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Resolute, Ruthless Senate

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Nigerians have a king-size disdain for members of the National Assembly (NASS). This has less to do with the lawmakers making bad or frivolous laws as it has to do with their vaulting avarice and self-centredness.

In addition to carrying out its constitutional law making responsibilities, NASS added to itself the responsibility of interrogating policies of the executive arm and subjecting them to critical intellectual, economic and social analysis. The constitution provides for a four- year cycle for National Assembly, while a legislative session by NASS’ stipulation must consist not less than 181 days within a legislative year.

Because they are elected representatives of the people, and consist the largest convergence of ethnicities, religious and cultural denominations in the country’s   governance structure, they have a bragging right of having custody of the sovereignty of the people. It is no doubt a big deal to be a federal legislator. Like I have stated earlier in this column, the legislature stands in with the constitution, to the extent that it leaves the executive without munitions and power against the legislature, especially a legislature that knows its onions.

Unless where a governor or president outsmarts the legislature and successfully ties it to his apron strings, otherwise the sweeping powers of the executive to get all it wants, hobbles before the legislature. This is a discomfort that has turned governors adept in the game of divide and rule against state assemblies and further drive them to subordinate the assemblies by controlling the flow of their finances.

Painfully, the legislature is self-moderating, leaving it with some kind of absoluteness with power and all its tragedies. For an entity charged by the constitution with the sacred duty to make laws for the “peace, order and good governance of the federation,” it is worrisome that a good number of its members report for work for less than one-third of the legislative year and for which they endlessly conspire to grab a chunky size of public fund for what often are mediocre performances on the job they voluntarily signed for.

While neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives has genuinely bothered to take a shot at image redemption since the 19 years’ plague of the locusts we get from them, the current 8th Senate has either by design or chance, endeared itself to perceptive watchers with the paths of resoluteness, internal discipline and subdued partisanship it has charted. The path to this narrative of distinction reaches back to its inception in 2015.

For this, the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, stands alone as the only presiding officer of the Senate since 1999, whom neither the executive, nor the commanding height of the ruling party had a say or hand in his nomination and election. Irrespective of how distasteful this sounds in the ears of the ruling APC apparatchik as well as the executive, it is a record that nourishes democracy, legislative independence and the principle of separation of powers. It is a trail Saraki and the 8th Senate blazed which a reversal in future would only mean a return to the superannuated. Despite threats and orchestrations from the ruling party, the 8th Senate hung tough on its choice of leadership, ensuring that the gutlessness of the 4th and 5th Senate, which ensured that the red legislative chamber had five Senate presidents in eight years, belonged to the dustbin of history. Same for its bipartisan Senate leadership in a chamber the ruling party has a simple majority. The Senate has stuck to Ike Ekweremadu of the opposition PDP as deputy president even with the availability of an APC senator from the South-east. Though the development hardly sounds as music in the ears of party supremacists, it supremely testifies to a strong institution, capable of holding out and holding off.

Rather than diminish the stature, capacity and competence of the Senate, these peculiarities at different turns, rather reinforce the resoluteness and near single-mindedness with which the Senate conducts its affairs, blurring partisan cleavages. Much as the 8th Senate has earned a cachet for both internal and external bare-knuckle fights, at the core of the fights has been the need for a reign of discipline, institutional integrity and assertion. The sticks the Senate weighs have often been impassive responses that consider no room for what we used to know and hear as “family affair.”

For what it viewed as a lack of discretion in his allegations of high-end armoured car purchase and certificate forgery against Saraki and Senator Dino Melaye respectively, Senator Ali Ndume, APC Borno-south, March last year got a six months suspension from the Senate. Two months earlier, Ndume for a similar indiscretion in his perspective on the Senate’s non-confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman was shoved out as APC’s majority leader in the Senate, giving way to Ahmed Lawan.

While many gave no hang over Senate’s amendment of the Electoral Act 2010, the insertion of Section 25, which altered the 2019 election sequence drew flacks from president’s men and remains at the core of a roiling beef between the Senate and the executive. Senate Adamu Abdullahi, who led a protest of a handful of senators against the Senate’s order of election was promptly removed as chairman of Northern Senators Forum, while Senator Omo-Agege, APC, Delta-central, for his belief that the Senate’s sequence of election was targeted to disadvantage the president in next year’s presidential election was last week suspended from the Senate for 90 days. Not even the “Parliamentary Support Group”, a pro- Buhari tendency in the Senate was spared by the Senate.

These last two transpired as the Senate is in the process of overriding the president’s veto over his refusal to assent to the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill. While the Senate is at the risk of appearing unsympathetic to commentaries and issues unkind to it, I hold it high for its low tolerance for internal rascality and assertiveness. At the core of the veto override is its disagreement with the executive over the sequence of the 2019 general election.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had slated the presidential and National Assembly elections to hold first on February 16, 2019, while governorship and state assembly elections would follow on March 2, 2019. With the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the first item of election becomes that of the National Assembly, followed by that of state lawmakers and governors, while the presidential election will have to bring up the rear. The Senate passed the bill on the account that the first election in its own sequence would ensure a level playing field by not triggering a bandwagon effect on the voters, while the president refused his assent on three grounds, which the undeclared is that it denied his party the opportunity of reaping from the domino effect the victory he hopes for in the presidential election would have on voters. This is why I think the Senate stands on more irreproachable, fair and just grounds.



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