In the first part of this series I gave a brief introduction to the Social Contract, and some of the interesting theories behind it. I also linked to a writing called “Crito” (PDF) by the Greek philosopher Plato, about his friend and mentor, the famous Socrates. In it, Socrates is languishing in a dungeon cell awaiting execution when his rich friend Crito shows up in the dead of night to convince the prisoner to accept an escape plan. Socrates, in true form, makes Crito a deal; they will follow the argument to its logical conclusion and, whatever decision they reach by way of reasoning, that is the action that they will take. It’s a fascinating read, not very long, and I highly recommend it. There is also an analysis of the piece.
In this article, then, I will borrow from Socrates’ arguments to point out that President Buhari’s “corruption war” is really not what it appears on the surface. In fact, from this point of view, it is arguably a battle for control by two sides of the same coin.Because, first of all…
Stealing is not Corruption (Just a Part of it)
In the words of Socrates, “does it seem possible to you that any city where the verdicts reached have no force but are made powerless and corrupted by private citizens could continue to exist and not be in ruins?” In other words, if the verdicts reached by courts of law are “made powerless and corrupted” by private citizens, then the city itself would cease to exist. How much worse if the powerlessness and corruption is perpetrated by those sworn to uphold the law and constitution from the highest office in the land. Thus, by continuing to unjustly imprison people like Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu who have been released by the courts, regardless of reason, the President and his men are continuing the cycle of corruption and impunity, willfully destroying the very fabric of our society, indeed of our country.
Yes, I said corruption. Because while it appears that to Mr Buhari only stealing is corruption, the truth is that corruption is more about the abuse of power, usually for personal gain (money, sexual favors and the like), but not always limited to that. There is also Noble Cause Corruption, a situation where those sworn to uphold the laws use unethical and/or illegal means to achieve a desired end result, which they believe to be to the benefit of society. Simply, the ends justify the means. Indeed, this type of corruption is typically perpetrated by people who are held in high esteem, the “golden apples”, because they are so dedicated to bringing about good for all that they can be prone to losing their moral compass in the pursuit of that goal. As an interesting aside, it is also one of the reasons why true artificial intelligence is a scary prospect (I couldn’t resist).
Here is an example. Back when agents of the Department of State Services (DSS) raided the homes of judges believed to be corrupt, one story stood out to me which illustrates quite clearly the effects of noble cause corruption as well as how our “system” works. When DSS agents presented a search warrant at the home of Justice Nnamdi Dimgba in the dead of night, it turned out that they had made a mess of things. As it happened, the two warrants they presented were for different judges down the street. However, the agents insisted on searching the house of Justice Dimgba, because they were “under orders from above” to do so, even taking the liberty to rough up the judge’s nephew and driver. This little gem shows that the state’s agents are trained or conditioned not to follow the law, but the orders of their superiors, enabling them to commit illegal acts simply to satisfy their bosses. And so, if Oga at the top likes him some corrupt heads on a platter, then logically the agency heads would be all too happy to provide them by the dozen.
Also, to be practical, when a government continually flouts the law in order to achieve its aims, it is unconsciously giving others permission to break the law as well. And what happens is that others choose which laws they want to flout, not just choosing the law that was bent out of shape by government in the first place. What happens with corruption of all kinds is that when the boss engages in it, it allows those below him to also do the same.
And, while we are on the subject of the judiciary raids, it’s pertinent to bring up a counter argument I’ve heard a few times, basically arguing that because corruption is ingrained so deeply in society, drastic measures are necessary. It’s an argument which appears to be sensible, because it seems to advocate a radical solution to an extraordinary situation. But, as this article points out, what we are seeing is not a well thought out, concerted plan of action to tackle corruption once and for all, but something that resembles a knee-jerk, reactionary chase built mainly on personal beliefs rather than cold facts. If you want a truly radical solution, do what precious few Nigerian leaders have even contemplated – plan. Gather empirical data, study it, and come up with a comprehensive (indeed, scientific) and robust plan to solve this huge, complex problem which won’t go away just because you beat it with a stick.
And as Socrates said earlier in the dialogue, “Whether the many agree or not, and whether we must additionally suffer harsher things than these or gentler, nevertheless acting unjustly is evil and shameful in every way for the person who does it.”
Furthermore, “One must neither repay an injustice nor cause harm to any man, no matter what one suffers because of him.” In other words, the ends do not justify the means in any way. Socrates also goes on to talk about how a just agreement made between two men should not be broken because that would then be an unjust action. Remember that, by taking the oath of office, Mr. Buhari entered into an agreement with every man, woman and child in Nigeria and so any breach of that contract is an act of injustice upon us, regardless of whether we ourselves were first unjust.
And just in case you are tempted to think that these words of Socrates were idle words, it is worth mentioning again that this was his argument when his friend came to break him out of prison (he was to be executed in a day or two); that it would be unjust for him to break the agreement he made to live under the Athenian law, regardless of whether the law convicted him justly or unjustly. It is an incredible stance to take, but one which shows the true nature of character and integrity; that it persists regardless of how difficult or murky the circumstances.
Rule of law vs Rule by law
And just as, within the dialogue, the laws of the city compelled Socrates to honour them “not least of the Athenians but most of all”, I contend that President Buhari is bound by honour to uphold every law of the land as well as decisions of the courts even more than any of us citizens. Why does he get this special treatment? Why, because of his actions, of course. For 12 years he offered to be the number one protector of the constitution, the laws, and the people. During those 12 years his offer was rejected 3 times, and yet he consistently offered himself to be a humble servant to the law and the people and so now, with his wishes granted, it is incumbent upon him to slavishly abide by the laws as well as the decisions of the courts. It is not as if the presidency was thrust upon him suddenly and unexpectedly, as his predecessor could have claimed.
Yes, there is precedence for suspending some civil liberties in order to achieve peace and other goals. But these are provided for in the constitution as well, via stuff like states of emergency. In other words, the law still applies. As Socrates pointed out, the laws give you a choice to comply or change their mind (that is, enact new legislation). And, as the president of the country, and with ever greater numbers of legislators defecting to the ruling party, enacting new legislation to achieve further progress in curbing corruption should not be too difficult. I suspect that a lot of the laws are actually very robust, and can be interpreted creatively, as evidenced by the justification presented for the DSS judiciary raids. Meaning that just as lawyers manipulate the law to get their clients off, the same can also be used to achieve convictions. The catch? You have to get smarter.
As Socrates points out towards the end of the dialogue, it is important to remember that the first injustice was committed not by the laws themselves, but by men. With that in mind, it becomes clear that exacting revenge by forsaking the laws is doing them (the laws) an injustice. And I’m sure we can all agree that committing an injustice against laws which have done you no harm in the first place, laws which you are sworn to uphold, is a grave crime indeed.
And so we must logically conclude that President Buhari has no reason whatsoever to ignore or break the laws (including court judgments) because he not only doggedly chased the office he currently occupies, but that office also came with a verbal oath to protect some of the very things he is destroying and, finally, he has arguably more power than anyone else to “convince the laws” that they are mistaken, and thereby change them. And if he, in the position that he is in, cannot see any hope in either following the laws as they are or changing them, why, then the rest of us are doubly doomed. Which leads to the next article, where I look at how Nigerians find themselves in a state of war with each other. Until then.