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Monday 10 April 2017

Learning From History By Uche Ezechukwu

Those who want the Senate scrapped
There is a growing call from a section of Ni­gerians, especially in the social media, but increasingly in the formal media, that Nigeria should dispense with the National Assembly, or failing that, with its upper chamber, which is the Nigerian Senate. It had started like a joke, but one gets surprised when the call also comes from those who could be described as enlightened members of the elite.

It is a constitutionally guar­anteed right of every citizen to hold opinions and to ex­press such in a non-offensive manner. Hence, all those who believe that the nation should abolish the Senate are entitled to their opinion. However, it is important to point out that be­cause every right has a corre­sponding responsibility, those who wish for the death of Ni­geria’s democracy, should be reminded that they are calling for the country to head back to the Stone Ages, right be­hind where Nigeria was before the current democracy was won by patriots at different levels. The callers for the end of democracy – because that is what the call for the abolition of the parliament amounts to – are simply calling for a dic­tatorship – military or civilian. They might even be calling for a theocracy, which in the case of Nigeria, might well be the type of the caliphate envisaged by Imam Shekau of the Boko Haram, or like the one being run by ISIS, which the whole world is battling to subdue.
It would be wrong not to trace the origin of this call which started like a trickle but is now growing into a torrent. It would be dishonest not to accept that our democracy and its practice have not been going the way most Nigerians had envisaged, as its many operators in the three arms of the government had not been playing according to the rules, a situation which has led to omnibus frustration among the governed. The unbridled abuse of power which has been flagrantly manifested in all the arms, giving rise to the total absence of the vaunted gains of democracy, has left the citizens utterly disappoint­ed and short-changed, giving rise to the situation of utter frustration among the citizen­ry who now wish to pull down the entire system, in the hope that in its place, something better might sprout.
It is clear, therefore, that the call for the abolition of the NASS is a cry of frustration by a helpless people. That call might not be because the pol­ity believes that the national assembly is uniquely respon­sible for the failure of gover­nance in which the three arms all play a role. Rather, because the citizens know that the par­liament is closest to them, as its 469 members at the federal level are closest to them, hav­ing being elected directly, the NASS members become the people the citizens find easy to hold to account.
Therefore, this call becomes a cry of a people who feel a sense of hurt from close rela­tives or friends. It is clear that Nigerians, in principle are not against democracy, nor are they wistful about the auto­cratic system, as the hurts of the recent past from military dictatorship still leave fester­ing scars. If, therefore there are Nigerians calling for the abolition of the Legislature, it is mostly in the hope that the institutions should be made to run better, if not through in­ternal mechanism, they hope it could be achieved from an external impact, like through forceful or revolutionary modifications.
However, Nigerians must al­ways ensure that they under­stand the implications, con­sequences or ramifications of what they are asking for. In the first instance, the Parliament is the most basic arm of de­mocracy, because a very inte­gral aspect of a ‘government of the people’ is the fact that the government has to be elected by the people, as the members of Nigeria’s Legislature were. The Executive Arm is not as important as an institution of democracy, if the power of the vote is taken into consid­eration, as only one person – the president was elected, as against the 469 federal leg­islators. In the same vein, no member of the third arm – the judiciary – was elected, as its operators are executive ap­pointments, even if with some legislative oversight. So, if the Legislature goes, the demo­cratic system collapses.
That is why the Legislature is given a lot of responsibilities by the Constitution in every democratic dispensation, so as to provide oversight over and checks against the excesses of the Executive, whose mem­bers, often drunk with power are wont to become laws unto themselves, as the ongoing re­calcitrance of some members of the Executive is manifestly indicating.
Political scientists have maintained that democracy is organic in nature and grows and solidifies through prac­tice. That is why, unlike dic­tatorships, democracy is not a sprint, but rather a marathon, which takes time and a lot of learning process to mature and settle. Nigerian democ­racy is quite young in com­parison with the established democracies of the Western world and even of such post-colonial nations as India or Latin American states, which started their practice long before Nigeria. Even at that, many of these countries still have occasional hiccups in their practice. However, it is not the hiccups of such nations that we in Nigeria should imitate, but rather it is their strong points, like ex­ist abundantly in India, which in spite of many hiccups, such that would have destabilised other countries, has held steadfastly to its democratic ideals – warts and all.
Nigeria should learn from the history and lessons of such nations like India, which has by holding tight to the precepts of its Constitution, trudged on and has ipso facto, become one of the most de­veloped nations on earth. The Indian Parliament has never been threatened with abroga­tion.
We should not risk copying from such obviously failed nations like Venezuela, where the Executive recently manip­ulated the Judiciary to tamper with the life and health of the Legislature or Paraguay where the masses of the people were cajoled into attacking the Par­liament,
As India keeps waxing strong like the Rock of Gi­braltar, let us watch and see in what sorry pass Venezuela and Paraguay will soon find themselves.
We Nigerians should beware of what we wish and pray. Let history and the lessons from other nations always be our guide.

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