By Ayo Olukotun
The saying that 24 hours is a long time in politics found amazing and outrageous verification in Tuesday’s invasion of the National Assembly by operatives of the Department of State Services wearing masks, brandishing “order from above”, and its aftermath. Members of the National Assembly, preponderantly those belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party, administrative staff of the legislative institution, and even journalists assigned to cover the Assembly were forcibly prevented from entering the locked complex for several hours. As the day wore on, and condemnations of the ugly show of force collated to a crescendo, other institutions of state, including acting President Yemi Osinbajo, Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, distanced themselves from the desecration of democracy.
We do not know whether the volley of criticisms and fear of a downswing in public opinion were what led to the abandonment of the ill-bred and ill-starred action and the making of the DSS boss, Lawal Daura, a fall guy in an operation that may have been planned or at least condoned by top officials of the ruling APC. Amidst speculations about the real motives of the political theatre of the absurd, Osinbajo sacked and ordered the detention of Daura, Strongman of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, whose influence reaches way beyond his official title. Interestingly, the PDP, had predicted the scenario, stating that the intention was to carry out brazenly, and if need be, in defiance of due process, the removal of the helmsmen of the National Assembly, who had recently switched parties.
Osinbajo’s remedial action, though somewhat belated, is in the right direction, and, given what we know of the informal contours of power in a divided polity, audacious. Even at that, a remedy is only ameliorative; like a balm, it soothes and massages by postponing the effects or full billowing of injury. The APC and the Presidency, to which the DSS reports, must take full responsibility for this script of impunity, acted out in full glare of national and global attention, causing Nigeria to diminish in international public esteem. Unsurprisingly, the United Kingdom, where Buhari is currently holidaying or cooling his heels, has spoken out to the effect that it would only endorse a process which upholds the independence of national political institutions. Coming so soon after the “see and buy” electoral saga, and unusual militarisation in the Ekiti election, the dice is unfairly loaded in the direction of official high-handedness and abuse of security institutions.
To say this is not to uphold the boastful self-righteousness of the PDP, or its holier-than-thou posturing which conveniently ignores that Tuesday’s degrading drama came straight from former President Goodluck Jonathan’s playbook of deplorable shenanigans, and infamous abuse of power. Flash back to November 2014, when members of the National Assembly had scaled a barricaded wall and risked the inhalation of tear gas thrown at them by the police. Then, the tug of war was over the attempt of the ruling party to remove the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, who had just then changed parties from the PDP to the APC. It is necessary to bring this up in order to debunk the impression created by the PDP that it would not have acted in the same amoral and illegal manner in which the APC has just acted. As we now know, there is little or no difference between the two major parties in terms of their ethical orientation, tendency to cut corners, including the deployment of security forces to gain advantage over other parties. Behind or beneath Jonathan’s pious exterior is the underbelly of an aggressive and calcular ruthlessness, when it comes to seeking power. In the same vein, or perhaps in a more direct manner, Buhari, despite his born again democratic profile will not hesitate to bare the fangs of authority if an election or political benefit is at stake. Perhaps then, the issue is less the personalities involved, than an overheating system framed along the lines of a neck to neck, better still, do-or-die competition for high office. Specifically, there may be men or shadowy, quasi-institutions in the corridors of power who commit to the retention of power at any cost by their bosses. It might be of interest in this regard that the stealing of the mace from the Senate a few months ago was allegedly masterminded by a leading member of the Buhari Support Group, which is resolute about ensuring the perpetuation, through a second term, of Buhari in the Presidency. What then is happening is that our presidents unless they make special efforts to run against the tide, become captives of behind-the-scene personalities and forces, who are prepared to use the state apparatus for sundry mischief and illegalities.
So, election fever, as we may put it, is once again running its course, and the battles are pitched, as the countdown to the 2019 elections begins in earnest. If a solution can be found, in the course of time, to the political desperation, if not brinksmanship of combatants, it will be along the lines of making the centre much less attractive than it currently is, in relation to the federating units. As a corollary, political office must be scaled down in terms of the sudden wealth and economic gains that it confers on its occupants. For as long as the system reproduces an obscene gap, between occupants of office and the rest of us, so long shall we experience the issues connected with executive omnipotence vis-à-vis legislative rascality. Unfortunately, however, successive administrations with one or two honourable exceptions have shown little or no inclination towards tackling the fundamental problems and maladies of the system. Related to the gross abuse of security institutions is the frequent switching of parties by our politicians. Broadly speaking, this breed of politicians are advocates and party hawks, rather than thinkers or those who are able to see the good of the system as a whole. This is in contrast to an earlier generation of politicians who not only held party creeds as dear, but in many cases had written books and canvassed ideological positions which separate them from other parties. For as long as we maintain the current party structure, which is hardly distinguishable from one another, the switching of party identities will remain pervasive, reinforced by an economy in which the only game in town is distributive or spoils sharing politics.
We are in a slippery conjuncture which can get even messier unless the ranks of moderates rather than belligerents increase. One is not even sure, whether on present terms, the peering eyes of the global community on the regression of Nigerian democracy will be enough to stop those who are hell-bent on tweaking the playing ground so that it can only produce victory for them. There has been regrettably a steady erosion of standards and institutional safeguards in our polity, in the last few months but we do not need to fall over a dangerous cliff. The time to beat a retreat from a long night of shocking abuses of power is now.