By Law Mefor
How does one place a democracy that brooks zero opposition? It is one imperiled by its own kind and inherent contradictions, one bent on destroying itself. The point made here is that there are self-destructs obstinately being pursued by those who should protect democracy in Nigeria. These individuals care not about the consequences and every day, they inch closer to enveloping the nation in total dictatorship.
Many may feign ignorance – or think that those being blackmailed and hounded have no right whatsoever but to serve out their assumed sentences handed down to them through media mob trial – but the danger remains that, dictatorship is on steeply rise in Nigeria. No one man is good enough to enjoy absolute powers over others and that is why Nigerians chose democracy.
The nation cannot afford to practice dictatorship in place of democracy for its inherent dangers. It has never worked anywhere. The All Progressives Congress, APC, carries on as if they have no care in the world and as if they have Nigeria by the tail, forgetting that Goodluck Jonathan who probably felt the same way just left power abruptly for the same Party that is today, doing all it could to strangulate democracy.
Let the fact, which is in the public domain, be emphasized: credible opposition voices are now muffled and hounded, using anti-corruption agencies, which appear to be back to playing the old script of doing the bidding of any government in power. They carry out arrests before carrying out investigations and take their trumped up charges to court to obtain withholding orders and thereafter, dump their victims in prison and insist on them bringing the money being alleged without judicial pronouncements or ruling. These extrajudicial actions of the anti-corruption agencies are undisguisedly calculated to intimate opposition voices into complicit silence.
Many instances abound. The travails of Olise Metu soon gave way to that of Femi Fani-Kayode and then to that of Governor Ayo Fayose, who despite enjoying immunity as Governor, had his personal account with Zenith Bank frozen. This is a blatant disregard of provisions of S308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which grants Fayose immunity from prosecution. You may ask how freezing Fayose’s accounts affect his immunity. Well, according to the EFCC Act, the Commission cannot freeze a Governor’s accounts without a court order. And to obtain a court order EFCC has to institute civil or criminal proceedings against such a Governor. But S308 CFRN prevents EFCC from doing so yet they went ahead to freeze Fayose’s bank account, thus becoming law unto itself. How else does dictatorship come home to roost if not in fragrant disregard for the rule of law, due process, abuse of court process and violation of human rights and impunity?
As if these ugly examples are not enough, the executive arm has trumped up charges of forgery and conspiracy against the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. It is a well-orchestrated fact that since the emergence of the duo as Senate President and Deputy, the powers that be have been trying all tricks in the book to unseat them. The APC Party leadership has been riled up that Saraki became Senate President against their directive and Ike Ekweremadu, emerging his deputy from opposition PDP, to them, is also inconceivable despite the constitutional provisions for it.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal trial was quickly contrived and Justice Danladi Umar, who himself is said to be on administrative bail with the EFCC, may have seen a golden chance to play the ‘good boy’ with the case the Bureau he chairs buried for over a decade but today, he feels good pulling all the monkeyshines. The Senate has continued both in their solidarity with their leader and statutory duties of law making and oversight. Ekweremadu, perhaps the most experienced Senator in the Red Chamber, after David Mark, as Saraki’s deputy has ensured there is no lacuna in the Senate business each time Saraki has to attend the CCT day-to-day trial.
The even keel, which the Senate has enjoyed despite the distraction, has ruffled more feathers and a new ploy is now trumped up by charging both men for forgery of the Senate Rules with which they both emerged as presiding officers. Strangely, the Nigerian Police, which I understand, never questioned Ekweremadu and Saraki on the matter, once submitted a report to the Attorney General, in which no mention was made of the two, let alone indicting them.
One then wonders why the Attorney General is heading to court with criminal charges without the Police ever questioning these ultimate leaders of the Legislative Arm or the Senate officially complaining that their Rules were forged. The motive is, without a doubt, targeted at embarrassing the presiding officers and ridiculing the Senate. It does appear also it is aimed at physically removing the two principal officers and forcing a change in leadership starting with the emergence of Senate President pretempore in the even of their absence.
The Senators saw through the witch-hunting of Saraki quite early and naturally chose to support the leaders who they constitutionally and freely chose for themselves and this solidarity is likely to be sustained in the face of the fresh onslaught. Lovers of democracy and the international community need to come alive in the face of the mounting threat to dethrone democracy and to force one party dictatorship on a pluralistic environment such as Nigeria.
Like the Senate itself noted, it is either the Attorney General and APC leaders behind this action lack the understanding of the underlining principles of constitutional democracy, the concept of Separation of Powers, checks and balances and parliamentary convention or they just simply do not care if the present democracy in the country survives or collapses in their blinded determination to get Saraki and Ekweremadu by all means.
In response to this latest plot directed at forcing a change of leadership, the Senate should rise more determinedly to fight for its independence. Under General Olusegun Obasanjo, such trampling on the legislature was rampant but the National Assembly soon learned to rebuff the executive excesses and that was why the desperate attempts of the executive to remove Ken Nnamani as Senate President and Ghali Umar Na’ Abba as Speaker both failed and won for the legislature its independence. Legislators of those eras made it possible. The present-day legislators are even in a better position to defend their forte and curb what is fast becoming executive rascality and dictatorship.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Rules of the Senate and how the institution elects its leadership are internal affairs and each Senate is given a set of Rules by the bureaucracy. The Senate, after being sworn and proclaimed, may amend the Rules if it so desires. Those claiming that the Rules of the 7th Senate should bind the 8th, are only being fantastically mischievous, and should tell Nigerians who produced the Rules with which the Senate was proclaimed in 1999.
Nigerians need to be reminded that the same Rules being beguiled produced even the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General (who is calling it fake) and all the ministers and 2016 Budget and all the confirmations made so far by this same Senate since they were all done based on the same purported forged Rules. If the 2015 Rules book is fake, then the AGF, Budget, etc are fake because you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. The executive cannot approbate and reprobate and call it justice.
Charging the Senate’s presiding officers to court over a matter already declared as “purely a domestic legislative affairs of the Senate” is, therefore, the height of executive rascality, impunit, and meddlesomeness that must be codemned by all.
What is more, the nation has many more important issues confronting her; killer herdsmen, spiraling unemployment, Boko Haram, Niger Delta resurgence, collapsing economy, to mention a few. Solving these problems requires the three arms working harmoniously and a distracted Senate can only worsen the lot of Nigerians.
There are people fueling the problem and posing as if they are now riding the tiger, forgetting that they too would end in its belly. Some of them see themselves as godfathers of the new order who must be obeyed. Butterflies calling themselves birds! Their fall would be a much more tragic crater, for dictatorship has no acolytes meant to grow but all are turkeys meant for tomorrow’s dinner. Throughout history, those who have nurtured dictatorship all ended as its main pitiable victims.
Mefor, a journalist, lives in Abuja