In the concluding part of last week’s offering, ‘clowns without borders’, I posed the following questions: “something must be responsible for the comical behaviour of our politicians. Is it the tyranny of expectation – the pressure to deliver on real governance? Are our politicians dealing with cognitive capture? Or are they cleverly using humour to mask the real issues? I intend to answer the questions here; but, first, I need to make a slight clarification to the point on the floating toilet being “an artifact of a by-gone civilization or a civilization eager to take its own life”. I make this clarification in light of the fire that engulfed Onitsha last week and also in light of the inaction of Governor Obiano as the fire raged, devouring men, women, children and materials in its paths. Concerns have been expressed about the inaction of the governor, a bad behaviour really, and these concerns interrogate my conception of our reality, call it civilization, in a profound way, raising a more fundamental question: is our civilization really eager to take its own life? On the evidence presented last week in Onitsha, it doesn’t appear so. Instead, it is reinforcing and renewing itself with a certain dramatization that normalizes bad behaviour. Was I right in characterizing our reality as an artifact of a by-gone civilization? My answer is yes and no. Yes, and to the extent in which the Onitsha fire incident presents us with the picture of a country trapped in the un-modernizing civilization that the rest of the world long moved way from. No, I used the phrase only in the figurative sense.
The ritual politicians embark on to gain a purchase on stupidity was repeated in Onitsha- a bad kind of repetition, where stupidity is used to prove faithfulness to Koalemos, the Greek god of foolishness and stupidity- last week. Koalemos certainly smiled on Governor Obiano when he set up a panel of inquiry to unravel the immediate and remote causes of a deadly inferno his presence on ground would have given filip to emergency rescue efforts the locals struggled to muster. What cause can be more immediate than the governor missing in action as the fire raged and scorched lives? Or remote as the absence of fire trucks? Governor Obiano simply didn’t turn up, at least for the photograph opportunity. No Fire truck was sighted in the streets. None raced from nearby Asaba or Owerri, a city farther down the highway into the south eastern hinterland, which suggests one thing: they have no serviceable fire trucks or functional fire services. What is the cost of a fire truck that Governor Obiano couldn’t procure one for that famous market, from whom tales have been woven into our literature and orature? Certainly, not as expensive as his official car or the luxury cars in his convoy. A governor who spends scarce resources on Christmas lightings and commissioning them with fanfare than procuring the simple things of modernity that ensure public safety is vicariously liable for the Onitsha deaths.
To diminish the vicarious liability of his government he quickly annouced a panel of inquiry headed by his deputy. It is a familiar practice directed at deflecting attention from the inaction of government: so much heat will go into the sittings of the panel but little motion will be detected, even by the most perceptive observer. Just as it was quickly set up, it will quickly rush its assignment: the media will be awash with recommendations, with a star recommendation filling column inches: the fire was caused by a truck laden with petrol. As if it wasn’t obvious in the first place. A committee will eventually be set up to review the recommendations of the panel of inquiry. There will be no white paper. Even if there is, it won’t be released for public scrutiny. Nobody will be held responsible for the fire incident, and why it wasn’t contained, for the deaths. Nobody will be tried. There will be more attempts to keep the heat up, at least to unbelievable joules. Taking a cue from the Lagos State Government that declared the driver of the truck responsible for the 2018 Otedola Bridge fire incident, the driver of the ill-fated truck will be declared wanted. Perhaps, he was consumed by the fire; but who cares? The heat must be kept up to show the people that the cause of the fire has been unravelled. The circus continues.
Now, I return to answer the first question: “something must be responsible for the comical behaviour of our politicians. Is it the tyranny of expectation – the pressure to deliver on real governance?”. If there is anything with a resemblance to tyranny, it is the tyranny of stupidity, the foolishness politicians attach to their duties. The point, as there is nothing in the cosmos of our politicians that gives meaning to public service, should rightly be about the tyranny of privilege, not expectation. Politicians are elected to deliver good governance and not privilege interests. Since governance is relational – connects government to the people, promotes the people’s choices, and frames governance in such a way that it produces good outcomes – it isn’t hard to appreciate the wisdom of placing the people at the heart of democracy. When politicians supplant this wisdom with foolishness, the outcome is laughable. Here is one example of that foolishness: when communities under the constant attacks of insurgents cried out for protection and our dear Governor Umaru Zulum responded that he is gathering “thirty residents of Makkah in Saudi Arabia who are expected to offer daily Tawaf prayers on a permanent basis for peace to return to the state”. Isn’t it ridiculous that our governor chose to rely on prayer warriors than following in the footsteps of the Kingdom that entered into defence talks with the United States of America on its missile defence systems, while deploying antidrones to protect itself, following attacks on the Abqaiq oil processing facility? If the steps taken by the House of Saud serves no useful lesson to our governor, nothing ever will.
My answer to the first limb of the second and final question: “our politicians dealing with cognitive capture or are they cleverly using humour to mask the real issues?” is yes. We are dealing with the extreme case of “cognitive regulatory capture” of the state by politicians and their friends who go behind to establish a paradigm which allows them circumvent rules, principles and practices and in extreme cases supplant them with self-interest. The conduct disorder of the species of public servants is now clear that they do no longer mask their interests. They don’t have to cherry-pick subjects, pretending not to notice other subjects of public interest. They only have to register their interests in subjects and voila the subjects are theirs for the taking. Their approach is no longer subtle. The goal of subverting public interest is no longer shaped by finesse or humour; brute force is all that matters now. They purge those who disagree with them, as experienced in Kogi State. Last week, the seven-man panel set up by the Chief Judge of Kogi State to investigate the impeachable offences levelled against Deputy Governor Achuba returned the-no-guilty findings. Dissatisfied, the State House of Assembly proceeded to impeach him, against the clear provisions of Section 188 (8) of the 1999 Constitution. Here, we have a State House of Assembly coming to a poor view of its constitutional duty by doing the bidding of the governor who hides behind his dark goggle to teleguide the Assembly. I expected the Assembly to stay within constitutional bounds; unfortunately, it didn’t, obviously for this reason: where cognitive regulatory capture has taken deep root, as Kogi has shown, staying within constitutional bounds becomes impossible. Not when ‘Ghana-Must-Go’ bags are allegedly involved and the interests of the governor and legislators converge.
The duty of the legislature is to ensure that the public interest prevails in law-making; but when the constitution is violated as we have seen with the Achuba Affair, one doesn’t have to stray far to sense how special interests smear laws coming out our legislature. With Kogi State on our mind, aren’t we seeing another case, a variant of cognitive regulatory capture – legislative capture? A point to note, cognitive regulatory capture hints at a more devious type of corruption we pay little attention to in these parts: cognitive corruption. Legislators who surrender their cognitive powers to special interests would only pass tainted laws prejudicial to public interest. This is how it how goes: he who pays the piper dictates the tune. But, the case of the judiciary is more worrying. The dust on the breach of the Constitution was still settling when the Chief Judge, whose report was trashed by the House, administered the oath of office on the new Deputy Governor. The action of the Chief Judge is emblematic of the timidity of the bench. Instead of going back to the core of the rule of law to save the Constitution, the bench is surrendering to the executive. Those who argue that the judiciary can serve as a counter to the executive and legislature are disappointed at the capitulation of the Chief Judge. Serving as a counter is impossible when judges cannot assert their independence or show some “symbolic act of resistance to the pursuit of a judicial promise”. This is what is possible now: law doesn’t rule in a contrived arrangement in which the executive, legislature and judiciary are rolled into one. Montesquieu would be disappointed!
In concluding, the class clowns we call politicians have no iota of respect for practices that connect government to the people, so they do all in their power to pull the wool over our eyes and resort to meaningless humours to mask the real issues, while privileging their interests. They always play the joker because they know that nothing go happen. But, come to think of it, the joke’s on them after all.
– By Abdul Mahmud