The Senate Against The People Of Nigeria, By Zainab Suleiman Okino



Mrs. Zainab Suleiman OkinoEach time complaints arise about the palpable defects in the country’s statues system, the retort has always been that amendments here and there will gradually correct noticeable anomalies. However, the experiences of the last few years have left doubts about the possibility of ever amending the constitution to meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. It is on this note that one wonders whether the law makers think they are called lawmakers to make laws for themselves or make laws for the interest of Nigerians and the progress of the country. There have been baffling issues about the ongoing constitution amendment.
Amazingly, one issue that united the Senate more during their voting session is life pension for ex this and that. The list includes former senate presidents and their deputies, speakers of the House of Representatives and their deputies who ‘shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent’. This section garnered the highest votes of 86, and not much dissension.
Another contention is financial autonomy for local governments. Last week, the senate unanimously voted against it. Nigerians, who know how that tier of government has been plundered and run aground due to the governors’ undue interference, can’t understand the senators’ misgivings about it and had to oppose it. They claimed that what they did reflected the generality of opinions of Nigerians. Really?
The trajectory of constitution amendment since the military-midwifed one was in use, is a story of disappointment and ego-tripping. There is no point repeating it that, if the constitution amendment fails this time around, it will equally erode any iota of confidence left of the law-making process in this country. Sadly, we are already on that path.
Between 2003 and 2007, the country invested huge sums of money and emotions in the previous proposed amendment. The excitement stemmed from the fact that for once,Nigerians erroneously thought they had an opportunity to make inputs into a constitution they could proudly call ‘our own’. Albeit they were disappointed to learn that their leaders had their own grand plan. A combination of executive meddlesomeness and the personal ambition of the then president Olusegun Obasanjo, which manifested in his third term agenda, effectively put paid to the first efforts at constitution amendment by ‘we the people’. ‘Every other good thing’ about the proposal ‘went down’ with the few ‘rotten eggs’ injected in it. In the end the country lost a colossal amount of money, yet did not have an amended constitution.
Unfortunately, indication from the ongoing amendment is proving once again that we have not learned any lessons from our past mistakes. When therefore, the Senate jettisoned the proposed six-year single term and autonomy for local governments, mixed reactions trailed their decision. Personally, I prefer a single term of five or six years if the current serving public figures would not be beneficiaries. But when the idea was thrown out, I was not in the least surprised. One, the project first emanated from the presidency and not the people of Nigeria. That it was seen as Jonathan’s own third term agenda did not help the cause of the idea. Perhaps it was Jonathan’s way of extending his current tenure if he failed to get it through the ballot box. Whoever was behind it, whatever happened to it later, and its eventual rejection did not matter. Good enough that it was thrown away especially if Jonathan was behind it. It was certainly unpopular. But with local government autonomy, I wonder what informed the Senate’s decision. Here is one issue that all Nigerians seemed unanimously in support of.
Why not? Are we not all witnesses to the the gradual emasculation of the LG system of government. Almost everyone you speak to can tell you one nasty story or the other about how his LG is being ruined, owing to the thieving collaboration between the governors and the so-called LG chairmen. Before our very eyes, elections to the LGs are unconstitutionally supplanted with selection in different guises-development areas or whatever name pleases the Ogas at the top, the governors.
This accounted for the overwhelming support financial autonomy for LG received during the zonal and national public hearings. However, the senators had their evil plan, one of which is, apparent emasculation of the local government system.
In one breath, we complain about the autocratic way the governors run their states, and in another, we cede more powers to them. The states houses of assembly are in their pockets. By the Senate’s action, we have officially handed over LGs to them.
The governors do not (and can’t) be challenged by any son of man called state legislator or local government chairman. The same governors can’t (and shouldn’t anyway) subject themselves to the president, though that is how it should be.
Constitution review is one major assignment of the Senate that has grabbed the attention of all. A conservative estimate put the money sunk into it at about N1 billion. Bad as this is, the Senate was not done yet from shutting Nigerians out of their deliberations.
They similarly refused to grant the demand for the separation of the office of attorney general of the federation and the minister of justice as it operates in other climes. With regards to the removal of the minimum wage issue from exclusive legislative list which squarely rests labour issue with the states, the executive arm of government will be happy, but the NLC is already preparing for a long drawn war. It means Labour will be dismembered and weakened to the extent that collective bargaining will no longer be centrally done.
What kind of democracy is this? A democracy determined by 109 privileged Nigerians called senators out of 160 million people? Come on. Bad enough that the senators had no scruples or modesty, or crudely put, had no shame in doing things to favour the minutest minority, but the pain is worsened by the condescending attitude of the Senate leadership. At the end of the Senate’s biased voting last week, the Senate president, David Mark declared: “We voted for what we believe will make democracy to mature in our country”. Haba! Mr Senate President. Is it about what the senators ‘believe’ or what Nigerians desire?

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