In the words of the ever celebrated and charismatic rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.
Likewise, the Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, posits, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality”. Turpitude
I have followed the opinions expressed over the politics of emergence of the leadership of the National Assembly, particularly that of the Deputy Senate President where Chief Ike Ekweremadu squared up to the eventual winner and an anointed of the ruling party, Senator Ovie Omor-Agege. I am led to further interrogate Omo-Agege’s emergence vis-à-vis the mace stealing incidence, which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Ekweremadu predicated the decision not to allow Omo-Agege take a bow and go home unopposed.
Let us not pretend about it. I can tell us for free that Nigeria is not new to legislative brawls that shame her democracy. Surely, we remember that fateful 25thMay 1962 event when the lawmaker representing Ajeromi/Ifelodun/Badagry in Western Nigeria House of Assembly seized and weaponised the mace even against the Speaker, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin. That was in the heat of the Action Group crisis and alleged attempt by Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s to expropriate the Western Region where the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was Premier. Indeed a State of Emergency was slammed on the Western region four days later (29th May 1962). The rest is our sad history.
The event of year 2000 when the Senate adjourn at the height of the crisis culminated in the removal of former Senate President, the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo is still fresh on our minds. The mace, according to Okadigbo, was reportedly kept in the “safe custody” of a seven-foot python at Ogbunike to thwart the attempts to illegally reconvene the Senate and remove him from office. Okadigbo, whose reverence of the mace was unmatched and bothered on deification, had told Obasanjo that he would first kill him before getting hold of Senate’s symbol of authority. Yes, we saw the show of shame that happened in the Rivers State House of Assembly on 9thJuly 2013. We are living witnesses to the 23rd June 2015 fisticuffs between pro-Yakubu Dogara and Femi Gbajabiamila lawmakers over alleged attempt to impose House principal officers from Bourdillon, Lagos. The drama has been endless.
However, the event of 18th April 2019 when hoodlums strolled into the Senate live on NTA local and international networks and “escaped” with the mace after manhandling staff of the National Assembly was unprecedented. Not only was the mace of either chambers never forcefully taken away in session, it had never registered external incursion in session.
So, many Nigerians and lovers of democracy, including the late Senator Joseph Waku, rightly described it as an attempted coup. Waku cried out: “The person behind this should be brought to book. It is an attempted coup. He should be tried for treason”.
It was therefore a rude shock for Nigerians when the police announced that Omo-Agege, thought to have been arrested, was only escorted out of harm’s way. Next, there was a weird court order barring the law enforcement agencies from arresting or detaining him. Nothing else was also heard about suspects arrested within the National Assembly and handed over to force headquarters. Not only were they not paraded like the Ofa Robbery suspects, the police refused to produce them to testify before the National Assembly Joint Committee that investigated the incident. Instead, the former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, transferred the Divisional Police Officer in charge of the National Assembly, Abdul Sulu-Gambari, to faraway Adamawa State. Allegation at the time was that Sulu-Gambari’s testimonies before the Joint NASS panel was indicting of the security agencies. Even when the Joint Committee’s report indicted Senator Omo-Agege and recommended his suspension for six months, the courts, which have become notorious for meddling in the business of another arm of government, barred the National Assembly from adopting and implementing the report.
The hamstringing of the Senate did not however abate the repulsion of many Senators towards the dishonorable act. The ever-vocal Senator Dino Melaye captured the mode of most Nigerians during the valedictory session of the 8th Senate when he said: “My day of sadness, bitterness, was the day my own colleague, Ovie Omo-Agege became the mace thief, the day dissidents, thugs, desecrated the chambers of the Nigerian Senate. It was the day he (Agege) led criminals, to move the symbol of democracy, symbol of authority, out of the sacred chamber of the Senate”.
Therefore, if many likened the audacity as well as ease with which the mace stealing was executed to the proverbial child sent on robbery by the father, who breaks the door with his legs, many more saw the thwarting of efforts to bring the suspects to book and anointment of the man in the middle of the controversy as APC and presidency’s sole candidate for Deputy Senate President as recompense for a job well done.
If the nation had a conscience, Ekweremadu pricked it while accepting his nomination to run against Omo-Agege when he said: “On a fateful day, something unusual happened in this chamber. And that was the day I was presiding here. Some people came into this Assembly, passing through the first gate, second, gate, and passed through the building entrance, came here and brutalized our staff and eventually took away mace.
“So, distinguished colleagues, what we are doing today is appropriately a referendum on that conduct. So, I want to appeal to my colleagues that this is an opportunity for us to decide what we want”.
He also alluded to the willful exclusion of the South East (which produced Senator Orji Uzor Kalu from the seven topmost offices in the land insisting that it is only through justice and equity to all parts of Nigeria that Nigeria’s unity can be guaranteed.
Meanwhile, media reports had it that PDP’s decision in the early hours of that Tuesday morning to field Ekweremadu was fallout of the late withdrawal from the race by the other APC Senator from South South.
In that circumstance, Ekweremadu can be rightly described as a “rebel” with a cause. And I identify with such radicalism in defence of democracy. By standing for that election, he saved the Senate and a national embarrassment and a repeat of the events of over 2000 years ago when the Jews were deemed to have unanimously chosen Barnabas (the robber) over Jesus the saviour. I don’t believe that all the Jews endorsed that choice. It was simply because men failed to be real men. They failed to speak up and preferred to preserve their neutrality and comfort in a time of moral crisis.
They forget that whatever political comfort they seek to preserve now will pass away with time. Thereafter, what excuses would we have given to our children? How could we have continued our pretences to democratic rule before the international community had the highest legislative chamber of the Federal Republic unanimously sanctioned Senate invasion and mace-theft democratic virtues?
While some may see an attempt at self-perpetuation in power, I see a holy rebellion in defence of democracy. History will surely reckon that the 9th Senate had men and women of conviction like him, Senator Chukwuka utazi, Senator Rose Okoh, Senator Dino Melaye, and a host of others, who could stand their ground and refuse to let political immorality and depravity have its way, irrespective of the immediate consequences and temporal inconveniences that such choices entail today; men and women, who appreciate that to ignore evil, according to Martin Luther King Jr., is to become an accomplice to it.
––Yustus writes from Kaduna.