The shame of a diminished senate
By Louis Odion, FNGE
Increasingly obsessed with sleaze and scandals, it is unknown how many of our conniving senators still have the presence of mind today to ponder history. Those who do would perhaps have encountered the name Oliver Cromwell, the British general, who turned England a republic and taught it puritan values.
Convinced the parliament had transmuted to the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah by the middle of the 17th century, the new lawgiver did not hesitate to dismiss the assembly. But not before he made a searing speech at the House of Commons on April 20, 1653, the echo of which must have haunted the buccaneering lawmakers for the rest of their lives.
His words: “It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
“Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.
“In the name of God, go!”
Well, the perfidies and iniquities Cromwell lamented in the Long parliament in the 17th century Europe would seem very much alive in Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber today as personal interests are shamelessly camouflaged as public cause.
To be fair, even in mature democracies often held up as model for the fledgling ones, the legislative chamber is never always the best place to find angels. But elsewhere, there is always a concerted effort to hide, to conceal the dirty linen, out of respect for public sensibilities and shared commitment to preserve the corporate integrity of that very space.
Certainly, nowhere is venality and rascality so glamorized as we are beginning to see in the Nigerian Senate lately.
Legal titan, Professor Itse Sagay, is the latest to be dragged into the seedy arena.
The chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Tuesday took an unprecedented step by issuing the Senate an ultimatum to eat its words, failing which he would slap it with a suit for daring to as much as contemplate subpoenaing him over an earlier comment that the senators acted “childish and irresponsible” by refusing to screen 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners over President Buhari’s retention of Ibrahim Magu as acting head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Predictably, the law professor has meticulously outlined the futility of Senate’s plan in a statement, citing legal authorities to back his argument.
Whether the Senate sticks to its guns and Sagay resorts to court is, however, not the issue. Rather, what is invariably exposed is the obsession of certain elements at the Senate to impose their own will on the nation and the ridiculous length they will travel in pursuit of a personal agenda.
To be sure, this writer is sold on the imperative of the independence of both the legislature and the judiciary as the surest institutional valve against executive tyranny.
But in the present circumstance, those deploying such fine argument in defence of the ongoing Senate intransigence however suddenly turn dumb when reminded of the underlining certainty of blackmail in the Magu blockade.
By describing the senators as “childish and irresponsible”, Sagay could, in fact, be accused of being too charitable. By harbouring a nest of former governors standing trial for massive theft while in office, failed contractors, certificate impostors, a practising bearded pedophile, a fugitive who jumped bail in London and one “drug baron” absconding from American justice, Nigerians who choose to view the red chamber as presently constituted as a den of shifty characters cannot therefore be accused of libel or hyperbole.
It is, therefore, more in the interests of these “suspects” that a hard-tackling Magu is prevented from continuing at the EFFC than the advertised fixation on the so-called disabling memos by the DSS. To argue otherwise is to assume all Nigerians are big fools.
Last week, Ali Ndume, senator representing Borno South, was thrown out of the chamber based on the report of the Ethics Committee that he had raised a false alarm over the imported bullet-proof SUV belonging to senate president Bukola Saraki and Dino Melaye’s counterfeit academic claims. In short, they seemed to accuse Ndume of exaggeration. But exaggeration, as Khalib Gibran tells us, is only a truth that has lost its temper.
What’s more, Ndume also happened to be Magu’s only vocal advocate in the chamber. What a clever way to silence that dissent once and for all.
But without Ndume’s raising the red flag, how would we have known that an SUV imported for Saraki was cleared with forged documents? Without SaharaReporters championing the public scrutiny of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) records, how would we have known that loquacious Dino entered the school with “incomplete” result and spent record eight years to graduate with a pass, yet again in the most shadowy circumstances, in what would have taken even a poorly endowed student four years to finish?
And that the chain of “Harvard, Oxford degrees” he used to flaunt on social media were actually not more than glossy letters acknowledging attendance of nothing more than a week seminar?
For the temerity to impound on the highway the SUV meant for the use and comfort of the Senate president, our almighty senators had summoned Customs boss Hameed Ali and, to exact a pound of flesh, thought of the harshest humiliation possible for him. He would not even be allowed a seat in the chamber until he wore the service uniform.
Again, the Senate is diminished when the other side of Lawal Babachir’s grass-cutting scam is told. Sure, the yarn spurned by the Secretary to the Federal Government to absolve himself of complicity in the contract scandal is hard to believe.
Conversely, it does our senators no good either when Babachir’s apologists squealed that the Senate chose to blow the bugle and, in fact, asked Buhari to fire the government scribe only because he had insisted it was not the job of federal lawmakers to execute constituency projects.
To be fair, among the irredeemable in the red chamber are a few conscientious senators. But as the upper legislature continues to hobble from one scandal to another, they, unfortunately, are also vicariously liable and so lose respect in the eyes of the Nigerian people.
Nigeria without Dangote?
Listening to Alhaji Aliko Dangote speak at a colloquium held penultimate Tuesday in Lagos to mark Asiwaju’s 65th birthday, one could again not help feeling the magnitude of the Nigerian tragedy inflicted by leadership deficit.
He did not feature in the original programme. But who is better qualified to speak authoritatively at a ceremony where entrepreneurship is broached than someone who started humbly as a merchant in his native Kano with loan from an uncle as capital and, forty years later, is now rated the richest black man on earth?
Though impromptu, Dangote spoke with the depth and clarity of a professor. His facility with statistics is remarkable indeed. His prescriptions: entrepreneurs in Nigeria will do better with stable power supply on the one hand, and policy consistency/coherence on the other.
A doer himself, he has walked the talk in the cement sector. From being world’s second biggest importer of cement a decade ago, Dangote has helped his fatherland achieve not just self-sufficiency in the commodity but also pushed her to becoming a big cement exporter, thereby earning the much needed forex.
Obviously a pathfinder, Dangote has since shifted his luminous lights towards crude refining. Denied in 2007 the custody of Port Harcourt Refinery he earlier acquired with his friend, Femi Otedola, through privatization, Dangote thereafter chose a more tortuous path to make the loudest statement.
He is currently building from the scratch a brand refinery already rated Africa’s biggest with the capacity to refine a whopping 650,000 bpd and the largest single train of its kind in the world. (The combined capacity of all Nigeria’s refineries is less than 450,000 bpd with actual utilization today less than a miserly 10 percent, despite billions of dollars splurged on them over the years in the name of Turn-And-Maintenance.)
To pull this through, he has had to substantially tap international lenders to raise a colossal $12b for the project.
The good news is that, just as we no longer waste forex on cement import, Dangote Refinery located in swampy Lekki, Lagos will, beginning from 2019, ensure that Nigeria no longer wastes forex on importation of petrol, diesel and kerosene, thereby helping to conserving at least $10b yearly. That way, Dangote would, at least, have helped end Nigeria’s shame by lifting the old curse of “a nation importing what it already has”.
The emerging Dangote Refinery will not only save Nigeria N10b annually, it will also create 250,000 fresh jobs for Nigerians.
Already, fables and gossips are fast mushrooming around the gargantuan plant currently under construction day and night. The most widespread being that it occupies a land mass (2,200 hectares) that is six times the size of the upscale Victoria Island in Lagos.
However, my own take-away is different. To power the humongous plant, Dangote has had to build an independent power plant, just like he did for the Cement factory in Obajana, Kogi State. From records now made public, it costs him an average of $400,000 to build one mega watt. But wait for the figure often quoted by the Federal Government for the same item – $2m!
What makes it doubly tragic is that with $400,000, Dangote delivers mega watt that brings real electricity. Nigeria squanders $2m to generate pitch darkness.
Under Obasanjo, not less than $16b, according to House of Reps reports in 2008, was spent on power projects. A decade later, that colossal expenditure has not translated to a marked improvement in energy generation. Fifty-six years after independence, power generation still oscillates around 4,000.
Back in the 70s, a national committee chaired by Chief Olu Falae had projected the nation’s energy need to be 10,000 mega watts by 2000. Sadly, with a population of less than 100m in 1988, official records indicated NEPA’s generation capacity was 4,000 mega watts.
When Obasanjo left office ten years ago, power generation had fallen to 3,000 mega watts. Ten years later, and with population now around 180 million, we are back to generating 4,000 mega watts.
However, with $16b, Dangote would have produced mega watts in excess of 6,000.
Is anyone still wondering why Nigeria remains poor infra-structurally today despite hundreds of billions of dollars received through oil sale and squandered in the last fifty years.
On the mega watt alone, Aliko has, perhaps unwittingly, exposed Nigeria’s culture of waste and systemic theft. Entrepreneurs with depth and creativity like Aliko and Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr are few.
Theirs is real production and wealth-creation ultimately, not rent-seeking. In their daily grind of turning raw materials to finished good, they send a clear message that the country has no business with poverty; that much more could be attained with far less. Indeed, if any progress has been made in the national economy at all in the last decade, the credit substantially belongs to the patriotic tenacity of a few like them.
All said, the new Lagos Refinery is a monument to vision, courage and tenacity of one man – Aliko, whose 60th birthday is, by the way, next Monday. There can’t be a better time to salute a Nigerian patriot, a truly deserving Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).