For the better part of last week, Senator Kabiru Marafa was in the news. He had been accused of disparaging the status of the Senate. Hence, the parliament looked prepared to place him on indefinite suspension. Omololu Ogunmade writes
Senator representing Zamfara Central senatorial district, Kabiru Marafa, is now on Nigerians’ watch list. His name reverberated across the polity all through the week as a result of plans by the Senate to send him back to Zamfara over allegations that he had persistently brought the upper chamber into disrepute. Hence, all eyes were on the Senate throughout the week to see if it would indeed wield the big stick by suspending the trouble pulling senator.
Marafa ran into troubled waters when he granted an interview to a national newspaper on February 7 where he affirmed the altruism of the allegation by former President Olusegun Obasanjo that the National Assembly was corrupt and also attempted to instigate the public to utilise their constitutional powers to recall senators.
This remark hit the Senate below the belt moreso that Marafa has been the lone voice in the chamber challenging and condemning almost every move since the advent of the eight Senate on June 9, 2015.
Marafa, a member of Senate Unity Forum which pursued to no avail the emergence of Senator Ahmad Lawan as senate president, was aggrieved over the manner of Saraki’s emergence and would go the whole hog to express his grievances. He had at different times had a shouting match with some of his colleagues.
However, some persons who admire his courageous and daring acts, said they hated his perceived violent nature as he had attempted to beat up at least three senators since the seventh Senate. They were Senators Paulinus Igwe (Ebonyi Central); Tayo Alasoadura (Ondo Central) and Isa Misau (Bauchi Central).
Aside that, he was daring enough to raise a number of points of order to condemn the leadership style of Saraki at various times. He was also the only one who did not only condemn Senate’s decision to raise the number of senate committees from 56 to 65, describing it as unconstitutional and a breach of senate standing rules.
Therefore, he called for a reversal to the old structure, describing the committees as illegal. Consequently, he did not only reject his appointment as Chairman of National Identity and National Population, he also dragged the Senate to court over the claim of constitutional violations over the constitution of the committees.
Senate’s Patience Exhausted
However, with the interview he granted on February 7, 2016, the Senate felt Marafa had exhausted all his lifelines and it was time to curb his perceived excesses. So, it asked him to explain to the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions why disciplinary action should not be taken against him.
This move was spearheaded on February 16 by Misau, a former police officer, who raised a point of order, saying Marafa’s interview had brought the entire Senate into disrepute before Nigerians and further threatened his continued stay in the Senate.
He described the interview as misleading, full of lies and unfortunate, coming at a time the Senate was striving to pass the budget in good time.
He said: “Senator Kabir Marafa granted an interview misleading the public, telling lies against this institution, the Senate. I think I have been called more than 500 times from my constituency in respect of this publication.
“I will not allow somebody who enjoyed the seventh Senate to come and not allow us to do our work properly here.
Mr. President, I think the leadership has to do something about this. We cannot allow one person to continue to tell lies against the Senate, misleading the public. I think it is better we take decision so that we correct things; not only Marafa, anybody that is here will not be allowed to be misleading the public.”
Misau found a supporter in Senator Matthew Urhoghide (Edo South), who said the action of Marafa was embarrassing and no longer acceptable.
“I want to say with every vehemence and every element of responsibility that the publication as contained in the newspaper smears the integrity of this house. The leadership of this house that I have so much reverence for has been brought to total disrepute.”
After asking Misau to lay a copy of the newspaper, Saraki referred the matter to the committee on ethics, privileges and public petitions and was asked to report findings to Senate in one week. Indeed, the committee submitted its report last Tuesday without setting its eyes on Marafa.
Marafa Hails His Investigation
In his reaction, Marafa said investigating him would only give him the opportunity to open more can of worms. “It is a welcome development. I am even happy that the Ethics Committee will investigate me. I am ready to make myself available.
It will give me the opportunity to say more things space did not permit me to say in the newspaper,” he said.
But last Monday, when the committee expected Marafa to appear before it, he stayed away, claiming that he was not properly invited. Whereas the committee had shortly after the resolution, written him a letter inviting him to appear before the committee, he replied that he was in Kaduna, attending the burial of the mother of his colleague, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, and therefore requested for another date beginning from last Monday.
Thereafter, the committee clerk called him on the telephone and sent him a text message, reminding him of the meeting then scheduled for Monday. But Marafa claimed that he was not properly invited and hence shunned the meeting, perhaps, he expected to receive another letter instead of verbal conversation.
Protesters in Solidarity with Marafa
Meanwhile, a group of young men under the aegis of Open Society and Good Governance Initiativeon Tuesday stormed the National Assembly to protest the planned move by the Senate to suspend Marafa.
They displayed placards with various inscriptions such as “Suspend Saraki, not Marafa;” “Stop suspending members;” Saraki, leave the Senate and face CCT;” and “No to planned suspension of Senator Marafa,” among others.
Leading the protesters, one Emeka Ude described the planned suspension of Marafa as anti-democratic, claiming that the proposed suspension of the Zamfara senator would further bring the crisis-ridden Senate into disrepute, saying it would be an affront on freedom of speech among lawmakers.
“Democracy thrives where there is fairness, rule of law, freedom of expression among others. In a situation where the legislature is foreclosing the democratic space, that is an invitation to fascism,” Ude said.
According to him, freedom of expression among lawmakers should be encouraged and not discouraged as he warned Saraki against suppressing contrary views in the Senate.
He said if anyone needed to be suspended, it was Saraki whom he said had a case to answer before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, observing that by referring Marafa to ethics’ committee, Saraki was prepared to sanction the senator whom he considered to be a thorn in his flesh.
Will the Senate Wield the Big Stick?
The report of the committee on ethics was supposed to be debated on Wednesday but the Senate deferred it. The trend was the same on Thursday.
Marafa had accused the committee of denying him fair hearing by submitting its report without hearing his own side of the story.
There were insinuations last week that the senate might have opted to tread with caution in view of Marafa’s subsequent allegation that all the hues and cries about the 2016 budget in the senate were a deliberate orchestration by Senate leadership to use the 2016 Appropriation Bill to settle scores with the presidency on his trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
This allegation irritated a number of senators, prompting a statement by six of them, entitled: “Enough is enough.”
The six senators were Alasoadura, Peter Nwaoboshi, Rafiu Ibrahim, Obinna Ogba, Misau and Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi.
An extract from the statement read: “We are surprised that while others are preaching peace, the Senator from Zamfara Central has continued to stoke the ember of disunity, deploying all tactics, particularly falsehood, character assassination, setting individuals and institutions against each other and throwing abuses as if he is at war with himself and must therefore vent his anger on others.”
Nevertheless, can the Senate possess the nerve to decide the fate of Marafa this week? It is left to be seen as Marafa is confident that no one can suspend him.