Will it be of any consequence if Nigeria runs a government devoid of her upper legislative chamber? The question would sound preposterous to some, while many others would find it pertinent in view of the huge burden the Senate has become on the nation and the nuisance that many of its members have constituted themselves into.
In its present form, the Senate is nothing but unnecessary duplication of the House of Representatives, choked full of selfish individuals who spare no thought for the public good but their personal interests. Its lack of useful purpose is compounded by the drain pipe it constitutes on the national treasury via the crippling emoluments of its actors and the scandalous constituency allowances under whose weight the exchequer is groaning.
The political thinkers who conceived the idea of a senate were inspired by the thought that the upper chamber would be made up of rational, intelligent and highly enlightened individuals whose maturity would be brought to bear on issues already discussed at the lower legislative chamber. But in a twist of irony, the House of Representatives has repeatedly demonstrated better grasp of the essence of legislation than their so-called senior counterparts.
That much was observable during the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan when Senator David Mark held sway as the Senate President. For those donkey’s years, the upper chamber was nothing but a rubber stamp of the presidency, ever willing to pitch its tent with the executive, even where the latter’s motives were clearly at variance with public good. For instance, in the heady days of public protests against arbitrary hike in fuel price under the Jonathan administration, the House of Representatives consistently pitched its tent with the people while the Senate under Mark engaged in endless equivocation.
Now, we are saddled with a Senate President who spends more time in court than he does in the chambers because he is facing multiple trials over corruption and forgery allegations. But rather than tell Saraki that a public figure of his standing should be doing everything he can not to tread close to the sharp edge of the law, they are busy regaling him with hypocritical pledges of loyalty. Now, a good number of them, led by the querulous Senator Dino Melaye, have abandoned the primary purpose for which they were elected and made a duty of trooping to the courts with their principal in orchestrated shows of blind loyalty.
At the bottom of their so-called loyalty is their belief that Saraki could survive the harmer, after which they would be counted as his true loyalists. The benefits in that instance are inestimable. They will constitute themselves into a caucus with the appellation of True Friends of Saraki (TFS) or Saraki’s True Friends (SATF) for a more pronounceable acronym. The headship of juicy committees will become the exclusive preserve of the group.
In civilised climes, they will be instant victims of the provision of the constitution that allows their constituents to recall them via a referendum for jettisoning their primary duties to act as Saraki’s bodyguards. But in a country where morality has lost meaning and wealth, genuine or ill gotten, is the sole yardstick for measuring success, these errant senators will return home to heroic welcome once they are able to throw naira notes in the air for their hunger-stricken constituents to scramble for.
Of the myriad of problems that confront the nation, from insecurity to the collapse of the naira, the one that has arrested their attention is the search for immunity to shield Saraki and other leaders of the National Assembly from prosecution for as long as they remain in office. And when serious-minded ones like Senator Oluremi Tinubu ask them to watch their utterances or conduct themselves with a modicum of dignity, they throw caution to the wind and descend on them like the lion does its prey.
Melaye, the cantankerous senator I have the misfortune of coming from the same community with, is currently caught in the vortex of public condemnation over the coarse invectives and unprintable insults he hauled at Mrs Tinubu during a closed-door meeting held by senators on Tuesday.
Trouble reportedly began when Melaye, a die-hard supporter of the embattled Senate President, alleged that some senators were being used by the Presidency to destabilize the Senate, warning such senators to be ready to face the consequences of their action. “You should go and tell those who sent you that nobody, I said nobody, no matter who he is, can ever control this Senate,” he was quoted as saying. And when Mrs Tinubu was recognized to speak, she rose and said: “I’m just wondering why whenever Senator Dino speaks in this chamber, he is always threatening people and behaving childishly, at times like a thug. I think he should know that every senator here represents their constituencies and that there is no need to threaten anyone.”
All hell was let loose as Mrs Tinubu’s words of caution reportedly jolted Senator Melaye to jump up from his seat and haul insults and abuses at the hapless woman. He has had to call a press conference where he claimed that most of the reports regarding what transpired at the session were exaggerated. The truth, however, is that his defense also could have been an orchestrated afterthought since the entire incident occurred behind closed doors. And given Senator Melaye’s penchant for acting rashly like he has done both as a senator and a member of the House of Representatives, and like he did when he led thugs to attack my father’s palace (he was then the traditional ruler of the town) and rain abuses on him because my brother was contesting the House of Representatives election with him in the build-up to the 2007 elections, only for him to plead desperately for the microphone to do his penance at the old man’s burial about three years later, details of his vituperation against Mrs. Tinubu could be truer than his own denial.
Be it as it may, the last thing Nigeria needs at this critical moment of its political and economic life is a bogus senate that adds nothing but needless distraction.