In Defence of Our Tired Senate 

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SATURDAY COUNTERPOINT

By  Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Watching the Senate of Nigerian National Assembly is altogether tedious and tortuous. A  demoralising, fawning ‘de-spectacle’. It is therefore understandable when a principal member of the Red Chamber, the very same Senate Deputy President, Ovie Omo-Agege (of the missing mace fame) declared on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, July 30, that the ministerial nominee from Taraba State, Mr. Sale Mamman (an engineer) should be allowed to “take a bow and go” since they were all tired from the rigour of the screening process, “since how many days now?” In case you’re wondering, like Omo-Agege, the Tuesday screening we are beefing about was the fifth, and the last, in the so-called screening of the 43 nominees that President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled a week earlier. Also note that the senators resumed serious work this July, and will start their annual vacation this same month, until September, we learnt. What a tiresome life!

  Well, Omo-Agege was not alone in the “bow-and-go” plea on behalf of Mamman. About six other senators toed the same line, but the lane taken by another principal officer amongst the appellants was perhaps the most ridiculous; yet he was only trying to help and polish Mamman’s chances. Senate chief whip, Orji Uzor Kalu informed his colleagues, knowingly, that Mamman (who had earlier mentioned Kalu as his boss somewhere along his career path) was not an orator; he actually, at some point, said something like, Mamman “is man who cannot talk…but he’s a very good professional…”, and instead of wasting the time of the Senate, Mamman should be permitted to bow and leave!

  In fairness to Kalu, the opening statements of Sale Mamman gave him out as man who could send a room full of boisterous adolescents to sleep, or simply walk out in order to avoid mental breakdown. A dour, tentative and insipid performance would have etched in the hearts of watching Nigerians a blundering, colourless, and ultimately, a bench-warming character in the federal cabinet. 

 In view of the said tiredness, and other issues best ignored, ‘the committee of the whole house’ called and accepted for Sale, and the last two nominees (Sabo Nanono – Kano and Lai Mohammed – Kwara) to “take a bow and go”) after copious, effusive and plainly patronising citations and genuflections. 

We understand that about 21 nominees did the “bow and go” dance ritual, leaving only 22 to answer questions from the senators, mostly derived from curricula vitae submitted by the nominees. We will leave for another day the profundity and shallowness of questioning nominees without portfolios attached, but rather clairvoyantly projecting into areas such nominees might be slotted is based on their cognate and experiential backgrounds. Some sort of screening by imagination and forecasting.

 We know all over the democratic world how amusing and rigidly ceremonial the customs, procedures, protocol and even language of legislative business appear to ordinary people like us; we however bemoan our delicate destiny, with the type of National Assembly we have been lumped with. 

  When you have read, watched and researched deliberations and contestations within the legislatures of other large democracies, it is difficult to have respect or be inspired by actions, deliberations and resolutions of a native legislature with several integrity-deficient persons, and quite a bunch whose pedigrees indicate the chambers have become some sort of retirement homes to sit-tight political jobbers.

 Apart from their ridiculous salaries which fly in the face of excruciating poverty and spiralling unemployment, the four-yearly, two-tier legislative contraption has ballooned shamelessly to a major drain in governance, and the result is that the 20 years of current democratic journey is splattered with uninspiring, demoralising and questionable elements, propositions, debates, and associated crankiness. 

  It is often said that a people deserve the government they get, and that the quality of leadership is symptomatic of the quality inherent in its source, the followership. While, one is not about to debate the universal application of these prognoses, we can easily sidestep the two socio-political arguments by front-loading the peculiar manner our democratisation evolved… the effects of many years of military disruptions on our political pilgrimage, paving way for derogation of values, prostitution of cultural ethos and virtues. Systematically, our cherished cultures, natural inclinations and communal integrations were trampled, shredded and unequally destabilised by people whose orientation and training have wired them to be rigid, uncommunicative, compassion-less and blindly obedient to authority. 

  Therefore, when, suddenly, our uniformed rulers saw deception and destruction as highlights of professional astuteness; deceit and dissembling as art in practice… our worldview, and that of succeeding generations, will no doubt be negatively impacted, and thus will produce, to a large extent, what we now have: the impishly selfish and insensitive collaboration of misguided misfits who pose as leaders. You will be saddled with people who can easily wonder why the hues and cries over their humongous monthly salaries, when the money “is not even enough sef”!

 Are you amazed how nominees with embarrassing tag of indictment, or at the very least, written allegations of financial improprieties, walk confidently into a screening room partly filled with people of similar “biases” and situations? But since the universal dictum is to hold a person innocent until proven guilty… they are privileged to laugh at our dodgy judicial processes, and wink at the overwhelmed prosecution personnel driving the fight against high corruption…while the country continues to bleed, in multiple pores, without let or care.

  Well, one of the sideshows of the so-called screening process was the comedy of the ratification ceremony that ended the ministerial screening drama. When the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan reeled out the names of “screened” nominees, in order of their visits, he asked if his colleagues favoured approval or disapproval. “Aye” was “yes, we approve”, and “Nay” was “no”. Simple? Not in our tired Senate! 

  Depending on the decibel of the noise created, the Senate President would stamp his gavel on his table, and declare: “Ayes have it”, or vice versa. When the first name, Ikechukwu Ogah (Abia), was announced, the “Nay” was as pronounced as the “Ayes”… and if the Senate President’s ears were more attentive, the “Nays” were slightly higher, actually. Nevertheless, he declared that the “Ayes” had it! From thence, the “Nays” faded rapidly….

  At some level, even the “Ayes” became almost inaudible, barely muttering… but the “Ayes” kept having it. Of course, by this time, the “Nays” were no longer interested in harassing their jaws. They were in Nay-mute mode…perhaps tired, and worn out, by having to bleat over 40 times in a fruitless ritual! 

  Throughout all this, though, Senator Lawan, the chair of ‘the committee of the whole house’ never failed in hearing what he wanted to hear… And with the plunging gavel came, “the Ayes have it”… forty-three solid times. What a tired Senate!