IF MY memory serves me right, I think it was Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education and a co-founder of Transparency International, who once said that one cannot help but get mad at the crass wickedness that pervades Nigeria’s governmental, political and social space. To keep quiet, she said, was to acquiesce whole-heartedly to evil. And no nation is elevated by evil-doing; only righteousness exalts a nation.
As a writer, there are times you get so frustrated, so tired and sick of commenting on the shenanigans of those entrusted with our nation’s wellness that you just feel like shutting down and watch. You just want to siddon look as the late Chief Bola Ige reacted to the madness that engulfed the nation while the country was groping in the darkness of General Sani Abacha’s bloody tyranny. But when you remember those legendary lines by Wole Soyinka that the “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” you don’t want to siddon look. You want to talk, you want to take action regardless of whether your voice counts or not.
We may not be struggling under the jackboots of tyranny, as in the Abacha era, but our country is in the threshold of another form of tyranny: the tyranny of a legislature that wants to lord things over the very people whose interests they swore to preserve and protect at all times. I’m talking about the tyranny of the 8th Nigerian Senate, whose leadership think they are far more important than the about 180 million Nigerians they were elected to serve.
Normally, the National Assembly, a congregation populated by the people’s representatives, should be a purveyor of hope and change. But recent actions by these men and women, who some prefer to call “legislooters,” leave a sour taste in the mouth. First, the Nigerian Senate, under the leadership of Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is still struggling to shake off the huge albatross on his neck, wants immunity for the principal officers of the National Assembly, NASS. Second, it craves for life pension for the same category of officers. If they have their way, the illicit provisions would be embedded in the constitution now under review. Unless Nigerians take action, they might just have their way. In terms of irresponsibility and insensitivity, no session of the senate had sunk so low. None had exhibited the kind of moral recession that the current session flagrantly displays.
First, let us consider the issue of immunity. Section 308 of the current constitution provides immunity from prosecution only for the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors, while they are in office. Now, the Senate wants parliamentary immunity for its leadership.
True, the upper chamber of the National Assembly may have some moral obligation to show solidarity for one of its own, especially its President who is currently facing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, for false declaration of assets. But is it not suspicious that the senators chose this inauspicious time to canvass immunity for the Principal Officers of the National Assembly? Why this time when the President of the Senate is facing trial? Even if the agenda was a product of some altruistic reasoning, the timing exposes its suspicious underpinning. If you ask me, I do not expect any speedy conclusion of Dr. Bukola Saraki’s trial given the antecedents of similar high profile cases in the past. It may drag and drag until it becomes cold. That is usually the way of powerful men with limitless resources; except that the present circumstance may be slightly different. After all, we are told this is an era of CHANGE. Whatever the case may be, is this the time to begin a crusade for immunity? Why should immunity for Principal Officers pre-occupy the minds of our Distinguished Senators when the fire of Boko Haram insurgency and sudden surge of militancy in the Niger Delta is still raging ferociously and claiming innocent lives every day? Is protecting NASS’s big men more important, more urgent, and more expedient than finding a lasting solution to the rash of kidnappings and hostage taking that has made life miserable for many Nigerians? This smacks of moral recession. At the same two-day retreat organised by the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review in Lagos, with the theme: Towards Ensuring Governance Accountability in Nigerian Federalism, the Senators also canvassed life pension for their Principal Officers.
Again, this stinks to the heavens. It insults the sensibilities of Nigerians who toil day and night just to get by. If some people’s thought process were not working in reverse order, why would anybody or group be proposing additional perks for their overfed officers in an economy that is deep in recession, and haemorrhaging profusely on many fronts? For those Nigerians still looking for another evidence of the selfishness of their elected representatives in Abuja, this is one. With the national minimum wage standing at N18, 000 per month, very few states can pay their workers. Many are owning their workers up to eight months, some ten. Some of those that manage to pay even borrow to fulfil that obligation. Now, if many states are this insolvent, how would they pay the N56,000 per month that the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress are proposing? Without the occasional bail-out from the federal government, many of the states would have died, Dwindling price of oil at the international market, militancy and vandalism could have assured that death. Those factors have conspired to force our mono-product economy to its knees and drastically reduce accruals to states.
Little wonder, then, that companies are either closing shop or downsizing; as spiralling job losses have amputated the earnings of many families. Family economies have so plummeted that many children are either getting malnourished by the day, or dropping out of school, or getting thrown to the streets to meander in dangerous traffic situations either soliciting alms or hawking water and wears. While many male undergraduates have taken to all manner of vices to survive, many of their female counterparts have resorted to selling their dignity to Sugar Daddies to stay on campus. Sad. Still, many in the larger society continue to die of preventable diseases. The future has never looked so bleak.
Yet, all that this crop of lawmakers can think of is how to further stuff their bloated tummies at the expense of the economically and socially dislocated Nigerians.
Not long ago, they arm-twisted President Muhammadu Buhari to approve N60 billion for their so-called constituency projects in the 2016 Appropriation Act. Some of them (Senators) are former governors who draw hefty allowances, among other privileges, from the lackeys they installed as successors in their impoverished states. Now, at the centre, they still play Oliver Twist, crying for more. If this is not wickedness, what is it?
Yes, there are some democracies in the world, especially America, that provide life pension for qualified members of parliament. But our parlous economy can ill-afford such indulgencies. That is why these obnoxious proposals must die at their infancy. Nigerians must resist them because they are as self-serving as they are repugnant. What the lawmakers are proposing to feed their greed would further pauperise Nigerians and make them sink deeper in economic slavery.