Home Opinion Weak head, strong centre and cold feet

Weak head, strong centre and cold feet

 By Owei Lakemfa
These are interesting times to live in Nigeria. Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu are hurled before the courts on criminal charges of allegedly forging the Senate Standing Rules 2015. It  raises intriguing questions; can the Senate forge its own rules? Which body but the Senate can determine what its rules are? Which forensic expert can detect the original Rules of the Senate from a forgery if the Senate claims that the latter are its actual rules?
If the two presiding officers are sent to prison, it means the Senate must shop for new officers to preside over its affairs. The National Assembly  claims that is the plan of the Executive all along; to carry out a coup in Senate and impose weaklings who  will do its bidding.
This latest drama began a week ago, when on Sunday, June  19, President Muhammadu Buhari returned from a 10-day leave in London. It was one of the biggest receptions in recent times as dancers were on hand to receive him as were a ceremonial Guard of Honour and a tribe of political office holders. The number of ministers who queued  to shake his presidential hands was so large that many newspapers, wisely did not mention names as they may leave out some which can lead to accusations of bias or favouritism.
One man I noticed among the crowd at the airport, was Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) I wondered what he was doing there when he was supposed to be very  busy on the anti-corruption war front, detecting more culprits and announcing them in the mass media. Perhaps he was there to whisper something into the President’s ears. The Senate might also have thought so as it wailed publicly that there was an attempt by the Presidency to unconstitutionally unseat its leadership by conjuring a forgery case and sending its presiding officers to the Kuje Maximum Prison. By the way, I am a consistent and strong advocate of prison reforms as we do not know which member of the political class may take up free residence there.
Two days after the Senate raised the alarm, the Federal Ministry of Justice  crept into the Federal High Court and by oral application, obtained  an order summoning the  Senate leaders to appear in court today, June 27 and granting leave to serve the criminal summons on them by substituted means to wit by pasting it on the Notice Board of the National Assembly.
The Senate erupted in fury. Senator Dino Melaye in a motion adopted unanimously without dissent, insisted that the “Senate Rule 2015 was not forged” and formally accused the Executive of trying to carry out a coup. The motion regretted that  rather than “applying itself to the myriads of problems confronting the nation, including the escalating cost of living, extremism, worsening insecurity, rising ethnic divisions, skyrocketing unemployment, declining national productivity and an economy nose-diving into recession, the Executive continued to be hell-bent on chasing rats while the federation burns.”
The House of Representatives backed the Senate. It  advised the  Executive not to dabble in the internal affairs of the Senate  and to do nothing  that  that will erode the independence of the National Assembly. It warned ““if this ugly trend continues unabated, it will be detrimental to good governance and highly damaging to our democracy.”
I don’t know why National Assembly is  afraid of coups when its leadership is accused of getting to power by executing a coup against the ruling party.
With the unfolding events, I have begun to understand why the NASS is pushing  pension  for the Senate President,  Deputy Senate President, Speaker and  Deputy Speaker. They and their predecessors may need soft financial landing. Part of the problem is that pension is hardly paid and it may not make sense  for a person who works for four years to get life pension. In any case, leaders of the legislature  may not be in office for the duration of a particular Assembly. For instance, when civil rule was restored, the first Senate President, Evan(s) Enwerem was in power for only five months before his impeachment, while his predecessor, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo reigned for nine months before he was replaced by Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. This means the 1999- 2003 Senate had three Presidents   while the House of Representatives  in the same period, had two Speakers; Salisu Buhari (1999-2000) and Ghali Umar Na’Abba. So will all these principal officers have been eligible for pension?
But the legislators have a more strategic plan; to grant immunity to the Senate President, Speaker and their deputies. That way, they would not be dragged before the courts. But in their calculations, they are not contending with the power at the centre which can define the ordinary and implied meaning of immunity. They need to attend the ‘Fayose School of Politics’ which will teach them that despite his  immunity, Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose is, to use a trite, running from pillar  to post as the Federal Might moves in to muscle the strongman of Ekiti politics. Since the governor’s  bank account does not enjoy immunity, it has been frozen, likely, as a first step towards dealing with an irritant.  Fayose claims that despite his armour of immunity, there are plans to stop him from travelling out of the country. He  also accuses the Presidency of  planning to impeach him by arresting some politicians in the state who will then be pressured into carrying out an illegal impeachment.
Ordinarily in a federation, it is the federating units that make up the building blocs; but in Nigeria, it is the central government  that constitutes the federating units. So you have a weak head, and a strong centre. The Nigerian centre is so powerful that the constituting units  orbit  around it like small satellites   just as planets revolve around the sun whose gravity keeps them in their orbits.
Obviously, we need a constitutional restructuring to redress the problem. But unfortunately whenever the National Assembly embarks on this, it develops cold feet and merely proposes cosmetic amendments with hefty price tags.

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