By Tonnie Iredia
In January 1966, Nigerians witnessed the first ever military intervention in the politics of their nation. To the applause of many of us, they sacked the first republic and instituted military rule. Some 30 years later when democracy returned to the polity, the earlier ovation to the men in uniform had waned as they too were found guilty of the same vices that informed their sacking of the civilian government. Against this backdrop, it was imagined that perhaps the nation would have been better off if democracy, the acclaimed best system of government in the world had been allowed to grow in our nation. Nigerian politicians the argument continues would have matured and learnt to practice democracy in its true form. Since 1999 however, we have had no less than 15 unbroken years of civilian rule yet we have had nothing other than “democracy with tears”. Why on earth is Nigeria unable to produce “sane” politicians?
Waziri Tambuwal is the current speaker of the House of Representatives. By the Order of Precedence Act, he is the 4th most important Nigerian. Four days ago, he reportedly had to scale a fence just to get into the National Assembly to do his job as the bonafide Speaker. Who stopped him? If it was law enforcement operatives, what law were they enforcing? Any person’s guess is as good as that they were directed by another set of politicians. It was not the first time the chief law maker was meeting with lawlessness. The other day, the Speaker had his security aides withdrawn because he decamped from our main political party to its twin affiliate. We were not able to wait for those who elected the man as Speaker to remove him before he could be said to have ceased to hold the office and before his perquisites of office could be withdrawn. Instead the police were goaded to interpreter the law on decamping because their organization has been bastardized, just as every other institution of society has lost its soul.
If as we hear, there are two people claiming to be the current Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, the matter is likely to be resolved in favour of the governor’s preferences; notwithstanding that the governor himself is not a member of the majority party in the House. Again, although we are yet to introduce state police, the office of the “outgoing” Speaker has been reportedly sealed by the police in our on-going posture of political impunity- a feature which has helped Nigeria’s political situation to progressively move from bad to worse since 1999. Indeed, exactly 10 years ago, when I had the privilege of delivering the 18th Convocation lecture of the University of Maiduguri, I had prophetically opined that our political class was developing a tendency to behave like “a child born drunk”. Those who attacked me then for being too hard on our politicians may have since had a re-think, because it is only a man who was drunk from birth that could continuously malfunction the way our politicians play politics. For instance, whereas our electoral law bans electioneering campaigns earlier than 90 days to elections; our politicians begin campaigns for a second term from the first day of the first term.
The smart strategy these days is for the would-be-candidate to feign ignorance of the breach or to pretend that such premature campaigns are not at his instance. Meanwhile that does not cure the flagrant abuse of the electoral law. In addition a breach of one provision has implications for other segments of politics. A good example is the way our politicians have rubbished the time-honoured principle of separation of powers. Now, the executive arm rules everyone including the judiciary which now habours conflicting judgments to the chagrin of the new Chief Justice. In one State, Ondo, everyone became a labour party politician because the state governor was elected under the platform of the labour party. His recent return to his old party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has witnessed the massive movement of all hitherto known “comrades” from labour to the governor’s new party.
The principle of majority rule is similarly breached now and again. The last time the governors’ forum attempted to elect a new chairman, the candidate with 16 votes defeated the one with 19. We are indeed back to our old ways where some party caucuses would meet in the bedroom of a powerful money-bag to impose a particular aspirant as the candidate of a party. State governors have turned out to be most powerful politicians in the land. They impeach their deputies at will and even determine who should lead the legislature. Because they have suddenly become richer than everyone else, those of them who have completed their maximum two terms as governors have decided that any Senator from their constituencies must give way for his governor to take over. That is not all; the governors want to decide which of their cronies shall occupy the other 2 senatorial positions of the state.
The catch word for all of this is called consensus-a word that is defined differently from its real meaning in the advanced learner’s political dictionary of Nigeria.
A friend told me the other day that Governor Dickson of Bayelsa State may not get a second term. It sounded ridiculous because he belongs to a party which says everyone is entitled to a second chance. We can only hope that such a move would not produce more doses of political rascality because the way our polity has been so heated up these days, something would give way soon if care is not taken . The famous social scientist, Professor McKenzie probably had Nigeria in mind when he warned several years ago that “if the rules limiting the struggle for power are not observed more or less faithfully, the game will disappear amid the wreckage of the whole system”. That we are getting near there is easy to see and when that happens, let no politician exculpate himself from blame.