2.3 GHz verdict: It was Them not Us

January 17, 2006

The image that President Barrack Obama may not be a happy man after all is etched in my consciousness. Something keeps telling me that the fellow would have wished that Nigeria lives up to reputation as the world’s most populous black country and worthy of the title, ‘centre of the world’ for all black people.

In this episode of ‘The West Wing’ that is playing in my mind, El Presidente has assembled his inner caucus of the ruling class and asked them ‘how can I tell the folks in Nigeria to shape up without causing unnecessary offence’. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton perks up to say ‘I do, Mr. President’ to which he responds, ‘Great, don’t tell me. I think you should go tell them in person’. And so came Hillary.

Suffice to say that she came at a time when listening and doing good was not a high point of those who are on the cockpit in these parts. One even went as far as telling her to mind her own business.

Or how do we explain it. Mrs. Clinton’s plane had barely left the tarmac at the airport when what clearly was an executive intervention in a purely judicial logjam was announced from the office of President Yar Adua.

For those of us in the awkward squad who argue and believe we should put the controversy surrounding the 2.3 GHz spectrum licenses behind us and face the future, there is yet an explanation to make so future generation does not ask us what the hell a whole lot of 140 million of us were doing when rule of law was being murdered.

The objective here is not to revisit the controversy all over but to appraise the validity of the decision both in law and practice so as to ensure that an inadequate framework is neither the template nor precedent to which current and future generations will have to adhere. It is vitally important in a participatory democracy that legislative and executive decisions are subject to scrutiny to avoid any potential ugly precedent before it sets in stone. It is what makes us citizens rather than mere bystanders in the democratic process.

For starters, it is going to be difficult for rational minds to agree to using the President’s decision as a precedent for future if and whenever all facts present themselves again as they did in the 2.3Ghz instance. It is a failure of our democracy that our laws in this instance are not allowed rigorous scrutiny and intellectual dialysis.

In the ensuing ‘presentation-over-substance’ scenario, the commercial imperatives of using the story by the local media dictated that this very public spat was personalised and drawn out thus making it an issue of ‘who’ was right (which meant that the other was wrong) when the issue should have been of ‘what’ was right or what was wrong.

So what was wrong?

It was wrong for our system to create and perpetuate a climate in which the decision of a Commission be reduced to and regarded as the decision of a person. It makes an institutional failure a personal one and consequently remedy is thought of and applied in the context of personnel rather than of systems or institutions. That the person singled out for criticism is not the Chairman of the Commission (where ideally the buck stops) does not help but rather makes it messier.

It was wrong for a complaint to be fabricated as it eventually emerged from records and facts from AO3 Company’s strong rebuttal, which categorically stated that it did not participate in an auction and therefore could not have written a petition about a process it was not party to.

It was wrong that the advice given by the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice to Mr. President was allowed to leak to the press or blatantly published in the media to the effect that the minister’s (of Communications that is) intervention was impolite to the law.

With so much wrong, it is difficult to catalogue what was right in the whole milieu except the perfect opportunity for us to test our Communications Act within the purview of the executive. Unfortunately it is an opportunity we have missed.

We are in a nightmare, somebody wake us up.

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