A good friend of mine who is an encyclopaedia on Nigerian politics told me a pathetic story a few days back. He had visited a governor-friend years back and as they went in, he saw the Speaker of the state House of Assembly and the clerk waiting for his Imperial Excellency. He was with the governor for about five hours and when he saw him off at midnight, they were still waiting with the speaker dozing off.
My friend forgot to tell the governor something and had to return. He met him attending to other people while the two gentlemen were still fighting to stay awake on their chairs. He could bear it no more and had to tell his friend he was not being fair to the head of another arm of government by keeping him waiting for that long. The response of Mr Governor shocked him to the marrow. “Let him wait there please. All he came for is nothing than to get him approve the money for ‘this one travelling’ or ‘that one paying hospital bill.’ There is nothing very serious.”
He proceeded to ask him why it was his lot signing the running costs of the legislative arm of the government and he shockingly said: “If I don’t do that, these boys will steal all my money.”
The true story above typifies what the state houses of assembly have mostly become in the hands of overbearing governors in our disgustingly dysfunctional country and the very prospect that awaits our National Assembly if the plans by the ruling party and government should have their ways by imposing their official candidates as leaders of the ninth National Assembly.
The essence of separation of powers is chiefly to guarantee checks and balances, which explains why the three arms of government are to function independently but cooperatively.
The parliament is key in this arrangement as it is the arm of government that makes all the difference between military rule and civilian administration. This is why it’s a normal practice for the military to proscribe the National Assembly and suspend the constitution whenever there is an interregnum.
The novel thing in Nigeria in recent time is the plan orchestrated by the executive arm to castrate both the legislative and judicial arms of government in a desperate bid to institute civilian absolutism.
Those who were largely un-informed hailed as the anti-corruption propaganda was used as an excuse to clamp down on the judiciary, in clear subversion of all known due processes. While not condoning corruption on the bench, the breaking of doors to judges home in the wee hours was a clear signal of a Napoleonic trample.
This has been followed by other acts, including the suspension of the head of the judicial arm without following what the law says, which was clearly evident in the pronouncement of the Appeal Court recently. It’s only a credit to the Nigerian resilience that Nigerians still applaud some pronouncements from our courts under these circumstances.
For the legislature, it was heavenly coup that Senator Bukola Saraki and Honourable Yakubu Dogara emerged as Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives in 2015, respectively against what was scheduled by officialdom. If it had been otherwise, all wrongs would have been right and impunity would have been wearing agbada as against the buba and sokoto it currently adorns in the country.
No matter the imperfection of our National Assembly, credit should go to Saraki and Dogara for piloting the affairs of the eighth Assembly with dexterity. They gave maximum cooperation to the executive at all times necessary in the interest of the country and stamped their authority whenever it was necessary. That is one of the reasons Nigeria can still lay claim to some democratic content today, in spite of the thawing of civil society assertiveness in the last four years.
The National Assembly has come under serious assault in the last four years for asserting its legislative independence with two events most remarkable. The first being the storming of the Senate by thugs who carted away the mace in the presence of the whole gamut of security in the National Assembly. The stolen mace was dumped under the bridge in Abuja by policemen who, till date, never found the perpetrators of the crime.
The second one was the invasion of the National Assembly complex on August 7, 2018 by men of the Department of State Security (DSS), preventing parliamentarians from accessing their offices. For several hours, hooded DSS operatives took over the complex but met their match in senators and members of the House of Representatives who looked them eyeball-to-eyeball in defence of the integrity of the National Assembly. The then acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, doused the tension the unreasonable conduct generated by firing the then Director-General of DSS, which showed that the “above” that was cited as authorising the invasion of the complex was not with the acting president who was supposed to be the highest authority in the land at the time. Till date, no inquiry was carried out into that coup and nobody is on trial for the unconscionable act.
As the ninth session of our legislature comes aboard, the country waits patiently to see whether the members will vote in a leadership that would sustain the independence of the parliament without hurting governance process or a “meeeeen sir like goat” (apology to Fela Kuti) leadership that would give us a rubber stamp legislature and closing the democratic space.
…King Charles and Commons’s independence
The Commons’ independence from the monarch was strengthened further in January 1642 when King Charles I entered the Commons in a failed attempt to arrest five members of parliament.
The relationship between King Charles I and the Parliament had steadily deteriorated. The Parliament was critical of Charles’ rule, including his methods of raising tax, the wars he fought and his refusal to call Parliament to meet. Some also feared Charles, who was a Catholic, wanted to destroy the Protestant religion in England.
John Pym and four other members of the Commons drafted the Grand Remonstrance, a list of Parliament’s grievances. The Remonstrance was passed by the Commons in November 1641. It was the first time the Parliament had so openly challenged a monarch.
Charles considered this to be treasonous. Accompanied by soldiers, the King entered the Commons chamber to arrest Pym and his four supporters but they had gone into hiding. The Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, refused to reveal where the five members were, claiming “I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.” Rebuffed, Charles replied “I see the birds have flown” and left the chamber. This incident demonstrated the autonomy of the House of Commons and initiated a tradition that no monarch ever enters the lower house of Parliament.
The conflict between the Commons and the King resulted in civil war, which led to the execution of Charles I in 1649 and Britain being declared a republic. The monarchy was restored in 1660 but the King and Parliament continued to clash. In 1689, King William and Queen Mary took the throne and agreed to the Declaration of Rights, which acknowledged Parliament’s sovereignty, including its right to free speech and to meet frequently.
…Her pains will haunt this country!
I shed tears as I read the painful story of an unknown Nigerian woman raped for days by men she called “Fulani” during her kidnap with her nine-year-old daughter and husband. The agonising tale detailed how they paid a ransom of N8 million outside the torture of abuse. Her final words are surely a curse on this country, except justice comes upon the perpetrators of the evil crime and end is swiftly brought to this bestiality.
“Now, I do not think we were released to freedom after paying a whopping N8 million. I do not think we can ever be free, we can never be free, from the anguish, the psychological trauma, the nightmares we suffered, the occasional fits of our daughter, her waking up midnight behaving strangely, her asking the same question over and over: ‘Mummy, mummy, why? Why?’ I do not have any answer.
“In my life, I have never passed through a torture chamber like this. I do not think any society should let this happen. I do not know the fate of those we met, and about seven other people brought during the six days we were in captivity. What I saw was a nation that has collapsed but pretends she lives, a people on life support.
“Crime is not restricted to Fulani people alone. We have Yoruba criminals. But I don’t think Yoruba criminals are as beastly as these. These elements are savages. I can’t imagine Yoruba thieves going to Sokoto or Maiduguri to kidnap Fulani people and keep them in their own bushes. It gives me mental torture that this is happening and some fools are even trying to justify or look for excuses.
“Well, as a devout Muslim, myself and my family have taken solace in Allah, not the Nigerian police, not the army, not the governments. We have taken our fate the way it came. I thank God that we have successfully returned to where we live, thousands of miles from Nigeria. We thank God that we have made a vow: Never shall me, any of my children or husband in our life time visit Nigeria. Our remains, any time we die, will also not be buried in Nigeria. It was a suggestion by my daughter which we all adopted.
“I pity the country. I pity her people who continuously walk like the living dead. I pity those who parade themselves as leaders, because they know nothing about what is going on and the abyss the country sunk already.
“I pity Yoruba people, oh, I pity you. I pity my people. For me, the issue is not about President Buhari. Democracy can produce anything, even the worst in the society.
“What I worry about is the conspiracy of silence by the people themselves, the ignorance, the treachery and the illusion that one day, things will get better through another election.”