• Sunday, July 14, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Nigeria and the politicisation of morality

businessday-icon

Any interest Nigerian politicians and their supporters may have in morality is far outweighed by their interest in politics. In fact, it may not be wrong, judging by precedents, to say that they have no genuine interest in morality; and that they invoke morality, often disingenuously, to achieve negative political ends like campaigning for the removal of a rival from public office as a manifestation of the symptom of the mediocrity-spreading disease we Nigerians call Pull Him Down (PHD) Syndrome.

Last year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo hinted at this hypocritical attitude of our politicians and their supporters when he said of Chief Bola Tinubu, the former Governor of Lagos State and a leader of the “opposition”: “You said Bola Tinubu is your master; what Buhari did was not … worse than what Bola Tinubu did. We got Buhari impeached. But in this part of the world, some people covered up the other man. The man claimed he went to Government College, Ibadan, but the Governor of Oyo State then went to Government College and packed all the documents so that they would not know that he did not go there.”

Salisu Buhari, to which the former President referred, was impeached as Speaker of the House of Representatives for certificate forgery, claiming that he graduated from the University of Toronto. And what he said “Bola Tinubu did”, which he compared to “what Buhari did” and condemned its cover-up by the former’s supporters, was that Tinubu also made “misleading” claims that he graduated from the University of Chicago and the University College, Ibadan.

Bola Tinubu was Governor of Lagos State when the scandal erupted. And I attribute it to the politicisation of morality, by which I mean the perverse use of morality as a political weapon, with no genuine desire to improve society or the conduct of public servants, that the similar cases involving him and Salisu Buhari ended as differently as the former President portrayed in his remarks.

Those who treat morality in this way actually portray our country in a bad light as a land of hypocrites. It is such people that Jesus Christ urged to remove the log in their eyes before trying to remove the mote in someone else’s eyes. It is also them that he criticised for seeming oblivious that while pointing an accusing finger at someone three of their fingers are pointing back at them.

But a different precedent more fittingly depicts this phenomenon, the politicisation of morality – the case of Dr. Chuba Okadigbo who, as Senate President, was accused of some official misconduct for which a section of the media bayed relentlessly for his impeachment as they had done in Salusi Buhari’s case only to suddenly fall silent as soon as he was impeached, suggesting that the charges had been orchestrated or exaggerated in order to instigate his removal as Senate President. Interestingly, Dr. Okadigbo remained a senator after his impeachment, and his accusers never raised the issue of his “misconduct” afterwards, as did Senator Adolphus Wabara, another Senate President impeached under circumstances redolent of the politicisation of morality.

Nor are women spared the type of cynical attack that results from the politicisation of morality. In fact, they have been the main targets of such attack in recent years, especially by some members/leaders of the House of Representatives.

First, they went after Patricia Etteh with charges of corruption which they dropped as soon as they impeached her (with no official indictment) as their Speaker, replacing her with a man.

Then they sanctioned Arunma Oteh, the Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), and called for her sack by President Goodluck Jonathan, after she accused some of them of dealing corruptly with SEC, a charge the accused persons did not disprove.

Incidentally, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, has alleged that the body language of President Jonathan suggests his condonation of corruption. But doesn’t the allegation apply to Tambuwal, considering the treatment of Oteh under his charge after her allegation of corruption against some principal officers of the House?

Afterwards one of their committees invited Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, for a presentation at which its chairman treated her with such reckless discourtesy that should embarrass anyone who associates public office with decorum.

Now they have turned on Diezani Madueke, the Minister of Petroleum, for the alleged wrongful charter of private jets for her personal use.

 The experience of these women has led me to wonder what the current male-dominated leadership of our House of Representatives may have against women occupying high public office and excelling in such positions, sometimes more than their male contemporaries.

Could theirs be a conspiracy of male chauvinists who perceive such highly educated, proficient and independent-minded women as threats to the culture of mediocrity and male domination to which some of such men apparently owe their leadership positions, and who therefore consider frustrating such women out of office as the only way to guarantee their continued control of and visibility in the public space?

Or could it be that their current Speaker, said to be interested in running for the Presidency in 2015, has enlisted some of the leaders of the House as his shadow campaigners charged with undermining the political fortunes of President Jonathan as a potential opponent in the election, by discrediting some of his appointees who incidentally are women?

Sadly, the prejudice that drives such politicisation of morality precludes the recognition that the accused ought to be regarded as innocent until the allegation against them is proven by due process. This is apparent from the recent statement ascribed to one Dr. Ope Banwo by Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu, posted on the latter’s Facebook page on March 6, 2003. He quoted Dr. Banwo as having declared on a live programme on Silverbird Television (STV) on that day: “We all agree that (Stella) Oduah should go whether she is guilty or not…” – whoever the speaker meant by “we”!

And in the case of Diezani Madueke, for whom I am not holding a brief, it is unlikely that her accusers will consider the possibility of her innocence even after the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has issued a statement exonerating her, as the Chairperson of its Board of Directors, and pointing out “Section 6 of the NNPC Act, Cap. N123, LFN 2004” as the “enabling legislation”, among other justifications, for the chartering of the controversial aircraft. But why should her accusers expect any neutral person to believe them and not her defenders?

 My aim here is not to kick against accountability in public office. It is to warn against the danger of the sham pursuit of accountability with prejudice, malice, or to advance the cause of bad politics.

Sometimes what is at stake is the hard-earned reputation of people which no one has a right to tarnish let alone destroy without justification. And if we keep quiet to unjustified attack on the reputation of our fellow citizens, it may not be long before we ourselves become victims of the misdeed.

Ikeogu Oke