Has Nigerian Senate Found Her Mojo?

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

“No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent”

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

For millions of Nigerians who already have drawn a finality of unanimous opinion that the upper legislative chamber led by the Yobe State born Senate President Mr. Ahmed Lawan is a rubber stamped legislature, what has just happened a few hours ago has jolted all of us.

To be honest, Ahmed Lawan has never hidden his undying messianic admiration and loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari given that the President bulldozed heavyweight contenders for the same position in 2019 to surrender to the sole candidacy of the seemingly colourless Senator from Yobe State. A friend who is a Senator from the South West said if Ahmed Lawan was to be making love to his wife and suddenly gets a call from President Muhammadu Buhari, he would suspend the love making to answer to his political godfather. Such is the near imperial servitude that Senator Ahmed Lawan holds the President.

Even long before he got railroaded into office by his colleagues, Ahmed Lawan had personally told this writer that he will be a good loyalist of the President just as he dismissed my fear that his disposition which is akin to enslavement to the whims and caprices of the President would weaken the national legislature.

On the day he got his pyrrhic victory, Senator Ahmed Lawan read out his manifesto of one hundred percent loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari.

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said the Senate is yet to receive any formal request from President Muhammadu Buhari for confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu.
Lawan made the disclosure when a delegation of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption paid a courtesy visit to his office at the National Assembly, Abuja.

Senator Lawan said the Senate is willing to approve all requests that come from President Muhammadu Buhari because they are in the best interest of the people.

He, however, stressed that the request to confirm Magu was yet to make it to the floor of the hallowed chambers.

“The confirmation of acting chairman of EFCC – there is no request before this Senate for the confirmation of the acting chairman of EFCC.
“This is a new senate and therefore until there is a request to this senate, there is nothing the Senate can do.

“I want to assure you that any request that comes from Mr. President is a request that will make Nigeria a better place either in terms of appointments or legislation and the senate will act expeditiously to ensure that we play our part in the confirmation or passing of legislation appropriately,” Lawan said.

Chairman of the Presidential Committee and leader of the delegation, Prof. Itse Sagay, in his address, craved the cooperation of the upper chamber in ensuring the confirmation of the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, as well as the consideration of several Anti-corruption Bills introduced under the Eight National Assembly.

Sagay also informed the Senate leadership present at the meeting that the Committee had severally received complaints that members of the National Assembly, particularly Chairmen of Committees, solicit monetary compensation for undertaking oversight functions.
Responding to Sagay, the Senate President said:
“Going by our rules, any issue that was not concluded in the lifetime of the Eight National Assembly would have to start all over again.

“As far as we are concerned, those bills would have to come again and go through the process from the very beginning. We are prepared to begin work on them if the bills are ready.”
On the confirmation of Magu, Lawan said, “there’s no request before this Ninth Senate for the confirmation of the Chairman of the EFCC.

“This is a new Senate and therefore until there’s a request to this Senate, there’s nothing it can do.
“I want to assure you that if any of such requests come from the President, we will play our part in the confirmation and passing of legislation accordingly.
“On oversight, you mentioned that people complain that committees or members of the National Assembly demand monies from MDAs.
“As far as I know, I’m not in receipt of any complaint. If any committee asks for anything from any MDA that is not appropriate, the law is there to take its full course.
“We believe that no committee or no member of the National Assembly will go out of their way to ask for anything from anybody before that committee undertakes any oversight.
“The ninth Senate has decided that we will take our oversight very seriously. We believe that it is the best thing to do after we pass the budget in a good time.
“Therefore, we are going to hold those charged or entrusted with public funds for the implementation and provision of infrastructure and services accountable.
“We believe that there is a need to apply the resources efficiently and prudently.
“Also, the cost of governance in Nigeria is too high. Today, we have over seven hundred agencies of government. Many of them are not adding any value to governance.
“We believe that the time has come to review the functions of these agencies to determine their relevance.

“We need to look at how we are going to streamline these agencies to ensure we free our resources in order to add to our capital.

“The appropriation of seventy percent of our budget to recurrent is not desirable. We have to work with the executive arm of government to reduce it.

“Reducing them will not happen overnight because we have to get rid of many agencies first without having to throw people out into the labour market.”
Senators present during the visit are: Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege; Deputy Chief Whip, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi; Senate Minority Whip, Philip Aduda; Deputy Minority Whip, Sahabi Alhaji Ya’u; Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Bamidele Opeyemi, and Deputy Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah.

Other senators at the meeting are: Senators Tolulope Odebiyi (APC, Ogun West); Oseni Yakubu (APC, Kogi Central); Chairman, Committee on Federal Capital Territory, Abubakar Kyari; Chairman, Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Suleiman Abdul Kwari; Chairman, Committee on Water Resources, Bello Mandiya; Vice Chairman, Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, Francis Fadahunsi, and Chairman, Committee on Rules and Business, Suleiman Umar.

Even few years after the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was indicted for alleged misdemeanours, the Semate went ahead to confirm another substantive Chairman without any proper screening.

These tendencies to behave like slaves of the executive arm of government have inflicted cruel harm to the economy of Nigeria because the Senators hurriedly approved frivolous loans requests by the President which essentially can’t be accounted for. The following are the thoughts of a certain philosopher about a nation operating with Senators that are slaves to the President.
The philosopher wrote thus: “At the time, society was seen as an association of individuals under the authority of a government or the Church. Bakunin argued that humans become truly fulfilled/by exercising their capacity to think and by rebelling against authority, whether of gods or of man. He made a searing attack on “religious hallucination”, arguing that it is a tool of oppression to keep people servile, and that it helps the powerful to maintain their position.”

The thinker says: “Life for the masses is wretched, and solace can come from belief in God. But living in accordance with religion dulls the intellect, so it cannot allow human liberation.
Bakunin argued that the oppressors of the people – priests, monarchs, bankers, police, and politicians would agree with Voltaire’s dictum that if there was no God, it would be necessary to invent him. Bakunin insisted instead that freedom required the abolition of God.”

“Acquiescence to the man-made institution of the state would also enslave people. The Laws of nature unavoidably constrain what men can do, but Bakunin claimed that once these laws were discovered and known to all, no political organizations would be required regulate society. Everyone could consciously obey natural laws because every individual would know them to be true.”(From The Politics Book, published by Tall Tree Limited).

True to his loud acclamation of absolute loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari which has almost made the head of the executive arm of government to think and behave like an absolute menarche, Senate President Ahmed Lawan went on a voyage of self-destruction by welcoming hook, line and sinker, all the requests made to the legislature by President Muhammadu Buhari to borrow all kinds of dubious loans.

The worst of these requests which came in torrents of requests for approval of dubious loans running into billions of dollars from all kinds of places.

On 10 November 2021 it was reported that Nigeria Senate had approved $16 billion and €1 billion loans request by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Senate also approved grant components of $125 million – which Buhari had requested the facilities in an addendum to the 2018-2020 borrowing plan in September.
The World Bank, African Development Bank, and the French Development Agency (AFD) are among the funding agencies.
Buhari had said the loans would stimulate the economy and create jobs.
Clifford Ordia, chairman of the Senate committee on local and foreign debts, said the projects for which funds are requested in the 2018-2020 borrowing plan are ongoing.
Ordia said projects will result in a rebirth of commercial and engineering activities and the consequent tax revenues payable to Government as a result of these productive activities will increase.
“Subsequently, on the 15th of September 2021, the President of the Senate of the federal republic of Nigeria read another Communication from the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Containing an addendum to the 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan in the sum of $4,054,476,863, €710,000,000 and Grant Component of $125,000,000 for various projects and same was also referred to the committee for further legislative action,” Ordia said.
“The committee notes that a good number of the projects in respect of which financing is being requested under the 2018-2020 external borrowing (rolling) plan are mostly ongoing projects and programmes in respect of which external borrowed funds have been spent in the past, including loans and grants.”
The Senator said the committee found as a fact that out of a sum of over $22.8billion approved by the National Assembly under the 2016-2018 external borrowing rolling plan, only $2.8billion, that is 10% has been disbursed to Nigeria.
Ordia said the projects require additional financing and “will have a great multiplier effect on stimulating economic growth through infrastructure development, job creation, poverty alleviation, health care and improve our security architecture.”

Then Reuters.com reported on THU MAR 5, 2020 that Nigeria’s upper house of parliament has approved foreign borrowings of $22.7 billion requested by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Senate President said on Thursday.
About $17.06 billion of the total loans will be provided by China’s Eximbank, while the World Bank, African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and German Development Bank are in the mix of the new borrowings tied to projects.
Nigeria has been borrowing abroad to fund projects after a 2016 recession caused largely by low global oil prices hurt its spending plans, but debt service costs have been rising.
The country also plans to sell a $3.3 billion eurobond this year to refinance an existing maturity and part-fund its 2020 budget of 10.59 trillion naira ($35 billion), which is a 17% rise over last year’s.
“Let me emphasize here that we are going to follow very strictly how this loans are applied,” Senate President Ahmed Lawan said. “The loans will have positive influence on the GDP of this country.”
Africa’s largest economy has struggled to shake off the effects of the contraction that ended in 2017 and has been grappling with low growth since. It grew 2.27% in 2019 from 1.91% the previous year, supported by a favourable oil price.
Buhari asked parliament in November to approve the borrowings, which are tied to infrastructure and other projects, after a similar request was rejected three years ago.
During Buhari’s first term, the executive was embroiled in a power tussle with the legislature that slowed government, including confirmation of appointments. Buhari won a second term in February and some of his party loyalists in parliament were re-elected.
Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed said on Wednesday the government was concerned about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on world oil prices, which are now trading below Nigeria’s budget assumption. This could trigger a midterm budget review, she said.
After over three years of accepting practically every requests by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Senate became courageous may be for fear of the unknown and the need to preserve their political seats in next year’s election, overruled President Muhammadu Buhari on his request to amend a section of the newly signed electoral bill which will make appointees of the President to have advantage to win slots to contest elections under the All Progressives Congress.
The Senate had thrown out the request of President Muhammadu Buhari for amendment of section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act which prevents appointive political office holders from contesting for election from party primary level without resigning.
The request was rejected after the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC Kebbi North) made the lead debate for the second reading of the bill on Wednesday.
The Senators kicked against it and voted no when put to voice votes by the Senate President Ahmad Lawan.
President Buhari last week wrote the Senate seeking an amendment of section 84 (2) subsection 12 in the 2021 Electoral Act.
Specifically, President Buhari asked the National Assembly to amend section 84 (2) Subsection 12 which states that no political appointee shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of any candidate for an election.
In the letter, he said the amendment is necessary as the clause constitutes a fundamental defect and leads to the disenfranchisement of political officeholders.
In his view, the section disenfranchises serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at conventions or congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the national election.
President Buhari stressed that the provision introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restrictions to serving political officeholders.
The Federal High Court in Abuja in a ruling on Monday, March 7 stopped President Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, from tampering with the newly signed amended Electoral Act 2022.
Ruling on an ex-parte application by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Justice Inyang Ekwo agreed with the counsel to the party, James Onoja, that the Electoral Act has become a valid law and cannot be tampered with without following due process of law. The Senate shoved aside that judicial intervention and went straightaway to jettison the prayer of President Muhammadu Buhari to delete the offensive provision which stops ministers from gaining advantage during party primary to win slots as flagbearers of the ruling party.
To the question whether this decision means the Senate has found her mojo, I will answer in the negative. The Ahmad Lawan-led Senate did not pass the suggested amendments to the electoral Act as made by President Muhammadu Buhari not from altruism but from self serving perspectives. The national legislature sadly, is still a rubber stamped legislature.

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was federal commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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