Yorùbá bò, wón ní, ó mbo lókè, àwòn láa deé dè é. [When you anticipate something falling from the sky, you put up a safety net to obstruct it from causing harm.] I refer to the rumours, whisperings, and insinuations that dominate life in a society where the state does not think it owes its citizens a duty properly to share with them information about important issues that affect the polity. I am thinking here of the persistent rumour—I continue to give the government and the Nigerian state the benefit of the doubt—that the president, Goodluck Jonathan, his government, and his party, are scheming to remove the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, sometime before the forthcoming elections set for March 28th and April 11th, respectively, hold.
If it is a rumour, why do I bother to react to it? In the Nigeria in which I grew up, although rumours were present, they were nowhere as rife as they are now. Moreover, there were certain things that when they were rumoured back in the day, public opinion knew better to dismiss them as so out of character that there was no reason to think that they could ever come to pass. In other words, I cut my teeth at a time when we believed that, given the complexity of Nigeria and, more importantly, the sophistication of its citizenry, certain things could not occur in Nigeria and, if they did, they would not be abided by Nigerians.
Then June 12th, 1993, happened and in its aftermath, the first element of the ‘this-cannot-happen-in-Nigeria’ myth was exploded. A bogus Interim Government was installed and, horror of horrors, one of the world’s genuine business mandarins somehow cooperated in this illegality by agreeing to sit at its head. Nigerians watched but the event did not fail to have terrible consequences for the ordinary Nigerians’ will to fight injustice and illegality.
Soon thereafter the most murderous regime in the history of Nigeria and the annals of global misrule was installed at gunpoint. Worse, many Nigerians that ordinary people had always looked up to for leadership in the struggle against despotism and state-inflected injustice went along and accepted that bastardy with all manner of lofty justification for abandoning principle and embracing expediency. We are grateful to the Grim Reaper for frustrating that tyrant’s design to perpetuate himself in office. Why recall this at this time?
Those who rallied round illegitimacy, the court jesters who pawned their birthright for the proverbial mess of pottage—one of them gave up the vice presidency of the most important black country on earth to become a megaphone for a jack-booted thug in camouflage—have since been rehabilitated. From the fake head of state who is still a respected member of the National Council of State, even though he was a willing party to illegality, to the ministers and other counsellors of that bastard regime, they continue to play significant roles in our public life. It is as if Nigerians have forgotten or have elected to ignore their role in the infamy in which they were active and enthusiastic participants in the recent past.
Yet, one thing is certain, the injury that their behaviour inflicted on the Nigerian psyche, especially where youth and their faith in the possibility of a better life and their trust in leadership are concerned, is long lasting. Unfortunately, while we never fail to pour well deserved execration on the memory of the tyrant, we continue to let alone those who enabled his horror, who abetted his thitherto unheard of violation of the dignity of ordinary Nigerians.
To be sure, that was not the only time that we have abided the shenanigans of aiders and abettors of tyranny as well as other forms of execrable behaviour in our public life. A different one concerns ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s ill-fated third-term adventure. Thanks to the vigilance of some legislators of his party and the determination of civil society, the plans came to naught. Again, everybody seems to think that Obasanjo was the sole culprit. We continue to let off the hook those who were willing to mess with the constitution, his water-carriers, as the saying goes, and many of them continue to play significant roles in our public life. Some of them are not beyond playing kingmakers and godfathers in our political system, to our eternal shame as a people.
What has all this to do with the rumour that this government, along with other co-conspirators, is scheming to remove the chairperson of INEC from office before the elections? From what I understand, the President, single-handedly, cannot remove Jega from office. According to the statutory regulations that guide INEC and the appointment and/removal of its chief executive, the National Assembly has a role to play in the process. Given what I said earlier about what I call the ‘this-cannot-happen-in-Nigeria’ myth, we now know that there really is nothing, however awful, however illegal, or however immoral, that cannot happen in Nigeria. Some such stuff has happened aplenty under this administration. What matters is that none of that awful stuff happens without the cooperation, active connivance or acquiescence of different segments of the ruling classes. In the present case, the president would need enough Representatives and Senators to be willing—it does not matter how that assent is procured—to subvert their oath to protect and uphold the Constitution and, by so doing, enable a historical illegality, viz, the removal of the INEC chief in violation of the appropriate rules governing his tenure.
The ability of the executive across Africa to subvert the constitution and rig illegal third terms, dismantle the opposition, jail opposition politicians on trumped-up charges, and so on, is aided and abetted by unscrupulous, infinitely corruptible legislators in various countries. But, thank goodness, a new reality is beginning to dawn in different parts of the continent that shows that, more and more, Africans are realizing that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”.
They are beginning to be aware that legislative chambers are more than brick and mortar and that when those chambers become conclaves of corruption and infamy the buildings are automatically stripped of the aura of majesty that ordinarily makes it unacceptable for people to storm and destroy them. This is where the recent example of the people of Burkina Faso who descended on the so-called parliament of the country that had aided and abetted a swindle to manipulate the constitution to sate the ambition of a no-good democratic pretender and burnt it down. No, Burkinabe did not burn their National Assembly; they burnt down a house of iniquity masquerading as a sacred temple of popular legitimacy. When corruption pervaded the chamber, the buildings became bereft of their legitimizing spirit: they became a den of thieves.
I would like to say that if Nigerian legislators, or whoever else connives at the subversion of the letter and spirit of our laws, permit themselves to become aiders and abettors of illegality and the subversion of the constitution, which the removal of Attahiru Jega would be at this point, it is my fervent hope that Nigerians would tear a leaf off the Burkinabe book and show that Nigeria, from that point on, has no National Assembly worthy of the name and it is no more than a den of thieves and usurpers. I am not saying that it becomes tinder in that situation. I would not like to be accused of incitement.
Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.