The Nigerian Senate: An Ignoble Assembly
by Deji Yesufu
April 2015 will remain a month that cannot be easily forgotten in the political annals of Nigerian. It was the month that saw the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan defeated by his leading rival, Muhammadu Buhari, at the Presidential poles of that year. Hopes were indeed high that providence had smiled upon Nigeria and that we had entered into a new era of progress, prosperity and purpose as a country.
This nation began witnessing a damping of this hope when the Nigerian Senate constituted to elect a Senate President. The ruling All Progressive Party (APC) had preferred another candidate to lead the Senate but right before our eyes, and virtually unopposed, some People Democratic Party (PDP) Senators, along with some Senators from the APC, came together and elected Bukola Saraki, former Governor of Kwara State, as their president. Many people consider the events of that day the beginning of the downward trend that the present Nigerian Senate seem to have been going since its inception in June 2015.
Having elected principal officers that were not the wishes of the ruling party, the Nigerian Senate began its duty at logger heads with the Executive arm of government and the APC party leaders. The President sensed this and called for a parley among politicians in the ruling APC. In that meeting, Buhari made the point that clearly the APC had won a battle by taking over power from the PDP. But he warned against his party loosing the overall war if members of the ruling party continue to tear at each other in the name of gaining position.
The Nigerian Senate comes to many Nigerians as a conglomerate of self serving individuals. Clearly not every Senator is like this but the leading members continue to make this impression on Nigerians. Once Nigerians youths got sick and tired of their ignobility and decided to #OccupyNass but with time even that campaign died down and these men and women of the red chamber continued in their ways.
Right from the inception of the fourth Republic in 1999, the Nigerian Senate has never really had a good testimony among Nigerians. But the presently constituted assembly seem to possess the worst testimony of all time. While the Senate’s main duty is to promulgate laws for the proper running of the Nigerian nation, it seem all the laws that our Senators enact are laws that will improve their own welfare. So much so that at some point, no one could say for sure what exactly a Senator in this country was earning.
The lead on this mystery was however recently blown open by Senator Shehu Sani who revealed to Nigerians in an interview he granted that each Senator is entitled to a monthly salary of N750,000. He also revealed that each Senator is given a sum of N13.5M as running cost each month. This is besides the N200M that is given to each of them for consistency projects. Non of the Senators have been able to refute this position; instead many of them are telling Nigerian, without shame, that what Senator Sani has revealed is not news.
Many prominent Nigerians, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, have criticized the Nigerian Senate as a conglomerate of wasteful and irresponsible lot. Recently the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay, called on Nigerian not to refer to Nigerian Senators as distinguished. For stating this fact, which many Nigerians have always known, many Senators have called for Prof. Sagay’s head. Some of them are even calling his statement “hate speech”.
The subject of hate speech leads me to the lowest rung that the Nigerian Senate has recently sunk to. There is a bill before the Nigerian Senate that is called the “Hate Speech Bill”. It reads in part: “any person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or direct the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words, commits an offence.” This bill is being canvassed by our Senators and it comes with a penalty of 5 years imprisonment or a fine of N10M; or both. If, however, the hate speech leads to the death of another, the person who is found guilty of the offence of speaking hate to the public could be killed.
At face value this bill looks good and carries with it the notion of curbing statements that have the tendency to destabilize society. But at closer examination, one realizes that this bill is actually a hate bill designed to curb free speech, especially the kind that has continued to keep our Senators in check since they assumed office. The number one persons this bill will hunt if it is ever enacted are bloggers – those who have constituted themselves the leading voice against the excesses of Nigerian Senators.
For example, Senator Bukola Saraki and Senator Dino Melaye have been two Senators that Saharareporters have investigated extensively and thus revealed much of their dirty linens to the public. It is believed that this bill is aimed to curb this sort of information sharing.
Those who have opposed the Hate Speech Bill have said that it runs contrary to the laws of the Nigerian nation as stated in the 1999 Constitution, chapter 4, sections 38-39; where freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion is guaranteed to every Nigerian. A Hate Speech Bill will be wrested by an irresponsible political class to gag free speech and information dissemination. The laws that set up cooperations like the Nigerian Broadcasting Cooperation, Advertising Practitioners Council and the Nigerian Press Code already discourage libellous statements from being made against any one. If the Nigerian Senate is really intent on curbing hate speech as they believe, they could instead update our existing laws.
In spite of all that might be said about the Nigerian Senate, all hope is not lost. Nigerians need to be more aware of the political realities of this nation. Before now, most Nigerians were content with voting in a candidate for President and Governor. Very little attention is paid to those vying for legislative seats. Now, and with the experience we have gone through with our “distinguished” Senators, every Nigerian must shine their eyes and ensure that credible person represent them at Abuja.
The experience of the people Kogi West, who have been at the process of recalling Dino Melaye for close to a year now and have not succeeded, should inform everyone of us that the moment we vote these legislators in, it is almost impossible to recall them.
If the Nigerian legislative houses from the local government level to federal will function as they ought to, the Nigerian state will experience unprecedented progress. Our major problem as a people is that most Nigerian are uneducated and hungry. Therefore many people make uninformed choices when voting and they are easily swayed by pecuniary reasons.
If Nigeria must succeed such institution as its Senate must wake up to carrying out legislative works that are truly people oriented and not this self serving activities of those who are mostly constituted in her midst today.
(This article was first published in 2018 on another website. I reproduce it here because I find that it is still relevant even today)