The position of congress is that the governor must apologise publicly and he must do this as quickly as possible, otherwise we will unleash a series of actions to protect the integrity of not just workers in Sokoto State, but that of the generality of Nigerian workers.” This is not the first time such acts would be reported. At different times, the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, and his Ekiti State counterpart, Kayode Fayemi, have been accused of manhandling some citizens. The allegations were however vigorously denied.
It is true that Nigeria’s new democracy evolved in the shadow of a prolonged military dictatorship. The well-known case between a former military administrator of old Rivers State, Alfred Diete-Spiff, and the then Rivers State correspondent of the Nigerian Observer newspaper, the late Minere Amakiri, is a typical example. Diete-Spiff ordered the arrest of Amakiri and the subsequent shaving of his hair with a broken bottle for writing an article the governor considered critical of his government in 1973 and published on the governor’s birthday anniversary.
But it is an immense disappointment that some civilian rulers have also imbibed this military mentality by exhibiting supercilious behaviour. Right from 1999, both elected and appointed public officials have portrayed themselves as new overlords of the people, creaming off public treasury, living the most extravagant lifestyle and hounding motorists off the roads like their military predecessors. In 2007, for instance, the then Governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim’s security details were reported to have beaten up a woman who was taking her children to church in Lagos for obstructing the governor’s convoy. Ohakim allegedly told the woman she was lucky she was not shot by the unruly security agents. In 2010, the same Ohakim allegedly flogged one Samuelson Iwuoha in his office in Owerri for Iwuoha’s critical views about his government.
Governors’ constitutional immunity should not be turned to reckless impunity. Impunity is both the cause and symptom of bad government, eroding confidence in the justice system and public authority, leading to civic cynicism, anomie, and contempt for the rule of law. Governors are public officials, essentially funded by the taxpayer and should operate from a moral high ground. It is pertinent to stress that whoever is elected to the position of a governor of a state should be a person of high integrity and nobility. Such a person must be an embodiment of the rule of law.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in Nigeria. The current crop of rulers in the country does not have the interest of the people at heart. They believe more in the primacy of their pockets than in the welfare and happiness of the people. Little wonder that an elected government official can descend so low as to be flogging his fellow citizen. This is outrageous. This type of behaviour has no room in a democratic society.
The past wound requires healing, not reopening. Our people must begin to learn how to challenge the excesses of these rulers. The first step is to go to court and seek redress. The governor may enjoy immunity now, but he is not going to be in office forever. He should be made to answer questions arising from his stewardship when he is out of office. The Nigerian Bar Association and other relevant professional/advocacy groups should show more interest in the flagrant violation of citizens’ fundamental rights. The citizens, on their part, have a duty to vote for true leaders.
Governors’ manhandling of innocent citizens must stop