Our Senate as a Senior Prefect
By Tonnie Iredia
In Nigeria, the legislature arm of government has been the most unstable because each time the military seized power it always scrapped the arm. Hence, the legislature is the least developed. It also explains why our legislators have since 1999 when democracy was restored to the country been the most anxious to establish their importance as if they are in a hurry to regain lost grounds.
A typical Nigeran legislator would make the point at any available opportunity that it is only the legislature that is a bonafide organ of democracy. The posture is only to garner importance for the legislator as the most important in a democratic society and as such should take the lion share of our resources.
As Professor Itse Sagay once revealed, they are the highest paid public officers across the globe and they expropriate about 25 percent of our annual budget as calculated by former Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido now the Emir of Kano
However, the Saraki led senate took off on a good note. Saraki took cognizance of the fact that there had in the past been a disconnect between the senate and the people which he promised to quickly reverse. He also touched on the sore issue of oversight. So, no one was surprised that the senate proactively decided to examine and review the salaries of its members that were bloated by inexplicable allowances.
Second, it stood against the crazy idea of paying a whooping sum of N2.7bn severance package to some members of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). Third, it sent a high powered delegation to internally displaced persons in the North-East to empathise with them.
Following criticisms that the National Assembly plans to purchase 469 vehicles during this recession, Saraki reportedly pledged that his team had made the plugging of leakages and cutting of wastages in our public expenditure system a priority. In his words “this may have happened in the past but it will not happen with us.” Most recently, the senate stopped another crazy idea by the customs service to virtually invade our private car parks in search of alleged illegally cleared vehicles.
There is however the growing trend which began during the Jonathan administration of over-heating the polity in the posture of the legislature which needs to be watched. The first is the tendency to either humiliate or deprive top government officials of their livelihood without just cause.
In 2012, for instance, the Director-General of the BPE, Bolanle Onagoruwa was removed following a senate report on the “illegal and fraudulent sale of the Federal Government’s shares in the Eleme Petrochemical Company limited.” Can we in honesty credit the problem to a Director General bearing in mind how such officials are manipulated by supervising ministers, presidency and oversight committees of the legislature?
When the legislature sought to do same to another Director General, this time, Aruma Oteh of the Security and Exchange Commission and the President was not so disposed, the senate teamed up with the lower chamber that the lady must be sacked as they resolved. But they were silent on the revelation that one of them demanded and collected N44 million in addition to a business class ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic for a conference, which was neither made nor the money returned
How the senate invites people to appear before it is fast becoming a minus. In the case of ministerial clearance, it is obvious that the subject is being handled like a discretionary rather than a constitutional mandate of the senate. Musiliu Obanikoro was cleared to become a Minister of the Federal Republic at a time when he was facing severe allegations of public interest.
The same ‘take a bow and go’ privilege was accorded Minister Abba Moro. In other cases, it is drama which often derogates from the hitherto high profile of the senate. When Minister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was invited to brief senators on issues of finance, she couldn’t make it but Dr. Yerima Lawal Ngama, Minister of State (Finance) who was available was disallowed from presenting the information.
If both Iweala and Ngama were cleared by the senate as ministers and both were in the same ministry why was one of them seen as unfit? The insistence by the legislature that the information could only be presented by Minister Iweala showed ample ego. As we asked then, did the lawmakers imagine that the information was hidden in Ngozi’s special head- tie?
The failure to conduct all pending re-run elections into legislative positions in Rivers State had become a matter of serious concern to many people at a point. Rather than present, a special resolution demanding the immediate handling of the subject our senators on November 02, 2016 decided to threaten to go on strike if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to conduct the election.
Again, having resolved the substantive issue of putting a halt to the obnoxious customs duty policy, the cosmetics of posing as a body anxious to humiliate Col Hammed Ali the Comptroller General Customs was unnecessary. The Chief Executive of Immigration wears uniform without easing the pains of those who have transactions with his organization.
The uniform of the Prisons boss has reduced nothing from the ages of perennial congestion. Successive Police Inspectors General have been wearing uniforms but hoodlums always snatch ballot boxes at election venues in a state to which the police deployed an average of 25,000 operatives.
Nigerian legislators seem to believe that their oversight functions put them above everyone else when it is actually designed as a check and balance mechanism. It is like judiciary saying that because it is authorised to resolve disputes of the other two arms it means judges are superior to all.
A few years back, the famous Diezani Madueke declined on legal grounds to respond to a legislative summon, now both the Comptroller General of Customs and the Secretary to the Government of the federation have taken the same line.
Our democracy is being weakened not only by those who prefer legal guidance but also by those who whimsically like Senior Prefects issue ego-based summons. If senators have a case against a staff of the executive, it should convey its observation to that arm instead of the current trend of television judgments.