My intention when I decided to write in defence of the Senate, under the presidency of Senator David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, was to be, as much as it is possible, frank and unapologetic of the positions that I would canvass in response to a piece, titled: “Mark’s House of Indolence” written by one Kikiowo Ileowo (I am not sure he ranks among the money men and women in Nigeria-a pun intended-going by his two names- and, I hope that is his real name and not some wacky pseudonym- which mean “plenty money” and “house of money”) and syndicated in no fewer than seven national newspapers and on-line publications. I refer, in particular, to page 13 of Daily Newswatch of Tuesday, May 14, 2013.
I wonder how Kikiowo would feel after reading his patently jaundiced thesis, which newspapers and on-line media had been magnanimous enough to publish, bearing in mind that it was bereft of fairness to, and malicious of the institution of the Senate. Would he be true to his conscience to say he has offered altruistic service to the Nigerian public; that there was not a piper somewhere calling the tunes? Otherwise, how does one rationalize his magisterial claim, to wit: “the Senate, an arm of Nigerian federal legislature as presently constituted is at best a joke of some sort, a money-wasting conglomerate and a cog in the wheel of progress and development in Nigeria”?
I am sure he realized from the outset that his was a voyage into the arena of the ludicrous. He was simply not smart enough to conceal the identity of his sponsors. At least, that was the conclusion he guided me to when he posited towards the end of his narrative thus: “Truth is, we are ok with having just the lower House of Representatives, and we can manage their little inadequacies. At least, they seem to be working compared to David Mark’s Upper House, whose only proud and gallant achievement till date is appeasing their hypocritical mindset by sending homosexuals to 14 years imprisonment or stoning to death in states where Sharia law is practiced.”
The above lines capped his denunciation, in earlier paragraphs, of the Senate which he described as “senior” to the House of Representatives “in non-performance and salaries earned.” Read his warped judgment: “The Senate led by General David Mark is at best docile, and a waste of our limited resources…” He had gone on and on to reel out figures in naira denomination that were spent to service each senator and the office of the Senate President per year and per term/tenure. He never deemed it fit to juxtapose these with the amount that goes into servicing the House of Representatives. Ordinarily, I would not delve into such comparison were it not for Kikiowo who had deliberately chosen to negatively profile the Senate in order to demonise it in the minds of Nigerians.
His mission was to unjustifiably incite the public against the institution of the Senate by trying to establish a negative nexus between the funding of the Senate and the alleged non-performance that resides only in his imagination. Such adventure was intellectually and historically dishonest. Fair-minded public commentators are not made of such depressing stuff. In fact, only unconscionable hirelings who masquerade as public commentators would think they can sit in the comfort of their study and try to re-write history and/or re-invent the wheel of great achievements that the Senate under Mark has recorded since June 5, 2007.
My intervention, more than defence, is from a position of knowledge and information, having covered the activities of the National Assembly, especially the Senate since 1999. I will now proceed to make certain assertions and clarifications, which will expectedly expose his folly, and ignorance, in the hope that they will help to collapse this kind of individual and corporate fixations that hatchet jobbers have persistently peddled in the public domain.
First, even though I do not intend to join issues with him on funding of the Senate, it is apposite to underscore the fact that the National Assembly is the bulwark of democracy. It is an assembly of the people’s representatives. Given our system of government, it is not an aberration to massively fund the political and bureaucratic wings of the National Assembly to enable them perform well in all areas of legislative enagements. The point should be made that the Executive arm, made up mostly of unelected officials receive annually the biggest chunk of the federal budgets compared with the Legislative and the Judicial arms of government. I noticed the attempt to sensationalise what is due to the Office of the Senate President annually. I hope he has not forgotten that Senate President is the third highest office in the country. If he knows the workings and exertions of the office, he would not embark on his ill-fated campaign of calumny against the current occupant, Senator Mark.
Second, where was my unknown friend, Kikiowo, between 1999 and 2007 when the Senate in particular was embroiled in leadership crises and instability? Has he forgotten the series of conflicts in the relationship between then President Olusegun Obasanjo and the National Assembly in his conscious effort to emasculate the legislative arm? From Evan(s) Enwerem to Ken Nnamani, it was a game of the musical chair. Five senate presidents from the southeast zone in eight years! But all of that has stopped since Mark stepped in the saddle in 2007. Six years on, he has been able to stabilize the senate and maintain an uncommon rapprochement with the Executive arm of government controlled by his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
This is, no doubt, salutary to good governance. With Mark’s avuncular, sharply-focused and accountable leadership of the Senate, he has been able to eliminate leadership tension in addition to deploying his legerdemain to promote harmony in relationship with the Executive arm. In 2008, it is on record that he caused the Senate to return unspent N7 billion-budget to the treasury in line with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Besides, when the Senate resolved in a closed-doors session that Mark was deserving of a bullet-proof vehicle, he simply shot down the resolution. His logic was simple. He is just first among equals and, besides, he had argued that he would not sleep in the vehicle and that anybody who wanted to shoot him would only wait for him to step out of the vehicle to do so.
I am not aware that the House of Representatives, at any time, returned unspent money to the treasury. Rather the stories that have been coming from the House, which Kikiowo has rated higher in terms of performance, have not been salubrious. Nigerians, I am sure, have not forgotten the N10 billion-loan saga for which a finger of guilt has been pointing at former Speaker Dimeji Bankole and former Deputy Speaker, Usman Bayero Nafada. One of the principal officers who was said to have initiated the idea is today part of the current leadership.
I just hope Kikiowo is not playing the opposition’s trump card. The general impression is that Hon Aminu Tambuwal’s leadership of the House of Representatives, given the defiant manner of its emergence, has been tending towards the ideals of the opposition elements. The opposition elements, like kikiowo, have equated this outlook with progressivism. Indeed, just because the House is seen to be disagreeable with the Executive arm of government, it is doing well. What a twisted logic! What bizarre performance rating! And because the Senate, which is largely populated by elder statesmen who are seemingly conservative or who choose to think deeply and weigh every course of action before acting, is not playing to the gallery or seen to be putting President Jonathan on his toes, it is lethargic and should therefore be scrapped! Haba, Kikiowo! What philosophy motivates you?
Sincerely, I find it difficult to relate with Kikiowo’s standards of measuring performance, and what constitutes performance. When I saw the title of his piece, I had thought that it was a satire, because I never believed that any right-thinking watcher of developments in the National Assembly would reach a conclusion as damning as Kikiowo’s. He would have freely expressed his opinions if they were merely opinions, but to try to supplant facts, such as the stabilizing role the Senate played, for instance, by invoking the historic Doctrine of Necessity in 2010 to empower the then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to assume full powers of president when the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was hospitalized in Saudi Arabia, with the House following suit, was fraudulent.
Indeed the 109-member Senate has so far lived up to its status as the Upper House by maintaining respectability and promoting the dignity that it embodies, far-flung from the “maddening crowd” of conformists and non-conformists, which the Lower House of mostly young members represents. I rest my case for now.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, sent this piece via