IT has become necessary for all lovers of democracy and haters of autocracy to beam their searchlight on the unfolding events at the National Assembly, particularly the Senate. Even before the inauguration of the Eight Senate, controversy had been thick in the air and there was plenty of jockeying for power, supremacy, and control of the leadership of the Senate.
It is not a secret that the powers-that-be prepared particular candidates to emerge as leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives, but failed woefully in their unholy and clandestine bid to pocket the legislature. And there has been no respite for the Senate and its leadership ever since, as it has been one allegation of criminal offence or the other and dragging about of Senate leadership from one court to the other. As a democratic state, implicit in the existence of the three arms of government is the doctrine of separation of powers and the principle of checks and balances, which are particularly key in a presidential system of government.
The idea of separation of powers is aimed essentially at guarding against absolute power that comes with the fusion of the enormous powers of state in a few hands. Fashioned out by great thinkers and activists of the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly Jean Montesquieu and A.V. Dicey, the principal aim of the concept of separation of powers is to ensure the smooth sail of democracy and to scuttle impunity by those in government. By this principle, each branch of government is independent of the other, though they cooperate. Allied to this concept, is the principle of checks and balances, whereby each organ of government acts as a check on the other without interfering with its internal affairs. That way, dictatorship is kept at bay. I have taken the pain to elucidate on these principles to show the complete threat to democracy and the gradual descent to the cesspit of anarchy, which the ceaseless interference of the executive in the affairs of the Senate portends.
Despite the laborious efforts by the executive to deny the incessant efforts to pass off the presiding officers of the Senate as common felons, it should be clear to them by now that they can no longer take Nigerians for fools. The harassment, intimidation, and campaign of calumny, steadily waged against some principal officers of the Senate since their emergence to the outrage of the powers-that-be can no longer be hidden. If some patriotic Nigerians gave the ruling civilian junta some benefit of doubt when it sent the Senate President to be tried by a clearly partisan Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, who himself was facing corruption allegation before the EFCC, those doubts have since evaporated following the arraignment of the presiding officers of the Senate alongside one retired and a serving, bureaucrat on trumped-up forgery charges at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory. Indeed, this desperation to flush out the Senate’s presiding officers by hook or crook was made clearer to doubting Thomases by the recent ruling of Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, who described the criminal charges as “a gross abuse of legal process”.
Instead of preventing the abuse that arose in filing criminal charges despite a pending suit challenging the police report, which the criminal charges rest upon, Justice Kolawole rightly pointed out that: “The converse situation, which the drafters of the Constitution, perhaps never envisaged, appears to have occurred in this case as the 2nd defendant (Attorney-General) who is required, by section 174(3) of the constitution, to ‘discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered, any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person’ where such proceedings constitute ‘abuse of legal process’, is in fact the very person who initiated a criminal proceedings in a matter in which he had, as a private legal practitioner, acted for one of the ‘interested’ senators who had petitioned the 1st defendant (Police) on 30/6/15″. He also averred that the desperation to arraign the men does not portray the AGF as acting in public interest.
Lovers of democracy should, therefore, be worried that the arm of government (legislature), whose existence symbolises the existence of democracy, and which our constitution has vested with critical responsibilities is in grave danger. Even if we do not like the face of some people who populate the National Assembly, we cannot afford to be so blindfolded to its constitutional role as a check against absolute power, which corrupts absolutely. The NASS is the only institution where the President comes to bow at least once in a year. The 1999 Constitution confers on NASS the powers to make laws for the good governance of Nigeria; powers to oversight the other arms of government and their agencies; powers to approve certain appointments like ministers, ambassadors, heads and members of statutory commissions, and certain judicial appointments like Supreme Court and Chief Justice of Nigeria, etc; and above all the powers to approve how the nation’s wealth is spent through the Appropriation Act. I will just cite two events that clearly portray the dangers of making the National Assembly an executive lapdog.
One was the monumental rip-off discovered in the implementation of the Treasury Single Account, TSA. In fact, media reports had it that the ruling party brought every trick in the book to ensure that Senator Dina Melaye’s motion that blew the whole thing open was not taken. The Order Paper was not produced just to truncate Senate plenary.
Some of the executive foot soldiers in the Senate even walked out on the pretext that they did not want Ekweremadu to preside. But when the fraud was eventually unveiled at plenary, Nigerians saw the real reason they wanted to scuttle the Senate plenary on that day. Furthermore, in the wake of the discovery by the Senate that the list of 47 ambassadorial nominees transmitted to the Senate by the President for confirmation left some states, including the oil-producing State of Bayelsa, without a single slot, while some states got up three slots in clear breach of Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, the Senate summoned the SGF, Lawal Babachir and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, to come and make some clarifications before it could proceed with their confirmation. But the SGF wondered why the Senate should go as far as summoning him and the Minister, as it was something that could be sorted out on the phone.
Now, when we add such executive mindset to Babachir’s recent suggestion that the Senate’s presiding officers should emulate Salisu Buhari, who resigned after he was accused of certificate forgery (a case ironically closer to President Buhari’s certificate saga than Senate Rules saga), one can conveniently come to the logical conclusion that the whole forgery brouhaha is designed to embarrass and force the Senate leadership to resign, failing which they would be locked out to enable a coup that would help the presidency install stooges they can dictate to by phone. I must warn loudly and clearly that a legislature in the pocket of the executive, coupled with the prevailing situation where the executive flouts court rulings with impunity, is an open invitation to tyranny and anarchy.
It must be resisted by all lawful means. Those drumming support for this emerging totalitarianism should also remember in mind that hardly has there been anyone who rode on the back of the tiger of dictatorship that did not eventually end up in its tommy. We must join hands to resist this drift to dictatorship before it is too late.
Mr. Yakubu, a political analyst, writes from Jos