By Aniebo Nwamu
Many expected the Nigerian Senate to commit harakiri last week by suspending Senator Kabiru Marafa of Zamfara Central district from the red chamber. Its committee on ethics had recommended the punishment. It appears, however, that caution and peace have spoken to the senators and the matter has been postponed sine die.
Senator Marafa, described severally as anti-Saraki or pro-Lawan, was pilloried by his opponents in the Senate for expressing his views in an interview published three weeks ago. According to the latter-day Idi Amins of Nigeria [the Ugandan dictator said he could promise freedom of expression but NOT freedom after expression], Marafa had belittled the Senate by agreeing with Obasanjo that the upper chamber was corrupt. They asked the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to put Marafa on trial. Days later, the committee recommended Marafa’s suspension partly because he refused to appear before it. Marafa denied the charge that he was invited again after he had written to explain why he would be absent on the first date.
What could have irked the senators anyway? Based on the interview published in Sunday Punch, no impartial person would find Marafa guilty of insulting the Senate in which he belongs. The Senate’s action is a matter of giving the dog a bad name in order to hang it. For instance, in answer to the first question, which was on Obasanjo’s claim, Marafa stated that Obasanjo was not referring to the 8th Senate in particular but to the budgets of 10 to 15 years ago.
Was it because of his criticism of the N120bn—N150bn annual budget of the National Assembly? He said: “Sharing money should not be the basis of the performance of legislators.” Even then, he dispelled the widespread impression that 109 senators and 360 House of Reps members share the money: “I think that is wrong – absolutely wrong! The National Assembly is an institution; each senator and each member of the House of Representatives is entitled to about five aides, which is even too small if you are to function very well.”
Or, are the legislators spoiling for war because of his comment on the N4.7bn budgeted for cars even when each senator had got a car loan? He spoke for all oppressed Nigerians: “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. We should abandon it.”
Or his view on the current Senate’s lack of respect for seniority? “Part of what we are fighting today is the jettisoning of this issue of seniority to the advantage of newcomers, which is putting the entire Senate upside down.” Beyond these, I don’t see where Marafa failed to defend his colleagues.
The Senate seems evenly divided between supporters of Bukola Saraki and Ahmad Lawan, two contestants for the seat of Senate president until June 9, last year. Marafa is pro-Lawan. And now, the seat is threatened once again as Saraki is set to have his days at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Though he may not resign before the conclusion of his trial at the CCT, he may not remain Senate president after the trial. Could this be the reason pro-Saraki senators are after a leader of the pro-Lawan group? It’s unfortunate the Saraki-Lawan divide has not been bridged, eight months after the contest for Senate president.
The unseen hand tightening the noose on Marafa, I have gathered, is another senator from his home state, Ahmed Yerima. Marafa’s popularity seems to be overshadowing the two-term governor of Zamfara State and originator of Sharia law in a section of the country. Pulling Marafa down would make him stronger in the politics of Zamfara State, the thinking goes.
Any doubt about the existence of an unseen hand should be erased by a statement released by 11 members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Kabir Ajanah, Mustafa Dawaki, Gaza Gbefwi, Supo Adeola, Adamu Kamale, Rita Orji, Chukwueke Anohu, Zakari Mohammed, Gabriel Onyewife, Ali Issa and Victor Nwokolo spoke of “the integrity of the entire National Assembly over which the Senate President presides as chairman” and which Marafa had sullied. They became interested in the Senate matter, they said, after realising that Marafa’s attacks on Saraki were “misconceived”.
Interesting, isn’t it? The House members were so idle that they considered it necessary to dabble into the affairs of the Senate! So we have House members asking to be hired to fight the Senate’s wars? The 11 House members are clearly working for the pro-Saraki camp. I heard that former speaker and now Sokoto State governor Aminu Tambuwal is also interested in the matter.
Not much should be expected from the 8th Senate and House of Representatives, so long as each chamber is divided into camps. Perpetual wrangling ruined the past sessions of the National Assembly. It may not spare this one, unless the lawmakers step back from the precipice now.
Practical Economist Ifeanyi Ubah
Something akin to a miracle happened in Nigeria last week. One American dollar that was exchanging for N400 at the parallel market on Sunday climbed down to N220 by Thursday. Some commentators have been trying to give the credit for this miracle to President Buhari (for reiterating, in Saudi Arabia, that the naira would not be devalued) or to the Central Bank of Nigeria (for adopting “new tactics”).
I don’t see any truth in either claim. What we all know is that, last Sunday, a businessman, Mr Ifeanyi Ubah, boasted on Channels television that, if the CBN named him a consultant, he would bring down the dollar to N200 within a month. Almost immediately after the TV programme, the dollar crash started.
The only way one would give the credit to CBN is if its “new tactics” preceded last week and had involved hiring Ubah to make the statement that forced dollar hoarders to sell in panic. What happened, I guess, is that Mr Ubah indeed knows the manipulators of the black market, and they took fright when he threatened to expose them. Likely, certain importers of petroleum products and bankers were not far from the radar.
Mr Ubah qualifies as our economist of the year 2016. That his pronouncement alone could force the dollar to shed almost 50 per cent of its weight within four days points to the right calibre of people Buhari should have in his economic team. He requires not just Harvard-trained or Oxford-trained theorists but practical, streetwise economists like Ubah. I remember he once ended fuel scarcity through a similar magic.
Part of the nation’s problem is failure to give credit where it is due. Officialdom is fond of claiming victory even before a battle ends. That’s perhaps why Boko Haram gets “defeated” every day and yet the terrorists keep killing people every day. No recognition for people with practical ideas! Those who seek to deny Ubah credit – and those who condemn him for no reason – should reverse the naira’s decline once more. By yesterday it had descended to N320 for $1. Only ideas that produce results should matter now.