Democracy, checks and public opinion
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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