Alexander O. Onukwue
Democracy, the world over, is founded on one fundamental principle: that the source of the authority of the Government is from the people.
As it is popularly defined, a Government based on the principles of democracy should be of the people, by the people and for the people. More often than not, it has not always been the case in Nigeria that Government is even by the people in the first place, with the faulty electoral processes that lead to the crop of leaders that are available.
Legislative recalls are not usual, and they are not universally obtainable. In the US, after which the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 was modeled, the outcome of elections are permanent and there is no way to recall a member of Congress before their terms end. No Senator or House of Representatives has ever had his term interrupted by the electorate through such means.
According to ThoughtCo, “Americans are unable to remove an elected member of the House or Senate from office before their terms end because there is no recall mechanism set forth in the U.S. Constitution.”
In the Nigerian situation, it is written in black and white. The letter of the law specifies the circumstance, the procedure and the duration for initiating and effecting a recall. It is not now clear why the recall was placed in the Constitution, given that it was not available in the model.
However, for a budding democratic nation such as Nigeria, the recall clause now seems like a necessary innovation that was set to help mould and develop the power of the people in the affairs of State. Moving from a military dispensation to a civilian one, the concept of a “democracy” does not quite come natural to Nigerians. There remains the tendency to see Governance as a “them” affair, where there is really not much of a choice for the citizen after elections.
The power to recall changes that.
As in the case of Melaye, there is the suspicion that such power will be an instrument with which Governors and more influential politicians will exert witch-hunts and political attacks. With the resources of the State at their disposal, Governors like Bello could afford to spend huge money to mobilize and convince people to turn against their elected legislator, if that same Governor has kept them hungry and without pay for more than a humane period of debt.
That said, the mass of Nigerians are not innately without independence of thought and judgement. Regardless of any apparent influence by the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, everyone who has been observing Dino Melaye’s acts in the 8th Senate cannot have many points with which to defend him. He has demonstrated the air of invincibility, as one who is above reach. To put it mildly, there has been a need to bring Dino Melaye down to earth. He is not the only political office holder for whom this is important but a first example will go a long way in laying down a marker.
In the end, the behind-the-scenes tricks of Nigeria’s politics may manage to sway in Melaye’s favour. Envelopes, bags of rice, and alerts are bound to change hands over the next 90 days. The Judiciary can expect to be drawn into this too, especially if the verification process leads to a referendum and the jargon of the law becomes necessary to provide jurisdiction and interpretations.
A potential recall rattled former Senator Bala Mohammed in 2010 to the extent he had to change political parties to find cover. Melaye has nowhere to run; it’s either he remains red (in the Chamber) or dead.