The desecration of democracy’s symbol

The recent snatching of the mace in the Senate was like a scene from the Nollywood. The unfolding drama appeared to be a well-thought-out plot, loaded with intrigues and executed with precision. The lightning speed with which the “theft” was carried out is such that would make any movie producer turn green with envy.

Prior to that day, precisely on April 17, 2018, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, believed to be the writer of the movie script, had had a running battle with his colleagues. Trouble started when he fiercely disagreed with them over their decision to reorder the sequence of election that would put the presidential election last instead of sticking to the status quo.

Coming shortly after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had fixed the Presidential and National Assembly (NASS) elections for Saturday, February 16, 2019 and governorship and states assembly elections for March 2, 2019, some aggrieved senators including Omo-Agege kicked against the idea, saying it was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.

Although the beleaguered senator from Delta Central later backed down on his position, he was suspended still for 90 legislative days. This set the stage for the embarrassing drama on the fateful day. The dissenting lawmaker had defied his suspension and stormed the hallowed chamber with five hefty thugs in tow. Under his watch, the goons went straight for the mace, brushed aside the security men and ran out with it into a waiting vehicle. While the entire Senate was left in awe, the suspended senator comfortably went to his seat and sat through the remaining legislative process for the day unchallenged. Although he was later picked up and quizzed by the police and promptly released, no further arrests have so far been made.

About two weeks after, no one has been able to explain how one suspended senator and the five gangsters outmaneuvered about 250 out of about 500 security men on duty to make straight for the mace. How did they make it to their getaway car packed in the wrong place in the first instance? Who are their accomplices? In the light of the new revelations that the gangsters were mobilised from Kogi state by a big shot who is an ardent supporter of President Buhari, is it still difficult for the police to unravel the true situation? And why is the presidency keeping mum?

The presidency’s silence over the daring act is seen in several quarters as a continuation of the cold and proxy war between the presidency and the National Assembly. Warts and all, we think it is a wrong war to fight. Any war on political differences that seeks to desecrate the symbol of our democracy, or possibly attack our values should have no place in our country.

On this, the DSS and the Police have a responsibility to investigate the security breach that led to the invasion and what the motive was.

The brazen manner in which the hoodlums made away with the mace when situated in the context of the general insecurity in the country should not be taken lightly. It means all of us are vulnerable after all. And that anyone could target the lawmakers and shoot them with ease even in the safety of the National Assembly and melt into thin air. This obviously does not speak well of the government that prides itself as placing high premium on the security of lives and properties of its citizens. Making a mockery of one arm of the same government is tantamount to cutting off the nose to spite the face.

The gradual entrenchment of the culture of suspension in the Senate did not start with Omo-Agege anyway. Their counterparts in the House of Representatives once suspended one of their own, Abdul Mumin Jibril, for 180 legislative days over allegations of padding by the House speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara and some of his principal officers, while Senator Ali Ndume was once suspended for bringing the Senate to disrepute over unfounded allegations of importation of bullet-proof  SUV with fake documents, without regard for a legal precedent set by a ruling by a Bauchi High Court in the case of a Bauchi state House of Assembly member, Rifkatu Dannah, suspended over a controversy on the relocation of Tafawa Balewa LGA headquarters. The court ruled that her suspension was illegal and unconstitutional as the lawmakers had no right to deny her constituency their constitutional privileges of representation. The Court of Appeal upheld the judgment, yet no one ever makes reference to it.

Be that as it may, we urge the NASS members to tread carefully in wielding the big stick whenever any of their members err. The leadership is just first among equals; everyone is representing their constituencies. There should be other civilised ways of sanctioning errant members. Denying the constituency of an erring lawmaker the chance of representation at the slightest sign of dissent smacks of political intolerance.

UNI Agric Markurdi
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