Prickly powers of the porcupine
Porcupine power is the term used pejoratively to describe the power of a North Carolina Senator, Jesse Helms, who was reputed to have always played the politics of confrontation in congress. His methods included but not limited to stalling and filibustering, with the help of long winded speeches. This became his trademark and his legislative aides were proud to call him Senator No.
According to Hendrick Smith in his definitive work on the United States politics, the Power Game: How Washington Works, Senator Helms perfected the art of wielding the power of obstruction, to deny and to block – the power of being prickly and difficult, the porcupine tactics which his colleagues equated with a guerrilla warfare. His notoriety became legendary and his colleagues as well as the White House had no choice but to woo him and cajole him, bargain with him just to ensure passage of crucial bills.
But on all issues and on all occasions – like the near fatal encounter with his colleagues and President Ronald Reagan over Martin Luther King public holiday bill where he lost valiantly – his North Carolina base – his constituents – applauded him; not censure him. On this particular issue he stood his ground which was diametrically opposite the stand of the White House. But nobody accused him of embarrassing the president or his party. All the tacticians had to do was to device strategy to walk around him and get the bill passed. There was no known constituency project to his name but the people he represented were satisfied with his performance and they rewarded him with another term in the Senate.
I have gone to this length to show that conflict, honestly and sincerely motivated, is part and parcel of the presidential system. But in the system that we run, with all its bread and butter consideration, it is well nigh impossible to get the Nigerian equivalent of Senator Helms, especially in the current National Assembly.
The closest person to him I can think of is the embattled Senator Dino Melaye, from Kogi West Senatorial District. Visibility, candour and the power of audacity, both of them seem to have in common as well as the proclivity for controversy and a willingness and the courage to confront power, not minding the consequences. This Helmsian trait, sans Helms sound non-controversial educational background and a sound moral rectitude, has endeared the Kogi senator to many of his colleagues but, in equal measure, alienated him from some people. But it is the quintessential trait of any typical politician especially those who hanker after inordinate power to actualise their pet dreams, whether such dreams are to serve the larger society or for self-fulfilment and personal comfort.
For start, Dino is articulate, vocal, you can say incredibly loquacious – well grounded in tradition and modernity. It is no small matter for him that he can, in a twinkling of an eye, with no prompting of any kind, spontaneously break into his local language and best any local traditional singer that dares him to a musical duel.
He can sing and he can dance. His lyrics, a curse on those who seek his downfall, and the vocal rendition in his Ijumu dialect have added more feathers to his superstardom and made him a darling of the social media freaks. It won him as many admirers as it had won him many enemies.
In fact, some acclaimed experts in sophistry and pseudo sophistication had attempted to take him to the cleaners on numerous grounds – some questioning his academic qualification, some others dubbing him a misogynist and woman beater, seeking to want to judge him against a high moral pedestal that is not available for Nigerian politicians. Come to think of it, the yardstick they sought to apply to Dino would make more than half of our present crop of politicians fall by the way side. How many of them will pass the morality test?
Certainly, they are a lot of other politicians, especially his colleagues in the Senate, who see in Dino valuable asset and not liability. He speaks the minds of those who prefer to play safe by keeping quiet on crucial but sensitive issues.
Dr. Bukola Saraki, the Senate president – smart, audacious and politically savvy – has found in Dino a man Friday of sorts who has shown him unalloyed loyalty and commitment. His other colleagues and political associates outside the Senate but from the other senatorial districts in Kogi State see Dino as a fighter for the downtrodden and in his current travail, he enjoys their moral support.
Reuben Abati, the erudite columnist who is on permanent sabbatical from the classroom, had occasion to get angry with Dino who, he says, is “ perfect archetype of all that is wrong or right with the Nigerian legislature, a fine representation of a contradictory binaries and a lesson to the rest of us.” Pray! What lesson? That if we have another opportunity, we the electorate, will not vote the likes of Dino, or even worse into office?
I beg you to compare Dino with his colleagues, fellow politicians not with professors and other saintly moralists, who are forever pontificating and lamenting about the rot in the society apparently to no avail. In doing so – comparing him with the comparable – Abati agrees that “Dino is more attentive at least than all those other senators who don’t attend plenary, certainly better than those who spent more time dozing off or the ones who had spent years and never uttered a word.”
In the current National Assembly, Dino is a valuable asset. I guess that is why his colleagues could not hold back on the issue of the current efforts by members of his constituency to recall him through the constitutional means. If they get Dino out, his colleagues will certainly miss his boisterousness, his flamboyance, his audacity and his courage to dance and sing where angels fear to tread. Above all they will miss his productive contributions. There is no motion beyond his capacity to move. There is no day he is not on his feet in the Red Chamber.
And Nigerians, especially the media, would miss his drama and his histrionics. Though he represents only one senatorial district, the rest of the good people of Kogi State, the more sober and more reflective ones, would miss him the more. Those who can read between the lines would know that Dino, despite his numerous faults and foibles, has stood solidly for the state when others were content merely to stay in the comfort of their rooms to lament and wail and mourn their plight – only silently.
And that is why I sympathise with the good people of Kogi West Senatorial District who want Dino back home because they think he is not representing them well. I am simply amazed that despite their education and sophistication, they have been pushed to the wall and they have to do what they are doing – sacrificing a good but impetuous man on the alters of political expediency. At the end of the day, all of us, on deep reflection, would discover too late that we have been suckered by the prickly power of the porcupine.