Articles and OpinionHighlight

Senate Invasion: Parliament Respect Your Own Rules


Suleiman Kabiru

Watching last week’s invasion of the Senate chambers by thugs last week on television shocked me to my bone marrow. The ease with which the thugs entered the red chambers and picked the mace-the symbol of senate’s authority-right in front of the senate presiding officer, Ike Ekwerenmadu, the deputy senate president, is almost unbelievable.

I also watched in complete incredulity how the thugs just simply shoved the senate security personnel out of the way as they race out with the mace, leaving the senators dumb founded and wondering what just hit them.

I imagined for a moment if the mission of those hoodlums was to eliminate all the senators in the chambers! No one could have stopped them perhaps, and by now we probably would still be mourning the demise of such a gathering of distinguished senators! It’s unthinkable. But after what I saw last week, I’m convinced it’s quite a possibility.

Ekwerenmadu rightly described it as an “invasion” of the senate and a threat to “our democracy.” While it was no doubt an unwelcome invasion, the real threat to our democracy is the parliament which has become like a sore on democratic governance in the country.

Since the return of democracy to the country in 1999 till date, the parliament has been unable to win the confidence and trust of Nigerians due largely to the way members; especially presiding officers have conducted the business of legislation. One could count several instances of pure legislative rascality and unpatriotic posturing of members of parliament. 

In many of these instances, the legislators put personal interests above national interests and above the interest of the parliamentary institution.

To the matter at hand, while would a law making institution always take recourse to ignoring its own rules whenever it suits the interest of the leadership of the parliament? While would a law making institution find it so easy to ignore the law, including those it sets for itself? While would members of parliament allow dictatorship thrive in the chambers of the National Assembly?

The parliament is expected to always promote the rule of law and not the rule of chaos. But when it fails to promote the former, it is inadvertently promoting the latter. This is exactly the way I see the invasion of the senate by thugs allegedly acting in cohort with Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.

Omo-Agege incurred the wrath of the senate leadership when he and some 12 other senators disagreed with the senate’s decision to change the order of the 2019 general election prepared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Omo-Agege addressed a press conference on behalf of the dissenting senators alleging the re-ordering was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.

The senate leadership in response asked him to recant the allegation and apologise or be suspended. The senator later apologised to his colleagues on the floor of the senate.  But the powers that be in the senate were still unsatisfied and insisted the senator be investigated for holding a different opinion. Omo-Agege, was billed to appear before the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, but he sued the senate to stop his appearance.

But while the case is in court, the senate still went ahead and suspended him for 90 legislative days. It was a gross disregard of its own rule which forbids the chamber from deliberating on a matter that is in court. Such disrespect for the court process by the leadership of the senate is a more potent threat to democracy by any act of thuggery in the chambers.

I am not in anyway justifying what happened in the senate chambers on April 17. But I am suggesting that the leadership of the senate invited such chaos when one of their own approached the court to stop his suspension, and without waiting for judicial intervention, suspended him. It is like taking the laws into your own hands.

This was a repeat of what the House of Representatives did to Abubakar  Malami, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federation over the probe of Abdulrasheed Maina, the former Pension Reform Chairman. Suspecting a witch-hunt, Malami had gone to court to stop the National Assembly from probing the alleged recall and reinstatement of Maina.

But in utter disregard of the court and its own rules, and after well-publicised senate public hearing on the same issue, the House still went ahead to constitute an adhoc “investigative” committee to probe the AG.

In another show of shameless legislative rascality, the adhoc committee came up with a report it laid in plenary about three weeks ago. The report purports to indict the AG, without pointing to any shred of evidence and in complete usurpation of the role of the judiciary, as the culprit in the Maina saga. The legislative report pronounces the AG guilty of masterminding the recall and re-instatement of the runaway pension boss.

It was at best laughable. But it constituted a serious threat to the legislature and its place in our democracy. What is there to gain by putting legislative integrity on the line just to nail and bring down one man seen as an obstacle to some interests?

This is what the whole saga about Senator Omo-Agege seems to be all about. The Senate President Bukola Saraki was quoted in the media as saying the senate suspended the senator because of his activity with the Buhari Parliamentary Support Group. Saraki, in a shameful moment of Freudian slip, said he was the right person that is supposed to lead the group and not those leading it now. Saraki reportedly said those leading the group now make it look as if some parliamentarians were not in support of Buhari’s re-election.

Pray, what is wrong if some members of parliament feel strongly enough about Buhari’s re-election and decided to form a group? If Saraki thinks it’s his right to lead the group, why did he not just “do a coup” as he did to win the senate presidency instead of compromising the integrity of the senate to get at some of his colleagues? Let the leadership of the national assembly rule by law so that they can be on a moral high ground when checking executive recklessness.

Kabiru wrote in from Abuja.

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