Sunday, 02 April 2017 10:57

The Nigerian Senate, one sitting, one trouble -Simbo Olorunfemi

"You campaign in poetry and govern in prose," Mario Cuomo once said. In Nigeria, we campaign in Fuji and govern in Reggae. There is neither poetry nor rhythm in our campaign nor is there prose to governance. Instead, we are bogged down in plenty of meaningless drama. 

For the most part, our theatre of legislation mimics the emergency playground that Oshodi becomes, when at the drop of a hat, agberos, bus conductors, area boys and their friends in uniform suddenly take on an absurd form of drama skit in a strange conspiracy to break the back of a punishing life of hustle and bustle that the city forces on its ever-busy inhabitants.

It is a theatre, somewhat absurd, comedy coming across as tragedy and tragedy masquerading as comedy, to which the discerning dares not laugh, but must bury his tears, either on the pillow of pretended amnesia or the safety of induced communal pretence. To see that the supposed hallowed chamber in the Three Arms Zone has itself become a playground for everything absurd is a sobering irony. 

It is a tragic to see an arm of government elevate this absurd form of tragicomedy to heights previously unattained, one beyond reasoned contemplation.

What we are witnessing is not totally unexpected, given the circumstances of the birth of this Senate, but who would have thought that it will be this difficult for it to wean itself off the odour around the circumstances of its inauguration? Perhaps we ought to have paid more attention to circumstances this unprecedented. A child fathered by a collegiate of random donors with varied interests, all subsumed under a rabid obsession with power. 

When a group of men, with no hesitation for the health of the baby, come together to force out a baby from the womb that carried it, even before full term, fabricating a placenta for the purpose of feeding a baby that is now out of the womb of his mother, strange things are bound to happen.

While those responsible for the pregnancy were prepping themselves up, exploring options, including an epidural, to ensure a painless delivery by the mother and safety of the child, a group of midwives took over the surgery, armed with long knives, opted for a operation without anaesthesia, in complete disregard of the health of the baby and the mother. 

A pregnancy nurtured in one womb is brazenly hijacked, at the point of delivery, by undertakers disguised as midwives, hence it was certain that things would definitely get interesting with time. 

The undertakers have the baby, placed him in the custody of foster parents, but neither the undertakers, the original midwives, foster parents, the original parents, as well as the Head of the family who had declared himself as belonging to everybody and nobody, have known peace ever since the birth of this child. It has been from one trouble to another. It has been one sitting, one trouble.

I had thought I had done enough writing about the Senate. I had made three public interventions in the past including this. 

But the Senate will always push one’s fingers. It has gone from one embarrassing episode to another, that there is now a firm groundswell of discontent against its activities, now affirming support that we had canvassed, for a while, for the outright dissolution of this institution that serves little or no useful purpose.

The Senate is notoriously quick-tempered, easily-irritated, seemingly unable to put up with criticism, even when its conduct continues to make it an object of public odium. Once and again, we are treated to a charade, where picky and emotional pulpit-bullies more interested in grandstanding, petty affairs of the pocket and constant ego-massaging than the more challenging issues of governance pound the minor, completely ignoring the major.

 Where it is not refusing confirmation of a retired Appeal Court Judge for querying the strange request for him to recite the National Anthem, it is caught up in a needless controversy over whether the Customs head ought to wear ‘uniform’, completely sidestepping the real issue of a policy pronouncement, just to prove some inane point. 

Where it does not hold down the confirmation of the EFCC chair over a report that an enquiry directed by the president had already rendered null, it not only proceeds to direct the appointed authority on whom not to nominate for office, but has now proceeded to suspend for two weeks, the consideration process for new Resident Electoral Commissioners, something completely unrelated to its previous directive.

Yet, we have members who stand up to speak, displaying embarrassing ignorance of portions of their own rules, laws they have made, letter and spirit of the constitution and even everyday current affairs. 

How does one explain that a distinguished member of the Senate will publicly claim that some INEC Commissioners re-appointed by the president were already acting in same capacity anyway, when, as a matter of fact, these nominees had left office, on completion of their terms, since 2015? How can the senator be so unaware of even matters that directly affect politics, which is his mainstay? Is it that they simply do not know or are too busy to care?

Yet this is a chamber that is made up of the powers and principalities in Nigeria, with a minimum of 15 former governors, being members of this particular class. No wonder some have christened the upper chamber as a retirement-pad for former governors. 

This is the chamber some have argued for its retention on the strength that it is supposed to serve as a check on what ought to be a more exuberant lower chamber. We are still waiting to see the wisdom, maturity, experience and graceful conduct we are told are the hallmark of the Senate, in this one.

The other day, the spokesperson for the Senate was kind enough to help with a clarification on the controversial bullet-proof SUV the Senate, in its profound wisdom, has decided to add to its already impressive harem of exotic vehicles. 

Contrary to the reports that put the cost of the vehicle, seized by Nigerian Customs for underpayment of duties and using forged documents, at N298 million, he put the cost at $298,000 instead, which according to the Senate’s special exchange rate of N165/$1 brought the cost to N62 million. Who will doubt the thoughtfulness and cost-cutting measure of the Senate in spending only N62 million on one imported vehicle, but a mischief-maker?

What one finds difficult to understand is that with the sacrifice on the part of the Senate, some Nigerians insist on making this institution the butt of their jokes? Some now derisively dismiss the upper chamber as the ‘House of Summons’, taunting it to summon them over one thing or the other.

 Yet, all that the Senate has done is to summon Professor Itse Sagay to come identify members of the Senate he had employed some endearing words to describe.

It is difficult for the Senate to blame anyone but itself for where it now finds itself, for it is absolutely of its own making. 

We have a Senate which forgets or tries to make us forget that we witnessed, in full public glare, how it confirmed the appointment of a non-executive commissioner of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) only to dramatically reverse itself on the pretext that the nomination was never approved by the Senate. How does such a Senate inspire anyone?

See how it has managed the Melaiye-Bullet-proof SUV-Ndume matter which has resulted in a pat on the back for the one with the k-legged claims and a suspension for a man who simply raised a point of order to draw the attention of the chamber to disturbing reports about some of its members? 

Some fear that the Senate now comes across like an antiquated cult where members are forbidden to have an independent mind or thought.

In the midst of all that is going wrong, one finds it difficult to understand the argument by some that it is in keeping silence in the face of the disturbing signals from the Senate, that we get to protect the sanctity of the institution, whatever that means.

 In one breath, we are told to emphasise a strengthening of our institutions rather than a propping up strong men, and now that people are taking on people mistaking themselves for the institution, some are again flying the kite about bringing down the institution. How ironic? Or have some people suddenly become the institution of the Senate?

I have repeatedly argued that we do, as a matter of fact, need to scrap the institution. What we need now is to join hands together to bring about a constitutional amendment that will herald, at the least, the birth of a unicameral parliamentary system, which would be considerably less expensive for the system and individuals. 

The Senate, it appears, has too much time on its hands to know what to do with it. Nigeria has no need for a bi-cameral legislative structure. It is unnecessary, duplicitous and wasteful. There is nothing being done that requires two chambers of us.

With the parliamentary system, there is a greater chance for more accountability on the part of government, with a fusion of legislative and executive functions and a leaner public service. 

As the full compliment of the executive arm, including ministers, are directly elected by the people, they will not only be directly answerable to constituents, their activities will be open to real-time monitoring on the floor of the parliament. 

To sack a non-performing government is also easier under this system, as all that it requires is a vote of no confidence, with it also allowing for elections to be called before the end of a prescribed tenure.

We understand that the circumstances of the birth of this Senate does weigh it down, yet I do not see any redeeming value to this routine of one sitting, one trouble, except in helping to draw attention to the failure of the system and prompting it to help commit class suicide by effecting a much-needed constitutional amendment.

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