By Sonala Olumhense
Nigeria’s new normal: a robust state of anarchy, continued undisturbed last week. At the University of Abuja, half an hour away from the presidential palace, hoodlums in brisk but leisurely business mode arrived halfway through the night.
They shot their way in and spent about an hour, confident that they were in no danger. On their way out they seized six persons, including a professor of economics and two of his children. Another professor whose wife and family members were taken was seen on television weeping helplessly.
The criminals would later get in touch to demand a N300m ransom, but by the end of the week the police said they had rescued all the victims without paying anything. They are the lucky ones. Banditry and kidnapping for profit are Nigeria’s fastest-growing industries.
At the Senate, ministers were arriving to justify their budget proposals, with some of them enduring considerable embarrassment.
The Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, for instance, did not seem to know why he had proposed N42bn for the “new” Zungeru Power Plant, a project that is not new at all as it received N25bn in the 2021 budget. He described the term as a “typographical” error. N42bn worth!
The money was part of his ministry’s estimates of N301bn for 2022. As the Senate finally seems to be getting tired of running errands for the executive branch, Mr Aliyu was sent back to get himself together and return with explanations and details concerning the power plant’s expenditure profile.
Appearing before the National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Land and Marine Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, could not explain why the government plans to construct a standard gauge rail system between Kano and Maradi in another country, but narrow rail lines in the South-East, South-South and North-East.
Committee chairman Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe) asked him: “Are people from [these areas] not Nigerians? Why should there be a double standard in this matter…What wrong did the South-East, North-Central and North-East, particularly the South-East, Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Bauchi, Gombe, Borno and Adamawa do? What is wrong with us? Are we not Nigerians?”
Amaechi, whose numbers in the rail sector fluctuate from discussion to discussion, implied that it was a matter of money, saying that the cost of constructing the Eastern line between Port Harcourt and Borno State is between $12bn and $14bn.
He told the committee: “If we start looking for the money now and it takes time before we get that money, you will say it is Amaechi that refused to give you railway. Because now, we don’t even have the money to do Ibadan to Kano. That is why on our own, we are funding Kano to Kaduna while looking for the money.”
If you understood a word of what Minister Amaechi was saying, please get to the National Assembly. They need an interpreter. .
As part of this new normal, two big houses came down last week.
One of them was a coup in the judicial branch of the government. In it, the Abuja home of Supreme Court judge Mary Odili was invaded in the middle of the night by armed hoodlums who were thought to be state security agents. They were armed with a bogus warrant.
Some reports said that the raid had been undertaken by the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the State Security Service (DSS). The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, was accused of being behind it.
Each of them denied involvement. “EFCC Did Not Carry Out Any Operation in Justice Odili’s Home,” was the headline of that agency’s statement. “No, we didn’t,” SSS spokesman Peter Afunanya told a newspaper.
The police also denied responsibility, spokesman Frank Mba announcing that the IGP had directed the Force Intelligence Bureau to conduct some kind of “investigation.”
And in something of a cruel punchline, given the realities of the moment, Mba said the IGP “assured the commitment of the Force to the safety and security of the members of the judiciary and Nigerians in general.” To whom is the safety and security of Nigerians an agenda item?
For Mr Malami, spokesman Umar Gwandu declared that neither the ministry nor the AGF was involved in any way.
There you have it: the home of a senior Supreme Court judge in a modern democracy invaded in the middle of the night by dozens of armed hoodlums, an incident in which anything could have happened, including her being raped or killed or even abducted for ransom. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court fought back. In an unprecedented statement, it warned that the Nigerian judiciary cannot only bark, but can also bite.
“We can no longer be treated with disdain and levity,” it said. “The rule of law and constitutionality must govern our conduct so that we can tag along with the comity of nations and be taken seriously too.”
“No longer” is a potent grenade. The problem is whether the judiciary is convinced that it is an independent and co-equal branch of government in Nigeria—which it is—and if so, whether it will fight to assert itself, or “tag along” with the executive for the breadcrumbs. Now that the court has barked, Nigerians wait to see what its bite looks like.
By week’s end, there was a lot of talk about investigating the incident: the kind of task that members and former members of the judiciary are often used in and used for. The irony is where justice is in that spectrum: is it the beginning, or the end or not really.
Because the question is whether, based on the Justice Odili home invasion—following similar invasions three years ago—the court wishes to return to its subservient relationship with the executive branch. Because everyone knows that those investigations will not be a model of justice.
The second house that fell during the week: a massive 21-storey “7-star hotel experience” that was being marketed to the super-rich in affluent Ikoyi, Lagos.
In the middle of the day on Tuesday, it came down on itself. It is bad enough when a four or six-storey building collapses; when a glamourous 21-storey luxury high-rise in which apartments are being sold for billions falls, that is a calamity.
Speculations were rife that the project had buckled to short cuts, including the possibility that by design, the “Luxury in the Sky,” was only authorised to rise to 15 floors.
Sadly, very few people had been found alive by week’s end. Dozens continued to be brought out dead. Just another week in the land of anarchy. Fittingly, the man in charge of this turmoil was abroad, taking care of “Lamba 1.”
(This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials).
State of anarchy
By Sonala Olumhense