Senate as Sound-board for Gubernatorial Tussles



By Oke Epia

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Politicians in Nigeria care very little about anything else but their personal interests. For them, even institutions of state which should be shielded from partisanship and separated from the crucibles of politics are not spared as far as their narrow prisms of privilege and advantage is concerned. That seems to be the situation with the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at the moment. Members of this hallowed body have taken to the habit of using the institution to perpetuate personal agendas of members to the detriment of certain doctrines of governance. Some important doctrines in ready reference include inter-governmental relations in a federal system of government, and separation of powers between the three arms of government.

The Senate under the extant leadership of Bukola Saraki as Senate President has found it fashionable to deploy the institution of the federal legislature to fight personal political battles of some members who are entangled with their state governors. The motions and ensuing debates are usually highly dramatized with contributors sparing no scruples in aiming at targets knowing that the immunity of legislative privilege protects the verbal aggression. The other day, Senator Shehu Sani took the liberty to describe Mallam Nasir el-rufai, governor of Kaduna State, as “Stalin, Hitler and Nebuchadnezzar.” Days earlier, he had labeled the governor a ‘cancer’ and betrayer’ to President Muhammadu Buhari. The governor has since slammed charges against the senator.

In a related development, Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe described the governor of Kogi State as a ‘little Hitler’ in a dig meant to strengthen his colleague who is embroiled in a political battle of supremacy with him. This is why Dino Melaye, the controversial senator from Kogi State and a key ally and lackey of Saraki, is easily the biggest beneficiary of this gradual erosion of institutional integrity of the extant Senate. A week hardly passes by without the red chamber adopting one motion or the other at the instance of Mr. Melaye targeted at his governor, Yahaya Bello. In making these resolutions, it does seem the Senate has not been well advised as to what powers it has to probe a governor or how such decisions can be enforced in a federal system of government where state executives are not answerable to the federal legislature per se. 

Take the example of the decision of the Senate to investigate the Kogi State government for allegedly establishing a police force through the ‘back door.’ Melaye drew the attention of his colleagues to the matter on Wednesday and spoke of a “plan by the Kogi State Government to introduce State Police through the back door. This morning, I bring to the Senate a law passed by Kogi State Government and signed into law by the governor which is about the establishment of the vigilante service group. I have that law here which is already being enforced.

By the time I perused this law, it is in conflict with the constitution and alters the function of the Nigerian police as stipulated in section 214 in constitution as amended.” At this point, one would have thought the appropriate thing to do would be to approach the court and seek to quash the law, if indeed it conflicts with the constitution of the country. Interestingly, Melaye acknowledged that “states can only make laws through the House of Assembly as enshrined in section 4 of the constitution but it must not be in conflict with the constitution.” But in his usual drama, the senator proceeded to whip up sentiments about how the law is being implemented in a draconian manner by the state governor. Hear him: “The vigilante group will be involved in the detection and prevention of crimes, apprehension criminals, preservation of land and order, assists paramilitary agencies in the discharge of their duties and assist other security in maintain law and order.

There shall be a comptroller of vigilante services. The most affront of the constitution is section 15 of that law; that the vigilante group shall carry dane guns and other light weapons.” At the end of the day, the Senate resolved to summon the National Security Adviser (NSA) in a further investigation ceded to its committees on intelligence and judiciary.

To be clear, I am not by any means suggesting that the Senate cannot discharge its functions as guaranteed under Section 4 of the Constitution with respect to making laws for the good governance of the federation. But it must be conscious of the powers it does not have over the governance of the sub-national units that make up the federation. In any case, it is the judiciary that is granted powers to resolve a conflict between a federal law and state legislation should the conflicting parties stay adamant on their positions. My position is that the Senate should concern itself with matters over which it has powers and resist the temptation of jumping into every item of disagreement between senators and their governors. 

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