It would be uncharitable not to commend the national assembly for taking on the worsening security situation in the country in an open debate in the chambers. I offer you four good reasons why the legislators deserve our appreciation and gratitude. One, we are not used to lawmakers at national and state levels taking on the big men in the executive branch of government. It is in keeping with our tradition to accept that the big men in the executive branch of government at both levels are omniscient. After all, they got to where they are by proving that they are men of wisdom. The distinguished men and women broke with the tradition. They spoke truth to power in firm or emotion-laden voices. Awesome.
Two, the gramophone record may be broken but it still manages to remind us that under our form of government there is something called separation of powers among the three arms of government – the executive, the legislative judiciary. A scrupulous observance of this important doctrine prevents one arm from telling another arm what to do or how it should run its affairs.
But the legislators told the president what to do with the service chiefs whose unusually long stay in office by service chiefs’ standard is part of the current public fatigue with a security architecture that is past its expiry date. The distinguished men and women broke with the tradition with courage born of a sense of responsibility towards the nation and its harried people. Awesome.
Three, for the first time, our very distinguished senators and our very honourable members of the House of Representatives showed that they have ears to hear – and hear; eyes to see – and see; and mouths to speak – and speak. They surprised us by showing they are fully aware of the fact that despite some grandstanding to the contrary, we are fast losing our dear country to non-state murderous actors and other criminals of various shades and stripes. No one – and nowhere – is safe in our dear country.
In the debate on the floor of the senate, the senators fully represented the people by conveying the people’s fears and the frustrations over the insecurity in the land. The silent majority must have felt good about this. Here again, they broke with the tradition of representation sans representation. That is to say they jettisoned the well-oiled tradition of the people seeing their elected men and women with padlocked lips even when things are going wrong.
Four, the video clips of the debate tell us, for the first time in the history of law-making in our country, what goes on daily in the hallowed chambers where laws for the good governance of the country are made. We saw senators who spoke from both sides of the mouth and did so in the firm belief that speaking the truth is a mortal and unforgivable sin in politics. We saw senators who spoke with passion about the security situation and were not afraid of blaming individuals, including the president, for what is happening to our country and us. When Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe advised the Buhari administration to resign, he was both playing politics but seeking to narrow the blame game and point an accusing finger at the branch of government that bears the primary responsibility for the safety of our lives and property in our own country.
One of our messy problems in the country is our reluctance to hold people responsible for what happens under their watch. I know of no Nigerian public officer who took responsibility for what his aides did and in good conscience, resigned his exalted offices. The small men are sacrificed on the altar of the untouchables.
The senate president, Dr Ahmad Lawan’s decision to open debate on this critical challenge to our corporate existence as a nation, was an act of courage and statesmanship. He needed no one to tell him, as he indeed pointed out, said that Nigeria has reached a tipping point over the insecurity situation. Something must give. He handled the debate with maturity and proved to the doubters that contrary to people’s speculations, he needs no one to tell him what the nation and its people expect of him in his exalted office. He is prepared to do his duty to his country because he too would not escape blame if, through acts of omission or commission, the country tips over from its present tipping point. Perish the thought.
The debates are over now. Now, what? Thanks to the legislators, the president now knows how really bad the security situation is and can feel for vulnerable compatriots. So, what would now happen to the resolution of both the senate and the House of Representatives? Would the president feel bound by it to radically act to change the security architecture or would he dismiss it as part of the many irritations in democratic politics?
I feared that he would not be moved to act on the basis of the resolution because presidents have a tendency to show that they are not bound by the opinions of their legislature. Lawan too expressed the same concern that there was a real possibility that they would have acted in vain because the president is not bound to act on their resolution; and to make matters worse, they cannot compel him to act. He said they should pray. I hope they are doing so.
But the resolution does not amount to an attempt to dictate to the big man. It is a genuine expression of the people’s fears and frustrations duly conveyed to the executive by their representatives in parliament. Such resolutions are traditionally respected to show that the executive and the legislature are working together to address issues of concern to the country and its people. After all, if two heads are better than one, then 108 heads must be much better than one.
So far, there is a slight motion. The president met with Lawan and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, February 3. They resolved to set up a committee of the executive and the legislature as well as APC to periodically review the security situation. I am afraid, this is not what we need. It amounts to doing nothing; or dancing around the camp fire of a problem consuming fellow Nigerians daily. We need movement, not motion. We need action, not cosmetics. I cannot see what the committee could do to arrest the situation. The times are bound to get rougher for everyone.
Gbajabiamila indulged in sophistry when he told state house reporters after the meeting that if the president changes the service chiefs, it would make no impression on kidnapping banditry and murders because their constitutional brief puts those crimes outside their province. The army, the navy and the air force are part of the security outfit out there to contain the situation. The speaker also said that the inspector-general is straight-jacketed because “there is very little he can do in the face of no equipment, no funding…”
These arguments beg the question. Indeed, the national assembly was fully aware of this when it decided to take steps to confront the situation. If the police are poorly equipped and poorly funded, then both the executive and the legislature are to blame. Both branches of government appropriate funds for the Nigeria Police Force every year. It is no news that our country is under-policed; nor is it news that our police personnel are poorly equipped and poorly funded. Must we hide under this excuse and continue to indulge in the luxury of cosmetics while things get worse?
I think the government has run out of excuses. If it cannot save us, no one else can. Lawan put his fingers on it when he told the reporters, according to the Daily Trust of February 4, that “the government needed to come up with strategies and roadmaps to secure the lives and property of Nigerians in the intermediate and long-term basis.”That is the only option the government has.
- The Guardian, Nigeria