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For the purity and majesty of democracy

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With their largely unfettered access to the nation’s treasury and legal or illegal sumptuous rewards for getting elected or appointed into different offices, the Nigerian politician can be excused his or her trade-mark haughtiness while enjoying income not earned and reveling in comfort not worked for.

Lucky entrants, possible only in Nigeria, into the Club of Overpaid Idlers cannot be expected to worry too seriously about the scandalous disparity between their remuneration and their class failure at the comprehension of ‘service’ as the real essence of democracy.

The people of Nigeria too can be forgiven their silly spectators’ passivity or outright non-participation in their own matters, having been robbed to stupour by their so-called leaders and impoverished to the point of death by their supposed servants.

Having lost their dignity to hunger and want, finding the voice to question those in whose hands they have entrusted their present and future well-being must be akin to seeking a break from rape perpetrated by a violent King Kong of a man, a giant of no mean endowment and incredible weight as well as height!

The Nigerian people’s tepid response, when they respond at all, to threats to democracy by even those who should be its custodians must, therefore, be located within the context of their being shocked to the point of slavish submissiveness and the proverbial wisdom of limiting the damage to the body or preserving one’s life by acquiescing to the aggressor’s assault.

And, boy, what a rapist of this beloved country of ours the average Nigerian politician is!Yet, the embarrassing facts of the winds against the soul of participatory government, as currently unleashed by those in some public offices, should trouble anyone who has a modicum of interest of Nigeria at heart.

Impunity has taken on the garb of priestly cassock and those who are privileged to wear it are not content with just being priests, they are gradually elevating themselves to the height of gods demanding to be worshipped. They see the hallowed shrines of democracy as too far beneath them even as footstool and kick such off with reckless disdain. In their self-assumed higher realm, they answer only to themselves, supported, tragically, by respected intellectuals and otherwise refined minds who have however taken their eyes off the larger purpose of democracy and are fixated on some immediate gains or empty grand-standing.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David ‘BD’ Lawal and Hameed Ali, head of the Customs department, defy the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and there is enough sophistry to be deployed in defence of such egregious conduct by those who should know better, whatever their grievances against members of the Senate may be!

Egotistic bombasts, contradictory legalese and various obfuscations reign instead of reason, supreme thought and laser-like focus on the real issue of ensuring the smooth running of democracy or strict adherence to its tenets.

On another level, embers of mistrust and distrust are constantly fanned by profiteering scoundrels and, as a result, on the social level, Nigerians are more than ever getting pseudo-nationalistic, seeking dubious solace in their ethnic enclave even at the slightest disagreement.

But for the timely intervention of the Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola and the assistance of Vice (then Acting) President Yemi Osinbajo the other day over the Ile Ife crisis, for example, what was essentially a quarrel between two individuals over mundane matters would have escalated into an inter-ethnic war with the potential to set Nigeria on fire.

Certainly, there is no denying the fact that Nigeria’s democracy is being challenged by active forces and deliberately contrived spectacles that have made it run as smoothly as a vehicle with water in its fuel tank and wheels made of wood in squares.

Of course, the Senate’s sometimes infantile conducts or responses have not helped its cause. That chamber has at times acted true to the accusation of being inhabited in too large numbers by rambunctious lightweights, attention seekers who have neither depth nor the breadth to appreciate the magnitude as well as urgency of the work of Nigeria. This, of course, is a shame to a Senate that has, in fairness, striven to outdo its predecessors in work ethic.

Painfully, in some cases, the Senators seem oblivious of their own powers or how to use such. They then pursue ants with sophisticated guns and reach for the broom when fang-baring monsters show up at their doorsteps.

Who is Hammed Ali, a subordinate officer to the Minister of Finance, that the Senate had to invest so much time and energy on what uniform he wears or the size of his manhood if he goes about naked?

Sympathetic as one may be to the idea that every arm of government, especially the one that supposedly acts more on their behalf, must be accorded its due place, it is difficult not to worry about the frivolity of some of the summons as well as their vexatious tone.

The Senate? The same Senate which, in the United States of America from where we copied ours, is the ultimate stamp of authority! The late Thurgood Marshall, the jurist known as the African-American Lord Denning is on record as being ever too quick, as a Supreme Court Justice, to humorously tell hyper-efficient brilliant doctoral students in Law who clerked for him that ‘it was me, not you, who was nominated by Lyndon Baines Johnson (America’s President then) and CONFIRMED by the SENATE of the United States of America!’

Confirmed by the Senate! That was Marshall’s way of emphasising the political importance, hierarchical authority as well as moral power of his office! I guess the task before the Senate today therefore is to find or reassert its moral authority. Without a good legislature, democracy is headed for the rocks!

Yes, Nigeria’s current National Assembly deserves a thorough re- assessment, not only in structure, as those who oppose a bicameral legislature because it is a waste of resources are legion, but even in content as a result of the poor quality of membership, commitment and debate.

National Assembly members, since 1999, have been accused of wanton insensitivity. They have bloated the cost of governance to unbearable levels with their rich takings from the common till in the form of sundry allowances, thereby compelling calls for the abolition of what has since been perceived as a drain pipe! The profligacy and huge penchant for arm-twisting or intimidating other arms of government have even been reasons for frustrations and desperate call for extreme measures, even measures which would be against the letter and spirit of the idea of a government of the people by the people and for the people.

The power of oversight granted the National Assembly by the Constitution, a democratic way of holding the ministries and all agencies of government accountable in line with the principle of checks and balances, has often been turned by the legislators into a tool of coercion, intimidation and even extortion.

But we must never lose sight of the truth: Whether unicameral or bicameral, part-time or full-time, Nigeria’s democracy or any democracy for that matter needs a vibrant legislature. That is the truth we are missing.

And we are missing that truth because of our half-hearted, even dishonest, pursuit of it.Failure to insist on the purity of democracy as a result of political convenience, crass ignorance, intellectual dishonesty and dubious self-interest is to put our fidelity to the majesty of democracy to question.

We must all permit ourselves a deep, sober reflection on the kind of society that is fast developing around us and shake off a palpably mind-boggling care-free, even careless, attitude to the current affairs of the Nigerian state.

In the face of ongoing challenges, it is very convenient for every Nigerian to lapse into a feeling of individual insulation from a potential instability and shocks, but this is a luxury that anyone can engage in at the risk of dangerous consequences to all.

Turning a blind eye to impunity or disrespect for institutions is a terrible disease with contagious powers. It has the capacity to endanger not only its victim or victims but also those who pretend not to see the impunity.

The three arms of government, the legislature, the executive and even the judiciary in Nigeria are well known to be populated by a large contingent of dishonourables. But the beauty we seek will remain possible only to the extent that we appreciate how our look can never be enhanced by cutting the nose to spite the face.

By all means, Nigeria’s politics must be made better. That reform must start now with an overhaul of our recruitment methods or system into all offices, especially into the law making bodies. Nigerians must find a way to throw up from amongst them, the best in character and the brightest in mind, for all offices. While that is going on, beginning with a re-orientation of the people’s values, we must preserve those same institutions that, with the tenacity of our search, we may someday find saints or the best and the brightest to run.

We cannot allow the destruction of democracy by an irresponsible few who view themselves above its ideals or those elected officials who rate below its weight of responsibility.The legislature may have its shortcomings, and those are legion, but that defiance of the Senate by all sorts of appointed state officials and the rudeness of manner are totally repugnant to the spirit of democracy.


In this article:
Babachir DavidHameed Ali
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