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Democracy’s teething pains

AS a country, we seem to wallow from one crisis to another. Not long ago, the hype was (and still is) the fate of kidnapped Chibok girls; next the wave of impeachment by some state legislatures.

Now everybody is an expert on Ebola haemorrhagic fever. Nigerians’ resilience and ability to bend and rebound like the palm tree is second to none anywhere in the world. We invariably emerge stronger at the end of every crisis.

Our sense of humour is also insufferable as we foist a humane face on every tragedy. There is now an Ebola bath (dangerous with sodium chloride); Ebola handshake – long distance outstretched palm with knees bent. I understand there is also an Ebola dance. As a popular Nigerian artist captures in one of his songs – “Nigeria Go Survive”.

Going back to ground zero, Nigerians sometimes push their luck too far which brings me back to the subject of this contribution – impeachment fever now ravaging our state legislatures. Section 188 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is quite clear about gross misconduct which is the main plank for the removal of a state governor. Sub-terranean antics, party machinations, etc, can always be woven into gross misconduct.

Adamawa and Nasarawa states present two very interesting cases for any bright PhD student of political science. Leadership which is the problem in both states has been described as the ability to mobilise a majority of followers to key into a previously articulated vision so that the various units work in synergy. The various units are encouraged to function as leaders. The great Chinese leader Tao Te Ching said that “great leaders give opportunities not orders”.

When, therefore, a governor is not jellying with his legislature, there is a problem and often times a crisis. The beauty of section 188 is that the three arms of government – executive, legislature and judiciary- have independent roles which must converge for impeachment to happen.

In the case of Adamawa, the legislature previously controlled by Governor Nyako’s party broke ranks with him and decided to get rid of him. Rightly or wrongly, they set up the process of impeachment which then Governor Nyako (a perfectly decent person) decided to ignore and therefore refused to appear and defend himself. The panel had no choice but to find him guilty on all counts in absentia. He was removed and section 188 says he cannot challenge that decision in court. That aspect of Nigerian democracy methinks needs a second look.

In Nasarawa State with a scenario similar to Adamawa, the legislature was also hostile to Governor Al-Makura and again set up the impeachment process. In this case however, while the governor did not recognise the legitimacy of the panel, yet he appeared. His accusers – the state legislature while more or less questioning the integrity of the panel- declined appearance. The panel faced with circumstances similar to that of Adamawa dismissed all charges against the governor. Currently the legislators are threatening fire and brimstone. One would advise caution.

For any democracy to grow, especially in semi-literate society like Nigeria, those in positions of authority must cultivate the personal discipline and patience and take the smooth with the rough, but more of the smooth. Governor Al-Makura knew all along that he walked a tight rope in his dealings with the state legislature and did the next best thing which was to woo his primary constituency, the masses directly.

One thing all our legislators, both the state and national level, must never forget is that in elementary basic physics of metallic expansion, there is a point known as the elastic limit at which point the metal will snap if additional pressure is put on it. In everyday usage, this is known as the tripping point. An indepth study of this phenomenon, if applied to dealings of our national life, will make us apply the brakes as necessary.

Not too long ago, there was a parliamentary explosion and show of shame in the Rivers State House of Assembly when chairs and tables became effective missiles of war by parliamentary gladiators. That show was captured on tape and is still screened world-wide to ridicule Nigeria’s attempt at democratic governance. The House of Representatives as Big Brother passed a motion as provided for in the constitution to take over functions of that Assembly. Was that motion implementable? Your answer is as good as mine.

No democracy-not America with more than 200 years experimentation, not even the mother of all democracies – Britain, is perfect. Still democracy continues to fine-tune itself. It is apt to sign off with an extract from a speech Sir Winston Churchill delivered on the floor of the House of Common in 1947 when he said: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

Leaders of Nigeria, a word is enough for the wise!!

Dr. Eddie Mbadiwe wrote from Abuja.


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