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THAT THIS DEMOCRACY MAY NOT CRASH

By NBF News

Trust the Nigerian. He or she can always excuse every or conduct fraught with potentially unpleasant consequences. The other day, there was violent eruption on the floor of House of Representatives, Abuja. The disturbing incident portrayed a grim picture of motor-park showdown with the dresses of combatants in various attractive designs only minutes earlier, virtually shredded into pieces although manually, by the time the adjudged culprits were being led out.

These supposed legislators were arguing on an understandable disagreement, which is part of everyday human activity.

The latest showdown came barely a year after a similar delinquent exercise resulted in the sudden death of one of the legislators who collapsed during violent exchanges. The deceased member of House of Representatives could have developed cardiac arrest from exhaustion, hypertension or shock. All we knew was that the man died.

To rationalize their misconduct, our legislators would always classify it as part of evolution of democracy as happened or even still happens in Thailand and Japan. Perhaps so but should that be the most attractive model of democracy in action to us in Nigeria?

Rather, why not the civilized conduct democracy in British, French, German, Australian, Austrian parliaments and American Congress?

Yet, both sides in the violent row in the House of Representatives could have been more reasonable instead of exercising a seeming legitimate legislative power in the wrong way. For example, it might have been out of order for the dissidents to have gone public with allegations of suspected wrong doings by the house leadership. It might also have been self-serving of the dissidents since they were in return, accused of grumbling. Only because they lost out in the scheme of things.

All these would not detract from their legislative obligation to expose even merely perceived wrong-doings. The only caution is that there is a procedure under the rules and regulations of the house. There is also the law as applies world-wide and not peculiar to Nigeria. An allegation of financial impropriety was made and that should have been on the floor of the house. Was that procedure followed? If not, surely the dissidents harmed their case. If they made the allegation on the floor of the house (and nobody has so claimed) why did the members not follow the rules by probing the allegations as was the case with ex-Speaker Patricia Etteh last time?

Obviously, there might be no majority support for such a probe. Frustrating? Sometimes, even democracy, as an ass, can consume a good cause.

There was consequently the press conference at which the dissidents served the house leadership a notice to quit within seven days or be faced with public expose of the allegations of misappropriation of public funds. Such demand for resignation, apart from breaking the law and constitution, would also imply admission of guilt by Speaker Dimeji Bankole for all the allegations.

He therefore found refuge in legitimate technicality that the law should take its course. Something like, if you accuse a man of murder, you don't just hang him without his constitutional right of trial and fair hearing to defend himself. It was a defiance, and in effect, a trap (by Bankole) into which his accusers foolishly fell by releasing the documented allegations to the press, still without making the allegations on the floor of the House of Representatives, thereby falling foul of the legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act; as claimed by a member on the day of the violent showdown.

So far, only eleven members of the House of Representatives have been courageous enough to come out fighting even if in breach of house rules. With only such negligible number in a membership of more than three hundred and fifty, they clearly face a difficult task. Perhaps, that might explain the dissidents' next port of call, the EFCC with their documented allegations. Chairman Farida Waziri appropriately responded to the complainants that the allegations would be duly investigated even if with a major slip of prejudicially lumping the lower chamber as a 'House of scandals.'

At that stage, the dissidents should have waited for the EFCC findings to determine the fate of everybody involved - the accusers and the accused. Instead, the accusers still proceeded to demand the instant resignation of Speaker Dimeji Bankole. We must learn to follow standard procedure in all matters - constitutional, legislative, criminal etc. That is what justice and fairness dictate. The critical minority in the house might even have a good cause but they handled their matter poorly. It would have been a different issue if for example Bankole presides over EFCC or the EFCC reports to the Speaker of House of Representatives.

Owing to the outright disregard for the house rules and regulations, it was inevitable that a member of the house would claim that either his parliamentary privilege or House of Representatives privilege or both had been breached by the allegations of corruption made outside the House especially as deposited at the EFCC which rightly or wrongly convinced EFCC chairman to conclude that the lower parliamentary chamber is a 'house of scandals.'

From all that happened, there was no way Dino Malaye and his supporters who made the allegations could have escaped sanctions by their colleagues. Noticeably, Malaye and Company might not necessarily be guilty of making the allegations but might be faulted for not following the rules and regulations of the House.

When therefore those to be tried by the house for alleged breach of privilege, violently aborted the house proceedings by grabbing official papers, tearing same to pieces and throwing everything on the floor, they were not helping matters. In fact, they were unconsciously denying themselves the opportunity to give their own side of the story even if only for record purposes.

Dino Malaye, in particular should have learnt from his brother in the Senate, incidentally, also from Kogi State. Senator Smart Adeyemi was widely reported in the media to have, during a visit to EFCC, called on chairman Farida Waziri to probe members of the Senate for alleged corruption. A fellow Senator made an instant complaint on the floor of the Senate that his privilege (as a Senator) had been breached by Senator Adeyemi's implied description of him as a corrupt member of the National Assembly. The complainant (Senator) then demanded that Smart Adeyemi's reported allegation should be investigated and proved.

Senator Smart Adeyemi did not go violent to obstruct the complainant or Senate proceedings. Instead, Senator Adeyemi allowed his colleague to conclude his speech and thereafter (Smart Adeyemi that is) took the opportunity to clear himself by denying the reports (of corruption in the Senate) credited to him. The Senate leadership accordingly passed the complaint of breach of Senate privilege to the appropriate committee to be investigated. The report is still to be submitted. Smart Adeyemi was suspended because he comported himself. If proceedings had not been disrupted on the floor of House of Representatives, the self-styled progressive group might also have defended themselves or at the worst, the appropriate committee would have been directed to investigate the matter.

How about quitting? That is wrong. There is this mob mentality that once an allegation is made, the accused is necessarily guilty. Anybody can be a target for such allegation if only to get rid of him. Should that be the case, no public office holder will be safe. For example, when state governors or their deputies are accused or listed for impeachment, such allegations are statutorily investigated by a panel which will return its verdict to determine the fate of the accused. There should be no mistake about it. Dimeji Bankole may still be vulnerable to removal or resignation. That is why time should be allowed for EFCC to conclude its investigations.

We forget so soon in this country. Ex-Speaker Patricia Etteh was removed or voluntarily quit last time. But that was only after (a) the allegations were made on the floor of the house (b) she herself referred the allegations to an appropriate committee for necessary investigations. The debate on the report of the committee was not allowed to take of until she stepped down on the ground that she could not be a judge in a matter to determine her fate. If on that occasion, the report was deliberately influenced against her, the current allegations of the house dissidents against Speaker Dimeji Bankole are being investigated by EFCC, not in any way vulnerable to the influence of any faction in the dispute.

What is more in 1956, late Adegoke Adelabu was Federal Minister of social services. To get rid of him, his political enemies in the defunct west regional government instituted a probe of allegations of corruption during his tenure as chairman of Ibadan District Council, a post he quit two years earlier. The Nicholson Commission report pronounced Adelabu guilty of the charges and he had to resign as Federal Minister. West regional government still proceeded to prosecute him for alleged corruption. It turned out that the corruption allegation of an administrative inquiry could not be sustained in law.

Adegoke Adelabu was found not guilty by the court. Discharged and acquitted, the man could not regain his ministerial appointment. In modern times, Obasanjo accused ex-Internal Affairs Minister, Sunday Afolabi, Permanent Secretary Turi Akerele and Okwesilize Nwodo of alleged corruption. They were tried but found not guilty and acquitted.

The same Okwesilise Nwodo is back today as national chairman of PDP.

Again, ex-Education Minister Professor Osuji, ex-Senate President Adolplus Wabara and some Senators were accused by Obasanjo of alleged corruption. The court found all of them not guilty and were discharged and acquitted. With all these precedents, the EFCC should be allowed to conclude investigations to determine Dimeji Bankole's fate. On his part, Dimeji Bankole should keep clear of a possible intimidation of those legitimately performing their duties even if in favour of his opponents. A printer preparing alleged anti-Bankole vests somewhere in Abuja was reportedly arrested by security agents. There is no law against printing anti-Bankole vests. The only protest he can make is through the law if he is libeled in the process.

That is civil prosecution. As it is possible he was not involved, Bankole must request the security agents concerned to release the innocent printer without any conditions and immediately too. Dimeji Bankole must be a big man indeed. Apart from the EFCC probe of the allegations against him, the ICPC is also investigating the same allegations. That is, there is no room for him to escape.

On the other hand, should the two anti-corruption agencies clear him of the corrupt allegations, no public office holder will walk taller than the Speaker of House of Representatives.

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