Nigeria practices a rather strange type of democracy that has deviated from true democratic principles. The Buhari administration, for instance, is one government that has introduced so many absurdities in the polity.
One case in point is retaining the Service Chiefs for more than the approved number of years they are required to serve. Another is nominating his media aide, Lauretta Onochie – a staunch supporter of the president, as a National Commissioner at the INDEPENDENT National Electoral Commission (INEC) – an electoral body expected to be impartial. It would seem as though we wake up to a new absurdity each day.
The height of it all is the president’s recent show of outright disregard for the National Assembly’s (NASS) summon to address the country’s heightened level of insecurity before the house. The president’s action has elicited angry reactions from Nigerians. Many people have described it as a calculated effort to undermine Nigeria’s democracy as well as an affront on the legislative arm of the government – the highest law-making body in the country and assembly of ‘the people’s representatives.’
On the other hand; those who have opined that President Buhari is the “father of the nation,” and should, therefore, be treated as a father figure by Nigerians, have received heavy backlash, and rightly so. The idea behind this “father of the nation” concept for those who address the president that way is that the president needs to listen to Nigerians and satisfy their demands not because he is the president but because he is a father figure to all.
Such statements and mentality are part of the reasons why some Nigerians have failed to put the concept of democratic governance into proper perspective. And, it extends to governance at the state level too as some Nigerians now refer to governors as the “father of the state.” It shouldn’t be so because the terms “father of the nation” and “father of the state” are wrong designations for any democratically elected leader.
Not only will this give them the impetus to run the government like it is their private business; it will also motivate them to continue to run the government as though it is their family business until they wreck the country even more. The president’s disregard for the NASS is a case in point that proves that he would rather run the country the way he pleases than follow the democratic principles of checks and balances as enshrined in the constitution.
This was further encouraged by the statement made by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), on Wednesday, December 11, 2020, who unapologetically said that the National Assembly lacks the constitutional powers to summon President Buhari over the deteriorating security situation in the country.
First off, Buhari is a public servant with the mandate of the people. Same goes for governors too who are addressed in a similar manner. They have constitutional responsibilities to serve the people, not father them.
In a true democracy, elected representatives of the people understand that they are there to serve the citizens. Most importantly, they hardly ever defy constituted authorities that form part of their government as President Buhari recently did; and if they do, there are consequences for it. Also, they do not shy away from appearing before congress to address matters of national importance.
Take the United States, for example, where Nigeria copied her Democracy from; presidents have appeared because congress on different occasions for different reasons because they understand that nobody is above the law. Also, presidents in the US are either impeached or resign when they are found guilty of impeachable offences.
Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, for instance, resigned over the Watergate scandal after a motion was moved by congress for his impeachment. He was charged for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, contempt of congress among other things. According to the Nixon saga:
“His most loyal defenders in Congress announced they would vote to impeach and convict Nixon for obstructing justice. Republican congressional leaders met with Nixon that his impeachment and removal were all but certain. Thereupon, Nixon gave up the struggle to remain in office, resigning the presidency on August 9, 1974, before the full House could vote on the articles of impeachment.”
Nixon served as president of the United States from 1969 to 1974.
Another past US president who appeared before congress was Woodrow Wilson who served as president from March 1913 to March 1921. Wilson was questioned for three and a half hours so the story goes:
“Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took testimony from President Wilson at the White House concerning the treaty of peace with Germany and establishment of a League of Nations. The president opened by reading a statement and then answered questions for three and a half hours…. Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge explained that the committee was “very desirous of getting information on certain points which seem not clear and on which they thought information would be of value to them.” Despite Wilson’s efforts, the Senate twice rejected the Treaty of Versailles, and the United States never joined the League.”
Besides Nixon and Wilson, several other US presidents also appeared before congress for different reasons during their tenure. Sadly, Nigeria’s case today starkly contrasts with the US where we borrowed our democracy. What this means is that we are evidently not upholding the tenets of true democracy in Nigeria because some persons feel they are above the law and can flout summons by constituted authorities at will.
Little wonder a lot of Ministers in this cabinet have continued to disregard the institution of the National Assembly until the ‘father of the nation’ had to caution them about it.
This calls for an urgent need for constitutional amendments to include a State of the Federation address quarterly. Our elected representatives must learn to be accountable to the people and be pressured to uphold the principles of true democracy as it should be.
The Office of the Citizen is the highest office in the land. A failure to appear before the National Assembly is an affront on the people and should warrant impeachment.