The Legislature in a Democracy: A Commentary on the 8th Senate under Dr. Bukola Saraki

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The legislature is often described as the assembly of the people’s representatives because it is the people that elect such representatives to act on their behalf concerning matters which affect them.

By Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution, the legislature is the arm of government whose primary duty is to make laws for the peace and good governance of the country.

The National Assembly, as the legislature for the Federation, has the powers to legislate on matters contained in both the exclusive and concurrent legislative list under the Constitution. It also carries out oversight functions over the persons, authorities and agencies of the executive.

By the provisions of Section 48 and 49 of the Constitution, the National Assembly is bicameral consisting of the Senate which has 109 members (three from each of the 36 states and one from the FCT)) and the House of Representatives which has 360 members (each representing a delineated constituency of the states of the federation, including the FCT).

The Senate, which was inaugurated in June 2015 to last for the next four years is the 8th Senate ever so inaugurated in the history of Nigeria.

This 8th Senate has seen its fair share of intrigues, drama and crisis, starting from the election of its leaders.

On the 9th of June 2015, and after the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the majority party in the legislature, Nigerians were taken unawares by the intra party scheming and intrigues that played out within the members of the senate elected on the platform of the APC and some from the PDP which saw to the emergence of Dr Bukola Saraki as the Senate President contrary to the directive of the APC as a party which preferred Senator Ahmed Lawan to emerge as the Senate President.

However, this rebellion is not the first to occur in the legislature.

During the inglorious reign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the ruling party, a rebellion by the PDP members in the House of Representatives led to the emergence of Rt. Hon Waziri Tambuwal as Speaker against the party’s choice of Hon Mulikat Akande.

Following the June 9th rebellion at the Senate and the intrigues and crisis that culminated, the Senate only sat for 14 days within its first two months of inauguration and had to go on recess three times.

The APC on its part was not ready to forgive Saraki for his disobedience.

Therefore, in September 2015, Dr. Bukola Saraki was dragged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over allegations bordering on false declaration of assets, anticipatory declaration of assets and maintaining foreign accounts etc.

Because Saraki was the sitting Senate President, the Tribunal’s proceedings attracted huge publicity and instantly became a show.

In one of the Tribunal’s proceedings, 81 out of the 109 senators were led by Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President to accompany Saraki to the Tribunal, on a show of solidarity.

Another controversial moment in the 8th Senate was on December 1 2016 when Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah from Kebbi State sponsored a bill aimed at prohibiting frivolous petitions, especially against government or public officers.

Though the bill scaled second reading in the Senate, wide public condemnation and outcry from Nigerians forced the Senate to stop further consideration of the bill.

Then we also had the Dino Melaye vs Remi Tinubu imbroglio where the flamboyant, controversial, boisterous and garrulous Senator Dino Melaye, a die-hard ally of Dr Saraki, was alleged to have threatened to beat, rape and impregnate Senator Remi Tinubu, the wife of the APC National Leader who was seen as anti Saraki, during a closed door meeting.

However, Otunba Melaye added comic relief, even if in bad taste, to the saga when he denied the allegation and averred that he couldn’t have said so since Mrs. Tinubu “has arrived menopause.”

In yet another development, on January 10 2017, a palace coup took place in the Senate when fearless and outspoken Senator Ali Ndume representing Borno State Central was removed as the Senate leader when he stepped out of plenary to pray, and in his place, Senator Ahmed Lawan was elected.

But Ndume was not one to go out without a fight. A few days after his ouster, he raised a point of order demanding that the budget of the National Assembly, which had been shrouded in much secrecy, be made public, and also urged the Senate to investigate Messrs. Saraki and Melaye over an alleged purchase of a vehicle without papers and certificate forgery, respectively.

Upon the conclusion of investigation, the duo were cleared of any wrong doing and a six months suspension was slammed on Ndume for his lack of due diligence.

Melaye would later on post a comic video where he sang and danced- mocking his enemies. The video went viral. The following day, he wore an academic regalia to attend Senate plenary.

Then there was the senate vs. Magu saga.

In November 2016, Ibrahim Magu was appointed in an acting capacity to head the anti graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The President later sent his name to the Senate for confirmation as substantive chairman, but he was rejected based on a security report emanating from the Department of State Service. He was re-nominated but again rejected in a most humiliating and embarrassing manner by the Senate.

The Magu saga rolled over to the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The Senate had declined to perform its constitutional responsibility of screening nominees into the position of INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners for some states to protest the failure of the President to relief Magu of his position as acting chairman of the EFCC.

The Customs service under the leadership of Col Hameed Ali (Rtd.) also had its day with the Senate.

In March 2017, the service proposed a planned action against owners of vehicles without duty payment.

Col. Ali was summoned to appear before the Senate and was to appear in his service uniform, but he bluntly refused, asserting that he was “not appointed to wear uniform.”

This led to the refusal of the Senate to grant him audience.

At the end however, Ali shelved the implementation of the policy and but still refused to wear the uniform. A case of no victor, no vanquished?

It is also worthy of note that after a lot of foot dragging by the executive, it was the report of an ad hoc Senate Committee chaired by Comrade Shehu Sani that contributed to the suspension of the powerful Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Engr. David Lawal.

At the end of the day, we find that even though the 8th Senate is widely reputed for attending to mundane issues and well known for its often sour relationship with the executive, a careful look would show that it has done creditably well.

Since its inauguration, it has passed 96 bills including the long overdue Petroleum Industry Governance Bill and 72 petitions- the highest ever in the history of the National Assembly and surpassed the record held by the 5th Senate, which passed 65 bills and 6 petitions within the same time period.

 

Manang Joshua Jabbe, ESQ is a Legal Practitioner, Socio-political Analyst and Human Rights advocate .  He could be reached via 08134069256; email: manangjabbe@gmail.com

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