Nigerians expect a higher commitment to the rule of law and respect for the critical institutions of state

There is an urgent need to rise above mundane blame games and narrow political stone throwing in reviewing the implications of last Tuesday’s invasion of the National Assembly premises by masked men from the Directorate of State Services (DSS). This incident raises fundamental questions not only about the future of democracy in Nigeria but also about the integrity of national security institutions. For us, therefore, the key question is: how and when does a democracy slide into autocracy?

The sight of hooded gunmen in the National Assembly is a novelty almost approximating the late General Sani Abacha’s goons in trench coats, except that those ones never pretended to be acting on behalf of an elected sovereign. The dark motives of this misadventure and its treasonous implications should not be lost on those who place premium on democracy anchored on the rule of law and the sanctity of institutions. Whatever the excesses or missteps of the senators and members of the House of Representatives or their presiding officers, the hallowed precinct of the National Assembly remains an embodiment of the will of all Nigerians who elected them.

What is particularly disturbing is that from all indications, what happened on Tuesday was no mere mistake. It seems like the culmination of a plot that is inconceivable except with the highest level of authorisation. Unfortunately, the hasty and badly written report of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr Ibrahim Idris (which was leaked to the media) failed to address salient questions because it relied on the interrogation of just one actor: the dismissed Director of the DSS, Mr Lawal Daura.

While we remain disinterested in the cynical politics of decamping and defection that makes our country slightly less than a banana republic at every election cycle, we are nonetheless worried by the growing abuse of institutions. It is interesting that the police, whose IGP was asked to probe the National Assembly invasion, was also complicit in the recent farcical drama in the Benue State House of Assembly where eight members were allowed into the chambers for a kangaroo session after which a notice of impeachment was served on the governor, following his defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Beyond relieving Daura of his job as the Director General of DSS, the presidency should go one step further. A thorough public investigation is in order and in fact imperative, otherwise the sacking would amount to a populist cover up. While the public may have been given what they expect in such situation, the origin of the travesty would remain untouched and unchallenged, if no further action is taken to unravel what exactly happened. Nor should we look at this invasion in isolation given the growing recourse to self-help by operatives of this government.

In recent months, there have been police barricades of homes of key National Assembly officials; there was a dubious broad daylight carting away of the Mace of the Senate right inside the chambers; there were choreographed trials and house searches and a lopsided anti-corruption investigation of mostly opposition political big wigs. In all this, key institutions of state and national security like the police, the DSS and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have acted in openly disgraceful and partisan ways.

Taken together, therefore, these acts of executive intimidation and abuse of institutions smell of a creeping authoritarianism. It is, for instance, that the president must be more aware of these deviant acts. The system of government that we practice does not allow the person at the helm the luxury of ignorance in matters of grave national security. The president must retake his authority and ensure we do not use or misuse criminal law and national security to settle political scores.

What President Muhammadu Buhari and his handlers must understand is that, for a leader who has benefited greatly from democracy despite his military background, Nigerians expect from him a higher commitment to the rule of law and respect for separation of powers checks and balances and the sanctity of the critical institutions of state.

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Whatever the excesses or missteps of the senators and members of the House of Representatives or their presiding officers, the hallowed precinct of the National Assembly remains an embodiment of the will of all Nigerians who elected them