By Ochereome Nnanna
About 2,600 years ago, there lived a nobleman in Athens (Greece) known simply as Draco. History has it that he was the first legislator of Athens, a city that bequeathed us the noble legacy of democracy which is now the political pop culture of the (Western) advanced world and other parts of the world (such as Nigeria) aspiring to be counted as being “advanced”.
Being a lawmaker meant Draco was the people’s representative and was in office to serve their interests. He started off on a good enough note. First, he codified the oral laws of Athens into a written form. Through that, the law became more widely known among learned people who then passed on the knowledge.
Before Draco’s appearance on the scene the elite who knew the law operated it like a secret cult on the rest of society. These few privileged individuals often used it to oppress the less-privileged.
Secondly, it was Draco who distinguished between premeditated murder and candid or accidental homicide. He reserved capital punishment only for the culprits of premeditated murder. Before Draco’s intervention all homicides were punishable by death. This legacy continues till date throughout most of the world’s legal systems.
Thirdly, the laws made by Draco were no longer to be arbitrarily applied. Only the courts (Areopagus) would pronounce sentences based on the law. That legacy continues till today, even under our Constitution. Soon, however, Draco derailed. He wrote what was known as the “Draconian Constitution” which ended up enslaving the same people Draco purported to represent.
For instance, if you owed a person richer than you, he had the right under the Draconian Law to turn you into his slave. But if a person richer than you owed you he could endlessly demure on his indebtedness and get away with it. In that Constitution there were too many offences punishable by death, and land ended up in the hands of a few powerful individuals. In time, people got fed up and Draco was chased out of Athens. He escaped to neighbouring Aegina where he died unsung in 600 BC.
There is a simple takeaway from this short story: next time you see a draconian law coming on, remind its makers of the fate that befell Draco the Legislator. Then act like the Athenian citizens did. That is how to preserve democracy and freedom.
And that is exactly what Nigerians are called upon to do each time our national and state assemblies attempt to make any law that threatens to sweep away our constitutionally-guaranteed liberties. I say this because in our today’s Senate and House of Representatives, there are many modern-day Dracos. It is worse under the Muhammadu Buhari second term as President than at any other time.
After the first four years of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, during which he engineered the removal of three Senate presidents and one Speaker of the House of Representatives, the legislators girded their loins and swore that only they, not external forces, would henceforth elect and remove their leaders. Since the Hon. Patricia Etteh fiasco there has been relative stability in the National Assembly.
It was under the first term of Buhari when Dr. Bukola Saraki was the Senate President and Hon. Yakubu Dogara was Speaker of the House that the ruling party worked hard to demonise the independence of the Legislature as the reason for Buhari’s poor performance. They conveniently forgot that in 2018 alone, President Buhari refused to sign over 30 Bills.
During the 2019 general elections many strange things happened. Many Federal lawmakers who left the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, failed to return for Buhari’s second term. Some of those who fought to destroy our democracy were returned.
Now, the ruling APC’s longstanding desire to secure a rubberstamp National Assembly for Buhari has come to pass. The Head of the NASS, Senator Ahmed Lawan, unabashedly vowed in November 2019, that there is nothing Buhari asks for that he will not approve. Well, he recently put his word into action when President Buhari requested for a domestic loan of N850bn without providing details of the project for the beneficiaries. Lawan rifled it through the Senate within five minutes, ignoring protests by his colleagues.
A rubberstamp legislature is a House of Draco because it is serving the President’s interest, not that of the people. Unfortunately, the Ninth National Assembly under Lawan and Gbajabiamila has lost its capacity to force its leadership to stay on the side of democracy and the people. Lawan and Gbaja routinely act with impunity, and they get away with it.
We are seeing the audacity with which Gbaja is pushing his discredited Control of Infectious Diseases Bill while Senator Chukwuka Utazi is trucking it in the Senate as National Health Emergency Bill. The Bills give unelected officials power to compulsorily get Nigerians vaccinated and also convert with impunity people’s property to an isolation centre.
It is also from this set of lawmakers that we have seen promoters of Bills which will get people executed for “hate speech”, tamper with citizens’ right to use the social media, seize people’s ancestral lands for donation to an ethnic group for Ruga or cattle colonies, and so on.
Draco died thousands of years ago, but his soul keeps marching on in this legislative era in Nigeria. However, just like the Athenians, we Nigerians are ready to put our Dracos in their proper places. We will save the soul of Nigeria from the enemies of our democracy.