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Published On: Sun, Nov 23rd, 2014

NASS invasion: Is Nigeria’s democracy in trouble?

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nigeria_reps_in_first_sessionBy Ochiaka Ugwu

There is no gainsaying that Nigeria’s democracy isn’t looking too good these days. Not only is violent crime rampant, high insecurity and corruption in the upper echelons of government, but pure executive recklessness has become the order of the day.

Growing insecurity and scorching poverty remain a fact of life for many in Nigerians and the government seem not to care about it. Many country folks are just existing and no longer living. Nigerians no longer matter and has even ceased to exist while patriotism has crouched to the floor.

The truth of the matter is that Nigeria’s young democracy is starting to look crude just fifteen years after the introduction of democratic principle in the system. And it appears that the ruling party is desperate to remain in power after almost 16 years of sitting in the saddle without anything to show for it.

But it is not only the persistence of insecurity and the pervasive spread of corruption that is most bedevilling; stifling of opposition has become the main trust of the ruling party in a bid to perpetuate itself in power against the wishes of Nigerians. The viciousness of the corruption, an inevitable consequence of the decades of brutality under the previous administration, is reflected in one of the highest in the world’s corruption index. Perhaps worse though is the involvement of senior members of government and officials of the ruling PDP in significant business deals linked to the state which has created the perception of a new elite benefiting inappropriately from political patronage.

Studies have shown that because of “endemic corruption” and conflicts of interest proliferating in public life, citizens “feel betrayed, regarding corruption as a negation of democratic gains after a long period of struggle to return the country to civil rule. Today, up to 90 percent of Nigerians think their leaders are dishonest.

This brings us to the main issue at hand. Last week, executive recklessness was demonstrated with the locking out of the Speaker of House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal whose only sin was that he expressed his constitutional right of freedom of association by defecting to the opposition All Progressives’ Congress (APC).

It all started when Tambuwal left Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to pitch tent with APC which did not go down well with the PDP the party under its platform he won election to the house and subsequently elected speaker in 2011 in a keenly contested election.

However, to the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan, Tambuwal has committed a great atrocity and must suffer the consequences. He has committed an abominable act that was never heard of and for going contrary to their dictates he has incurred their wrath in which he must pay dearly for it.

To stifle him, his security details were withdrawn by Nigeria Police and Department of State Security Services. The two security agencies redeployed their officers and men attached to him for his personal security. The Police speaking through their spokesman, Mr. Emmanuel Ojukwu hinged their action on section 68(1)(g) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

As if this was not enough, the police went on to block him from entering his office claiming that they are acting on intelligence report that has it that Tambuwal was planning to bring in tugs to disrupt activities in the legislative house. From all estimation, this singular act of locking out the number four citizen of the country out of his office and stopping him from engaging in his constitutional duty is the highest level of rascality and a clear abuse of power from any quarter it is coming from.

This act of brashness which made most lawmakers of APC extraction to scale the fence in the most disgraceful way just to perform their constitutional duty of legislating for our democracy was better imagined than told. It is a clarion call on legislators to rise up to the challenge of curbing “executive recklessness” of the nation’s political leaders and if the lawmakers fail to take urgent steps to stop the excesses of the executive arm of government, democracy might be in danger. The drama that played out shows there is no real separation of powers between the executive and the legislature, hence there is need for complete autonomy of legislature.

It is a well known fact that the role of the legislators world over is to protect the sanctity of the constitution. What we have right now is democracy in a dangerous environment. Our legislators must therefore rise up and check executive recklessness; we still have executive recklessness featuring prominently in our nascent democracy. The parliament must check these excesses now before it derail our hard won democracy by ensuring their complete autonomy embedded in clear checks and balances as enunciated by the French Political thinker, Baron De-Montesquieu.

This should not end with national parliament, but taken down the line, to the Houses of Assembly, Local governments to remove the straggle hold of governors and chairmen who regard the house of assembly as an extension of the executive arm and not an independent organ that should serve as a check to their excesses. A case in point is Ekiti State, where seven PDP lawmakers in the most undemocratic way impeached the speaker and Deputy in a 26 member house. Even when common sense dictates that quorum is 2/3 which translates to 16 members meaning they are nine members short of forming a quorum that will enable them sit, let alone of impeaching the speaker. Unfortunately, this act of disgrace has been welcomed by the governor when he confirmed in a national television that he has not only being briefed of the development but has started working with the new speaker.

The autonomy of the legislature as an arm of government in democratic setup must be protected. It is better for us to build institutions; those are the pillars of democracy; not cannibalise or decapitate them because of disagreement with any personality. Nigeria as a nation is bigger than any individual or group. Lawmakers on their own should ensure that the struggle of those who elected them to power, they must hold dear the tenets of service to the people.

I am not against those who are raising the bar higher in legislature-executive relationship, but it should only exist when it is done for general good of the people and for the growth of our democracy. More importantly, the lawmakers should not to shy away from holding the executive accountable to the people as it is the  statutory duty of legislators to make sure people did not lose confidence in democratic process by being their voices.

There is every need not to take democracy for granted at the peoples own peril. The lawmakers must work and let the people see the proof of democracy by improving in their standard of living, better security, job, food and so on. The commitment of the lawmakers to uphold the tenets of the constitution and continue to ensure that the chamber remained sacred must be done and this can only be achieved through an independent parliament that will not be under undue influence from any establishment or another arm like executive.

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