ELECTED OFFICIALS ALL over the world are known for two things, other than debating legislations: Invective-filled arguments and notorious brawls.
IN MOST INSTANCES, arguments have turned violent with many going as far as physically inflicting wounds on each other.
IN JUNE 2010, a fight broke out in the Nigerian House of Representatives with a number of lawmakers sustaining injuries including a broken hand.
THE CAUSE OF THE FIGHT? An alleged corruption scam levelled against the Speaker of the house, Dimeji Bankole, involving about 2.3 billion naira, or 12 million euros. The House of Representatives had been in recess and, shortly before it resumed, a group of lawmakers calling themselves “the Progressives” gave the Speaker two weeks to resign.
IN MARCH 2017, on live television in Ghana, Education Minister and Member of Parliament for Manhyia South, Matthew Opoku Prempeh was seen making ‘insulting gestures’ and describing a member on the minority side of parliament as mad. Communications minister and MP for Ablekuma West, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful was also seen in a similar act as she described a colleague MP as a ‘slave’. Both MPs had been agitated by the posturing of Mahama Ayariga and more importantly, Tamale North MP, Alhassan Suhuyini who they allegedly described as a ‘small boy’.
IN 2012 IN THE UKRAINE, Opposition and pro-president deputies brawled while debating on Russian language bill.
“Anyone who has studied democratic politics will know that one of the regular activities of our elected representatives over the centuries has been insulting each other. Even during Constructive debate, a politician will often take time out to be abusive to his or her opponent – and sometimes even a colleague too.”Sir Greg Knight, British politician, author
IN MAY 2013, IN TURKEY, a parliamentary committee erupted in chaos over a contentious ruling party proposal to strip legislators of their immunity from prosecution.
IN SEPTEMBER 2013, Firebrand South African politician Julius Malema and his EFF group disrupted the opening of South Africa’s parliament.
IN TAIWAN, BRAWLING is a way of life.
IN HIS BEST-SELLING BOOK, Dishonorable Insults: A Cantankerous Collection of Political Invective, Sir Greg Knight, a British politician, author and musician, writes: “Anyone who has studied democratic politics will know that one of the regular activities of our elected representatives over the centuries has been insulting each other. Even during Constructive debate, a politician will often take time out to be abusive to his or her opponent – and sometimes even a colleague too.”
KNIGHT NOTES: “Vitriol, insults, impudence and audacity are all part of a good debater’s armory. The crescendo of emotion, the torrent of abuse and the flash bad temper are the ingredients which can make a good political speech great. Anyone who heard the late Aneurin Bevan on his feet will realize how effective the use of ridicule during a speech can be. And anyone who has been captivated by an oration by the late Lord Hailsham will know that the occasional use of passion and even rage can be both compelling and devasting. It can guarantee that the attention of the audience is firmly held by the speaker a necessary prerequisite of a great speech.”
THIS BRINGS US TO an unfolding development in Liberia where the Senate leadership is investigating Senator Abraham Darius Dillon (Liberty Party, Montserrado County) based on a complaint filed by Senator George Tengbeh (Coalition for Democratic Change – Lofa County) for what he called acts unbecoming of senator of this Republic.
IN HIS COMPLAINT, Senator Tengbeh claims that Senator Dillon and Cohorts have in recent months embarked on a “smear campaign” aimed at denigrating the Liberian Senate both wholly and individually. The Lofa County Senator alleged that his peer has willfully and intentionally distorted the image of the Senate, causing massive injury to the characters of Senators and the institution.
SENATOR TENGBEH SAID: “On Wednesday, May 20, 2020, Senator Dillon accused all Senators who affixed their signatures to the Senate resolution containing the COVID-19 recast budget and certain fiscal measures of receiving bribes. I demand the senator to provide proof of the commission of this highly felonious crime by twenty-three senators who signed the document.”
THE LOFA COUNTY Senator’s letter of complaint was referenced on an interview where he (Tengbeh) alleged that Senator Dillon had several weeks ago and “deceptively” told the Public that he received an amount of US$ 6,500.00 as operational funds when the amount was US$8,000.
IN REFERENCE to the Senate standing rules, which he claimed calls for order and perfect decorum during session, the Lofa County Senator accused Senator Dillon of being in the constant habit of disrupting Senate session and showing no respect to officers of the Senate who try to bring him to order.
IT IS NO secret that Senator Dillon has been a thorn in the side of his peers since he entered the Senate and easily establishing himself as the true conscience of the people in the Senate.
UNTIL SENATOR DILLON’s arrival, no one in Liberia knew the salaries of lawmakers. Newspapers wrote until the ink dried, some of us even filed Freedom of Information applications without getting anywhere. Not one member of the legislature, over the last decade voluntarily offered to show their check stub to the public.
MR. DILLON’S victory in the Montserrado County Senatorial race was impressive. Not since football legend George Weah has anyone scored such an impressive victory. In final numbers representing results from all 1, 790 polling places or 100 percent in the Montserrado County Senatorial elections, Mr. Dillon secured a total of 102,549 votes for 55.74 percent to Wie’s 63,971 votes for 34.77 percent.
IN THE 2014 Senatorial by-elections, George Manneh Weah won 78% of the vote for the Montserrado county seat, when he defeated Robert Sirleaf, the son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took nearly 11%.
SENATOR DILLON is not perfect. He has made some missteps, but he has apologized for them. When the public felt shorted, they took him to task, and he has not shied away from apologizing and checkmating himself.
SENATOR DILLON has been a rare light in the darkness of a legislative body that has brought nothing but shame and disgrace to Liberia, signing bogus concessions, failing to ask the right questions to unqualified nominees and simply turning a blind eye to the ills in society.
“No member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried as a result of opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his office. Members shall be privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from sessions of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. All official acts done or performed, and all statement made in the Chambers of the Legislature shall be privileged, and no Legislator shall be held accountable or punished therefor.”Article 42, Liberian Constitution
HAD IT NOT been for the likes of Senator Dillon and a handful of lawmakers, perhaps Cllr. Ndubuisi Nwabudike, President George Weah’s nominee to head the National Elections Commission and Mr. Tarplah Z. Davis, Deputy Minister of Defense for Operations nominee, would be in critical roles, doing serious damage to Liberia.
THIS IS WHY WE ARE taking the position to standup for “The Light” as he has been a champion for the press and issues involving journalists. He has shone light in a sadly, dark spot in Liberia.
SENATOR DILLON is not God. He is human like the rest of us. If, as a lawmaker he feels frustrated about the way things are, if he somehow feels cheated by his peers and believe that they did something wrong, it is his right to voice out his views as a member of the Senate.
ARTICLE 42 of the constitution is clear. “No member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried as a result of opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his office. Members shall be privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from sessions of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. All official acts done or performed, and all statement made in the Chambers of the Legislature shall be privileged, and no Legislator shall be held accountable or punished therefor.”
AS SIR KNIGHT rightly said in his book: “Politicians sometimes use unwarranted abuse to enliven what they know is a dull brief. They are aware that the barb helps them to hold the floor and thereby get the message across.”
SO, INSTEAD of orchestrating a poorly-hatched and calculated attempt to weaken Senator Dillon in an election year, Pro Temp Albert Chie and his peers can do Liberia the favor and save democracy the trouble by focusing on the plight of those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder and delivering democracy dividends to the people of Liberia, instead of trying to shortchange them under the guise of bogus and undemocratic attempt to remove a popularly-elected Senator from his post.