Democracy, checks and public opinion

June 15, 2019
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NIGERIA   has  finally  inaugurated its June 12 Democracy Day  with a long speech  by our Head of State and  President on the day. That  speech  by our  president showed  clearly  that  he knows  Nigeria and  its problems like the back  of his hand  but is  asking for time and  understanding of his  mode of  operation in tackling the challenges.  As  a Nigerian,  and a patriotic one too, I   will not  offer an opinion on that  June  12  speech in  which  the president traced  his  personal  history  and contribution right from his free  education as a student, to the War  Colleges in the US and  India, up  to his role as  a  warrior in  the   civil  war  fought  to keep  Nigeria one. I  was moved  by the speech  really  and  I wonder  why  the Senate  did  not go ahead  and discuss it.  That  refusal  however  and the way and  manner the National  Assembly   leadership  emerged  with full on line prime time   media  coverage  of  the election of the principal  officers,  provides  some food  for  thought today.  That  together  with  a letter purportedly  written  by  MKO  to  late  Human  Rights  lawyer  Gani  Fawehimi  in which  he commented  on  the relationship between the  law  and public  opinion with  regard to  his lost  mandate form  the kernel  of our discussion  today. In  fact  my mission today  is to  see  the opinion  MKO  expressed  on the legality  of his mandate in the light  of the  much  publicized  leadership election in the National  Assembly   this  week. But   first   I    have  to state  what  MKO, famous  prisoner now  post humously  honoured with  naming of the National Stadium in Abuja   after   him, actually  said.

According to MKO’s,  letter the former Secretary General  of  the  Commonwealth  told  MKO  that  he  was seeking  legal  opinion on the currency of his June  12  mandate. Mko said  he  bluntly  told  him  or  asked  what  his locus  was in seeking legal  opinion on his  mandate and  he did that eye ball  to  eye ball.  He  then   proceeded  to tell  the distinguished  diplomat that  nagging  political  problems  do not  always   lend themselves  to legal  opinions and that  the  way  and manner of public opinion are not  dictated  by the fine  points  of  the law. According to the report on this letter,  MKO died two  days later  but it was clear  he was assuring Gani  Fawehimi that  he  would  not betray  his mandate  and  that  the truth  will  prevail.  Which  is what  finally  happened and June  12 has  now become our Democracy  Day  which  is  huge tribute to  MKO’s  tenacity  and  principle  that his  mandate  was   not for sale and  he is indeed the Martyr  of  Nigeria’s  democracy. This  is  a sharp  contrast  to the  brutal  envy  and designs of those who ridiculed MKO’s  mandate  by saying  he  was not  the Messiah  of  our politics  and  democracy.  Such  leaders instituted May  29  as  our democracy  day  and now the Buhari  Administration   has  bowed to public opinion and cast  aside May  29 and  has passed  bill to the National  Assembly  to make the law that  June 12 becomes our Democracy   Day. Really  one can recall  the saying that ‘the mills of justice may grind slowly, but they  grind exceedingly well‘. I  can  imagine  MKO, the  man of endless  proverbs with  his   wide   toothy   grin,  wherever he is in the universe  raising   his arm  in his   famous  V victory  sign   and  signing off  on his  new  June   12  democracy  day with  another  fine proverb   chuckling   satisfactorily   that  ‘he  who  laughs last, laughs best.’  May  his  great  soul  rest  in peace Amen.

Let  us now ally   the  June 12 developments  we have identified  with  the  actions  of our  legislature in the first  and second term of the Buhari  Adminstration . Of  course  the ruling party.  APC has  learnt  a hard  lesson  from the way the former Senate President  hijacked that  position in 2015 and kept it against  all  odds   to the chagrin and vexation of a  ruling  party to which he belonged at the onset before  defecting to the PDP. ’ Once  beaten twice shy  ‘was the  motto  of APC this  time  around. But  Nigerians  need   not have been exposed  to the long,  time wasting election of  these  leaders, because it is apparent that  our legislators  once elected become immune  to public opinion with  regard  to  benefits of democracy  that Nigerians  who elected  them  should  enjoy. In addition it is questionable that the present legislature  can  perform its legal  function of checking the executive powers  given the way and manner the APC leaders of the legislature emerged  in landslide victories  at  the carnival  of legislative elections. Will  the present legislature provide the oversight and checks and balances  expected in a presidential  system  which  the Saraki senate provided,  albeit  by  default from a stolen senate presidency?  More  importantly  will   the new legislative  leadership  give its  word now that budget  padding will   be a thing of the past and not done secretly  now  that the legislature is  in league with the executive. The  president has roundly  condemned the last Speaker and Senate president for delaying the economic  program of his government with their hostility and we hope this  new legislature  will  speed  up  things but within  the ambits  of  the rule  of  law.

Now  with  regard  to the mood or public  opinion our  legislators  need  to  be told  some  home  truths  and  know as MKO   noted  wisely that nagging political  questions do  not  always  follow  legal opinions.  This  is best  illustrated  by the saying  that  the law  could be an ass at times. That  in Nigeria explains why legislators who  are expected to vet  the budget  and prune it in terms of cost control proceed  to balloon its  size  by  adding funds for their constituency  projects to it thus   making a mockery  of the presidential system  of checks and balances.  A    similar  example  exists in the US where  the House of Reps  have the Democrats in majority to  impeach  the America President Donald Trump  but  knows that the Senate where  the Republicans are in majority  will  not play ball.  Another  good example of public  opinion  trumping the law is the situation in the US  again where  the Speaker and the Democratic Party  are not on song in impeaching Donald Trump  because opinion polls  show the public is against it.  Just   as   the legislators are not happy with the US President for   failing,  to honor subpoenas legally  issued  for  Trump’s  government  appointees  to  come and explain their roles in government  which  is a legal  function of the legislators.

In  effect  then MKO  saw through  the machinations and sloppy  legalisms of those  who wanted  him  to seek legal opinion on his mandate by asking what  their locus  was  and  challenging them  presciently  that the law may  not always   be  at  peace with  public  opinion.  Again  I pay  tribute  to a great  Nigerian  and our nice President  who respects public  opinion and  also  pray  for more victories  for the Eagles and the Falcons  at  the new MKO National  Stadium in Abuja. Once  again  long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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