By Olakunle Olafioye The independent National Electoral Commission has denied media report suggesting that the commission halted the process of recall of the Senator Representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Senator Dino Melaye because the Commission was being blackmailed into abandoning the process as a result of the Senate decision to probe the Tertiary Education Trust…
Weep Not Child is a bestselling book authored by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o of Kenya. It was published in 1964. It was the first English novel to be published by an East African. Specifically, Weep Not, Child deals with the Mau Mau Uprising and “the bewildering dispossession of an entire people of their ancestral land.”
Before I confuse you, let me briefly explain. My focus this week is not Thiong’o’s bestseller. I am a great fan of the Kenyan-born literary icon. I only opted for a title, which is similar to his. Now, that has been settled.
This week, I am going to be very sober and sympathize with our senators, who, in my thinking, need serious bailout. Simply put, our senators are broke. But they will not tell you since no one will likely believe. Instead, they have decided to put on this false appearance and pretend that all is well.
All is not well at all. In fact, some senators maybe too broke to fund their 2019 reelection campaigns. How can they, when some are yet to pay off the huge bank loans they incurred in 2015? And with the biting economic hardship, some lawmakers may not repay their debts before the next election.
Over a year ago, I wrote a well-researched article on the financial crisis in the Senate. The article generated mixed reactions from lawmakers and parliamentary reporters. The public also joined in the reviews. The points I noted in the article were too strange and some readers could not come to terms with them. They were true, notwithstanding.
I had imagined that by now, the coast will be clear and senators will sing new songs again. I guess my expectations were not in order. As I pen this down, some senators cannot meet their basic financial responsibilities. If you are in doubt, let me take you on a ride.
Before change happened, the corridors of National Assembly were among the busiest in the country. Beside the Federal Secretariat, National Assembly was probably the second government institution that had the highest number of human and vehicular presence.
There are three major gates leading to the National Assembly. At each point, visitors are expected to present a tag, which gives them a temporal access to the building. The second access gate, in the past, was tagged the ‘Mecca’ of National Assembly. There, visitors trooped to register their presence before they were granted permission to see their lawmakers. In the past, there were days when over 1,000 visitors struggled to secure the entrance tag.
Those who frequented the National Assembly were predominantly hustlers, job seekers, runs girls, family members of lawmakers, contractors, among others.
While hustlers usually dressed up in well-crafted suits or African prints to look like celebrities, job seekers on the other hand appeared simpler. It was easy to tell the difference.
For the runs girls who almost converted the revered highest lawmaking building into a Red Light District, their provocative dressing separated them from regular girls who were staff of the National Assembly.
Those who were bold enough approached offices of senators and were sometimes lucky to smile home with some goodies. Before President Muhammadu Buhari led Nigeria into its current ‘had I known’ situation, every senator had a special budget, which catered for different categories of help seekers. Their offices were so filled to the brim that some of the visitors had to stand for hours just to have a glimpse of their almighty lawmakers. Well, that is history now since President Buhari was sworn-in on the 29th of May 2015.
In the last two years, human and vehicular activities in the National Assembly have drastically reduced. The second gate of the National Assembly, which was hitherto Abuja’s version of Mecca, now witnesses less human presence. Except for days when there are major events in the National Assembly, the visitors’ car park is seldom filled to capacity.
For our suffering and smiling senators, it’s a season of lamentations, gnashing of teeth and regrets. Some senators, who are speaking off the records, are opening up. They have admitted that they are yet to pay off bank loans they acquired in funding their last campaigns.
These lawmakers you see on television and read about in the newspapers, are feeling the blues. With the current economic downturn and hardship, some banks have reviewed the interest rate without the knowledge of senators who are owing. In fact, they may lose some of their landed properties if they are unable to pay back their loans before the next elections.
Many lawmakers who in the past, were nicknamed Father Christmas by their constituents, have suddenly become akagum. Those who in the past had small budgets to cater for constituents, who frequented their offices, have reneged.
Except for former governors who have turned the Senate to their retirement homes, other lawmakers have changed their phone numbers to avoid their constituents or old friends from calling them. Others have resorted to the use of their personal exit doors, which were in the past, seldom used.
Through the monitors, which are placed in front of their desks, they use the security cameras to gauge the number of visitors in their offices. Worried that they maybe unable to meet their needs, they simply use the private doors to escape, while their visitors spend hours waiting for them.
In the past, senators did not bother to tamper with their salaries. Some of them could not authoritatively tell you how much they earned. Their salaries did not matter. They handled government contracts and were always rewarded by the various ministries, departments and agencies they supervised. Their oversight visits were like jamborees. They lined up in a motorcade and drove round the states like small gods. At the airports, they gave out money freely to security agents who constituted themselves into beggars.
Girlfriends were given new cars and apartments were rented in highbrow areas of Abuja for their mistresses. It was a thing of pride to have a senator as your friend. During festive seasons, heads of agencies would deploy hampers, bags of rice, cows, vegetable oil and rams to villages and home of senators.
Those good old days are now in the history books. I will not divulge the salary of a senator so some of them will not pounce on me. But trust me, it’s poor. Sadly, that is all they have to depend on right now to survive. Do I feel bad? Maybe. Why? Because they spent so much to get into the Red Chamber. In fact, there are 77 new senators out of 109.
Next time you see a senator’s son or daughter in the same public school with you, do not think it’s a sign of humility. Their dad or mum is broke and cannot send them abroad.
When next a senator’s son or daughter sits beside you in a bus, maybe from Lagos to Abuja, do not mistake it for anything. That senator’s child cannot afford to fly. It’s that bad.
Just maybe you walk into a senator in a public or government-owned hospital, do not ask questions. He cannot travel to India, Germany or join President Buhari in London for any medical tourism. He’s broke. On a final note, Nigerians can help them. Senators are lawmakers. In other climes, lawmakers do not have any business with execution of projects. But because something is always wrong with us, we expect the impossible from our lawmakers.
If you want to judge your lawmaker, do that on the basis of the number of bills, motions and contributions he or she has made on the floor of the Senate. That is what they are elected to do. I dey beg una. Make una free these senators. Dem need our sympathy.
I so submit!
One more thing…
Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court finally ended the leadership tussle of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). For PDP senators, it was a sigh of huge relief. Their rank and file was depleting every second. Defections became too rampant and since there was a leadership crisis, the defecting senators could not be stopped.
But addressing newsmen soon after the court gave its verdict, the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, described the judgment as a victory for all Nigerians, the PDP faithful and members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who are lovers of democracy.
He stated that the judgment delivered was expected, because the Supreme Court is the court of justice just as God is a God of Justice, and that Nigerians were desperate to get a viable alternative to the APC.
He said “A monumental event has happened in our dear country; that event is the fact that the seeming intractable problem of the tussle for the chairmanship of the PDP has been settled by the Supreme Court and in favour of all Nigerians and all PDP faithful in Nigeria and all APC members who love democracy.”
Also speaking at the caucus meeting, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said that the Supreme Court judgment on the PDP leadership crisis had ushered in a new dawn of peace, reconciliation, and recovery for the party.
He said “I am happy that the Supreme Court has brought this protracted leadership tussle to an end today. There is no victor and there is no vanquished, but a collective victory for our party and the nation’s democracy. No democracy can prosper in the absence of a virile opposition or under the extreme hardship Nigerians have faced over the past two years. Citizens deserve a viable alternative.”
In his reaction, former president of the Senate, Senator David Mark, said the verdict was for democracy, PDP and Nigerians.He noted that the crisis should not have been allowed to degenerate to the point it got to since it was a family problem, expressing optimism however, that members of the party would have learnt their lessons from the crisis.