The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, has just stirred a mild controversy. Those who saw him on the floor of the Senate will attest to the fact that he was incensed. He was worried by the high-handedness in the land. He pointed to the excesses of the governors of Kaduna and Kano states, who are intolerant of opposing views. He expressed outrage that Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso cannot go to Kano because Governor Abdullahi Ganduje and his supporters would not let him. He pointed at the irascible disposition of Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State and his running battle with Senator Shehu Sani. Ekweremadu is particularly disturbed by el-Rufai’s penchant for demolishing the houses of members of the opposition. The Deputy Senate President had a roll call of regrets. In the face of the assaults on our democracy, he wondered aloud whether we think that military intervention is impossible in the face of these infractions. The military could strike if we do not change our ways. That was his submission.
We know where Ekweremadu is coming from. He is weighed down by an excruciating load of military hangover. He is one of us. He was here when the military struck at will from time to time citing bad governance and abuse of basic democratic tenets as reasons. In those trying years, the military positioned itself as an alternative to democracy. It was too willing, too ready to strike at the least opportunity. It was such military incursions into governance that gave us Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Muhammadu Buhari, Sani Abacha and other military adventurers who held Nigeria hostage whenever they thought it fit and proper to do so. Significantly, some of these military adventurers are now latter-day converts to the vineyard of democracy. They are playing on the democratic turf, trying in their own way to ensure that democracy is not truncated again wilfully.
Ekweremadu must have remembered what happened to our Second Republic. Then, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was in the saddle. At inception, it formed a coalition government with the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). The arrangement worked for some time but had to collapse later owing to greed and lack of sincerity of purpose.
Soon, the NPN became dictatorial. Democratic principles were randomly flouted. The opposition was muzzled. Kaduna was a major flashpoint then. Its governor, Balarabe Musa, a progressive and free-minded politician, was impeached in questionable circumstances. The nation cried foul. Darkness descended on the country. But Nigeria managed to trudge on. Then an opportunity for another election came. But a thoroughly discredited and unpopular party like the NPN won a landslide. Democracy became an elaborate charade. The military struck. And democracy died.
But then, the ruling junta was not at peace. It had its own story of instability. There were violent changes of government. There were also failed attempts at change of government. The game of revolving doors continued until 1999 when the Fourth Republic came into being. It has managed to survive since then. The country has had nearly 20 years of uninterrupted civil rule. The system has been highly imperfect. But we can only strive to get it right.
It is, therefore, ill-considered and defeatist for anybody to think military takeover is possible. Such a thought process is negative. A high-ranking government official like Ekweremadu should rise above such rhetoric. The military can decide to strike if they think that the conditions are ripe for them to do so. They can entertain such a noxious idea if it appeals to their fancy. But no member of the civil populace, let alone a public official of Ekweremadu’s standing, should be seen to be putting such a reprehensible idea into their heads. We should not give the impression that military incursion into governance is still possible. Military rule, no matter the way it is procured, is not and cannot be an alternative to democracy. Therefore, if our democracy is not working, we should never look in the direction of the military. We should not think about them at all. Rather, we should engage one another, with a view to ensuring that those who indulge in excesses and illegalities are made to face a system-induced stigma.
What is going on in Kano and Kaduna states is strange. They are antithetical to a free society, which democracy promotes. It is aberrant for a governor to intimidate his fellow citizen to the extent that his safety is no longer guaranteed in his home state. Governor Ganduje must put up with opposition elements like Kwankwaso. The state belongs to all of them. The place to settle whatever rift they have is on the democratic turf. The same thing is true of the situation in Kaduna State. It is only an intolerant governor that will go to the extent of demolishing a house belonging to an opposition element for the simple reason that a splinter group of his party is accommodated in that building. We have enough safeguards in our statute books to checkmate such excesses. The problem is that we are not practising democracy the right way. The legislature, which is supposed to act as a check on an overbearing executive, is fast asleep. We should wake them up and charge them to live up to their constitutional responsibilities. There is so much we can do to put democracy on track. We should strive towards such ideals rather than take a cheap recourse to military hangover.
Nigeria has got to the stage where we have to engage our thinking faculties deeply. The greatest threat to our democracy, and indeed the survival of the country, is the mass massacre that goes on in the country on a daily basis. Some armed men who have infiltrated all parts of the country are on rampage. Some people call them herdsmen. But it does not matter what they are called. What is important here is that their activities are driving Nigeria to the precipice. Nigeria is at war with itself owing to the activities of these marauders.
Our responsibility as a people is to hold government accountable in this matter. A government that is alive to its responsibility will never allow the killings to take place. Unfortunately, the present administration has not shown sufficient capacity in this regard. The situation seems to have overwhelmed it. We should be united in redirecting the government to the path of responsibility and responsiveness. We should not clasp our hands in desperation in the belief that military takeover will be the possible outcome of our present state.