Folks, your parliament wants immunity!
But what is the assurance that immunity won’t breed parliamentary impunity, the most violent antipode to the very concept of democracy?
Can you imagine a kabiyesi parliament — a parliament that cannot be questioned, even by its own electors?
Yet, it is this much abused “democracy” that this self-serving ensemble mouth themselves as most authentic living symbols!
Since 1999, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo roasted the National Assembly on the populist altar of “furniture allowance”, portraying the new brood of legislators as a band of unconscionable gluttons devoted to nobody’s welfare but their own, Ripples had always thought Nigerians unfair to their elected representatives.
That populist ploy was, of course, dangerous Machiavellian gambit, subversive of rigorous checks-and-balances, on which presidential democracy is erected.
For another, the president on the grandstand furiously excoriated legislative pork; but was stone quiet on the perks of his own ministers; and the brood of unelected others, in executive sinecure.
Besides, Nigeria’s successive military coups had consigned the legislature as the least developed of the three governmental arms, since it was the only arm sacrificed during military rule. For that sole reason, it deserved some empathy.
Still, with Leo Ogor’s sensational announcement of immunity dreams for its topmost principal officers, Ripples just wonders if the National Assembly, not popular in the streets even in the best of times, is not bent on a self-destruct path.
Mr. Ogor, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, announced with glee the legislature was mulling over a constitutional amendment that would gift immunity to the Senate president and his deputy, as well as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. In the spirit of subversive generosity, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) too was a putative beneficiary!
The logic? Well, the president (national) and governors (states), heads of the executive, enjoy the immunity clause. So, why not “democratise” immunity, to include the heads of the other two arms?
Indeed, why not, other things being equal? But that is the snag: other things were far from equal. Really, Mr. Ogor’s statement came across as some provocative sword of Damocles, from a parliament chaffing at the “insult” of docking Senate President, Bukola Saraki, for alleged corruption.
Mr. Ogor’s seeming unstated illogic? That the Constitution grants the president immunity, and the senate president none, appears “unacceptable” to parliament; and must be reversed forthwith.
But wouldn’t self-help itself — and that’s what Ogor’s threat amounts to — be a cynical corruption of the hallowed trust of law making?
Besides, when did legislative immunity become an issue — before or after Saraki’s Code of Conduct odyssey? Didn’t those chaffing now read the Constitution before they opted for the National Assembly, instead of running for president or governor, to enjoy immunity?
And having made their choice, should they corrupt the process with self-help, not only cynically hinting that the law is an ass; but also that the processes leading to lawmaking is outright asinine, since legislators can corral powers to legislate for their short-term selfish interests, rather than for the perpetual good of the polity?
Should they even pull off this gambit, how would it possibly save Saraki from having his day in court, even if his body language violently rails against that due process? Could parliament, in all good — and democratic! — conscience, make the law retroactive to save the embattled senate president?
Still, for all you know, Mr. Ogor could well have been speaking for himself, and no one else. He could also be the quintessential honourable gentleman, as his House membership presupposes, incapable of cant.
But he could also be flying a kite for an incipient campaign.
Given his political trajectory, a scion of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party splendidly undone by its own impunity, impunity would appear never far away. From his PDP culture, therefore, a cynical push for legislative immunity, en route to legislative impunity, would appear coming with the territory.
Still, the real story behind the Ogor immunity drama is the clash of vision between President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President Saraki, on what governance should be in a season of change.
In fairness, the crisis started from Buhari’s presidential naivety of declaring himself disinterested in whoever headed the Senate or the House of Representatives.
But in fairness to the president too, no decent person would have expected Saraki’s vaulting desperation, which fired his brazen sell-out of his party — and its right to the deputy senate presidency — to the opposition PDP, to corral subversive votes, to land the Senate presidency.
Now, the PDP sits pretty, not giving a damn if the new order fails. Neither does Saraki, it appears, so long as he achieves his aim. It’s all so reminiscent of the infamous quote of Lucifer, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost: “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven”!
Soon enough, if this crisis persists, rebel APC senators in Saraki’s camp, could just drop their neither-nor facade, and queue behind their master. Whence then would he lead them?
Remain Lucifer, still the proud Son of the Morning, in the ruling party (whatever its name)? Or a full descent into Satan, in hellish opposition, stubbornly living the quip of ruling in hell, rather than serving in heaven? Time will tell!
This monstrous see-saw of change-but-no-change, therefore, drives this crisis. The threat of legislative immunity is only the latest symptom, of the high-octane power play for the soul of change: the Buhari vanguard of change for real change; or the Saraki school’s change as mere illusion.
But before the politicians get ahead of themselves, cooking deals and expecting the docile people to helplessly watch from the sidelines, let everyone know.
For all his braggadocio, Senator Saraki only boasts the mandate of a third of a state, his senatorial district in Kwara State. At the end of the day, the senate presidency, when the chips are down, is more a function of honour and of influence, than of power.
On the other hand, President Buhari boasts a national mandate. While to the tactful, soft power always trumps hard power, between the president and the senate president, there is little doubt as to who wields a bigger mandate.
And lest everyone forgets: Buhari’s win was as much a victory for the opposition as it was redemption for the self-destruct ruling elite, which PDP was heedlessly rushing to the political gallows.
A few months hence of Jonathan’s anomie, and maybe Nigeria’s present ruling elite would have been buried under the Nigerian rubble?
That is why Buhari holds it a historic duty to enact the positive change his presidential win promised. That is his contract with Nigeria.
The Saraki dilution, via PDP intrusion, is not part of that solemn deal. It is a terrible distraction that must be removed — and fast.