ORDINARILY, the Senate of any nation in a constitutional democracy is conceived to be an arena for informed wisdom, cross-fertilization of productive ideas with an almost limitless tolerance for dissention. It is a place where people either agree to disagree or disagree to agree. It is for this reason that, oftentimes, the majority is sure to have its way while the minority will have its say. Essentially, it is a gathering of equals in which leadership is picked at the discretion of members who represent various constituencies across the federation. By all sense and purposes, the Nigerian Senate as it was then and as it is presently construed should not be any different. Members are expected to freely ventilate their opinions, political thoughts and choices without let or hindrance as long as such is done within the bounds of the laws of the land in dignified manner. Age is not necessarily a barrier to the lofty ideals that such law-making body all over the world sets for itself. However, it is assumed that those privileged to be in a chamber with the arduous task of formulating laws for the good governance of the country must exhibit some level of gray-haired perceptive mindset and comportment in discharging that responsibility. It should be a gathering of serious-minded patriots and not a conclave for rascally display of ego-tripping buffoonery and hollow charade.
It is a pity that, some 18 years after Nigeria’s fresh foray into democratic governance, the nation’s highest legislative body is yet to grasp all the fine ethos of representative governance highlighted above despite its pretenses to such. The hallowed chamber, as it were, has been desecrated by the despicable acts and serial political heresy of brigands occupying the sacred seats. The mace, which is the symbol of legislative authority, has been dazed in a maze of deadly punches and unrestrained sacrilege. It has been laid bare of its power. For all we know, it could just be one of the mere artistic works engraved with the nation’s coat of arms regularly hawked on the streets to, perhaps, remind us that we still have a country no matter how battered. It may be a harsh verdict but it is the sad reality of a country still battling for a governance identity despite countless trials. The truth is: as long as the National Assembly continues to see itself as the alternative government in line to take over from a bumbling executive and for as long as it is run at the whim of a leader with the power to distribute ‘juicy’ freebies, it will continue to be buffeted with sour tomatoes in addition to taking a prime place as an object of ridicule.
To be candid, I had often nursed the fear that the 8th National Assembly, especially the Senate, was a time bomb waiting to explode going by the desperation with which its present leadership grabbed power. The cowboy style with which the leadership heralded itself into power marked the beginning of what we are witnessing today. Right before our eyes, the All Progressives Congress’ birthright to control that arm of government was traded off to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party by those who place selfish interest over honour, dignity and party supremacy. And so, embedded in the ruling APC is a powerful force that, right from inception, was poised to frustrate it if the executive doesn’t pander to certain demands from the legislature. That, to me, is what the President Muhammadu Buhari government has been battling with after the euphoria of his grave confession of being ready to work with whosoever emerged as the Senate President had fizzled out. It was quite clear that this political neophyte in Aso Rock didn’t understand the dynamics of power neither did he know what he was toying with by opting to work with an opponent that obviously wasn’t interested in working with him or with his party. His enemies are his fiendish friends who share the same table with him.
Today, Nigerians remain the collective victims of that political gamble of the 2015 Senate leadership chicanery. It is one of the pivotal reasons why the Buhari change agenda has remained comatose. And it is the reason why the Senate is being run like a fiefdom by a band of brigands who would do anything to muzzle any form of opposition even by their own members. That is why Senator Ovie Omo-Agege could be suspended without due regards for the courts or even the rules and principles that ought to guide the conduct of the Senate. When you try to interrogate why a duly elected Senator should be suspended for 181 days or 90 legislative days, all you get are tendentious excuses that stand logic on its head. Is it not laughable that, in this age and time, a senator could be ‘sanctioned’ for associating with some of his colleagues to form the Parliamentary Support Group for the President of his nation? How can holding a dissenting opinion in a parliament become punishable by suspension? And where, in the world, do you punish a man for seeking a judicial interpretation to his rights and privileges as a lawmaker and citizen of a country?
In the first place, we wouldn’t have needed a legislature if it is assumed that those that would gather in the chamber would just rubber stamp the decision of the leadership. There wouldn’t have been any need for debates, arguments, lobbying and even voting. The legislature, if there was to be one, would just draft its Act and order the President to sign into law as it attempted to do with the amendment of the sequence of election in the Electoral Act. That can never be the ideal in any political structure. Unfortunately, our Senate is peopled by men and women who wear their ego on padded shoulders with an overdose of hollow triumphalism. They spit on the same law they are meant to guide and guard jealously. They rape, abuse and trample on the Constitution of the land with benumbing gusto. In case they don’t know, the 1999 Constitution (as amended by the National Assembly) is very clear on how a lawmaker can be removed. Sections 68 and 69 of the 1999 Constitution exhaustively states that he could choose to vacate his seat or resign; if he dies then he is automatically deleted; if he is recalled by registered voters or electors in his electoral constituency; and decampment from the party platform on which he was elected (without a division in that party). A lawmaker may also be removed by a court or tribunal of competent jurisdiction. Therefore, it stands to reason that when you bar a man for 90 legislative days simply because he ventilated his dissention to a bill that aimed to rubbish the political fortunes of a President that he supports, you have effectively removed him from his officially assigned post as an elected member among equals. What were Saraki and his men thinking anyway? Or could this be a carryover of the master/servant relationship that exists between state governors and members of state houses assembly whose main duty was to grovel at every prompting of the Excellency?
By the way, those fawning senators nudging the leadership to arbitrarily suspend one of them outside the extant act and rules are a bigger threat to democracy. Or would they claim to be ignorant of Section 21 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, 2018, which stipulates that a member of a Legislative House may be suspended but such a suspension should be limited to 48 hours? Were they also unaware of Order 67(4) of the Senates Standing Orders, 2015 which clarifies that a Senator cannot be suspended for more than 14 days if he commits a serious discretion? So where did this Senate derive the power to suspend any member for more than the stipulated days not minding the fact that, in law, these orders become invalid as they are inconsistent with the Constitution? Oh, has the Senate chosen to ignore the judgment of the court that it has no power to suspend any member in a suit filed by Senator Ali Ndume against it? Could it be possible that these men and women we trusted to make laws that would ensure our wellbeing didn’t care a hoot about different court pronouncements that bar them from arrogating to themselves the powers to suspend any member from the case involving a member of the Bauchi State House of Assembly to that of Hon. Danna Usman and the Kaduna State House of Assembly and even that of Hon. Dino Melaye (as he then was) versus the House of Representatives? By the way, could embattled Senator Melaye be part of this act of callous brigandage purportedly led by a man who thought he could run things the way he has been leading his fiefdom in the North Central by the nose?
One thing is clear though: this Senate of intrigues, treachery and brazen impunity may as well be digging its own grave without knowing it. Those laughing with scorn now may end up in the pit they thought they had dug for those who dare to be different. It is just a question of time. And that time ticks dangerously close.