“In this country, when any- body–government officials, legislators, labour unions, and others– tell you that the action they are taking is in the national interest, just adjust yourself and look underneath, something is stuffed for them under the bed.” –Ahmed Lawan
The above quote is taken from “Parallel Lines: Lawan’s Senate and National Interest,” my article of last June 14, bidding good riddance to the 9th Senate headed by Ahmed Lawan. That piece was prompted by the then Senate President’s claim that all they did was in the national interest. Yet, it was under the Senate’s watch as a formal checkmate against the excesses of the executive that Nigeria witnessed the most parochial, divisive, inept, and corrupt leadership.
With a spoil system like ours that breeds corruption, obstreperous, voracious, and gourmandizing parliamentarians were merely fertilized to play along. Should it surprise you that anyone associated with democracy will be singing “On your mandate we stand” to President Ahmed Tinubu? Corruption and excessive self-interest are no new things globally. But like every negative, Nigeria’s case is unprecedented, getting worse by the day.
As already implied by their first step, the Tenth National Assembly, NASS, has shown, loud and clear, that it was not going to change the record of progress in retrogression in our legislative postures that started and has grown from the Fourth NASS in 1999. By singing “On your mandate we stand,” the lawmakers were indirectly pledging loyalty to the NASS leadership and sharpening their appetite for the inevitable reward. Who in that parliament can risk going against what the leaders want even if unpalatable and against the people they represent? What is clear, however, is that legislators failing in their primary duties to the people they represent often do not go unnoticed even in a more developed democracy.
At a time in the US, the system in parliament was so untidy, Senators were so engrossed in dirty things that the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, wrote: “When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not Guilty’.” Given the antecedents of some members of the Tenth NASS, Nigerians are not expecting much from them. The reasons range from how they came into office and the style of their leadership to the prevailing political situation. Another reason can be located in the initial steps they have already taken.
This NASS expectedly is already caught up in the warning of the former Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons (2009 to 2019), John Bercow: “Legislature cannot be effective while suffering from public scorn.” Nigerians are already holding the NASS in contempt for the initial show of insensitivity to the plight of the masses. Judging by the senators’ false starts and the ragtag style of the Senate President, virtually all members, fattened and smiling to the bank, will be morally bankrupt, depraved, and warped.
That is if this epileptic democracy survives. By the time Godswill Akpabio finishes leading the Senate, whatever is left of the legislators’ morality will have gone with the wind. American political satirist and journalist, Patrick Jake O’Rourke, wrote: “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are the legislators.” Wherever corruption has become a life- style and with a free-giving leader as the helmsman, your guess is as good as mine. When a leader, even in a criminal gang, has what the followers yearn for, there will never be rebellion.
So long as money is the king in a world where morality is at a far back seat, the likes of Tinubu and Akpabio will keep playing in the top league of our polity. Everyday stanza of the plot to remove Akpabio will not stop because it has become bait for gratification. Many are disappointed at what is going on at the National Assembly because they are mistaking the members to be representing the people. Far from it! They are representing themselves and their insatiable appetites. What has become very glaring is that the capons are in charge at various departments, in the executive, in the legislature, in political parties, and sorrowfully even in the hallowed chambers of the judiciary.
There may be no more incisive Enyinnaya Abaribe of the Ninth Senate or Mohammad Kazaure Gudaji, also of the Ninth NASS. The earlier Nigerians braced up and write off the Tenth NASS as a bunch of gluttons masquerading as people’s reps, the better. Since this political dispensation, the NASS has failed to meet the people’s expectations because of the road and the vehicle that drove them to the place. Virtually all of them purchased the ticket in their political parties, rigged their way at the balloting stage, bought judgments from the judiciary, and connived with the executive to lead the parliaments. From the Fourth Republic in 1999 till date, the leadership of the two chambers of NASS has come through corrupt arrangements cooked and delivered by the executive.
The Senate has produced nine presidents in this order: Evan Enverem, Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim Pius Anyim, Adolphus Wabara, Ken Nnamani, David Mark, Bukola Saraki, Ahmed Lawan, and the incumbent Godswill Akpabio. The House has also pro- duced nine Speakers, Salisu Buhari (booted out for certificate scandal), Ghali Na’abba, Patricia Etteh, Dimeji Bankole, Aminu Bello Masari, Aminu Tambuwal, Yakubu Dogara, Femi Gbajabiamila and the current Tajudeen Abbas. Of all the 18 names above, only Senator Saraki of the 8th Assembly and Hons. Tambuwal of the 7th Assembly and Yakubu Dogara of the 8th Assembly emerged without the influence of the executive or the ruling party.
For emerging despite either party or the executive, the trio received a lot of bashing and noncooperation from the executive and their ruling parties. All the others came ostensibly as desired and designed by the executive arm or the ruling party at the time. This meant that their main function of checkmating the executive was ab initio truncated and diminished. No wonder most of them indulged in the rubber stamp and cut-and-paste legislation. This ugly situation may continue to endure until Nigeria’s leadership question is copiously addressed from the base.
Fundamentally, there is no opposition in respect of ideological representations in this country today, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, are in all ramifications six and a half dozen. At a recent press briefing in Abuja, the Labour Party’s phenomenal and prodigious leader, Peter Obi, was asked by journalists why his members in the National Assembly are not living according to his political vision and ideology. Obi struggled with the answer trying not to offend his legislators, some of whom were at the press venue and couldn’t say the truth that 99% of Labour Party ticket holders are opportunists who came to tap on Obi’s electoral value, not necessarily that they are his ideological stable mates.
Virtually all Labour Party legislators in the Senate and House of Representatives today have their history traceable to the two corruption-infested APC and PDP. It’s therefore not surprising that the Labour Party members were quick to adjust and find habitation and companionship in the large group of APC and PDP to keep defrauding the populace with their padding system. If a true Obidient adherent enters a corrupt parliament like ours, the world will know because the environment will be irritating him and he or she will detest a lot of what he sees and hears and shouts out. He will frown at excessive borrowing and crazy waste from the executive, among others.
The time Nigeria can begin to think of a vibrant parliament and revolutionary legislation and policies would be when political, economic, social justice, and power are devolved into the hands of the people through law formulations. For now and in the current NASS such will take long in coming, not when gangsters are at the helm. Though not much is being expected from the current NASS, it still has become necessary to use the exhortation and remonstrance of this Palestinian-American Islamic radical preacher, Sheikh Ahmad Jibril, to warn them: “If you can’t speak and stand with the truth, then at least don’t clap for the evildoers.”
In this vein, let’s conclude by leaving this poser from an American legislator, Richie Torres: “What’s the point of winning the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, if we cannot pass legislation if we are hopelessly hamstrung by the filibuster.” And worse still, our speechification might have been orchestrated by corruption, the self-interest of the party, ethnic, and religious inclinations. God help us.