In a surreal-like slow motion movie, Nigerians and the world at large watched as five men stormed the hallowed chambers of Nigeria’s Senate and made away with the Mace; the symbol of legislative authority. The two or so minutes in which the brazenness of the quintet was brought to full glare will, no doubt, live in infamy.
Looking back at the audacity of the whole tragicomic scenario, my mind went back in time when the Third Estate deputies (commoners) stormed the Bastille, laid siege on it and forced the nobles to surrender. Generally referred to as the French Revolution which started on June 7, 1788 with the Day of the Tiles in Grenoble, marking the first revolt against the king. Before the nobles and the clergy could fully fathom the extent of how things had degenerated, things spiraled out of control and in a matter of a few months, power has changed hands as we are wont to say in Nigeria.
This background is necessary in view of the seeming non-challance of the Nigerian elite to learn from history and its disastrous outcomes.
Before the unfortunate events of Wednesday, April 18 there have been not-so-loud stirrings amongst the populace of the overreach of the National Assembly. First is the angst at the slow pace of work on the National Budget that was submitted in December, 2017 by President Muhammadu Buhari.
While it is instructive to state that the delay in the passage of the budget is not particularly the fault of the lawmakers, there is no arguing that they own a fair share of the blame.
The other worry is the near-regimented gag order on senators to air their opinions on matters that have been decided on by the whole. Some Nigerians are of the thinking that putting strictures on lawmakers from making known their own positions because it goes against the grain of the leadership of the senate albeit National Assembly does not brood well for democracy.
So when Senator Ovie Omo-Agege accompanied by the five Mace snatchers strolled into the chambers of the Senate and made away with the ‘peoples’ authority,’ it was not hard to find those who will justify such inanity.
No matter on which side of the political divide one belongs to, it should be said without fuss that what the hoodlums did was akin to one stealing from a holy place. It does not make sense that because the shrine keeper or an acolyte of the temple seems unworthy, the sacred place becomes a ground for sacrilege by the non-initiate. If we all resort to determining what constitutes right or wrong without following the laid down processes to seek redress, then, our society is truly a Hobbesian State.
One will imagine that with Senator Omo-Agege already in court to challenge the process of his suspension, he will exhibit restraint, deploy backroom engagements to see how the matter of his suspension could be reversed. Was he not in the same chamber when Senator Ali Ndume as Senate Leader was shown the way out via suspension?
For a lawmaker, supposedly grounded in the best democratic tradition to resort to self-help when his life was not in immediate danger is to demonstrate how far we still have to go in our democratic climb.
Also, this siege, a result of a feeling of injustice and totalitarianism, should serve as wake up call to the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly. Must every opposing voice be slammed with the sledgehammer of suspension? Are there no other remedial measures available for the leadership to take against any erring lawmaker? Is it the norm in other democracies that once a lawmaker forcefully holds contrary opinion outside the chambers on matters relating to his legislative duties, he is summarily suspended?
We all watch American lawmakers take strident positions on matters of Congress on cable television, ditto for British parliamentarians. I am yet to see one suspended on the strength of an interview or position he held in the media. Granted that there is need for self-regulation, it is imperative for the leadership of the National Assembly to rethink its rules, and more than anything else, abide by the decisions of the court on its rules and regulations.
It is inconceivable that lawmakers will stand logic on its head and deign not to obey court pronouncements on the basis of internal affairs of the National Assembly. Once it is before the courts, there is nothing internal about the whole matter of self-regulation.
In all, Senator Omo-Agege needs to take a lesson in political sagacity by studying the many scandals of Ancient Greece Senate and political life in general. One character he should urgently take to studying is Themistocles, the great general that won many victories for Greece but faced the ignominy of ostracism.
Unlike Omo-Agege that has not won any battles for country, Themistocles as observed by the philosopher and writer, Plutarch, was the savior of Greece at a time. But he allowed extravagant hubris to underpin him such that he was ostracized from Athens in 471 BC and shunned from the very city which he had saved from the Persians several years before.
Dear Senator Omo-Agege, as you look back at the events of the past week, make no mistake that foot soldiers are often than not left in the cold when the chips are down and for this reason, I leave you with the words of Plutarch: “Ostracism was not a penalty, but a way of pacifying and alleviating that jealousy which delights to humble the eminent, breathing out its malice into this disfranchisement.”