On Fence Climbing By Legislators

She appears smarter than her 12 years age. I asked her: “Would you climb a fence to jump into a compound?” Her answer came as a surprise, “Why?” She did not say “yes” or “no”. It was not the answer that I expected but it was the same word that had been on my mind. Why?

On Thursday November 20 some members of the House of Representatives (parliamentarians) climbed the fence to gain entry into the National House of Assembly as the gate was shut by the police. The news made headlines across countries. The video and pictures of Nigerian lawmakers in various garbs climbing or sitting atop gate, rail fences were simultaneously sad, depressing, comical, and question arousing.

Ever since the incident, a lively debate has ensued. Reading the various views in support of and against the incident, I wondered whether I would have done the same thing.  To be able to answer the question I formulated a simple query – why would I do or not do it?

In a wider sense, many people see the motive of the legislators who climbed the fence as self- serving and far from any drive to do their job of serving the best interests of the nation. Others see it as part of the ongoing electoral campaign by political parties, inclusive of party hopping, money chasing, vision-lacking, power seeking characteristics of politicians across the political groups. Let us leave that aside for this article, true as they may be. The key concern here is the deed of fence jumping and its immediate issues.

Let me give three practical reasons why I would jump a fence. Firstly, if I am outside my home, and I have no keys or other ways to access home. Secondly, if it is the way to save someone who is in distress and needs urgent help that I can provide. Thirdly, if my life depends on it.

On the other hand what are three practical reasons why I would not jump a fence? Firstly, if it is not my house and it is somebody else’s property or space. Secondly, if, though it is an easy route to my destination, I shall be arrested and legally punished for doing it as it is illegal. Thirdly, if it will cost me my life and it is obviously not worth it, or it will cost the life of someone else.

Leading the charge in support of the action to date is Nobel Laureate and activist Wole Soyinka who has characterized it as heroic patriotism by the legislators. He called it “their finest” hour and in fulfillment of “their duty to the people”. A legal practitioner, Ogbu Blessing, wrote eloquently in the same vein and argued that the legislators had no other choice. If not, he said, “Nigerians could have been lamenting another rape of Nigerian democracy by a bunch of narcissistic megalomaniacs straddling the seats of government.”

Many commentators have called it an action deserving of national honours and expressed thanks to the actors. “Those who made peaceful legitimate entry into NASS (National Assembly or parliament) impossible, make scaling the fence inevitable,” one Abdulrahman Atta twitted.

Against the action, Catholic Archbishop of Lagos called it a “disgrace to the whole nation” and to governance. He wanted the legislators to have other ways of resolving differences, even whilst he said that the “police invasion” to block entry of legislators was wrong. The Nigeria Bar Association is quoted as saying “we watched in shock and disgust the show of shame that took place”. The NBA conceded though that “the selective manner in which some persons were allowed into the complex and others were shut out raises doubt in respect of the security report” of the Nigerian Police.

The Nigerian Police had said that they shut the gates against legislators due to a security report that alerted them to impending invasion of the National Assembly by hoodlums. There is no explanation though on why some legislators were already allowed into the NASS, and they happened to belong, mainly, to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and those who were shut out belonged to the chief opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC).

Another important fact is that the Speaker of the House who was to preside over the scheduled sitting by members was shut out. Despite his recent defection to the APC from PDP, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, remains Speaker until legal issues in court are resolved. In a similar situation I would expect that PDP would not accept to be shut out.

If I was a legislator and there on that date, would I climb the fence and jump into the complex? In accordance with the reasons stated earlier, it would make sense that the camera and video would find me astride the fence ready to cast my voice where I belonged.

Remember that the National Assembly is the home of legislators. It is not someone else’s place or space. I have no keys and no other ways to gain access into my home. There was to be a debate in the House on an issue of concern to the country which was in distress. According to reports, the House was to debate proposed emergency rule extension in some parts of the country due to Boko Haram’s relentless attacks. Lives of people depended on the decision that the House would make at that meeting.

Consider also that I could not be arrested for getting into my House nor would it amount to illegality the way I understand it. I would not need a lawyer, adviser, or analyst for me to see the sense in such an action. I would not sit on the fence. I would choose to climb and jump.

Walls and fences are made to serve human purposes. They should aid and not retard progress. The 140 kilometre long Berlin Wall constructed in 1961 stood for 28 years and fell when it could not withstand the thirst of peoples for a new existence. The Israel-Gaza wall, one of the most sophisticated barriers ever made, continues to be challenged by air and underground infiltration and attacks as it has not brought about desired peaceful co-existence.  The USA-Mexico border, 3169 kilometres long, generates intense passion among those who want US government to construct a wall, perhaps electrified, to stop illegal crossings versus those who see it as wasted investment because walls do not stop people. Trust, openness, prosperity, hope in the future lead to peace and harmony.

Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria. Twitter: @bunmimakinwa

This post first appeared on Sahara Reporters.

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