Democracy in peril – part 2
With a complacent National Assembly, which has thrown generations unborn into monumental debt through reckless approval of loans by the executive and the emergence of tin gods in various spheres of power, we are gradually settling down for maximum rule. Let us examine the current position of things in Nigeria. There is a current controversy on Value Added Tax, as the appropriate authority to receive and manage the same. The Federal Government claims legal right over it whilst the States are up in arms, with Rivers and Lagos States making laws empowering municipal agencies to take over the VAT administration. It is just one example of how the Constitution is trampled upon at will.
The President has traveled out of Nigeria on several occasions without proper handing over, whereas the procedure established by the Constitution to deal with the absence of the President is for him to transmit a letter to the National Assembly, the latter being the elected representatives of the people, officially informing them of his absence. This is meant to avoid confusion and power vacuum. Other examples abound.
In the recent past, it was reported that the Inspector-General of Police embarked upon the recruitment and promotion of policemen and women, contrary to the clear provisions of the Constitution which vests such powers on the Police Service Commission. This has virtually led to the collapse of that institution, which in law should be responsible for law and order. There is a growing clamour by the executive for strict regulation of the media, for censorship and general control of media space. This usually emanates from a culture of intolerance for dissent, especially in the face of unpopular policies of the government. The ban or suspension of Twitter has lingered on beyond all expectations, with the government throwing carrots through empty promises of restoration just to douse the growing agitation against media ambush. From all indications, it would seem that the general aim is to capture the media as a tool for propagating the hidden agenda of dictatorship. Our democracy is in serious danger.
The judiciary in Nigeria is firmly under the grip of the executive, which controls its funding, appointment and even removal. With the experiences of the immediate past Chief Judge of Kebbi State, to the travails of the Chief Judge of Cross-River State, we have experienced a style of imposing fear and terror upon the judiciary, as a way of cowing judges into submitting to the whims and caprices of the executive. When the mode of the removal of the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria is put to remembrance, it is a little wonder that there has now emerged a powerful executive, clothed with absolute powers beyond review by the courts. The power is real, potent and very dangerous indeed.
A people disenchanted with any style of governance can rally round and speak with the voice of rejection with their votes during the election. The conclusion of most election observers for the last (2019) general elections in Nigeria is that the electoral system was flawed and compromised virtually in all the States of the Federation. In most cases, the votes of the people could not determine the eventual winner, thus making the leader unaccountable and beyond control.
There is no gain saying that the present National Assembly and indeed the Houses of Assembly of all the States are under the control, dominion and supervision of the executive arm of government. The idea of separation of powers supported by the robust doctrine of checks and balances, is meant to prevent absolutism in governance, especially on the part of the executive, which has control of funds, is in charge of law enforcement agencies and is directly responsible for the formulation and execution of government policies. It is the arm of government that deserves strict control and supervision, by the other arms, but that has not been the case.
With the media in the kitty, the judiciary under firm grip, the legislature willing and compliant, the opposition in shambles, the labour unions only existing for wages and emoluments, with civil societies and human rights groups dead and buried, and bandits and insurgents on rampage, democracy cannot be said to be real in Nigeria.
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocat Of Nigeria (SAN).