In any national controversy, I prefer standing out, rather than join even the “popular” group, whatever the price will be for my personal view, and this is not being pedantic. I will, in that process carry my cross instead of carrying the cross of others. The recent invasion of the Senate proceedings at Abuja by protesters who also disappeared with the mace is a good example. Rightly or wrongly, the protesters have been described as thugs. Their action has since been described variously as unprecedented and a purported threat to democracy. Who and who have the moral in that place to so pontificate?
I should think it is no secret that there is no love lost between me and those senators. I have warned them in this column many times, the last of which I condemned them as “the spoilt brats of modern-day Nigerian politics.” That rebuke has since been vindicated by the revelation of their obscene salaries and allowances, which even our erstwhile tough guy and now converted democrat, President Muhammadu Buhari, was not bold enough to let us know, hiding under a nebulous separation of power. The same separation of power does not make it uncomfortable for Buhari to keep minimum wage at N18,000 per month. Accordingly, the action of the protesters at the Senate was more of a display of people’s anger but, if a threat to democracy, it was only a counter-threat to the threat against democracy dished out by the senators nonchalantly to Nigerians. We must, therefore, not allow ourselves to be dubiously enlisted for a thankless or even suicidal encounter, all in the name of guarding democracy.
You can only struggle to protect a democracy providing for your needs as in genuine democracies in other parts of the world. Here is an alert: Don’t allow your mind to be poisoned as sympathiser of APC or PDP against PDP or APC. As senators of whichever political party, they are joint beneficiaries of series of largesse they have been providing for themselves since 1999. On the other hand, ask yourselves, in contrast, what has been provided for you and/or your community since the same period. Water, roads, schools, security, transport, jobs, hospitals, even ordinary clinics? It is, therefore, political fraud to be calling on Nigerians to fight for democracy that serves only senators, as it were. Why must any Nigerian be defrauded to fight for democracy when no democracy is allowed to flourish inside the Senate and House of Representatives?
By the way, what was unprecedented in the protest on the floor of the Senate? In 1961, sizeable members of Nigerian Union of Students, under the leadership of Dapo Falase, invaded federal parliament in Lagos to protest against an imminent Anglo-Nigeria Defence Pact. Part of the final negotiations for Nigeria’s independence in 1960 was a provision for British military base in Nigeria, which in any domestic or international conflict would facilitate British interests. With their protests on the precinct and partly inside the chamber, Nigerian students aborted the proposed military pact. Only information minister TOS Benson was bruised in his attempt to placate the protesters. Then, in 2001, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his attempt to get Senate President Chuba Okadigbo impeached, sent armed mobile police to his house at about two in the morning to forcefully retrieve the mace. Whatever was the interest of an executive President in the whereabouts of the Senate mace when the Senate President never complained about the whereabouts or even disappearance of the mace?
Would an American President send armed police to the house of a presiding official of the Congress? Obasanjo’s action set a precedent for disrupting proceedings of the Senate. One account of the missing mace sourced the row to the suspension of a senator who openly disagreed with the rushed amendment of the Electoral Act priortising election of National Assembly members over the rest, especially the presidential election. The senator had taken the matter to court for declaration that the amendment was beyond the powers of the National Assembly. The senator was accordingly suspended virtually for the rest of the life of this National Assembly. Suspecting that the senator was behind the disappearance of the mace, some of his colleagues conveniently argued that he should have waited for court’s decision in both cases. But, equally, his colleagues who suspended him in the first place could have waited for the court’s verdict before considering any punitive measure, if at all nececessary.
Such is the air of ruthless authoritanianism to which senators are subjected, such that in their cowardly submission to the leadership to avoid being suspended, they don’t even know they are protected by legal authority against being suspended. For example, former Senate leader, Ali Ndume, innocently drew his colleagues’ attention to media reports on alleged financial infraction against the Senate leadership. In an act of petulance, other senators were intimidated to suspend him. Ndume successfully challenged his suspension in court, Another member of the National Assembly, Representative Jibrin Abdulmumin, blew the whistle on alleged padding in the budget. He too was suspended and allowed to return only after apologising. Despite this fundamental judicial pronouncement on the immunity of National Assembly members against being suspended, the collective leadership of National Assembly continues to intimidate members against dissent. Which threat to democracy could be more troubling? And if democracy is not allowed for National Assembly members, what moral has that leadership to be complaining about threat to democracy or to be calling on Nigerians to fight for democracy? Whose democracy? Only for National Assembly leadership?
Who do these people think they are? God? Most of them are eyeing the presidency in the future. We surely are in trouble as, when the time comes, we will end in jail one after another for mere dissent. At the lower level of National Assembly leadership, members are victimised for daring to stand out. Current Minister for Women Affairs Aisha Alhassan, popularly known as Mama Taraba, about 18 months ago, openly expressed her loyalty and commitment to ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar for the 2019 presidential election. President Buhari has neither sacked nor harassed her. That is mature political leadership and a worthy example for the power-drunk National Assembly Ieadership. Were the women affairs minister a member of the Senate and she openly dissented on the Electoral Act re-ordering sequence of the 2019 elections, she too would have been suspended.
There lies the irony. The present leadership of National Assembly was a product of dissent, if not conspiracy. Have they forgotten? In 2015, the new ruling party, the APC, had its preferred list of candidates for the leadership hierarchy of each wing of the National Assembly. But a gang dissented and factionalised the party, clandestinely grabbing in the process all the posts. That was blatant civilian coup, sudden seizure of power. Is it not amusing for the same gang today to be assessing the protest in the Senate as attempted coup? Yet the key culprits of the civilian coup against the APC leadership in 2015 were not penalised. Indeed, these culprits are sitting in judgement against other (more legitimate) dissidents today. Slighted and betrayed by the coupists in 2015, newly elected President Buhari had to concede rather weakly that he was ready to work with anybody.
One worry about our National Assembly members is abject limitation of their horizon, like their self-serving and desperate lamentation that protests are never carried out in parliaments anywhere in the world.
Eduard Shevardnadze was President of Georgia, one of the republics that emerged after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In 2003, Shevardnadze sought re-election but openly rigged the exercise. Widespread protests erupted for over a week as he tried to be sworn in in the parliament. Protesters invaded the place while security men looked on unconcerned. Shevardnadze got the message of that hostile environment. Instantly, he withdrew to his private home and resigned.
Nigerian senators lament for democracy only when their opulent lifestyle is threatened. So it was with identical criminal exploiters leading to the French revolution in France in 1789, the Belgian revolt in 1830 and the Russian revolution in 1917.
Much was being made of a purported compromise of security, which, it was suspected, allowed easy passage for the protesters into the Senate floor. Were that so, perhaps in addition, the security were being owed months of arrears of unpaid salaries.
Some even suggested a suspended senator should not retaliate. Why not? We are in the age of self-defence.