The legislative arm of government in any democratic system is a very important one and some would even add that it is the most important arm. Ideally, the members are the people’s voice because in them lies the epitome of popular representation. Representative democracy finds its true meaning in these representatives of the people. This piece is far from denigrating the legislature as an institution, but it is at war with how members of this important arm of government operate in setting our democratic journey backward in Nigeria.
The National Assembly (NASS) of Nigeria (made up of the Senate and House of Representatives), has long since the return to democratic rule in 1999, been an epitome of conservative, retrogressive and reactionary politics where Nigeria’s fault lines are magnified for selfish, sectional, regional, religious and ethnic interests. It is the hotbed of divisive politics where the heating of polity holds sway. Above all, by its sheer number of law makers, it is the most expensive and yet painfully very wasteful in its structure, functions, actual operations and members’ unquenchable drive for the good things of life. For this singular reason therefore, it is an arm of government that helps to exacerbate and perpetuate poverty in the land. It is not surprising that Nigeria retrogressively became the poverty capital of the world.
The Senate appears to be the worst of the two Chambers with respect to these criticisms. As everyone knows, the Senate has long become the retirement home of former state governors whether merited and accomplished or not. This group in the senate are more occupied nurturing their political empires in the state and constituting nuisance at the state level and at the federal level for serving governors who are in perpetual competition with them. And part of the reasons why not much progress is made at the state level is due principally to the overbearing influence of these old and not tired political war horses, who are overtly or covertly fighting directly (or indirectly through their surrogates) against the governors. Fighting for their survival, governors spend more time and resources establishing their own political empires and/or dynasties against these threats.
The Senate has also been the most retrogressive in efforts to promote our democracy. This outgoing 9th Assembly was notorious in confirming appointments from the president that ordinarily a senate with critical minds should not have done so. The most notable and scandalous confirmation were some State Resident Electoral Commissioners (including Mr. Hudu Yunusa Ari) whose names were submitted by the president in July 26, 2022 in spite of serious opposition from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) with overwhelming evidence. The illegal declaration of governorship election result in Adamawa State by the Resident Electoral Commissioner Mr. Hudu Yunusa Ari would not have occurred if such a character was not confirmed by the senate. There was also the approval of the controversial Ways and Means huge loan of N22.7tn. It initially rejected the request last year to the satisfaction of Nigerians, but like a typical rubber stamp Assembly, it eventually approved the request at the end of the day in May 2023. This loan was in the first place, incurred without the prior approval of the senate which is a violation of constitutional provision, and yet the request went through.
Again, as this piece was being drafted, few days to the exit of the Buhari administration, Senate was also asked to give approval to judgement debts amounting variously to $556m, £98m and N226bn. An administration which lasted for eight years suddenly discovered itself and its various responsibilities at the eleventh hour to its exit. Something was definitely wrong and the institution charged with the responsibility to checkmate such anomaly is one that demonstrated lack of independent and critical oversight for eight good years. It is quite unfortunate that Nigeria went through such abysmal level of bad governance in both the executive and legislative arms of government. If the RUBBER STAMP 9th Senate rejects this request, Nigerians would be pleasantly surprised, otherwise, this would be a slap on the face of Nigerians in the name of Buhari’s democracy which some people called ‘democrazy’.
Nigerians have not forgotten that it is in this retrogressive 9th Senate that former governors-turned senators denied having SERVICE NETWORK in their communities just because they did not want to support a progressive legislation which required electronic transmission of election results during the highly controversial debate on the 2022 Electoral Bill. Yet they were using such services whenever they were in their villages before the Electoral Bill debate.
An irritating issue in both Chambers (the Senate and House of Representatives) is this idea of being a ranking member with aim of occupying top positions. This is retarding rather than advancing our democracy. We now have a situation where members of both Chambers commit criminal acts in order to be re-elected. Some have killed while others committed serious electoral frauds because they wanted to be re-elected and they actually ‘won’ as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the courts helped them to come back to either the red or green Chambers of NASS. This has to stop. Some who should have been languishing in jail are moving freely because their state attorneys-general would apply nolle prosequi to stop trial of their cases. Democracy has indeed become further diminished rather than advanced or deepened.
Many Nigerians cannot wait to see the end of the 9th National Assembly (NASS) known generally as a rubber-stamp Assembly more particularly the Senate. The truth even is that many enlightened and patriotic Nigerians are praying for the day that the business of law making will be made part-time with members receiving sitting allowances only. Again they are waiting for the day the membership strength of both Chambers would be reduced to approximately one-third of their present number. To say the simple truth, our NASS is a huge burden to this country. Law making cannot be more important than other pressing things of interest to Nigerians, more so in a country where the lawmakers themselves are lawless. The way NASS operates presently is highly promotive of amoral politics. Just look at the huge amount of money the members are spending to occupy one office or another. Almost every day, Transcorp Hilton Abuja has become a market place for those declaring or having meetings to advance their ambitions. ENOUGH is ENOUGH.
•Prof. Isaac N. Obasi can be reached via [email protected].