Nigeria: Okorocha, My siren is louder than yours

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Unprecedented levels of violence and public insecurity or disorder have marred the Nigerian social space, so much indeed that Nigerians at every level now live with a siege mentality. A significant level of this state of siege is encouraged and maintained by irresponsible political leadership.

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Chris Anyanwu, the senator representing Owerri in the Nigerian senate claimed to have been run-off the road on her way to her home in Mbaise by a convoy of vehicles accompanying the Imo state governor, Mr. Rochas Okorocha.

According to the senator, right about Azara-Egbelu, on the Owerri-Umuahia highway, Mr. Okorocha’s convoy, with its blaring siren and phalanx of heavily armed “security men” stopped her own witless driver who apparently had been too slow in getting off the road for the governor to sail through .

The governor’s armed men dragged out the man and beat him mercilessly. Unable to stand the beating any longer, the senator claimed to have intervened: “I rushed out of my car barefoot and started shouting: “I am Senator Chris Anyanwu, please don’t kill my driver.

But one of the armed men charged at me and threatened to shoot me for running into the governor’s convoy. All these while, the Governor was seated in his car with the glass wound down and I heard him shout at his security men to disarm my orderlies”.

A cardinal ground for the establishment of government, particularly a government of the people by the people has been violated. I speak here of the social contract – the basic principle that legitimate authority is established on the consent of the individual.

People basically come together to organize their society under the rule of law. The principle of the contract recognizes that in consenting to cede their individual freedom to an established government, the individual expects in exchange of his absolute freedom the protection of his rights and liberties by the organized government. A contract exists only when these guarantees are met by either party in the relationship between the state and the individual.

A rational individual consents to give up his or her natural freedom in exchange or in the hopes of obtaining the benefits of political order. In other words, government is the largest mutual benefits society ever created by man as a means of taming the wild and insurgent capacities of the individual.

Without consent to submit to the established and legitimate authority of the state the individual becomes an outlier; he is governed by the natural instincts to survive; he is untamed by law; and societies slip back to natural states of chaos and disorder, or what Thomas Hobbes called “the state of nature.” Nigeria has inched closer and closer to this situation because the legitimacy of the Nigerian state is increasingly questioned by the people.

There is incoherence in the organization of government. There is in fact rapid discontent. The political leadership seems fundamentally disconnected or dissociated from the common reality of those by whom they derive their legitimate authority. The state fails because it can no longer guarantee the safety of Nigerians and their fundamental right to life, property, and the pursuit of individual happiness. The mindless overreach of authority bespeaks a fundamental lack of awareness of the nature of the contract between Nigerians and their political representatives.

Let me draw this example: a governor of a state who uses an armed convoy and drives rough-shod through the streets, driving citizens out of the road to make way for him sets a very bad example. Governor Okorocha and all such state officials are still hung up on a terrible habit established under military rule in which military administrators saw government as an emergency and citizens as “ordinary civilians.”

The soldiers appropriated all kinds of power, including the power to ride in a sirened convoy of armed men to demonstrate the force of military rule. Such images have no place in a civil and elected government. An elected governor should have no more than a police orderly and an official driver and car for his use and only for official business.

Riding about in an armed convoy is mindless overreach; and uncivilized. Sirens were traditionally reserved for emergency vehicles: police in the pursuit of criminals; ambulances in conveying the sick to the casualty ward, the fire services on emergency runs, and used only on ceremonial occasions for conveying public officials.

There is no protocol under the rule of law that grants the governor of the state any more rights on the road than any other citizen. Governor Okorocha therefore breaks a fundamental law that needs to be addressed very urgently because it goes right up to the very soul of the rule of law. Does an elected governor have the right to drive other citizens of the state off the road by the use of armed force?

There is no place in the civilized world for such conduct and such primitive show of power. Did the governor break a law in ordering his so-called “security men” to beat up a citizen and thus taking the laws under his own hand as if Imo State is a jungle without courts or magistrates?

Before the law, the governor is equal to the least citizen in Imo State. His legitimacy is guaranteed by their consent. Mr. Okorocha ought to be brought to heel on these facts.

A governor who oversees the brutal molestation of a citizen of a state, simply on some infraction of a presumed privilege, is not fit for public office. It is incumbent therefore on the Imo State House of Assembly to do their duty as the elected guardians of the state, by opening up an investigation into this incident.

Complicity in the brutal, physical molestation of a citizen of the state, the senator’s driver, by the governor is an impeachable offence because it reduces not only the dignity of the office, but violates the oath of the governor’s office. It is about time we stopped tolerating the extreme and primitive behavior of people elected into public office to serve us who end up playing gods over us. As citizens, our greatest security is the rule of law.

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