From Amechi Ogbonna, Washington DC, USA Miffed by the high incidence of corruption and misappropriation of aids and development assistance from global partners and multilateral agencies, the World Bank, yesterday, said it was opening a new financing window to enable Nigeria’s private sector as well as those of other low income countries access trillions of idle…
Two weeks ago, I was impressed to highlight the need for the entrenchment of separation of power, whereby the three arms of government – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary – are independent of the control of one another, but, however, working collectively towards good governance. My belief is that government will function better when each arm of government performs its duty conscientiously and independently. Such setting is the bedrock of democracy.
However, in saying this, I do know that authority or independence come with responsibility. Therefore, the three arms of government should do their duties with all sense of responsibility. And responsibility comes to bear in conduct.
Today, I am persuaded to look at the Legislature, with particular reference to the Senate, whose primary duty is to make law for the country, among others. Also, the Senate is saddled with the responsibility of screening and confirming government appointees, as specified by the constitution or Act of Parliament, among others. What this means is that the Senate is an important component of the Federal Government, whose actions and inactions go a long way in making or marring government. Such institute should, therefore, always be forthright, less sentimental and businesslike.
In the last couple of months, the Senate has been in the news, for good and bad reasons. We will remember how the Senate, in affirming its independence, chose a leadership, independently, against the choice of the ruling political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Executive. Senators, in somewhat rebellion against some forces in the APC that had anointed a particular candidate, elected Bukola Saraki as Senate president, with Ike Ekweremadu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as his deputy. The Senate defended this choice and continues to defend it.
The Senate has also done well in passage of bills into law, in oversight functions and in confirming nominees for various positions. Of course, nobody will lose sight of probes and investigations the Senate had embarked on, including on the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) contract in North East, which caused the suspension of Secretary to Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, from office; petroleum products revenue and others. In general terms, the Senate has done relatively well in this dispensation.
However, in praising the Senate, as an institution, and senators, as individuals, one must point that there have been much drama around this all-important body, which has overshadowed whatever progress and achievement recorded. Things that sometimes happen in the Senate make one wonder if senators think they are into show business instead of the business of lawmaking.
To be sure, there has been unnecessary noise in the Senate that should not be, no matter the point senators want to make. For instance, I have been wondering what the Senate gained with the fuss about Colonel Hameed Ali wearing uniform as the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service. Inasmuch as I support the view that the head of the Customs, who flies the flag and insignia of the comptroller general, should wear uniform, as a mark of respect for the office and position he occupies, I do not think it is more important than the task the Senate set out to achieve, which is to find out what the new policy on tariff for old vehicles was all about. Dissipating energy on ensuring that Ali wears uniform, to the neglect of making sure the policy on duty payment for old vehicles is not implemented, is like someone chasing a rat, while his house is on fire.
Indeed, after the squabble over Colonel Ali’s appearance before the Senate was settled, and he honoured the invitation, the Senate, in trying to make a point to the effect that the Customs boss must obey it by wearing uniform, bared its hang. It walked Ali out, insisting that he must wear uniform. The Senate also resolved that the policy on duty payment for old vehicles should not be implemented. Also, the Senate resolved that Ali was not fit to hold public office and, therefore, should resign. By allowing its anger to rule it, the Senate played into the hands of those who did not want the inquiry on the new Customs policy to hold. Today, Ali has not appeared before the Senate. He is also not wearing Customs uniform. President Muhammadu Buhari, who gave him the job, has not removed him. And Ali has not resigned, as the Senate demanded. Now, the issue remains: There is a Customs policy on duties for old vehicles.
Pray, what has happened to this policy? The Customs had, as a preemptive measure, announced the suspension and review of the policy, ahead of Colonel Ali’s appearance at the Senate. Has the Customs actually suspended the policy? This is what should concern the Senate more than the hullabaloo about the wearing of uniform. Is it not possible that the Customs is implementing the policy, while the Senate is more interested in uniforms? This is why the Senate should insist on Ali’s appearance to answer questions on the controversial policy and, therefore, make its position known. And when he does appear, uniform should not be the issue.
Just like the uniform noise, I have been at a loss why the Senate dramatised the investigation of allegations against Saraki and Senator Dino Melaye over importation of vehicle and university certificate respectively. I felt ashamed that senators found exciting Melaye’s attendance of plenary in academic gown and cap, after the Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, said he graduated from the school. If ABU said Melaye attended the university, does this warrant the celebration or dramatisation that followed? Does it warrant the Senate not to caution Melaye for wearing academic gown to plenary? Does this warrant the posting of a song by Melaye on YouTube? Why would a senator and indeed, senators behave like schoolboys, in a country that is faced with serious challenges? By his conduct over the certificate clearance saga, Melaye exhibited a conduct that was unbecoming of a senator. And the fact that nobody in the Senate has seen anything wrong with this and, therefore, cautioned him, makes the matter worse.
There are also other things that happen at the Senate, which make us, as a nation, look unserious. Senator Ndume was suspended for “embarrassing” the Senate president and the Senate. How does his suspension solve the problems of the common Nigerian? Yes, Ndume is wrong to have constituted himself, as a one-man opposition in the Senate, but suspending him, is tantamount to killing a fly with a sledgehammer. Now, the matter has been politicised, with protests in support and against the suspension coming up. This type of distraction is not what should be happening around the Senate, at this critical time in the country’s nationhood. The economy is in comatose. There is hunger and hardship in the land. There are agitations, which are causing tension. Executive intolerance and impunity are becoming rampant. Corruption is still endemic. Quality of education is non-existent. These are issues that should preoccupy the minds of legislators and not the drama and show now seen.
I have no doubt that the Senate, as constituted, knows what to do, to be truly alive to its duty. And I do know that if the Senate plays down on controversies and concentrates on the core business of lawmaking and other salient duties, with high degree of diligence, it will make the difference in this government.