By Muhammed Adamu on Thursday
“The American founders believed that a constitution that placed unlimited power in a legislative majority will inevitably result in tyranny, instability and lawlessness” – David Ingram.
Whenever theorists and men of learning postulate about the organic nature of ‘state’ and ‘democracy’ as a necessary dung of its bloom, the composite demon conjured always is ‘dictatorship’, especially of the ‘military’ kind which is imposed and sustained by the power of arms. And so it was about the military that Samuel Adams had warned that “A wise and prudent people” should “always have a watchful and jealous eye over”; because as he argued, “the maxims and rules of the army are essentially different from the genius of a free people.”
But ‘dictatorship’ has not always been the preserve only of ‘royal potentates’ genealogically being thrust onto power or of ‘military adventurists’ seizing political power by the gun and the bayonet. Charismatic leaders too, either of ‘mass movements’ or of ‘political parties’ have also gained the monopoly of political power and have often become worse dictators; just as ‘democratic majorities’ too are known sometimes to behave dictatorially, -lording it over hapless ‘minorities’. But ‘lawmaking arms’ of government too, given the chance, are no less potentially dictatorial –riding roughshod either over the other arms of government or even over the very electorates that voted them into office.
Yet of all forms of ‘dictatorship’ known either to antiquity or to contemporary political science, the ‘dictatorship of the legislature’, Abraham Lincoln said, is far the worst. When the so-called ‘peoples representatives’ on the legislative moral high-ground begin to feel no longer obligated to pay the tribute of obeisance to those who elected them, a dictatorship of the legislature is in the making. And so with apologies to Samuel Adams, it is the ‘legislative arm’ of government today –hardly now the military- that a “wise and prudent people” should “have a watchful and jealous eye over”; lest what has been conceived by Rousseau and Locke as the veritable touchstone of liberation, namely the parliament, does not become an ‘enslaving power.’
It is the reason David Ingram observed rightly, that: “The American founders believed that a constitution that placed unlimited power in a legislative majority will inevitably result in tyranny, instability and lawlessness.” Which is what Nigeria is presently hostage to –namely an unautochthonous Constitution which was given to us by the very institution -the military- whose “maxims and rules” Samuel Adams had warned are “essentially different from the genius of a free people.”
John Stuart Mill in his works Representative Government wrote that: “Rulers are governed as much by the habitual sentiments of their class as by the traditions of their office”. How could the military, trained –as Shakespeare would say- to be “sudden and quick in quarrel” or maybe to “seek the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth”, play the good gardener in the orchard of democracy or rather how could such institution whose “maxims and rules” are “essentially different from the genius of a free people”, be the right shepherd to a flock of aspiring democrats? How could the army have bequeathed a workable constitution with the necessary safeguards against the growth of a legislative dictatorship?
Who bells the cat?
We are stuck today with a Constitution that has not only placed ‘unlimited power’ in an arrogant and greedy legislature, but one too which has unwittingly provided ineffectual checks on an essentially –even if only potentially- cantankerous arm of government, the legislature. Its lawmaking authority, its power of oversight over both the executive and the judiciary, its power to authorise executive and judicial spending, to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President, to propose and to pass private member bills; to override presidential veto and to cause to become law any bill unassented by the President, are all proof of the absoluteness of the legislature’s lawmaking authority and evidence too of the practical fallacy in the claim that the President is indispensable in the chain and processes of lawmaking.
The legislature, through private member bills alone and via the instrumentation of the exercise of veto override can carry on with the all-important task of lawmaking without any input from the executive or the judiciary. Yet there is not a single executive action of the President that does not require the leave, or the input or at least the supervision or oversight of the legislature.
In just 17 years of our trudging democracy, we have already grown a monstrous legislature peopled mostly by egotistic, despotic and selfish lawmakers who, contrary even to the ‘doctrine of the rule of law’, now feel no qualms legislating for their own personal aggrandizement. If our legislators are not busy ‘abrogating’ unfavorable electoral laws to pave ways to their political ambitions, they are desperately attempting –even in defiance of public opinion- to ‘amend’ the criminal code to escape justice; or they are working hard to ‘enact’ a new Constitution to invest themselves with immunities against the scrutiny either of the other arms of government or the harangues of a ‘meddlesome’ court of ‘public opinion’.
Our lawmakers have attempted many times in the past even to make laws ousting courts’ jurisdiction; they have in fact severally defied many an order of court; they have even declared the Auditor General of the Federation incapable of looking into their accounts. In fact, the Ghalli Assembly even had the nerve to tell Nigerians that the NASS even as it was immune to the inquisition of other arms of government, it too was constitutionally incapable of probing itself. And now the Saraki Assembly is telling us that the criminal conspiracy to forge the Standing Rules of the Senate is merely the ‘internal affairs’ of the Senate extra-judicially resolvable by its Ethics and Privileges Committee.
And even though the Police and the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation would have none of that, it still took the combined energies of the executive and judicial arms of government in cahoots with the court of public opinion to be able to subjugate just two offending lawmakers before the law; and just like the case against one of them before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, even this can still take all of eternity before the culprits –who are reputably adept at circumventing judicial processes- are made amenable to the due process of law.
We have seen that whenever the NASS speaks about ‘checks and balances’ it sends always the wrong impression that both the ‘checking’ and the ‘balancing’ are the exclusive preserves only of the legislature and not as they are, two mutually-revolving obligations which are incumbent on three interdependent co-equal arms of government to fulfill. Every attempt by other arms of government to check the NASS is rebuffed by lawmakers as an affront on its ‘constitutionally given’ independence.
Nigerians are virtually resigned to the belief that they are always stuck with assemblies that are unworthy of the moral high ground on which the votes of the electorate have placed them. And now we are virtually hoisted in the petard of a systemic gridlock; a constitutional conundrum if you will, because those who should amend our defective Constitution to correct anomalies that have occasioned the growth of a monstrous ‘assembly’ are themselves drunk with the nectar of constitutional superfluity and are therefore unlikely to legislate to abrogate those pleasures. Truth is the legislature in Nigeria is less of an incentive to our troubled democracy than is it evidently a huge systemic drag. Or maybe it is the problem of the entire concept of the western-type ‘democracy’ itself –which like Shakespeare’s description of ‘wine’ in ‘Macbeth’ “provokes the desire but takes away the action.”
For democracy’s sake!
Democracy by its nature is already culprit enough –either in its sickening slowness or in its reputation for non-providence. And it is not helped by the fact that the most provident systems of government are not necessarily the most democratic.
Nor are the most democratic ones necessarily any less potentially subversive of the democratic rights of man. It is a double jeopardy of sort, that democracy is a ‘means’ that is painfully slow even as it is also an ‘end’ that is practically indeterminable. It is a journey –as Disney-Cartoon’s Superman would say- ‘to infinity and beyond’.
We are its hapless wayfarers and we all have a choice either to enjoy merely the pleasure of its ‘ride’ or to savour the promise of its ‘promised land’.
Great democracies ironically are made not out of breasting the tape of the democratic expedition, but rather out of the great determination to stay in the never ending race. In the pursuit of the Eldorado called ‘democracy’, we are to ‘seek first the kingdom’ of its mirage and hope that all other dividends MAY be added onto it’. And maybe it is the reason Walter Winchel would say: “Too many people expect wonders from democracy, when the most wonderful thing of all is just having it.”
In fact, the greatest undoing of democracy is not so much the absence from it of ‘true and sincere’ politicians; but rather the false state of mind that it engenders about the democratic system being a ‘remedy’ and not in itself potentially an ‘affliction’. The delusion that ‘democracy’ is an elixir for the many sicknesses of man, perhaps is the reason Benjamin Disraeli described it as “that fatal drollery called a representative government.”
Nor is ‘democracy’ ever unfair in its proposition. At least it gives us always the options either of a ‘Hobson’s choice’ or at the very least a ‘fait accompli’. This is the very heart of the democratic enterprise, its apparent ‘choice-driven-ness’ which in reality is no choice at all.
That it gives us always a choice between a ‘scum’ and a ‘scumbag’. So that either way even Mike Peters -the cartoonist- appears to have better options when he wondered: “When I go into the voting booth do I vote for the person who is the best President or the slime bucket who will make my life as a cartoonist wonderful?”
Ironically that is the hallmark of democracy, the ‘right’ even to elect the ‘wrong’ candidate. And like most systems the White man has devised, ‘democracy’ too –like the English law- is first ‘for democracy’s sake’ before it may be for other potentially-distant values! Such is the beauty of ‘democracy’; that it keeps us all in ‘faith’ assuring us not to worry, it will take care of itself -even if it does not take care of us!