What will Nigerians do about the Senate? -Tabia Princewill
PARLIAMENT, in a democracy, is meant to represent and embody the will, opinions and interests of the people. President Muhammadu Buhari was elected primarily to fight corruption which a majority of Nigerians identify as the cancer that halts all positive initiatives and developments in the country. It is the primary reason why we are so poor and without much of the amenities other nations take for granted.
The Senate, in a saner clime, should have been at the forefront of the fight, assisting the President and all agencies involved in bringing those who have brought this country so low, to book. Instead, in Nigeria, it is filled with individuals with dodgy pasts, allegedly fake certificates and corruption cases left unanswered, people who stand to lose positions and unimaginable wealth.
The Senate usually acts as a check on the executive. In Nigeria, this has been taken to mean that the Senate is allowed to illegally compete with the Presidency for executive powers or to even act like it were an opposition party with its own separate agenda.
Rather than support the Presidency, the Senate seems to have done all it can to stall or obstruct its goals. So, who then will act as a check on the Senate’s activities if not the Nigerian people they are supposed to represent? Expelling unperforming members is proving difficult due to the intrinsic corruption of a system which protects itself, where any criticism of the rich and powerful is seen as a jealous rant as opposed to a desire to see things work well for a majority of people rather than special interests.
The Senate in Nigeria has come to represent a triumph of special interests, a triumph of cliques and cabals who do their own bidding and not Nigeria’s. The US Senate’s website states under the tab “what reasons should the Senate give to expel a member?” It says: “the Constitution simply states that each house of Congress may punish its Members for disorderly behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”
Nigerians can’t trust Senators to punish their wayward members. Any investigation is swept under the carpet. Members will always protect each other in a system where most have allegations of misconduct surrounding their activities.
What happened to the Senators accused by the US government of soliciting for prostitutes in the US? What happened to the Senator who was caught on video “entertaining” two ladies in a hotel and who even admitted it was him on camera? The concept of being an embarrassment to one’s colleagues is inexistent in Nigeria.
Dino Melaye continues to release his songs online and to post pictures of his extravagant lifestyle without any correction or outrage from the part of his fellow members. In the US, citizens can depend on other representatives to caution and discipline erring members in a way Nigerians cannot. In fact, this only works in a country where politicians know their citizens’ tolerance for indecency and injustice is low: in Nigeria, we discuss our representatives’ antics then move on.
Our outrage is fleeting and they know it. In the US and other such countries, politicians know that protecting a minority of members who do wrong isn’t worth incurring the wrath of a majority of citizens who do know right from wrong and won’t stand to see their laws broken.
Can we say the same for Nigeria, a country where citizens are used to being abused, taken advantage of, disrespected and stolen from with impunity? It was reported recently that Stella Oduah (former minister of aviation, now a Senator) who purchased two armoured BMW vehicles worth N255m through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority in 2013 was invited by the EFCC and allegedly shunned the invitation to also explain the details of the N9bn contract for the remodelling of some airports which remained unchanged.
She filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit (what about the rights of the average Nigerian who despite all the money spent on airports still can’t fly comfortably and risks his life in substandard aircrafts when airlines get away with bribing officials?), Ms. Oduah asked the court to stop any investigations or from prosecuting her which is ironically hardly the recourse of people with nothing to hide. Her request was denied. But, it is alleged that because the Senate resolved not to recognise Ibrahim Magu as EFCC Chairman, all Senators with cases to answer interpreted this as permission to ignore the EFCC entirely.
What about Budget padding? Why have the members of the House who were allegedly involved also reportedly ignored the EFCC’s invitation? Why did the clerk of the House say that the EFCC had to go through the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, before inviting any member? Why are so-called lawmakers making a mockery of our laws? As Itse Sagay rightly said, “the EFCC is an institution; so, recognising Magu or not is totally irrelevant. The Senate cannot refuse to recognise the EFCC as an institution.” Do ordinary Nigerians have a right not to recognise the police when they get arrested? Do they get to claim they have issues with the Inspector General? Do they get to halt investigations? Members of the House have the same rights as every citizen, not more. Their privileged lives and huge salaries don’t extend to being immune from investigation or prosecution. Prof. Sagay continued: “If the EFCC invites you, you must go.
There is no law that says invitation letters must come through the leadership of the National Assembly. The EFCC can inform the leadership as a matter of courtesy but letters should go directly to the person being invited”. As for the Senate’s response to Prof. Sagay’s comments, they are laughable at best. The chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, replied: “He needs to guard his utterances.
He is in a democratically elected government brought about by the electoral victory of our great party made possible by the collective efforts of party members, including members of the Senate and House of Representatives.” What does this have to do with justice or allowing free investigation and prosecution for crimes allegedly committed? The Senator said: “If he (Sagay) does not understand the decorum and values of democracy, let him go back to the classroom; his disdain for the National Assembly surely makes him anti-democratic.In the alternative, I challenge him to contest in 2019 or forever remain silent.”
It is precisely because Prof. Sagay understands the values of democracy (decorum has nothing to do with democracy, in fact Nigerians have been too quiet and respectful of leaders who have done little for them) that he must continue to shout at the top of his lungs. The ability to freely challenge government, especially when such huge corruption allegations are continuously made concerning no less than 35 former governors turned Senators, is perhaps the most democratic value of all.
One doesn’t need to contest an election to say enough is enough and wrong is wrong. Nigerians must give support where it is due and relinquish it when it defends situations that are contrary to their interest. Keep talking Nigeria, don’t be intimidated. Injustice fears nothing more than a searchlight. Rotimi Amaechi THE former governor of Rivers state and current Minister of Transportation has said that the current Governor of Rivers, Nyesom Wike has bragged that he has the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen and the “entire judiciary” in his pocket.
These are hefty allegations: in saner climes, one doesn’t make such claims without an immediate investigation. Nigerians know the judiciary is corrupt but we must begin to associate names and faces with crimes and prove allegations in a court of law. But how, given that the same allegedly corrupt individuals will judge the cases? Nigeria has always been fighting a war against itself and the elements keeping the masses in misery. Are we finally ready to do something about it?
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.