The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, at the weekend in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, dissociated himself from an alleged statement insinuating that he was calling for a military coup in the country.
The senator, who spoke at the Diepreye Alaimeyeseigha Memorial Banquet Hall, Onopa, when the state Governor, Seriake Dickson, hosted him and other parliamentarians from African countries to a dinner, maintained that his comments on the floor of the red chambers were misconstrued.
He insisted that he would never make derogatory statements against the Nigerian military which he said remains one of the best fighting forces on the continent, stressing that statements made by lawmakers in the course of their duty should be situated within the proper context before any form of reaction.
However, the military, through a statement by the Director of Defence Information, Brig Gen John Agim, had argued that Ekweremadu’s comments “in the true sense, has the capacity to denigrate the Nigerian military in every ramification, including its loyalty to the president, commander in-chief of the armed forces and the confidence of the public to defend Nigeria’s democracy.”
But the deputy Senate president noted that parliamentarians have a duty to continue to defend democracy in the country, arguing that the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is the parliament which should ordinarily provide direction for the sustenance of democracy.
He added that his remarks on the floor of the Senate chambers were to caution his colleague politicians to avoid the mistakes of the past which inevitably led to the abrupt end of the first republic.
“Before I close, let me just tell you one unfortunate incident that happened last week. We had one of our colleagues from Kogi State who was hosting a constituency briefing and empowerment. He alleged that the state government sponsored thugs to come and chase away people and destroy the programme and equipment he bought for his people.
“We condemned such acts, especially where in a particular case, the property of a parliamentarian was destroyed. We condemned a case whereby parliamentarians were stopped from holding meetings and where a parliamentarian was stopped from coming to a state where he was governor for eight years.
“We warned that it was this kind of reckless abuse of power and impunity that scuttled our democracy earlier, especially in the first republic and I cautioned that politicians should not take things for granted.
“Of course, some people took it out of context and said I was calling for a military coup. I never called for a military coup. I never said the military was planning any coup. If you read some parts of the military statement, they admitted that my statement and contribution were only cautionary and that we were sincere, but they went as far as saying the international community should ignore me,” Ekweremadu said.
According to him, the Nigerian military is currently passing through one of its toughest phases, fighting to keep the peace, which he said was the more reason they should be supported, rather than denigrated.
He added: “I am not asking for an apology, I am only asking for understanding. I hold the Nigerian army and the armed forces in high regard. They are some of the best in Africa. They have defended our democracy, and have acquitted themselves in every assignment.
“So, I am indeed very proud of them. I am one of those people who believe that even our NYSC should be restructured to include some form of military training because they can bring the necessary discipline that can help advance the values of our system.”
He said further: “So, I have no reason to degrade our military. If they need anything now, it is encouragement because this is not the best of times for them. So, I call on all Nigerians to give them the necessary encouragement. But we do hope that when parliamentarians make statements, they (military) should be able to know exactly what they said before reacting.
“Sometimes, you react unfavourably and unfairly to the person who made the statement. Our statement is circulating on the internet unedited and I never said the army was planning a coup and I never invited them to plan any coup.
“I was only cautioning our colleagues to behave responsibility and not endanger democracy. So I just want to appeal that sometimes, before we react to what parliamentarians have said, we need to find out what exactly they said. Otherwise, we would continue to say things that overheat the system.”
The former university lecturer urged parliamentarians to develop courage to speak truth to power, noting that Dickson’s relationship with the Speaker of the Bayelsa State Assembly underscored his firm understanding of democracy.
“Most of the problems we have as parliamentarians with the executive is because we don’t understand ourselves. Instead of dialogue, we prefer confrontation. So, I think that dialogue can solve many problems between the executive and the legislature or between one arm of government. I just call for understanding.
“Sometimes, we are misunderstood and we pay penalties we are not supposed to pay. Sometimes, legislators are detained or harassed for what they said or sometimes their chambers are invaded like what happened in South Africa sometime ago.
“We should be able to dialogue in the best interest of our people. As parliamentarians, those are the prices we have to pay for our job. Those are part of the hazards of the job we do because we cannot be in the kitchen and be afraid of smoke.
“But it is important that we call on the other arms of government and institutions of government to use dialogue as a means of continuous engagement with parliamentarians even when we seem to have been misunderstood,” said Ekweremadu.