Melaye’s Senate Versus the People, By Shola Osunkeye
Before now, the people seemed to be either ignorant of the power in their hands or simply refused to exploit it. Kogi West, therefore, is a crucial test for our fledgling democracy. It is a litmus test for the efficacy of the enormous power that the constitution vests in the electorate.
I couldn’t agree more with those who staunchly believe that Nigeria is still a huge joke when it comes to matters of democracy. The harder the nation struggles to impress and pretend to shore up its rating as a fledgling democracy in the world’s democracy index, the more its elected representatives blow the bubble through their delinquent behaviours. Most of them prowl around as if Nigerians, from whom they derive their powers, and on whose behalf they hold these powers, do not count. Drunk with power, they often slip into the grandiose delusion that sovereignty resides in them, not Nigerians. In their drunken state, they indirectly proclaim they are the state.
This is the sense in which I, and indeed, most Nigerians, see the empty arrogance displayed by the president of the Nigerian Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, during last Tuesday’s plenary, on the imminent recall of Dino Melaye. Melaye, by the way, is the rabble-rousing senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District.
On June 10, the people of Kogi West, who voted overwhelmingly for Melaye in 2015, got to a juncture where they felt the senator’s cup of rascality and under-representation had gotten full. The constituents felt that rather than push for things that would improve the quality of their lives, Melaye has been wasting precious time worshipping his exotic cars (Lamborghini, Porsche, Rolls Royce, etc.), cutting ridiculous videos, behaving like a juvenile jester in the Senate and generally serving as Saraki’s bouncer-in-chief. These infantile behaviours made the Kogi West electorate recourse to Section 69 of the 1999 constitution, a weapon that had been lying dormant for years, and began the process that they hope would lead to Melaye’s eventual recall. Leading Nigerian newspapers and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) widely reported the resolution to recall the senator, which, according to them, was endorsed by 188,588 (or 52.3 percent) of the 360,098 registered voters in Kogi West Senatorial District.
Initially, the senator thought it was a comedy clip. But when, on June 22, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) formally notified him of the receipt of the petition by his constituents, he began to see the situation as a handshake that has gone past the elbow. Still, he bragged. He threatened. But when he saw that the matter had morphed from being a material for another “Ajekun iya” comic video (his viral abusive video against the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore) and assumed a life of its own, he ran to court. Still, the court could not stop INEC from releasing the time-table for the process. The Commission released the schedule on July 3.
But how did Saraki and Ekweremadu react to the development during last Tuesday’s plenary? ‘Dead on arrival’, the deputy senate president reportedly declared. “They (constituents) need to come back here and convince every one of us that they have done the correct thing. Unless they do that, they cannot even give effect to it. So, why are we wasting our time? Let us move on and allow them to waste their time,” Ekweremadu was quoted widely as saying.
By talking down on the same citizens from whom they derive the power they now wield so crudely, the two men are telling the world that in the extant democratic governance in Nigeria, the people do not matter; and the constitution is subservient to the Senate.
Saraki, his boss, concurred. “There is no need for further comments,” the Senate president said. “The deputy senate president has said it; 10 years is no joke in leadership. We have seen clearly the processes. Let the process speak for itself. I don’t know why funds are being wasted, which should have gone on more important things. INEC is also at the middle of a test. Eventually, it must come back here for us to decide whether it is satisfactory or not.” Error.
Those declarations by these two very, very important personalities (VVIPs) are classical exhibition of power intoxication; a shameless display of political arrogance. Their hasty actions demean their high offices and deal a heavy blow on our crawling democracy. By talking down on the same citizens from whom they derive the power they now wield so crudely, the two men are telling the world that in the extant democratic governance in Nigeria, the people do not matter; and the constitution is subservient to the Senate. Consequently, they could and would trample on the constitution and Nigeria’s democratic institutions anytime they so wish, and the heavens would not fall. Fallacy.
No doubt, the journey to Melaye’s recall is still far and fraught with difficult hurdles, especially the authentication of the signatures and voter’s cards of the petitioning constituents. This is more so because the self-same senator had cried to the world that most of the signatures in the petition were forged; and he would go to any length and use it as a plank to stop INEC. This is one high hurdle INEC must dismantle. A big test indeed. Which is exactly the reason Dr. Bukola Saraki and Ogbuefi Ike Ekweremadu ought to have kept their peace and watch the process run its full course. They ought not to have fulminated the way they did, claiming the power they don’t have. sAfter all, the pendulum could swing either way. Melaye, their boy, may yet trash his traducers and have the last laugh. There is nothing impossible in a cash-and-carry democracy like ours.
To be honest, I sincerely hope and pray that INEC clears the difficult hurdles before it, holds a referendum in Kogi West Senatorial District, and the exercise yields a simple majority ‘Yes’ votes, required by the constitution. If that happens, it would effectively end Dino Melaye’s tour of duty in the National Assembly; the people’s will and voice shall stand gidigba (solid) like the Rock of Gibraltar; and one million Sarakis will not be able to save Melaye because the people’s verdict will not require any vetting by the Senate.
Once Melaye returns home, democracy wins big. His ouster from the Senate would compel most lawmakers to stop playing truant, and reduce their propensity for chasing ministers and governors for contracts. Since they would not want to experience the kind of sword now dangling dangerously on Melaye’s head…
The only way the bluff by Saraki and Ekweremadu could succeed is if the Senate is able to amend the Constitution and the Electoral Act overnight. A very tall order. It would be helpful, at this point, to remind somebody of the provision of Section 69 of the 1999 Constitution which specifically states that:
A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives may be recalled as such a member if-
(a) There is presented to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission a petition in that behalf signed by more than two-thirds of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency alleging their loss of confidence in that member, and
(b) The petition is thereafter, in a referendum conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission within ninety days of the date of receipt of the petition, approved by a simple majority of the votes of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency.
In a way, I clearly understand why Saraki and Ekweremadu flew into panic mode last Tuesday. Indeed, I sympathise with them. If it succeeds, and I pray like hell it does, the recall of Dino Melaye would bring serious wahala for idle lawmakers whose primary interests are influence peddling and chasing pecuniary gains. And there are many of them strutting not only the National Assembly but also the 36 Houses of Assembly across the country. Most of them have performed below par. And if the Kogi West referendum yields a majority ‘Yes’ vote, and Melaye returns home in a huff to worship his Lamborghini, Porsche, Rolls Royce and Polaris Slingshot, it would scrape the scales off the eyes of the electorate and enable them see the potency of Section 69. That realisation would spur them into action.
Before now, the people seemed to be either ignorant of the power in their hands or simply refused to exploit it. Kogi West, therefore, is a crucial test for our fledgling democracy. It is a litmus test for the efficacy of the enormous power that the constitution vests in the electorate. And like I said, the exercise will prove to Melaye’s godfathers that sovereignty resides in the people and not in a handful of power mongers; and no matter how hard anyone tries to suppress and subvert the will of the people, such will get his fingers burnt, no matter how long it takes. Such will discover that truth supressed or suspended is as poisonous as a cobra’s venom. And because truth is its own witness (Rene Descartes), it will always prevail.
Once Melaye returns home, democracy wins big. His ouster from the Senate would compel most lawmakers to stop playing truant, and reduce their propensity for chasing ministers and governors for contracts. Since they would not want to experience the kind of sword now dangling dangerously on Melaye’s head, the legislators would settle down to make laws that would engender better life for their constituents. Ultimately, they would stop all actions and behaviours that have been obstructing citizen participation in Nigeria’s democratic process, and resist the satanic urge to trample the country’s democratic institutions. If such penitence is sustained over time, it would stop our democracy from tottering down the path like a hunched back hobbling down a slippery slope.
God bless Nigeria.
Shola Oshunkeye, the immediate past MD/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun of Ghana, is the CEO of Omnimedia Nigeria Limited and Executive Director of the non-profit, Sustainable Development and Transparency Foundation (SDTF).
Image credit: Hogan Bassey/ICE/NAN.