Looking back... at things said in the light of today (part 3)
PRESCRIPT: We found the contents of this article, which had its edited version published in a prominent Nigerian newspaper, uncannily similar to the American situation. It's reproduction was irresistible. The writer's concerns bear a graphic resemblance to the American dilemma. I never thought I would see the day a so-called third world predicament would be comparable to that of the greatest nation on earth. It was for us, a terrible commentary on America's state of affairs.
This Day Newspapers
35 Creek Road
Friday, 7 April 2006
Democracy, Power and Terror.
"Bad laws give upthrust to disruptive tendencies that guarantee democracy's demise. They are the rhythm between the bandit and his horse and it is the illusion of invincibility which they create in the minds of leaders that disable the rule of law and accountability in government...
The exigencies of government, politics and war cannot be allowed to amend or install laws that chew up our self-worth and Democracy's essence. Impositions accommodated by jubilant expectations, nervous submission or fear, only point to a frightful turn of events...
The real terror is for democracy to go off on a tangent and decay into warlord nodes and primitive atrocities, especially, in stressed out nations such as ours. The only way to celebrate democracy and find the secured and fulfilled life is to uplift the dignity of man and add value to it; this is the real duty leaders owe to God and country."
By Michael .O. Dibiaezue
Democracy is the air that I breathe and God with the golden opportunities of a free world are my best reasons for living. The freedoms of Democracy are its pulse and the individual's right of way in life, deduct from them and the scale of power tilts away from the people. Its joy are the rule of law, civil liberties, equal opportunities and freedoms that let people be the best they can be, in its celebration of life.
Sadly, all over the world today, laws are getting increasingly discriminatory and offensive as people are fitted into tagged boxes; religion, nationality, sex, colour, wealth and even by cash carried, weight and preferences. Unusual laws are in place, which appear to severely impair free speech, freedom of worship, association, movement and assembly, property and privacy laws; the freedoms of Democracy.
Domestic policies place ordinary citizens and visitors under the microscope, innovative electronic surveillance, enriched data pools, exceptionable laws and every conceivable prying device are being infused to bolster an already intense security watch and invade privacy. People are petrified and driven into a chronic sense of insecurity that allow governments and their representatives to pass politically convenient laws that wash away freedoms and liberties, our right to ask hard questions and are difficult to reverse. There is no locomotion for the common man.
The McCain-Feingold Act which is made in America, to deal with politically incorrect speech, is a solid sucker punch that knocks out their first amendment and a bad example of how to gag citizens that may have inspired tyrannical leadership around the globe. America must understand that to many people she is the very definition of democracy and to quite a decent few, God's own country.
What does politically incorrect speech mean in the full glare of any citizen's democratically guaranteed and constitutionally protected rights of comment, dissent and legal concern? The Patriot Act, Homeland Security laws, Domestic Surveillance program, proposed new American immigration laws, French labor laws and others being put in place around the world, to my mind, permit employers, aloof government officials and spooky security agents, in the first instance, to seize property, shut down businesses, dismiss people from places of employment without due notice and compensation, deport immigrants without proper consideration and forcibly take people into custody. And in less endowed societies, remove incumbents, governments and duly constituted authority.
Meanness, ulterior motive, bruised ego, the look on a face, boredom, impulse or just brazen covetousness is all it takes, most times, to inflict these abuses. Arbitrary powers of arrest and seizure, coupled to the denial of immediate access to legal recourse, say we are guilty until proven innocent beyond all doubt. This is characteristic of a police state and not democracy. People pay for system-failures of governments with the erosion of their natural rights and freedoms when it is bully policies sped by government ego that promote most conflicts around the world. Terrorism and the decadence of societies tattoo inconsequential leaderships.
It is impossible not to feel endangered when people are terrorized but the feeling is mutual where counter-terrorism and anti-corruption measures deny others the joy of democracy. It is not personal inconveniences, time wasted, opportunities and income lost that are the issues here but the severe corrosion caused to democracy by the arbitrariness generated by these pursuits and the numbing run of body bags brought about by their resistance and enforcement.
In Nigeria, all our sorrows flow from a seriously flawed constitution and undemocratic system that has made our anguish continual and excruciating, showcasing total corruption and treachery, committed by ill-bred leaders and facilitated by ill-conceived laws. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines constitution as the system of basic laws and principles that a democratic country is governed by, which cannot be easily changed by the political party in power. This is to say, the nature of such laws define a democratic country and not the bent of any political party in power.
Any proposed amendment or change, therefore, to the 1999 constitution that is unpopular and unconstitutional can only be an imposition, by the party in power. Such impositions must set aside the constitution and impose change and leadership, which by another name would be called a coup. The implication would be clear, Alamieyeseigha, the King can do no wrong! I do not like the feel of things and it is starting to look like some crazy rehearsal at playing Caesar that is so lost in the 21st century.
I do not see constitutional democracy in the natural state of our constitution, what I see is a vexatious bundle of imperial laws brought to pretentious reality by our joyous abandon and democratic anxiety. It is a constitution fitted by and for people in power and government. From revenue to accountability, it is rigged for their evasive action and lordship. I see an assemblage of contradictions woven into erratic laws and thrown into space to manage vacuum, military subterfuge installed by a decadent esprit de corps.
Reviewing such a constitution would be an exercise in futility because you cannot build on what does not exist. It was conceived by anti-democratic forces for their protection and comfort while out of power. So, the question must remain, why recondition a useless vehicle from the military when you can build a brand new one at the same cost? I believe the 1999 constitution wallows in national disgust and that its natural demise will be the event to cut us loose from an odious past and a dreadful military hangover, induced by barracks terror and mentality.
The expectation is that laws will change in response to popular demand and criminal genius but with exemplary respect for democratic values and the dignity of man. Discriminatory laws that impose leadership and deny citizens constitutional rights lend an immoral hand that gives criminal advantage to politicians. Such laws are intolerable and do not define democracy.
People do not give up their rights to free speech, oxygen and suffrage or that to exercise choice and seek legal redress. It is outrageous to say any democratic nation does, or more to the point, silly to imply a people-installed constitution demands it. This is ludicrous as it excavates the basis for justice, equity and fair hearing which are true benchmarks for the rule of law. Freezing out the soul of a constitution and the inviolate-given that all men are equal before God and the law, with exceptionable and discriminatory laws, that provide constitutional cover for politicians to perpetually hang on to power, commit atrocities and spread terror at the expense of our well-being, freedoms, liberties and dignity is anti-people, provocative and oppressive. It is exactly like when an alarm goes off.
It is uniquely immoral when a people's desire for change and laws said to be derived from them, under God and country, for our salvation and remedy, become instruments that deprive us of the most important thing that we cherish as a people; the right to pick and choose our leaders. By this, such laws stop being for the common good and become impositions or evil tools that lead to abuse and depravity.
In Nigeria, these symptoms appear vivid as the fizz looks to have left the champagne. There are serious issues pertaining to Elections 2007, constitutional democracy, galloping arbitrariness, waning judicial clout, executive interference (some would say executive recklessness and lawlessness) and democratic longevity. My grief is not only over the arbitrariness generated by these situations but their tactical applications to political 'wars', in ways that pervert the rule of law and the celebration of democracy.
Bad laws come into effect when clear constitutional provisions for their enactments are not followed. The 1999 constitution clearly provides in Section 9, steps that must be followed before its contents can be amended or changed. The very first constitutional step is that the intention to so do (a Bill) must be presented to the National Assembly, detailing all such proposed amendments or alterations. The next step after this compliance deals with the actual passing of such a Bill or the observance of legislative protocol by the National Assembly. This observance, the resolution of two-thirds of the Houses of Assembly of our thirty-six states and the President's assent pronounce consent (an Act) for the alteration or amendment of such a constitution.
We all know, for a fact, that such a Bill was never gazetted by government or the National Assembly or read before the Senate or House of Representatives in compliance with legislative protocol and as demanded by our constitution. It should be said also, that the setting up of any committee in respect of such an amendment must come after the Senate or House consents to such a Bill. Let me be the first to admit that the Mantu committee is for the review of the constitution and not for its amendment, but this fact notwithstanding, Nigerians still need to know how its findings can be said to represent the views of Nigerians, by any stretch of the wildest imagination.
And considering this, how the National Assembly can co-opt its findings as the desire of Nigerians in all good conscience. What we witnessed was the flash of a two-day public hearing for well over a hundred million Nigerians induced by some joint committee of the National Assembly that appears to have no constitutional connectivity with us. Apparently lacking in thorough and widespread consultations, the Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution must pretend to powers it does not have if it must claim to be speaking for Nigerians.
In this light, there can be no excuse for a third term or tenure extension outside the provisions of our present constitution. Any purported constitutional amendment that enthrones such a desire for any incumbent must surely violate the terms, expectations and spirit of constitutional democracy.
There is no doubt in my mind that President Obasanjo is a really good man, who has done remarkably well with the interest of our nation at heart. But we must look beyond the good leader and carefully weigh the consequences of such impositions against the danger it may portend for our nation, presently and in the future. The price could be calamitous to this nation and to Obasanjo's enviable track record.
Bad laws give upthrust to disruptive tendencies that guarantee democracy's demise. They are the rhythm between the bandit and his horse and it is the illusion of invincibility which they create in the minds of leaders that disable the rule of law and accountability in government. Besides, even where a good leader may derive some usefulness from them there are no guarantees to what use the next man on the saddle will put them. This fear motivates a reluctance to leave office when the bell tolls and is a most persuasive factor in the sit-tight mentality that afflicts most African leaders.
The exigencies of government, politics and war cannot be allowed to amend or install laws that chew up our self-worth and democracy's essence. Impositions accommodated by jubilant expectations, nervous submission or fear, only point to a frightful turn of events. It is my fervent prayer for these 'wars' not to flow into violent conflicts sequenced to domestic turbulence.
The real terror is for democracy to go off on a tangent and decay into warlord nodes and primitive atrocities, especially, in stressed out nations such as ours. The only way to celebrate democracy and find the secured and fulfilled life is to uplift the dignity of man and add value to it; this is the real duty leaders owe to God and country. Where they fail, things will continue to look like Iraq, Afghanistan or, as it now seems, Nigeria 's Niger Delta. We must not kid ourselves; these are the patterns of hell.
This article was originally posted by Egoigwe to this blog on Monday, October 30, 2006 under the header "Democracy, Power and Terror"