Democracy on Trial

4
Ike Ekweremadu

Zacheaus Adeboyo

First, I must confess that this title isn’t originally mine, but the title of a statement by former Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, after he and former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, were arraigned by the Federal Governments before an FCT High Court on trumped up charges of forgery of Senate Standing Rules in June 2016. I stumbled on it online at the weekend and it actually inspired this piece because it’s more like a prophecy on our sombre and fast contracting democratic space.

Going through that statement now, I shake my head at our naivety, for contrary to the pervading notion, the imperiled state of our democracy did not come upon us like a thief in the night. It came upon us incrementally by our own supine and complicit dispositions.

In that statement, Ekweremadu wrote: “I presented myself to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court today as an ordinary citizen of this great nation to plead not guilty to charges I did not and could not have committed.

“It is deeply troubling to note that people in high places, who swore to uphold the law have dwindled into purveyors of falsehood and rumours, who seek to smear and tarnish the reputation of law-abiding and responsible citizens as well as cripple the hallowed institutions of democracy. It is all the more disheartening that people, who should know better use the colour of their office to pursue private vendetta against people they disagree with.

“This grotesque display of vindictiveness, arrogance, and mindless targeting of innocent citizens should find no sanctuary in our democracy. Using the machinery of justice to create disorder is a dangerous and invidious scheme that ultimately will lead Nigeria down the road to perdition. It is Senator Bukola Saraki and Senator Ike Ekweremadu today, who knows whose turn it will be next?
“Indeed, I, in no way or fashion, claim to be above the law, just that I believe that the law should not be used as an instrument to bludgeon innocent citizens into submitting to the untamed wishes and caprices of witch-hunters.

“When the dust settles, Nigerians will see clearly that this charge is nothing but a meretricious trash. Time, occasions, and provocations like this will teach their own lessons. I hope that one chief lesson will be that democracy differs markedly from military rule and that public officers should never subvert the foundations of democracy by prioritising the rule of man over the rule of law.

“Let us make no mistake about this: it is not Senator Ike Ekweremadu or Senator Bukola Saraki or the other accused persons that are on trial; rather the hallowed democratic principles of separation of powers, rule of law, the legislature, and indeed democracy itself are on a ridiculous trial”.

In the treatise, “How Democracies Die”, two Harvard Professors, Steven Levistsky and Daniel Ziblat, have a word for those who think democracies must necessarily die by coup d’états. They write: “This is how we tend to think of democracies dying: at the hands of men with guns…. But there is another way to break a democracy. In this second route, democracies die not at the hands of military generals, but at the hands of elected leaders: presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very democratic process (and institutions) that brought them to power”.

First, they came for Saraki for alleged non-declaration of some assets when he served as Governor of Kwara State some years back. Ironically, the case was investigated and championed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), not the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). Note that the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is not a court. It is directly under the Presidency. Some of us shouted at the top of our voices that the move was vindictive and untidy. We were hushed. Sowore and Sahara Reporters were at their rapacious best. The Chairman of CCT, Danladi Umar even had to overrule his precedence on related matter. The matter went all the way to the Supreme Court, distracting the legislature and wasting everybody’s time and came to naught.

While that lasted, Ekweremadu was roped in as both men were arraigned for phantom forgery obviously because he refused to buy into the Saraki must go project to save his own neck. Again, some of us shouted that the independence of the legislature and principle of separation of powers were under attack. How could you say that another arm of government forged its own rule and that you, the executive arm (using the police), must interfere by probing? Even when the police investigation report didn’t mention the gentlemen even once, let alone indict them, they were nevertheless dragged before the courts like common criminals. Many cheered- some because Ekweremadu was of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and supposedly usurped All Progressives Congress’ birthright, and some because Saraki became Senate President against the wish of the some APC cabals.

Many of us said, “Come o, Aminu Tambuwal retained the Speakership of the House of Representatives with PDP majority after he defected to the APC in 2014”. We reminded the oppressors and their fans that the constitutional validity of Tambuwals’s office (based on Section 50 of the Constitution) was defended by the then APC spokesperson, Lai Mohammed as well as then Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila and even President Muhammadu Buhari. Some of us pointed out that in the same June 2015, APC lawmaker emerged the Speaker of Benue House of Assembly, while Hon. Peter Azi emerged Speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly both with PDP majority. We were shouted down.

Emboldened, the regime came after serving justices in a Gestapo-styled operation by operatives of the State Security services (SSS), breaking into the homes of awestruck justices in the dead of the night. We shouted ourselves hoarse pointing out that such was a clear violence against another arm of government, especially since the National Judicial Council (NJC) had not investigated and indicted their Lordships as required by the constitution. We were shouted down. In the end, I can’t remember any single conviction on the account of those arrests, but the judiciary was cowed.
In April 2018, armed hoodlums magically beat the entire security in the Three Arms Zone, invaded the hallowed chambers of the Senate and carted away the Senate’s symbol of authority (mace). It happened in the full glare of the world as plenary was being transmitted live by the NTA with Ekweremadu presiding. we all saw the Senator that brought them to torpedo Electoral Act Amendment Bill scheduled for Second Reading on the fateful day. Nigerians saw the faces of the invaders. But the state ensured no one, including the arrested few and the Senator faced justice. All manner of justifications were made by Buharists and we all saw how the masterminds in the Senate were rewarded in the 9th Senate.

Further encouraged, security agencies laid siege to the official residences of Saraki and Ekweremadu in October 2018 with Adams Oshiomole boasting threatening fire and brimstone. Obviously, the aim was to hold them hostage and force their illegal removal from office. Luckily, Saraki was able to beat them, having been served an invitation the night before to appear before the police the following morning over the Offa robbery incident. Ekweremadu wasn’t so lucky. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) later brought an invitation to Ekweremadu during the siege to save the face of the regime. We shuddered and shouted at such fascist depredation and desperation. Yet some Nigerians cheered the regime on. Saraki and Ekweremadu must go, by hook or crook.

In August 2018, hooded SSS operatives stormed and took over the National Assembly premises to aide a kangaroo coup against Saraki and Ekweremadu. Even though the DG, SSS, was sacked by Acting President to save the regime’s face, the treasonable felons are still in service and their “oga” is untouchable. It was a treasonable move that shook the sane world. But even more shocking was that some Nigerians clapped.

They eventually came for the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, in an unprecedented and most brazen move, employing their trademark media trial, executive heist, and judicial complicity to sack him. We never believed we could descend that low or that some Nigerians could descend even lower by justifying the coups on the judiciary, the last hope of the common man and deterrent from anarchy. Now that the foundations have been destroyed, what can the righteous do?

Also, from the introduction of vote buying (aka see and buy) in the Edo 2016 governorship election, to the daylight electoral robberies and unmitigated brigandage in Ondo, Rivers, Bayelsa 2015, Osun, the 2019 general elections, and the recent shames of Kogi and Bayelsa elections” etc. courtesy of the “Inconclusive National Electoral Commission” and unprecedentedly partisan security agencies, some Nigerians still cheered on.

Meanwhile, before our very eyes, Sambo Dasuki, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and a host of others were locked up and the keys thrown into the ocean against uncountable court orders. Yet some Nigerians clapped and cheered. Sad enough, El-Zakzaky’s two sons and 300 hundred Shiites were killed by rampaging Nigerian Army for allegedly obstructing the movement of the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai. Yet, no single soul was shot when Jonathan’s motorcade was stoned in Katsina (Buhari’s home state), Jalingo, and Bauchi ahead of the 2015 presidential election.

Today, they have invaded the courts to abduct Sowore, their former ally, and the world is yet to recover from the shock. It is easy to say that it serves him right as many have done. But just as it wasn’t about Saraki or Ekweremadu at the beginning of the regime’s excesses, it is also not about Sowore today. It is about our dying democracy. And just as they didn’t stop at both presiding officers, it is stupid to think they would stop at Sowore. And if we are still waiting to hear the usual “Fellow countrymen” address by a husky military coupist, followed by marshal music to know that our democracy in death throes, then “Our mumu never do”.

According to Levitsky and Ziblat, when you see these signs, then its a democracy’s end time: “Institutions become political weapons, wielded forcefully by those who control them against those who do not. This is how elected autocrats subvert democracy- packing and ‘weaponising’ the courts and other neutral agencies, buying off the media and the private sector (or bullying them into silence), rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing field against opponents. The tragic paradox if electoral authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy- gradually, subtly, and even legally- to kill it”.

Unless we take all necessary democratic and legitimate steps to retrieve and revive our democracy, it may way be a Nunc Dimittis for it. And those who paid the huge prices, some with their lives, to enthrone this republic, would never forgive us.
Adeboyo writes from Ibadan