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The National Assembly, specifically the Nigerian Senate, is the symbol of democracy. Whenever the military strikes and takes control of government, the parliament is always the first casualty. While the judiciary and other arms of government are allowed to remain operational, the parliament is often shut down.
This is to emphasise how significant the parliament is. But when the same parliament loses its ability to bite, then we are in trouble. This is the thrust of my entreaty this week. I hope this write up will spur the right conversion and those concerned will act accordingly.
The 8th Senate is unique for a number of good and bad reasons. The emergence of its current leadership and the power play that has inundated the Assembly, is unimaginable. From flagrant disregards for resolutions of the Senate, to the trial of its leaders, it is now a case of ‘one week, one trouble’.
But we need to interrogate certain nuisances of the parliament and draw the attention of lawmakers to what they know already. Many Nigerians, rightly or wrongly, perceive the 8th Senate as a ‘den of robbers’. They are obviously not right. There are still good people in the Red Chamber.
Nonetheless, I think it’s time to tell ourselves the truth. The time for the Senate to come to equity with clean hands has come. The upper legislative chamber has been repeatedly accused of condoning corruption. Its members have been accused of soliciting for bribes from heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The unending accusations have become so repetitive that Nigerians have come to accept them as truths.
Sadly, however, the leadership of the Senate remains unperturbed. This is a dangerous sign and like other Nigerians, it has got to stop. Let me replay what a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, alleged about a fortnight ago in Abuja.
“Members of the National Assembly engage in bribe taking when they pursue committee works and oversight and I wonder what is happening with intelligence and investigative responsibilities of security agencies in policing our National Assembly. Some chairmen of the committees in the National Assembly have become notorious on this issue of demanding for bribe with impunity.”
One had expected that the Senate leadership will finally do the needful and end this endless circle of accusations. But not so. In a disappointing manner, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, has played it down. He lost a golden opportunity to fix the image of the parliament by instituting a probe panel to unearth senators or heads of the various standing and ad hoc committees, who may have asked for bribes from heads of MDAs.
This was Saraki’s disappointing response to Jega’s bullet: “I was at the programme. Myself and the Speaker were highly embarrassed by this kind of comment. All of us are committed to the fight against corruption. But I believe it doesn’t help the fight against corruption. It is a slight to the integrity of some of us, where such a statement is made.
“If he has those kinds of evidence, he should bring it forward. Because to say that, is to suggest that every member of the National Assembly is part of this even those who are not part of this are condoling this action which is far from the truth.
“I think what Professor (Jega) who is respected should come out and mention these kinds of members he is aware of. If he can’t come out and name then, he should not make such branding statements. Going forward, in issues that have to do with the institution and a parliament, if there are cases like this, we have always said that we are not going to cover up for anybody. They should name them and see what the institution would do in trying to ensure that the necessary sanctions are taken.”
Another opportunity popped up last Wednesday on the floor of the Senate, to fix the image of the parliament. Again, it was bungled. Surprisingly, the damaging accusations came from a fellow senator: Kabiru Marafa.
Trouble started in the troubled chamber when members considered the report of the committee on INEC on the screening of nominees for confirmation as resident electoral commissioners.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Suleiman Nazif, presented his report for consideration by the Senate. Nazif said the committee recommended that the nominee from Zamfara State, Ahmad Bello Mahmud be rejected.
But, Marafa from Zamfara State, openly accused the screening committee of being heavily “compromised to return uncomplimentary comments on Mahmud.” A fearless Marafa insisted that he had it on good authority that the committee was compromised to turn down Mahmud’s nomination.
He challenged the chairman of the committee to provide the affidavit in support of the petition it claimed to have received against Mahmud.
Marafa said: “I have evidence that the committee was heavily compromised to write its report. The committee should tender the affidavit in support of the petition it claimed that was written against the nominee.” Senator James Manager from Delta State, threw his weight behind Marafa. Manager said as far as he was concerned, the report was incomplete.
In a familiar move, Saraki asked Marafa to withdraw the “offensive” comments as well as to apologise to Nazif. Marafa reluctantly withdrew his comments, but refused to apologise to Nazif. Marafa stood his ground and said he was not prepared to apologise to anybody.
Saraki issued a threat. He threatened to refer Marafa’s claim to the Senate committee on Ethics if he didn’t withdraw his claims. Our joy as parliamentary reporters was ruined, when Saraki failed to carry out his threat.
At least, one had thought that revelations that would have emanated from Ethics committee, would have fixed the integrity crisis rocking the Senate.
The sad irony on that day was that, the man at the centre of the allegations, Senator Nazif, didn’t deny the claims. He didn’t protest the claims made by Marafa. He sat there and said nothing. Rather than investigate the authenticity of those allegations, Saraki looked the other way.
Those who come to equity must come with clean hands and the Nigerian Senate has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not ready to change its damaging public perception. In this part of the world, perception is reality. You are first presumed to be guilty, until a competent court clears your name.
Now, this is the meat of my interventionist treaty. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Professor Itsey Sagay, Femi Falana, Junaid Mohammed and other key stakeholders have at one time, described the Senate as a ‘den of thieves’.
Why is it so inconvenient for the Senate to purge itself and set the records straight? Why can’t it constitute its own probe panel to investigate all the damaging allegations against its members and put this to rest? What is the Senate afraid of?
Ironically, whenever there are similar allegations raised against heads of MDAs, the Senate hurriedly investigates and shames those involved. Former
Secretary to Government of the Federation, David Babahir Lawal, was shamed by the Senate and sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Senate quickly gave nod to its Committee on Establishment to probe the reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina by Buhari’s administration. It constituted an ad hoc committee to probe the face-off among security agencies. The number of infinitesimal issues so far investigated by the 8th are numerous.
Almost every week, the Senate investigates something new. Why is it so inconvenient for the same Senate to clean its own house? No one has concluded that the Senate is corrupt. But the repeated allegations that some of its members are notorious bribe seekers, must be probed.
This has got nothing to do with Saraki or other members of the parliament. This is about sustaining the integrity of the institution. The current occupants of the parliament are like tenants. Like a military barrack, they will leave someday. But if the institution is destroyed, what then are we doing?
The image of the 8th Senate has been severely battered. It has also lost the sympathy of the public. Journalists covering the beat can’t wait for the current Assembly to go. Almost everyone has given up. These are the sad realities on ground.
If the Senate is desirous of fixing its battered image and win back our trust, let it institute a probe panel to investigate allegations raised against its members. Let it open the floodgates and invite heads of MDAs to testify and set the records straight. Let those found guilty be shamed.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Don’t hate me. I’m just a messenger. What do I know?
I so submit!