By Ogaga Ifowodo
By condoning, if not authorising,serial acts of impunity, is President Goodluck Jonathan transforming democracy by redefining it as minority rule? Or simply returning us to the forgotten epoch of might is right? The most popular definition of democracy remains that proffered by Abraham Lincoln in the famous Gettysburg Address to commemorate the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. In the long closing sentence of the short 278-word speech, Lincoln uttered the words that every junior secondary school student knows by heart:”government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
But Lincoln was a man who could see through the clang and clamour, the gore and rubble, of war to the underlying philosophy of his society’s core values. It is this quality that transformed him from a defender of the status quo of slavery and negation of the American national myth to “the great emancipator.”
As I read reports and saw images of how the police, six days ago, tear-gassed House Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and opposition legislators — including, alas, some senators of both parties — in order to prevent them from entering the chambers of the National Assembly where the ruling party representatives sat in a furtive attempt to strip Tambuwal of his speakership as punishment for defecting to the opposition, despite not having the clear majority to do so, I was reminded of a major source of our predicament which I have written about before: our insistence on practising democracy without democrats.
It is a phenomenon founded on a shocking contempt for history, ethics and plain decency. Do the police, President Jonathan, and the PDP house members know the dear price at which our current “democracy” was bought? As they trample on every sacred principle and desecrate every state institution, blinded by a brute will to power or immediate personal gain, do they ever remember how many died, how many were maimed, and how many were denied their liberty in the struggle to end military dictatorship in our land?
Not questions, perhaps, that one who has been ferried blindly by sheer luck from one high governing office to another right up to the pinnacle might be expected to ask. And so in a short 15 years, we are in danger of redefining democracy against sense or logic. Jonathanian democracy is encapsulated in the formula: 16>19 (16 is greater than 19). Consequently, Governor Jonah Jang who got 16 votes declared himself the elected chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum over Governor Rotimi Amaechi who got 19. Jang would even go on to claim divine sanction for the formula.
“I contested and won. So, it’s the will of God,” he proclaimed. The formula was next tried in the Rivers State House of Assembly, this time as 5>27.There, five out of the 32 members of the RSHA”impeached” the speaker for the offence of being pro-Amaechi. In Edo State, the formula 9>15 is at the root of the crisis that has paralysed its house of assembly. In Ekiti, the formula is 7>19. There, where two-time governor Ayo Fayose had earned the reputation of Mr Impunity even before being sworn in, seven out of 27 members of the house of assembly purportedly removed the speaker.
While we don’t know the exact number of the ruling party representatives who sat under police protection while their opposition counterparts were being hounded, it is a fact that they lacked the two-thirds majority for removing a serving speaker, thereby rendering a perfectly legitimate thing — removing a speaker and electing another — suspect.
Thus, ridiculous as it may seem, the opposition party members who defied tar-gas to scale the fence in order to gain access to their place of work and foil the plot, saved Nigeria the greater embarrassment. But not without giving further damning proof of the transformation of the police into the Jonathan and PDP Police Force. No matter who the Inspector-General is, the police can be trusted to display a contemptible lack of understanding of the proper conduct expected of them as law enforcement officers whose duty and loyalty is to the Constitution and the nation, and not to the President and his party.
Reuben Abati, Jonathan’s spokesman, has said that the President did not order the police to invade the National Assembly. We do not expect him to say otherwise. Still, Abati ought to know that people who wield immense power need not speak before they are obeyed.
Spineless and fawning subordinates would anticipate their wishes on the basis of previous orders, statements, actions and inactions, even moods. In Jonathan’s case, his infamous declaration that he did not give a damn about leading his self-avowed “war against corruption”, long since abandoned, by personal example through a public, as opposed to a secret, declaration of his assets, was a foundational statement from which the police could read a licence to act against the public interest in perceived protection of the President’s personal benefit. You could also mention the President’s curious attempt to distinguish between stealing and corruption.
“I don’t give a damn!” was Jonathan’s standing order to all willing and able agents to “deal ruthlessly” with the opposition. So the police could claim that opposition legislators were “thugs and hoodlums” while their ruling party counterparts, by definition, were ladies and gentlemen to be accorded every civility. After all, if the President doesn’t give a damn, who should?