Following the recent invasion of the National Assembly by security agencies and the sack of the Director-General, Department of State Service (DSS) Lawal Daura, TUNDE OGUNTOLA, takes a cursory look at the political implications of the incident and its effect on democracy.
Across the globe, many countries want to be seen as democratic and running a political arrangement that builds or consolidates an egalitarian society, while acknowledging the fact that fundamental rights to freedom of movement is constitutionally guaranteed. In Nigeria, Section 41(1) of the Constitution allows this. The section provides that, “every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit.’’
Interestingly, there are several impediments to this noble concept in Nigeria, a situation that has shaped the view of many political analysts who believe that some African countries, though seen to be governed by civilians, exhibit a style of governance that is far from democracy.
In this African style of democracy, security agents and establishments constituted to keep law and order while maintaining political neutrality, without fear or favour, do the complete opposite. In most cases, they are clearly seen to work strictly for the ruling party whatever be the case. They unlawfully arrest and detain opposition party members and intimidate voters who are sympathetic with the opposition.
As a country that has naturally been bestowed leadership position in Africa, Nigeria should not be seen to be practicing this form of mediocre democracy. Neither should she parade as a strong part of governance, political intolerance that leads to provocation at the slightest opportunity so much that there is no reservation in what is done to prove a point even if means deploying state security apparatus against the opposition.
The democracy Nigeria enjoys today did not come on a silver platter, some well-meaning Nigerians fought for it with their lives, blood, tears and freedom. These Nigerians gave their all to earn the country democratic liberty. For pecuniary and other reasons, they pitched their tent with the tyrannical military regimes and their fight paid off.
What they fought for should therefore, be a price every Nigerian is willing to protect. We all have a duty to speak up now to defend this democracy even as we make it clear that any form of abuse of power will not be tolerated.
In what seemed like a movie or a failed script, masked members of Department of State Service and police officers invaded the National Assembly early Tuesday morning, in Abuja. From what transpired as revealed by the videos that circulated afterwards and the reports on television nationwide, the officers had one directive: stop the legislators from entering their chambers. The legislators, who had convened an emergency session, were prevented from meeting to deliberate.
The highly condemnable action has since got members of the two major parties accusing and counter accusing each other. While members of the ruling All Progressives Congress have dissociated themselves from the security operatives’ actions, those of the opposing People’s Democratic Party insist that members of the executive and the APC attempted to truncate democracy.
Political analysts on the other hand, have described the action in just one word: treason. They believe that all the officers involved in the egregious act, as well as their directing superiors, have committed an act of treason against the people of Nigeria who, irrespective of political divide and partisan fault lines, have the common goal of ensuring the sanctity of democratic institutions in the country.
A human rights activist, Frank Tietie, said it is still unimaginable to get out of the international disgrace that the invasion has caused Nigerians. He said as observers of the nation’s political space, they’ve seen the act coming based on psychology of power due to disregard for rule of law.
‘‘Globally, lawmakers are at the centre of governance in a democracy, and little wonder that during any military interregnum, the National Assembly is the first casualty, always dissolved immediately, which is a pointer to the fact when there is no legislature, there will be a dictatorship. However an executive not properly checked in a democracy can equally become a dictatorship,’’ he said.
However, in a swift response, the acting president’s decision to sack the head of the DSS, is a step in the right direction. In the statement that announced the sack of the DSS chief, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo was quoted to have said that the development was not authorised by the Presidency. He therefore declared that every participant in the siege will be identified and made to face appropriate disciplinary action.
Tietie again, described the act by Daura as reckless and a gross disregard for law and order while commending the action of the acting president. “I must commend Acting President Osinbajo. We would not have recovered from this disgrace amongst comity of nations if the Acting president did not act promptly.’’
Reacting to the removal of Daura, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the All Progressives Congress caucus in the House of Representatives have called for a full investigation into the matter. Saraki, who made the call at a press conference in Abuja, also dared the APC senators to carry out their impeachment threat against him, stressing that only two-thirds of members of the Senate could remove him and other leaders of the National Assembly. He said he and his colleagues in the National Assembly leadership are prepared to step down the day two-thirds of the members lose confidence in them. “The day two-thirds of our members no longer have confidence in us, we will leave this place.”
He explained that the process of election and removal of principal officers in the National Assembly were clearly stipulated in the relevant sections of the laws guiding the operations of the legislature. He described as a show of shame, the invasion which he says was part of a plot to force a change in leadership, a plot he said the plotters have been at, for months.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan accused the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government of being behind the invasion. The Party also urged lawmakers in the country to immediately “pull the full weight of all legislative instruments against President Muhammadu Buhari, as that is the only way to save our nation from an imminent collapse.”
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress, which had on Tuesday absolved itself from the invasion, defended the action of the Department of State Services’ operatives. The APC claimed that the action of the DSS officers was taken to prevent a plot by Saraki to incite violence. This was contained in a statement signed by the party’s national publicity secretary, Mr Yekini Nabena, in Abuja.
Also commenting on the matter, the Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) condemned the act. The union’s national secretary, Shuaibu Usman Leman, blamed the siege on excessive quest for power by some ‘‘unscrupulous politicians.’’
Leman described the action as primitive, reckless and a clear sabotage of the nation’s democratic process. He stressed that the overhauling of the security architecture of the country was long overdue.
‘‘While we commend the swift action of the acting president, we however, believe more needs to be done and quickly too, to fish out all those involved in the dastardly act for appropriate punishment. The major factor heating up the political atmosphere in the country is the excessive quest for power and who gets what by our politicians.’’
Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, also backed the decision of the acting president who he said acted decisively by relieving the security chief of his job. The governor, however, suggested that such officers and men be brought to justice.
‘‘What happened should set alarm bells ringing in the heads of every patriotic Nigerian and every friend of Nigeria that our nation is being taken to the precipice and the agents of destruction are very much at work. It is just alright that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has acted decisively by relieving the DG of his job with immediate effect,’’ he said.
By the invasion, a meeting which was earlier billed for 12noon and followed by another meeting with the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that day, was consequently, put on hold indefinitely. The Presidency had earlier called on the National Assembly to cut short its recess and reconvene to consider some of the national issues. Some of the pending issues listed for trashing that day included the approval of N242 billion request to fund the 2019 elections, the approval of borrowings to fund the 2018 Appropriations Act and 2018 budget proposals of 64 government-owned corporations.
The release of these funds is expected to enable the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to commence preparations for the 2019 polls.
However, as 2019 general elections draw near, there is an urgent need to check the abuse of power and excesses of security agencies whose actions might soon reach epidemic proportions. The events in the past three weeks in the country has been awash with tales of use, misuse and outright abuse of power.
The upheaval began on July 24, when 14 senators and 37 House of Representatives members defected from the ruling party to the opposition party. This move seemingly altered the balance of power against the APC, especially when the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, announced his own defection from the APC to the PDP.
Prior to Saraki and his deputy’s announcement, the police and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) officers invaded their Abuja residence in a bid to prevent them from leaving their homes on the day of their defection.
The defections of Governors Samuel Ortom of Benue, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto states, from the APC to the PDP further added salt to injury. But the trend of violating the sanctity of the legislative arm of government first came to the fore forcefully in Benue State, when the police locked down the state assembly and aided eight minority lawmakers, in an assembly of 30 members, to launch impeachment proceedings against the governor.
The EFCC is also probing Ortom’s spending of security vote and hence, the plot to frustrate him after his defection from APC to the PDP, took a dramatic turn after indication that the state government’s bank accounts have been frozen by the commission.
While political maneuverings continue ahead of the 2019 elections, security agencies in the country are expected to ensure that law and order is maintained. They also must stand firm and act in line with Subsection 3 of National Security Agency Act which stipulates that, the “State Security Service shall be charged with responsibility for the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria and whatever is needed to be done to achieve security of lives and property of the citizenry,” and not act otherwise or act as a tool for intimidating perceived political enemies and endangering the nation’s nascent democracy.
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