Democracy is founded on the time-tested principle of majority rule, by which it is accepted that the electorate is sovereign. Whenever there are serious issues of state to be settled between elections, the government turns to the people for a decision through referendum.
But, when an issue comes up during the electioneering campaign, the electorate settles it through the ballot box. By the same token, all institutions of state are run along the democratic principle.
The legislature, in particular, comprising elected representatives from constituencies, takes decisions by ascertaining the majority position. This, however, has been violated many times in Nigeria as is the extant case in Edo State.
Governor Godwin Obaseki has turned democracy on its head by running a legislature of 24 members with only nine members for almost a year. This is patently indefensible. In effect, the people from 15 constituencies have been shut out of the process by a governor who has turned himself into a Leviathan.
Against the letters and spirit of the 1999 Constitution, the governor chose who to recognise while proclaiming the House of Assembly in June, last year. He carefully ensured that the Clerk of the House shut out those he believed to be loyal to his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole.
Since then, despite intervention by the National Assembly and the ruling party, Governor Obaseki has been illegally using the minority to run the state legislature – passing the Appropriation Bill into law and making essential appointments requiring legislative affirmation.
It is unfortunate that the governor has found an ally in the judiciary that is expected to be neutral in adjudicating matters referred to it and ensuring that justice is done at all times in accordance with the law of the land.
Till date, the judiciary has been used to frustrate getting to the root of the matter, through subterfuge. This is a dangerous turn of events as it may become a template for others in the executive arm at various levels of government.
Whereas the constitution says the National Assembly could take over the functions of a fractious state House of Assembly, the Obaseki ‘club of lawmakers’ in Edo State has disingenuously found a way of preventing the National Assembly from exercising the powers conferred on it by section 11 (4) and (5) of the supreme law of the country. The correct interpretation of the law in this respect is still being awaited from the court.
Politicians should realise that disputes should not in any way frustrate the intendment and fundamental principles of democracy, the basis on which they solicited and received the people’s mandate.
They should also realise that such actions as taken in the instant case in Edo could affect the confidence of the electorate in the ballot box and lead to resort to self-help. There should be a limit to rascality.
Given recent experiences, we expect the judicial officers to come up with new rules to save the courts from wanton abuse by politicians. Unless confidence of the people in the judiciary is fully restored, more people may be taking to jungle justice in settling disputes.
The National Assembly, too, should seize the opportunity of ongoing review of the constitution to spell out procedure for proclaiming the legislature, be it at the state or federal level. In proclaiming a state legislature, the governor should be clearly mandated to publish it in major print and electronic media within a specified time.
However, politicians need to call themselves to order as the best of laws cannot stop those who have made up their minds to spot and explore loopholes.
In many countries, conventions are as strongly obeyed as laws. This has become imperative if Nigeria is to escape the bind and become a decent society.