This is the second part of our treatise on the rule of law that started last week. The rule of law is about the creation of laws, their enforcement so that no one – including the most highly placed citizen – is above the law.
When one looks at how organised countries have control over their affairs, one sees how the weakest as well as the strongest face the same law and get the same justice when they get caught with a misdemeanour.
In an ideal country, those who are at the helm of affairs are ever mindful of doing the right thing. But our country used to be like that. What went wrong that along the way things so deteriorated that state actors assume superiority over the state itself? Civil servants and even political appointees no longer remind, guide, or nudge their bosses to uphold the best standards.
For instance, a source said he watched an NTA Kaduna interview session with the late General Hassan Usman Katsina in July 1987. General Katsina was the governor of Northern Nigeria before General Yakubu Gowon created 12 states. The interviewer asked General Hassan how he compares the governors of nowadays and his time (1966). This was his reply…
“I am going to give you an example and you can figure out the answer yourself. When I was the Governor of Northern Nigeria, Dr Abubakar Imam was the General Manager of Kaduna Capital Territory. In that year, we decided to allocate plots for the present GRA in Kaduna. I applied. KAT conducted the exercise. All the plots were allocated, but I was not given. I did not care to find out why. After the exercise, Dr Abubakar Imam came to my office, and he came with my application. He told me they had finished the exercise. He also said that he saw my application. However, he said they did not consider me qualified because I am the governor. He said as the leader, I should be more interested in my subjects’ interests than mine. How sure was I that all citizens who wanted the plots got allocated before I applied? He said he came with my application to tear it before me so that it will not come to me as rumour and he tore the piece of paper.”
There is also the story written by a retired 75-year-old former Confidential Secretary to Audi Howeidy, the Secretary to the Government when the late Police Commissioner, Audu Bako, was the governor of Kano State in which a Permanent Secretary queried the governor.
Alhaji Sani Danbatta was the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance and he queried Audu Bako for receiving 25 pounds monthly as an allowance and 125 pounds entertainment allowance. His imprest then was 10,000 pounds monthly. The perm sec queried why he allocated to himself allowances that were not provided in the General Order (public service rules). Danbatta further asked the governor to refund the illegal allowances he collected in the past eight months to the treasury or be surcharged by deducting from the source.
Audu Bako summoned all the Permanent Secretaries and demanded an explanation from Danbatta, saying he did not understand the content of the query. The perm sec said, “I have no explanation to give you, I passed the query through Alhaji Audi Howeidy, the Secretary to the Government, let Howeidy as an administrator say he did not understand the content, then I will explain.”
The Secretary to the Government thereafter presented a memo to the state executive council seeking its approval for the two allowances to be regularised to the governor and approval was accordingly granted.
Yet again the perm sec wrote a memo to Howeidy informing him that the new allowances to the governor should be taxed. The SSG referred the matter for advice to the Kano state commissioner for Revenue, Mr OB Wise (a Briton), who said that there is no tax for allowances in our existing laws.
In those days, civil servants could confront political leaders without fear or favour to correct them whenever they violated the laid down procedures, rules and regulations; unlike what is obtainable nowadays.
Before General Katsina and Compol Bako’s example was that of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region. The regional government had constructed air-strips for use of the Premier in most of the provinces. They were in Mubi, Jalingo, Wukari, Sokoto, Gusau, Minna, Azare, Gombe, Bauchi, Idah, and some other places.
The premier had three small Cessna aircraft in his fleet under the supervision of an Assistant District Officer (ADO) in his office, Alhaji Suleiman Gurin, a former teacher from Adamawa Province.
In time, Sir Ahmadu Bello flew one of the aircraft to Sokoto on a private visit. When he returned to Kaduna, the administrative headquarters of the region, Alhaji Suleiman Gurin sent him a bill for his flight to Sokoto!
To him, since it was a private visit, and therefore, the premier should make the refund to the government’s treasury. However, Sir Ahmadu Bello, though amused at the request, made the payment. And he was so proud of his ADO for reminding him that everyone who served was subject to the state, and to the laws that have been made to govern that state.
But if these scenarios were about official responsibilities, they were prim and proper in the way they conduct their social responsibilities as well.
There is a story narrated by the late Alhaji Alin Kotoko (I think), a Maiduguri-based contractor who was a beneficiary of the late Sardauna’s policy of North First (empowering the region’s local business people). The narrator said the regional Ministry of Education gave a contract to them and they made a decent profit out of it.
He and a colleague put a certain percentage of their profit in a paper envelope and went to the house of the ministry’s minister, Alhaji Isa Kaita, Wazirin Katsina. They were ushered into his sitting room where they met him sitting. They thanked him and had some brief discussions, but none of them could present the envelope to him. So, they got up to go but left the envelope there (a diplomatic way of presenting gifts to big men) by his side.
According to the narration, they were about to enter their car and drive off when he came out hurriedly and told them they had forgotten their envelope. It was then that one of them gathered enough courage and told him, “Sir, we made a good profit and we brought you this token as appreciation”.
He told them what they would never forget. Calmly, he told them, “No, the premier intended to empower you people. I am his representative. If I want money, then I have to resign and start a business… it is your money; take it.”
With such exemplary behaviour and attitude, leaders then were role models positively. By subjecting themselves to the rule of law and accepting to be guided by those who know, they made the system work. Because they did not abuse the system because of their powers, their children too were not unduly favoured.
No parent then would harass a teacher because he had punished his ward, or pay for his child to get a good grade in an examination or be made a prefect in their schools.
How have our opposite actions impacted our society and brought us to our current sad state? We shall also look at that subsequently.