The Senate may have been distracted, but most of the time it is doing its job
In the last few weeks, the Senate has been at the front burner of public discourse with some social critics prescribing its scrapping as the upper legislative chamber of the federal legislature. That is an extreme view of a matter that requires sober reflection and solemn resolution.
Without a doubt, the Senate had in recent times passed a few controversial resolutions which some pro-government social critics find disagreeable, the most prominent being the rejection of the confirmation of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and its insistence that Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NSC), should appear before it in his service uniform.
The response of the executive to these resolutions was off-handed and somewhat dismissive, attracting the anger of senators who felt not only slighted but also feared that there was an orchestrated attempt to undermine the authority of the legislature. The Senate subsequently decided to preserve its sanctity and sought to enforce its resolutions by suspending the consideration of 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari to fill the vacancies in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This too has drawn widespread criticism from a section of the public.
However, in as much as opinions are bound to differ over issues of public interest, they should be based on knowledge and not sentiments if we are to sustain this democracy. It is against this background that we urge more sober reflections on recent resolutions of the Senate and come to a balanced conclusion on them. Under the 1999 Constitution as amended, the power of the legislature to keep the executive in check through its oversight function is not in doubt. Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution clearly establish this fact. This was why in our earlier editorial, we found the conduct of Hameed Ali, the Comptroller-General of Customs, in not appearing in uniform as directed by the Senate an objectionable challenge to the authority of the legislature.
Similarly, the retaining of Magu as the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) after the Senate had refused his confirmation twice, smacks of disrespect for the powers of the upper chamber under Section 2 (3) of the EFCC Act 2002, which subjects the appointment of the chairman and members of the commission to the confirmation of the Senate.
No less misguided is the attack on the Senate for standing down the consideration of the 27 RECs nominated by the president pending a positive response by the executive to its resolution on Magu. This is a worldwide legislative tool for compelling compliance with the resolution of the parliament. To seek to hang the Senate for recourse to this tool in the face of executive arrogance is, in our view, unfair.
Under the presidential system of government that we practice, disagreements among the different arms are not uncommon; and whenever they arise, the best course of action is dialogue. It is significant, therefore, that the executive, seeing the futility of its actions, has set up a committee headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to negotiate areas of disagreements with the Senate. We think this is a commendable step.
However, we must also caution the Senate not to allow itself to be distracted as the events in the past weeks were suggestive of a tendency towards dissipation of energy on self-exoneration. The job ahead of the Senate is enormous and we urge it not only to concentrate on considering several bills before it that would enhance the socio-economic wellbeing of Nigerians, but also facilitate their passage without further delay. This is the way we believe the Senate could begin to regain the confidence of the public whose interests its members were elected to serve.