By Ogaga Ifowodo
The ugly spectacle of the “street fight” that broke out in the Rivers State House of Assembly on July 9 gives further and better particulars of our determination to forever make nonsense of representative governance and a fool of ourselves.
In the even more shaming light of attempts at justification by a protagonist of the latest episode in our unending political theatre of the absurd, I restate my view that perhaps our political predicament lies in the insistence on practising democracy without democrats. And in far too many instances, with near-illiterates, which is worse — if comparatives make any sense at this point.
“Honourable” Evans Bipi, one of the chief brawlers in the aforementioned incident, is currently the butt of jokes for confessing that he was provoked into violence when a colleague blasphemed Jesus Christ in the person of Mrs Patience Jonathan.
I am unable to say whether this is a tragic or a comic statement, but I see the laughable in it: unbeknownst to us and the world, a female Christ — and a black one at that! — not only chose Nigeria for her unheralded and closely guarded abode on earth, but also chose to reveal herself to one man alone, allegedly her cousin and die-hard loyalist.
After which, she swore him, at pain of hell, to secrecy. Until not even the never-quenching fires of hell could make him keep the secret. Such is the maddening power of an insult! In the vortex of his rage, Bipi blurted out to those who tried to restrain him, thus: “Why must he be insulting my mother, my Jesus Christ on earth? . . . I can’t take it!” The “he” is “Honourable” Chidi Lloyd, majority leader of the house. It is not known what insufferably blasphemous words Lloyd spoke.
And, yes, I say that our greater tragedy, to attempt putting a metaphorical gloss on the point, may well be seeking to make democratic bricks without straw. On that Bloody Tuesday in Port Harcourt, the legislators had reconvened to discuss an amendment to the state’s 2013 budget.
The house had been forced to adjourn indefinitely due to the fact that the legislators were deadlocked in opposing camps created by the series of events surrounding Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s widely publicised difficulties with his Peoples Democratic Party and President Goodluck Jonathan. In the ensuing melee, some legislators were injured and property was destroyed. Curiously, the police, who had been invited by the speaker to keep the peace at this expectedly contentious sitting, and who had cordoned off the assembly premises, were content to look on.
It was not until Governor Amaechi arrived with a detachment of Government House security men that some order was restored. Upon his departure, a gang of five led by Bipi, sitting without their fifth member who was by now being treated in a hospital, impeached the “pro-Amaechi” speaker, “Honourable” Otelemabala Amachree, and installed the “pro-Jonathan” Bipi in his place.
Democracy without democrats: first, Mr Bipi not only indulges in contemptible idolatory with his confession of Mrs Jonathan as his Jesus Christ — his lord and personal saviour, as it were — but also goes on to top that with a poor orphan cry.
Second, the purported impeachment. By all independent accounts, it was done by four out of 32 members. The audacity of it, and the effrontery of seeking to claim any validity for the action even after passions should have cooled, is shocking beyond belief.
It does not come close to the pathos of the action to point to such obdurate impunity as just another instance of democracy without democrats. Something infernal, I think, has taken complete control of the minds of a fearfully large number of our politicians.
What this event proves is that our democracy, far from maturing the farther we go from the horrors of military tyranny, has, on the contrary, become in essence more infantile and crude. Majority of our politicians lack the necessary acumen, discipline and comportment — in a word, character — to be standard-bearers of democracy.
Thirdly, it is as a consequence of an insufficient appreciation of the finer principles of democracy and federalism that the House of Representatives moved, hastily, to take over the duties of the Rivers Assembly under Section 11(4) of the Constitution when nothing short of an emergency, as envisaged by Section 305 of the said Constitution, would justify such an extraordinary step.
While the event of July 9 is utterly shameful, there is no indication that the “situation prevailing” in the state was close to the sort of breakdown of law and order contemplated by the Constitution.
Lastly, the warts of our federalism were further displayed by the attitude of the state’s Commissioner of Police, Joseph Mbu. The incongruity of a governor, supposedly the chief security officer of his state, being saddled with a commissioner of police answerable to a federal authority makes mockery of the concept of federalism. And a faulty federalism can only produce a strange democracy. Or, “dividends of democracy” turned fearful miracles.