The grave diggers
What happened at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly in Uyo a few days ago was a tragic twist of irony. The happening was imperfect, infact cynical; the timing was even more imperfect and even more cynical. The State was rolling out the drums in honour of Obong Victor Attah, its former Governor who was a warrior for good causes. Then five legislators whose seats had been declared vacant in a 26 member House of Assembly thought they had a right to self-help. With the unstinted support of the federally funded police, obviously on illegal duty in Hilux vehicles funded by the tax payers, this gang of five led by Mr. Nse Ntuen was escorted into the Assembly grounds to conduct parliamentary proceedings when most honest men were getting ready for the honest business of the day.
I happened to be in Uyo at the time to honour the great man, Obong Attah, and when I learnt of the brouhaha at the House the reporter in me woke up. I did what reporters do for a living, stepped out of my comfort zone and went into the streets to talk to people. These people included policemen who were on guard duty at the House who told me that the five men were escorted into the premises by the police in police vehicles. I should have been shocked but I was not shocked because Benue State had set a record with six men attempting to impeach their Governor, Mr. Ortom in a House of Assembly with twenty something members. The hatchery for this evil plot was Abuja, not Makurdi. The only difference here was that Akwa Ibom State had upped the ante and set a new record in bestiality.
The story is that these five men were originally elected on the platform of the PDP and as has become the new norm in Nigeria they decided to cross the carpet into the APC which is the main opposition party in the State. It was their right to change camp but apparently they smelt a rat and decided to get the court to prevent the Speaker from suspending them. The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr. Onofiok Luke, also filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Uyo which gave him the go-ahead to suspend the cross-carpeters. Instead of going to a higher court to pursue their right they sought, and received, the generous help of the partisan police authorities who escorted them into the grounds of the parliament in the wee hours of the morning. They wanted to sit, quorum or no quorum, to impeach the Speaker. Infact Mr. Nse Ntuen had already been named “Speaker” by the members of his gang and some newspapers had even named him “factional speaker” giving the rebel a few minutes of fame or notoriety, whichever one tickles you.
Since 1999 politics in Nigeria has been some kind of idiot machine which has produced many scenes of idiocy. A few reminders may help. Mr. Peter Obi, the Governor of Anambra State, was impeached at five in the morning in a hotel room in Asaba, Delta State. No parliament sits at such an unholy hour and in such an unhallowed chambers except a kangaroo parliament. He had to do battle in court to be restored to office. In Enugu State, a few years ago, the impeachment of the Deputy Governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, came with the gift of an entertaining narrative. The Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Eugene Odoh, the official voice of the impeachment said that Mr. Onyebuchi’s impeachment was based on an allegation of gross misconduct arising from the rearing of chickens by the Deputy Governor in his official residence. It came to the fore during the trial that Mr. Onyebuchi’s boss, the Governor, was also rearing pigs but no one impeached him because, as you know, pigs are bigger than chickens. The court eventually restored Mr. Onyebuchi to his position.
You would remember that some years ago the ruling party, PDP was in some kind of political quandary and a bitter fight had ensued between it and the APC who had received some rebels from the PDP. That was when the Governors Forum was split down the middle. When an election of the Forum was held and the numbers crunched only 16 Governors were counted on the side of the PDP while 19 were on the side of the APC. Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State, was the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum and when he crossed over to APC he wanted a second term. President Goodluck Jonathan would not hear of it.
Then Mr. Jonah Jang, Governor of Plateau State materialised and threw his hat into the ring, to use a threadbare expression. In that contest Mr. Jang of the PDP got 16 votes while Mr. Amaechi got 19. It was then that we realised that in political mathematics 16 is higher than 19. Professor Chike Obi, the great mathematician, would have been befuddled but the PDP politicians just kept a straight face. They went further and formed the PDP Governors’ Forum and Chief Godswill Akpabio, Governor of Akwa Ibom State became its chairman. That is how the Governors’ Forum was bifurcated. Now Mr. Nse Ntuen has made the politics of numbers more magical.
You may remember also that Mr. Rasheed Ladoja, Governor of Oyo State, was impeached in the residence of the strong man of Ibadan politics who was nicknamed Garrison Commander, Mr. Adedibu. The impeached Governor headed to the courtroom and Justice James Ogebe, chairman of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan tongue-lashed the dramatis personae and told them that the Constitution did not envisage that any impeachment would be done anywhere outside of parliament.
General Sani Abacha, the ultimate autocrat had, during his time as the authoritarian leader emeritus decided to do politics in his own image. He got the so-called politicians from five parties to endorse him as the sole candidate. Some of those cowards are still running around today calling themselves politicians. Mr. Bola Ige, one of the courageous ones had described the contraption as the “five fingers of a leprous hand.” In an article I wrote in the Newswatch issue of June 1, 1998, I described the setting as “political polyandry.” I thought those politicians had chutzpah, the equivalent of a man who kills both his parents and then demands leniency of the court on the ground that he is an orphan.
In the same way some of our partisan politicians are making a sick joke of the serious matter of legislation or governance. No matter how you want to twist it, slice it or spin it, five as a majority in a house of 26 members is nonsense and his backers know it. Democracies work on majority while parliaments work on quorum. That is how systems everywhere work and if we want to practise democracy that is how we must do it whether it is convenient for some people or not. It is this failure to play by the rules, and the desire for short-cuts that enables us to be called a shit-hole country. It is short-cutism that leads to shit-hole-ism.
My colleagues in Newswatch, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed and I were thrown into jail a few times by President Ibrahim Babangida and General Sani Abacha. Our magazine was proscribed for six months and the account frozen, all because we, along with other pro-democracy activists, wanted an end to military rule. That was the high hanging fruit that had to be plucked. We achieved it and now have had elected civilian governments for almost 20 years.
That is a source of joy eventhough we have to reckon with its warts and amperage. So I come to this forum with a bifurcated emotion, one of triumph against military autocracy and the other that of discomfort about the civilian tomfoolery which puts our democracy day by day on the path of derailment. It is obvious that the inheritors of the fruits of the trenchant fight for democracy have not fully appreciated their inheritance because they are simply reaping from where they did not sow. Their acts of commission and omission are digging day after day the grave for our young democracy.
Politicians may easily forget that democracy in Africa has always had its enemies. And when civilians resort to inviting illegally people who wield the gun to help them to do nonsense so that they can gain unmerited advantage then they are performing the functions of a grave digger, democracy’s grave digger. I ask all the parties in the Akwa Ibom brouhaha to make peace with each other. We have just two months to the elections. The cases they have in various courts may only get to the Supreme Court after the elections. Whatever is decided then will be purely academic. Whoever wins will only record Pyrrhic victory.
I ask Mr. Nse Ntuen and his comrades to apologise for using force to invade the State House of Assembly. In my book and in the book of other non-partisans that is unacceptable. I also ask the Speaker, Mr. Onofiok Luke, to lift the suspension on the five legislators so that peace can return to the hallowed chambers. As for the elections those who will win will win and those who will lose will lose. That is in the hands of the peace-loving people of Akwa Ibom State. And God.
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