BY SIMON REEF MUSA
Last week, a video clip on the violation of the parliamentarian right of Rep Mark Terseer Gbillah by Deputy Speaker Idris Ahmed Wase went viral. During the plenary session conducted by the Deputy Speaker, Gbillah, who represents Gwer East/Gwer West Federal Constituency of Benue State, was denied the privilege of presenting a petition written by Tivs living in America on the flimsy reason that the petitioners were not residing in Nigeria.
It is categorical to note here that Rep Wase was simply out to frustrate the submission of the petition by the Benue lawmaker. Wase’s infuriating arrogance and ignorance all in open display sparked off disparagement for such legislative misconduct. Without demonstrating any superior knowledge of why he was shooting down the petition, the deputy speaker simply resorted to using the gavel to rule out the submission of the petition.
The unethical legislative display of the deputy speaker could not have scaled through without the loud silence of other House members who looked unconcerned as Rep Wase slammed the door against the petition by ‘Mutual Union of the Tiv in America’. It is obvious that the nobility in Gbillah might have prevented him from engaging in seizing the mace and other forms of parliamentary banditry to assert his right.
Wase’s adversarial disposition against a fellow lawmaker has been described by many citizens as amounting to the desecration of the rights and privileges of parliamentarians. Many Nigerians had wondered why Rep Gbillah had caved in easily without upturning some of the tables and chairs to demonstrate his anger. More worrisome, some citizens have been quick to condemn the silence of other lawmakers who kept silent and allowed such a despicable act of violation to go unchallenged.
Last week’s drama in the lower chamber of the National Assembly only showed how leadership of the House could sometimes deploy tyrannical fangs to violate rights of members or subjugate rights of others that are opposed to the prevailing status quo. It is clear that it was not within the powers of the deputy speaker to determine the merit(s) and demerit(s) of the petition in question. Secondly, the petitioners, being Nigerians living in America, were writing on insecurity and the attendant suffering unleashed on citizens living in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps in Benue state.
From the altercation that ensued during the plenary session last Thursday, it was apparent that Rep Wase was not favourably disposed to Gbillah’s submission of the petition. The rebuttal and semblance of defence that was later released by Wase’s media minders were not only embarrassing but was deficiently crafted to explain why the horse had bolted away.
Come to think of it, does one need to reside in the country to feel the pains of those affected by insecurity, especially the degrading inhuman conditions in IDP camps? If Nigerians living in the Diaspora can be allowed to remit billions of dollars home, why then should they not be allowed to raise serious concerns on issues regarding the state of IDP camps in Benue communities where they hail from? Of course, there can be no better example of gross rights violation than denying a lawmaker the privilege of presenting a petition to highlight the suffering of his constituents.
Presently, Nigeria’s democracy is being assaulted due to the ignorant disposition of lawmakers at both state and federal level in performing their duties. Our lawmakers are majorly more concerned with defending selfish interests than what they were elected to do. Little wonder, some of these lawmakers end up warming benches and pursuing contracts to enrich themselves and stockpile money to buy their way at the next election.
Our democracy runs the risk of being atrophied if we continue to allow many people that should ordinarily not be allowed into our lawmaking chambers have their shadows darken the hallowed chambers of lawmaking. Taking advantage of our flawed system that has continued to throw up political leadership in the most uncertain manner, these lawmakers have taken advantage of the commercialization of politics to entrench their relevance in order to perpetuate their significance.
Amidst the struggle to restructure our nation and put it on a firm path of development, the presence of a weak legislative chamber is a recipe to chaos for the nation’s democratic structures. The legislature, being the bastion of democracy, cannot be rendered feeble by lawmakers who must at all times rise to the defence of the electorate that elected them to serve. For democracy to thrive, the legislature must always rise to the defence of the liberty of the Nigerian people and to the defence of their lives and property.
It is unfortunate that Rep Gbillah allowed himself to be bullied by Rep Wase whose major pre-occupation was to scuttle the submission of the petition. The Benue lawmaker should have noted that his presence at the lower chamber is to serve his constituent and not allow a first among equals to intimidate him into submission. Out of the fear of veiled tyranny that has been associated with our democracy, Gbillah needed no petition from Tivs from USA to draw attention of both local and international community to the horrifying conditions of his people, following the ceaseless attacks on his communities by criminal herdsmen and the inhuman conditions bedeviling IDP camps in the state.
Those who think that our democracy is for the enthronement of one ethnic group over others are victims of a self-inflicted complex. For lawmakers who kept silent in the face of virulent attack on parliamentarian rights, their silence has not only emboldened anti-democratic forces, but also weakened democracy in the country.
As a nation battling a new wave of insecurity that is driving us down the slope of crippling uncertainties, what citizens expect of lawmakers is an untrammeled resolve to stand up for citizens’ rights as enshrined in our nation’s constitution. To achieve this, lawmakers must recognise the fact that they were elected by the people to represent them, no matter whose ox is gored.
As lawmakers, their failures as an arm of a government have manifested in the myriad of problems militating against the development of our country. They must stand up for the electorate and stop playing politics of the stomach for their pecuniary interests. When next time we have another altercation similar to the Wase-Gbillah’s episode, every effort must be deployed, including parliamentarian banditry, to send a clear message that the powers of the majority are necessarily limited by the law to protect the rights of the minority. Democracy is not only for those who enjoy peace. Those who are victims of gross injustice and insecurity ravaging our land must also have their indignities and horrors told with the sole purpose of remedying them in our hallowed legislative chambers that are now becoming hollow.