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Opinion

The tyranny of military democracy

By Fred Itua

(Published by The Sun Newspaper on Sunday, 1st April)

I have deliberately decided not to join the madding crowd in debating the constitutionality or otherwise of the ongoing process by the National Assembly to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018.

My stoic silence wasn’t borne of ignorance of the law or my understanding of it. For personal reasons, I decided to keep mute. But I think my silence is no longer golden. In the midst of oppression and official falsehoods, those who know better must speak up.

Again, I opted for this title to underscore how warped our defective version of democracy is. So, I settled for the phrase ‘military democracy’. No one will blame me. After all, democracy as we know it, has gone on sabbatical and it will remain so as long as President Buhari holds sway.

The hues and cries over the election sequencing introduced by the National Assembly should worry sane Nigerians. The blackmail, the half truths, the alleged exchange of foreign notes and the military-style intimidation by the Presidency, should and must be interrogated.

I am not a fan of President Buhari and I don’t hide it. The more I try to find one thing to appreciate about him, the more he goofs. Under this government championed by saints, we have been reduced to some huge joke. I wonder how folks on the other side rate us. They must think that we are some dump people.

Sometimes, when I write, I fear for my life. I am scared that I could just be the next victim of the president’s goons. In this era of unlawful arrests and detentions, who is really safe in Buhari’s Nigeria? When a journalist criticises the government, our very own secret police labels you an enemy of the state.

Whenever the president visits any state, citizens are barred from protesting. When a key opposition member criticises the president, the propaganda arm of this administration, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), dusts up an old file. If you are in doubt, ask the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.

In Buhari’s Nigeria, cows get official protection, while Nigerians are getting accustomed to the daily massacres orchestrated by ‘unknown’ armed herdsmen and bandits. In Buhari’s republic, cows have their right of way, while car owners and other road users must wait.

Today, Nigeria’s capital territory, Abuja, is now a cattle colony. Even around the vicinity of the presidential villa, herdsmen gleefully ply their trade unhindered. Meanwhile, civilians are not permitted to even take a walk within the same area. That is Buhari’s Nigeria for you.

In Buhari’s Nigeria, when you run out of ideas, blame the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. If that doesn’t work, announce to Nigerians that adopted Chibok girls will be released soon. If that doesn’t deter Nigerians, get the military or Lai Mohammed to warn Nigerians about hate speech. If Nigerians are still recalcitrant, lobby Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi to sponsor a bill on hate speech.

In Buhari’s military democracy, there are saints and sinners. You can be accused of illicitly purchasing houses in Abuja as a serving minister and the president will spray you some colourful deodorants. If you don’t believe me, ask the minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu. Maybe you can ask Saint Rotimi Amaechi who has never given or accepted bribes in his life.

Now you know why I opted for the title of this piece. I can go on and on. The absurdities that have become the norms in this government are nauseating. For me, these things are unacceptable. I am sorry if my position offends you. Everyone can’t be mad and keep mute. We must speak up.

Let’s go back to the main gist. When the Senate passed its own version of the Electoral Amendment Bill in 2017, it didn’t include sequencing. The House of Representatives, obviously more daring than the Senate which is populated by retired governors and ministers, included the clause when it considered the same bill.

In line with the practice in the National Assembly, a conference committee was set up by the leadership of the two chambers to harmonise the differences. In the end, both chambers, agreed and opted for the inclusion of Clause 25 in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. As soon as the Senate adopted its version of the bill, lucifer left heaven for the second time and hell was let loose.

Under the controversial sequence, the elections will start from that of the National Assembly, followed by governorship and State Assembly elections before the presidential election, as against earlier sequence rolled out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last year.

The INEC sequence had put presidential and National Assembly elections first before that of governorship and State Assembly elections.

Curiously, the Senate has become the epicenter of the war. As soon as the Senate passed it into law, some dissatisfied senators, addressed a press conference, where they rejected the sequencing. Senators Abdullahi Adamu, Ovie Omo-Agege, Abu Ibrahim, Benjamin Uwajumogu, Ali Wakil (now late), Abdullahi Gumel, Binta Masi, Yahaya Abdullahi, Andrew Uchendu and Umaru Kurfi, claimed that the sequencing was targeted at President Buhari.

Despite the stiff opposition, the two chambers may eventually rubbish Buhari and go ahead to override his veto. On Tuesday, March, 28th, the Senate commenced moves to officially override the veto of Buhari. The upper legislative chamber reintroduced the bill on the floor. The bill tagged SB 645, is being sponsored by Senator Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North).

Nazif is the chairman of the Senate committee on Electoral Matters. A similar bill was reintroduced on the floor of the House of Representatives a fortnight ago.

This is how the planned override will play out. The reintroduced bill has already passed first reading. In the coming weeks, it will be read for the second time. Depending on the decision of the leadership of the Senate, the bill will go through another public hearing. Once it is returned and read for the third time, through a two-thirds majority of members present, the bill will be passed into law. At this stage, the assent of President Buhari will no longer be required.

Will Buhari’s goons who can’t win any elections if the presidential poll doesn’t come first, allow this latest conspiracy to scale through? I doubt that. If you think you have seen lobbying, wait until the Senate resumes from its brief Easter break.

This is a military democracy and anything goes. In the end, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives may have the last laugh. But expect some hard knocks. If you are a lawmaker and you support this move to override Buhari’s veto and your file is with the EFCC, rest assured that you will be visited.

Let me wait here and enjoy my Easter holidays.

Happy Easter, Nigerians!

Senator Victor Umeh and his many enemies

On Wednesday, 28th March, Senator Victor Umeh who represents Anambra Central, sponsored a motion. In the motion, which was highly celebrated, the Senate called on the Federal Government to include the Eastern Rail Lines in its ongoing standardisation programme and reflect same in the 2018 Appropriation Bill for implementation.

The Senate also called on the Federal Government to restore services. On the Eastern Rail Lines which is currently out of use.

The upper legislative chamber also charged the Federal Government to include the Eastern Rail Lines of the Nigerian Railways as on of the beneficiaries of the $6.8 billion loan approved towards the standardisation and modernisation of the Nigerian Railways.

Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, in his remarks, said the continuous marginalisation of the South South and South East, will always lead to unrest. He said until the two geopolitical zones are included in the ongoing modernisation project, lawmakers will not stop talking.

Senators Ahmad Lawan, Chukwuka Utazi, Adamu Aliero and others who intervened, called for the supported the motion.

Umeh in his lead debate, noted: “The Eastern Narrow Rail Lines of the Nigerian Railways (originating from Port-Harcourt going through South-East to the Northern parts of Nigeria) are now in a deplorable condition notwithstanding the Federal Government’s rekindled determination to resuscitate the nation’s Rail Transport System.

“Presently, the Eastern Rail Lines are not in use and trains no longer ply these routes in moving people and goods in and out of the old Eastern Region leading to decline in economic activities.

“The deplorable condition of the Eastern Rail Lines of the Nigerian Railways has increased the cost of transportation, commodities and job creation in Nigeria, bearing in mind that modern rail transport system is one of the fastest, safest and easiest means of transporting people and commodities from one destination to another, as well as offering employment to many of the citizens of the country.”

This move didn’t obviously get down well with some ‘enemies’ of the senator. As soon as I filed my story for the day, some elements went to the social media and claimed that the lawmaker was shamed and his motion was thrown out. I was also challenged to buy into this falsehood. I obviously ignored the move.

But something got me worried. People can play politics. That is okay. But pulling another man down doesn’t lift you up. It doesn’t add any value to you. Until Umeh joined the Senate in January, the South East had only four senators who could boldly speak for the Igbo. Ekweremadu, Eyinnaya Abaribe, Chukwuka Utazi and Mao Ohuabunwa were the only four senators. Now, you have Umeh who has joined the league. Rather than vilify him, appreciate what he is doing for the Igbo in the Senate.

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