If the wind blows out Dino Melaye
The political fate of Senator Dino Melaye now hangs in the balance. It is nothing to gloat about. It is something to groan about.
INEC began on July 10 the verification of the names and signatures of the petitioners in his Kogi west senatorial district in Kogi State who want him recalled from the Senate. 90 days from that date, Melaye would either become an ex-senator, done in arguably by the power of the electorate; or he will remain in the upper legislative chamber as a poster child of the poorly armed David against the Goliath of incipient megalomania.
And our democracy would both lose and gain from the experience. But what is happening to Melaye should be of more than passing interest to the rest of us. Arguably, it is no more than a constitutional argument between the people’s representative in the Senate and the people themselves, and should, therefore, not excite undue national attention or concern. Mark that with an X.
This, clearly, is not an argument between the senator and his people. It is the naked use of assumed absolutist power by the youthful governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who, since his assumption of office in 2015 has made intolerance and the lack of democratic temperament the hallmark of his governance. Pity this pathetic country.
Our constitution permits the voters to recall those they put in the Senate or the House of Representatives if they are satisfied that such people are doing less than properly representing, protecting and advancing their common interests. Section 69 of the constitution provides as follows:
A member of the Senate or of the House of Representative may be recalled as such a member if – there is presented to the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission a petition in that behalf by more one-half of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency alleging their loss of confidence in that member; and
the petition is, thereafter, in a referendum conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission within 90 days of the date of the receipt of the petition, approved by a simple majority of the votes of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency.
(Emphasis added). It is an important constitutional provision whose import can be viewed in one of two ways: positive and negative. One way to look at it is to see it as representing a continuous rather than a periodic empowerment of the electorate over their legislative representatives. It means that a legislator who warms his seat and feathers his own over-sized nest in the Senate or the House of Representatives need not wait for the four-year electoral circle to get his comeuppance and be thrown on the dust bin of political history.
The other way to look at it is to see it as a dangerous and lethal power in the hands, not of the voters, but of the state governors. This is the way it is being used by Bello in the current case. The people were obviously induced or forced by the governor to be used as willing tools in his disagreements with the senator. This crass use of the constitutional provision was not, to sound lawyerly, the intendment of the framers of the constitution. It derogates from responsible governance because it treats dissent as a crime rather than as a fundamental right given and protected by our constitution.
I think it would be a fundamental mistake to treat it as democracy in action. It is not. We should see it as portending a dangerous trend in the country. I am willing to bet that there are other state governors keenly watching this to see which way the wind blows. If it blows out Melaye, it would be a signal for them to use the said Section 69 of the constitution to settle scores with their intra-party political enemies by strangling or hanging them - constitutionally. Talk of the law being the famous best of burden.
I do not have the legislative records of Melaye but my safe guess is that he is not in any way worse than the other two senators from Kogi State; or from other parts of the country for that matter. It is no secret that he is feuding with Bello. The feuding degenerated into the current show of power. Bello has the financial means and the constitution to cage Melaye and either force him to genuflect before him, a temporal god on the throne, to save himself or throw himself under the governor’s moving train and be politically crushed.
I cannot assess the quality of Melaye’s contributions to debates in the Senate. But he does make his case on national debates. I have never heard Bello make any such contributions to how this country should best be governed or united.
Yes, Melaye is vocal and cerebral. He was once engaged in a scuffle in the House of Representatives in which his clothes were torn. But he carried on, undeterred by his humiliation. And yes, he is not always diplomatic in his disagreements with the views of other politicians, high and low and those at the same level with him. As witness his once telling Adams Oshiomhole, former governor of Edo State, to lead by example of patronising made in Nigeria by marrying a Nigerian. But these are neither constitutional offences nor offences against the people in his constituency.
These are personal quirks, which may offend some and amuse others. If politicians were to be impaled on the cross for their often outrageous behaviour, not many of them would be left standing. More importantly, it is patently wrong for Bello to elevate a personal disagreement into a serious state affair for which he feels justified to recruit the people to do his dirty work. Politicians will always disagree or agree to disagree. This is in the nature of politics here and elsewhere in the world.
Deny politicians the knives with which to stab their fellow politicians in the back and politics becomes a dull and predicable game. Bello stands on shaky grounds in his detestable misuse of his executive powers. Those powers should be used to build, not to destroy for no better reason than that he is the governor of Kogi State. He may misuse his powers absolutely but the constitution does not confer on him absolute powers.
The information I keep getting from Kogi State refers to the poor performance or more correctly lack of performance on the part of Bello. He is not able to pay civil servants’ salaries and pension to those who served the country and are now in their twilight zone. On assumption of office, he vandalised the beautification projects done by his predecessors in Lokoja. I do not think he did it because he lacks the basic sense of beauty. He did it because he believed then and believes now that he has the powers to do anything. Heard of a tin dictator recently?
So, it seems to me that if the people of Kogi State were to freely choose, who, between Bello and Melaye, remains in office, they would clearly vote out Bello. Luck is on his side. The constitution makes no provisions for the recall of state governors. And given that state legislators eat out of the hands of their governors, poorly-performing governors have insured tenure. If you put out a trash can for them, it would remain empty.
The Kogi case throws up what we try to ignore – the power of the state governors and the sickening incipient dictatorship among the state governors. They exercise the power and the right to put people in elective offices. Should they also decide that those who do not lick their boots should be sacrificed on their private altars? It boggles the mind.
The state governors invariably see themselves as military governors in mufti. Most of them have no modicum of respect for or tolerate the little niceties that make democracy the preferred form of government in the majority of countries. They have no democratic temperament. If you disagree with their asinine views and actions, you are a marked man.
It is the cynical debasement of the government of the people by the people. Democracy has no room for these pockets of dictatorship by men too small-minded to understand and appreciate the nuances of good governance and their sacred responsibilities in making our republic a pleasant work in progress.
Nor should we forget the eternal damage to the Nigerian state and our psyche by our very flawed leadership recruitment process. It is fatuous to think that a high public office would necessarily make those who come by it through this detestable process good leaders. Leadership is not learned on the throne. Nor does money confer on those who have it leadership as well as human and resource management qualities. I have no empirical evidence that you can cure mediocrity by the appurtenances of power.
I know I am calling attention to what most of us do not have the luxury to spare a thought for. So, brother, weep for a shackled nation.