Almighty Senate, By Dele Agekameh
It is no longer news. The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the quintessential model for lavish sluggishness. Add highhandedness and a self-centred approach to their duties and you have the complete criteria to become a senator in Nigeria. The exploits of our lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives are world-renowned. Happenings that shock the outside world have become routine ‘skirmishes’ in the legislative houses.
The latest episode in the dramatic sessions of the legislative houses, the Senate in particular, involves two needless issues that leave the Red chamber open to suspicion. Whether it is through tactless attempts at self-preservation or deliberate and shameless misuse of power, it is getting increasingly clear that the senators are unconcerned about the implications of some of their actions. Within a period of two weeks, the senators had rejected, for the second time, the tireless Ibrahim Magu’s nomination as substantive head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and, in the same period, created a row over the dress code of the Comptroller-General of Customs (CG), Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), which has escalated into a national issue.
The CG, on his own part, is wrong on many levels for his sharp and stubborn refusal to don the uniform of the service which he has agreed to head, without coercion and with benefits customarily enjoyed by anyone occupying the position. But it is regrettable, the manner in which such a small issue has been amplified so much that a suit has been filed in court to “determine whether the Senate can compel the CG to wear uniform”.
One cannot make these things up. In a country still reeling from Boko Haram’s menace and in a declining economy that has put millions on the brink of penury, the important issues have been set aside in the pursuit of frivolities. In this case, both sides share equal blame for escalating the inconsequential issue; but the Senate, on account of its antecedents and because of its sheer number against one man, has to be apportioned a greater share of the blame.
The CG was invited to discuss the rationale behind a new policy on the payment of import duty on old and new vehicles which may adversely affect Nigerians in these trying times. However, his appearance before the Senate has been dominated by the issue of dressing. And it is still dragging on, especially now that it is in court. There is no fresh insight into the policy or any indication whether the suspension of the exercise will hold indefinitely or may be lifted. The rumour mill says the president of the Senate is allegedly involved in the apparent non-payment of import duty for some cars and the CG is being humiliated by the Senate for this, so much that the senators have called for his resignation.
Indeed, many of the factors that led to the fall of Rome are present now in the country – a decline in morals, political corruption at every level, antagonism between the Senate and the emperor (president in this case), unemployment, a failing economy, etc.
On the question of Magu, the senators seem to have put into practice the phrase that has been repeated over and again in Nigeria that, “when you fight corruption, corruption fights back”. After all the analysis in the media and by prominent lawyers who followed the initial rejection of Magu in uncommon fashion based on refuted grounds, including accusations of self-interest by the senators, they have now defied the sensibility of Nigerians in general and rubbished the credibility of their offices by persisting in their rejection of a man with a track record for getting the job done.
The posture of the Senate is already having unintended effects. Because of the senators’ propensity for abuse of office, invitees now do everything in their power to avoid appearing before the Senate. The Red chamber had invited the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, to address the house in its probe of the allegations of mismanagement of funds meant for the rehabilitation of the North-East. The SGF sent a letter last Wednesday declining the invitation based on a suit he filed in court challenging the invitation because he believed the call was in a bid to disparage him. Should the Senate require an appearance by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, at a future date, we already have an inkling what would happen as the Senate has declared him unfit for office, along with the CG.
The reason for the utterances and actions of the Senate are not far-fetched. Many senators are ex-governors or ex-office holders at different other levels who have been in the system and have baggage from their previous jobs. Be it old scores to settle, political debts or underhand deals to hide, the baggage slows down the legislative process and affects decision making on critical matters. Added to that is the arrogance that the office brings, which causes every action or utterance against the better judgment of the ‘almighty’ Senate to be an affront which must be ‘punished’.
In their battle for self-preservation, the Senate does not realise how it has become a circle of misfits who routinely accuse each other of all manners of wrongdoing, from outright crimes, to abuse of office and even disrespect to each other, while in another breath, attacking other officials in other arms of government for much the same things. It is no wonder that government functionaries view their invitations with disdain as they have proven themselves to be dedicated only to their own self-interest.
Every arm of government is unique in its contributions to the polity and importance for its sustenance. However, the legislature is the only arm of government solely populated by the representatives of the people, chosen by the people to guard their interests. Where there is rot in the Senate or the legislature generally, then the country is in danger, democracy is in danger and the very existence of the country is at risk. The ancient Roman empire fell at the height of the decadence and self-serving scheming of the Senate in Rome. Indeed, many of the factors that led to the fall of Rome are present now in the country – a decline in morals, political corruption at every level, antagonism between the senate and the emperor (president in this case), unemployment, a failing economy, etc.
One would imagine that even if the CG’s actions and utterances were distasteful, a simple rebuke in the strongest terms, while he was before the Senate, would have sufficed.
Particularly disturbing is the cold war between the arms of government, demonstrated through the consistent rejection of Magu, the repeated friction between the AGF and lawmakers, and the allegations of usurpation of powers by the lawmakers against the judiciary that has to entertain any credible suit brought before it. What is shaping up is an erosion of our democracy, and at its root is the arrogance and decadence of the lawmakers.
Another disturbing development in recent times is the activities of the Department of State Services (DSS), which can be likened to the Praetorian Guards of ancient Rome who were supposed to protect the emperor but evolved into a devious unit that openly opposed the emperor and even influenced the removal and choosing of emperors, with connivance of the senate, of course. We are seeing movements now in this direction and it does not bode well for our ‘empire’, which is already on shaky grounds.
In this gradual slant towards dystopia, and with our lawmakers holding the country to ransome with their inflated egos and exaggerated senses of importance, the future looks bleak. Short of a dissolution of the legislature and replacement by a thoughtful process of elections by the people, who are many times complicit, there seems to be little lee-way for reparation.
Where the senators can knowingly abandon a legitimate purpose to embark on an ego trip to prove real or imagined authority, then such an option may not be so far-fetched. One would imagine that even if the CG’s actions and utterances were distasteful, a simple rebuke in the strongest terms, while he was before the Senate, would have sufficed. The important thing was to get the business of the day done, in the interest of the public.
The protracted delay based on an unrelated matter is unjustifiable and renders the senators themselves seemingly unfit for office, since we are towing that line now. The Senate should clean its own house before pointing fingers.
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