May 24, 2018

NASS and The Art Of Dissent (Part I) by Magnus Onyibe

NASS and The Art Of Dissent (Part I) by Magnus Onyibe

Rebellion and dissent have always been the hallmark of mankind on earth and even angels in heaven, if the biblical account of how former angel Lucifer was chased from heaven into the world is taken into consideration.

As the story goes, Lucifer was an influential angel loved by God and was considered what can be referred to in modern political circles as a key member of God’s ‘kitchen’ cabinet. However, he led a rebellion, fell out of favor and had to be expelled from heaven. That conflict has some semblance to the crisis in NASS. The holy book teaches us that Lucifer, the devil now roams around the world to kill and destroy mankind.

Even the Shiite and Sunni divide that has been shaping events in the Arabic and Persian worlds since the passing away of Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Unto Him) is also said to be attributable to a disagreement amongst his followers over how the prophet’s successor should emerge. That conflict can also be likened to the crisis in NASS. According to research from Council On Foreign Relations ( one side believing that a member of the prophet’s family should succeed him and the other preferring one of the high ranking clerics to mount the saddle, the stage was set for dissent and eventually, the schism in the Islamic world which has endured for centuries.

Magna Carta is a treaty signed in 1215 BC between some aggrieved British business barons who wanted change and threatened to go to war against King John of England in the 13th century in protest over tyrannical taxes levied by the King. This is also relevant to the conflict in NASS.

Before the Magna Carta, British Kings were demigods who could simply say ‘off with his head’ and the person was as good as dead but the treaty set boundaries and limited the powers of kings. Today the bulwark of the socio-economic freedom and independence of citizens within the ambit of the law which the British governance system epitomizes, owes its origin to the Magna Carta treaty which was a product of dissent like the one in NASS.

Until the American war of revolution and independence, the United States of America, USA which is now the most powerful nations in the world, was under the apron strings of Great Britain, the preeminent global hegemony of yore. As the foremost superpower of those days owing to the British navy’s superior seafaring prowess and unrivaled marine warfare capacity, countries as far flung as Australia, India and Canada were part of the British Empire which was also stretched to as far as Africa and the Caribbean.

It is not only that the USA of today was a satellite post of Great Britain (native red Indians are the original dwellers) America actually became a country after Britain sent her citizens considered to be outlaws and later some puritans (religious sects under persecution) to the plantation farms that she had established in New England – the original name of the USA.

Over time, USA- the British colony became prosperous and it was obligatory on her pay tax to Britain being part of the British Empire.

Borrowing a leaf from the events in Britain that resulted in the Magna Carta treaty, there was dissent and a revolt in parliament as legislators questioned the rationale for continuously paying tax to the British authorities that in their view had no input on how their income was generated. The quest for freedom from overbearing Britain by USA is akin to the NASS crisis which arose from the determination of legislators to choose their leaders. The revolt morphed into the revolutionary/war of independence led by George Washington who became the first USA president after securing independence from British colonialist. That USA act of resistance is the offspring of today’s liberty embodied in the rule of law which gives us the right to choose how we are ruled and who determines who rules over us.

Nigeria returned to parliamentary democracy in 1999; barely sixteen years ago. In that period, her practice of democracy has been deepening, albeit slowly, but dissent and revolt have also been part of her evolution.

At inception in 1999, arising from his military background of autocracy and command and control, President Olusegun Obasanjo (instead of addressing respective governors by their names) called them by the names of their respective states as he did with military governors during his reign as the military head of state in the 1970s.

Owing to the political naivety prevailing at that time, governors were practically in awe of President Obasanjo who reprimanded and branded them “owambe” governors when a large number of them (soon after they were sworn into office) in 1999 hopped off to London to attend the socialite, Terry Waya’s 40th birthday at the prestigious Dorchester hotel in London.

Parliamentary democracy was in such infancy that the ‘Lord of The Manor’ mentality cascaded down the hierarchy. At state government levels, governors determined who became legislators, both at the state level and at the national level. This meant that, more often than not, State House of Assembly and House of Representatives members as well as senators were tied to the apron strings of governors. At that time, if a governor asked a senator to jump, he would probably ask, how high? Ok, maybe l have exaggerated that aspect a bit, but there was really no independence of thought or action amongst politicians in those days as the mantra ‘party is supreme’ was a refrain and culture not to be violated but rather respected like a sacred covenant. Let’s not even cascade it down to the local government chairmen level because they have been more often than not ‘errand boys’ or ‘doormats’ of governors or any ally the governors decide to concede power to in the local government area. Perhaps it’s in a bid to arrest the governance decay at the local government level that President Buhari specifically mentioned in his inaugural speech that under his watch, local government system would be overhauled.

Back in the days, any inkling of a deviation from the party’s directives or apparent romance with the opposition party was tagged anti party activity and attracted severe sanctions.

With the passage of time, those practices are now the exception rather than the norm as politicians have literarily come of age and thus are more independent minded as opposed to being guided by herd mentality .

I have embarked on the above historical excursion chronicling all the landmark and tumultuous events by digging all the way down to the origin of mankind and dissent that l have cited to enable readers gain better and broader perspectives and insights into the NASS crisis. This is necessary because up to the present moment, conversations about the crisis in NASS have been narrowly confined to four factors (1) the rivalry between APC and PDP parties, (2) supremacy battle between the Unity and Integrity caucuses in NASS, (3) personality clash between Bukola Saraki and APC national leader, Bola Tinubu, (4) Saraki and Rabiu Kwakwanso presidential ambition in 2019. Contrary to the aforementioned spin which is now trending, I would argue that the June 9th 2015 NASS proclamation and the leadership crisis that ensued is more profound than the above listed mundane issues that it is being ascribed to .

In my view, what the NASS crisis reveals is the fundamental ideological differences between the legacy parties that formed the APC. While ACN is ideologically tilted towards imposition of candidates reflecting the widely known penchant by its leaders to hand pick candidates for political offices rooted in party supremacy dogma rather than the more democratic process of party primaries, the PDP is known for its comparatively more liberal disposition to candidates emerging through party primaries. Without blending the two diametrically opposing ideologies, the challenge of clash of cultures and the associated conflict found a forum for its ventilation during NASS proclamation.

In the light of the foregoing, the struggle for supremacy between the two ideologies is the crux of the NASS crisis and seeming lethargy in APC and by extension governance in Nigeria. The assertion above is further underscored by the fact that while on one hand, the pro-Saraki and Dogara legislators are denouncing the insistence on use of party diktat as opposed to free and fair elections in choosing their leaders, the Lawan and Gbajabiamila group on the other hand are outraged that the ‘party is supreme’ rule (anchored on the belief that since the party is the vehicle that brought the candidates therefore its directives can’t be disobeyed without consequences) is being flouted . A validation to the above assertion is the fact that Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara are of the original PDP stock while Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila are of the ACN.

Having put the crisis in a crucible and identified the legislators’ rebellion in NASS as a political revolution that has the capacity to usher in changes to Nigerian socio political landscape, let’s examine how the historical parallels earlier drawn, affected society.

The rebellion that took place in heaven had consequences for Lucifer and mankind; the disagreements in leadership in the Islamic world polarized the religion into two diametrically opposing sects with violent outcome; the dissent against an oppressive king’s greed in Britain redefined the power of kings and earned Britons economic freedom and liberties; and the armed resistance to the unfair policies of the colonialist Britain in the USA, strengthened the policy of sovereignty and yielded  independence and freedoms that modern parliamentary democracies are built on.

It is noteworthy that change does not just manifest only in one form, like from PDP and Goodluck Jonathan to APC and Muhamadu Buhari which happened in the March 28, 2015 polls in Nigeria. Change could also come in different dimensions like the Aminu Tambuwal/Emeka Ihejioha parliamentary ‘coup’ in the House of Representatives in 2011 when against PDP preference for Mulikat Akande as Speaker, the pair emerged Speaker and deputy respectively. Any keen political observer that looks beyond the ordinary could have easily extrapolated and figured out that since the 2011 defiance in the House of Representatives was allowed to stand, it was inevitable that there would be high possibility of a re-enactment by Yakubu Dogara/Yusuf Lasun in the green chamber in 2015. So it does not surprise me that the rebellion driven by legislators thirst for independence has now extended to the Red chamber with Bukola Saraki/Ike Ekweremadu emerging as senate president and deputy respectively in the 8th senate.

In a nutshell, it is a struggle between two main ideologies fused into the APC (a conglomeration of four and half parties with diametrically opposing ideologies) that is the reason for the existing political firestorm in APC and the NASS proclamation was just the lightening rod.

That being the case, a simple solution could have been for APC to quickly imbibe the culture of inclusiveness but it is not that simple when a motley crowd of politicians with assorted philosophies and their huge egos are involved which is why the internal power struggle which could have faded away soon after, has seemingly become a Siamese twins with APC.

The truth is that PDP held sway in this country for sixteen (16) years as a result of her policy of all inclusiveness which revolves around the power rotation principle. As soon as the principle of rotation of power amongst the co-operating zones was breached in 2011,(when Jonathan failed to allow power return to the north)the glue became weak and resulting in the crumbling of the pie as aggrieved stakeholders revolted culminating in the party’s loss in the 2015 polls.

APC should wake up to the fact that it is no longer five small pies being shared by a few homogenized politicians in different regions but it is now a huge pie comprised of four to five pies mixed together (not yet blended) that should cater to the palates of politicians with a variety of appetites and tastes spread across Nigeria.

As they say in operations management, when a problem is identified, it is 50% solved.

So having put a finger on the problem besetting the party, instead of sticking to their guns by refusing to shift grounds, what should be of paramount interest to the warring APC apparatchik and NASS legislators is the manner in which the conflicts that I earlier referenced (which are analogous to the dissent in NASS) were resolved and the effect of the resolution on society.

In the case of Britain and the USA, there was settlement via the Magna Carta treaty of 1215 which nullified the war which could have been fought between the barons and the oppressive British king, John in the 13th century and in the USA, although there was war between the British colonialists army and American Revolution/independence army, the war was resolved with victory for USA subsequently leading to Independence.

Strikingly, Western parliamentary democracy that we now practice was advanced by the two watershed events -British Magna Carta which strengthened the rule of law and USA revolutionary war of independence which solidified due process.

However, opposite is the case with the conflict in heaven which has remained unresolved with the expulsion from heaven of the rebellious Lucifer perhaps owing to treachery and by the same token, the rift in the Islamic religion remains unresolved with the Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia in the Arab world and the Shiites with leadership from Iran in the Persian world as sworn enemies as sides have failed to find a common ground for settlement for less than altruistic reasons.

Evidently, it is the unresolved conflict in Christian heaven that forced Lucifer into the world with the trademark of sorrow, tears and blood foisted on humanity by Lucifer – the satan, just as it is the unresolved leadership disagreement in Islam that is largely responsible for most of the turmoil in the Middle East and to a large extent terrorism related human catastrophes in the world.

Check it out; practically all the major conflicts on earth are religion induced-Christianity and Islam alike.

Of course, there is limit to rebellion by party members and being fixated on dogmas by party officials can have grave consequences.

From the events that l chronicled, it is clear that negotiated settlements in Britain and USA have proven to be more efficacious and beneficial to humanity than expulsion of Lucifer from heaven and the evil/calamitous consequences or the lingering disagreement in Islamic leadership resulting in the protracted Sunni-Shiite divide that has culminated into numerous conflicts with humongous human catastrophes.

It is now left to politicians to chose from both outcomes, the most noble and progressive path to follow. The satisfactory settlements in Britain and USA which now form the bulwark of democracy or the unresolved conflicts in Christian and in the Islamic world responsible for most of the calamities  and wars afflicting humanity?

After sixteen (16) years of practice , today’s politician, to a large extent, has weaned his or herself of the appendages known as ‘feeding bottle’ syndrome to the extent that the independence of legislators have been incremental from the 5th in 1999 to the current 8th National Assembly as legislators who are serving their 4th term would attest.

These and similar slow but steady changes in the political arena, may be deemed to be abhorrent steps in some quarters (party is supreme advocates), but in my candid reckoning, they are democracy baby steps and signs of the much anticipated maturing democracy which are only possible through continuous practice.


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Magnus Onyibe, former Commissioner in Delta State Government, Development Strategist, Futurologist and alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, sent this piece from Abuja.

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