The physical assault on the upper chamber of the National Assembly on April 18 has no comparison in Nigeria’s political history. Although there are parliamentary skirmishes in some of our legislatures in the past, the only comparable event was that of Western House of Assembly in Ibadan in 1962. It was the hey day of the internecine war between Awolowo and Akintola factions of the Action Group, the dominant political party in Western Nigeria in those early days.
The Ibadan event led to serious political and constitutional developments, mostly negative, until these events engulfed Nigeria in the civil war of 1967 to 1970.
There is a difference though between what happened this year and the event of 1962. While the latter could be traced to factionalism within a party, this year’s sordid happening should be seen in a larger context. It was invasion by ‘outsiders’ on Nigeria’s parliament. It could probably have been ignited by both intra and inter party squabbles, but one must be honest to admit the fact that it assumes a larger dimension than anything that has happened in our political process since the British departed our shores in 1960.
More ominously, it happened in a parliament that has become the most criticized, perhaps the most hated national institution of our time. Don’t they deserve this odious perception? They do. It is the only institution of state that keeps the financial benefits it derives from the state under wraps. If for anything else, this veiled attempt at institutional cover up will continue to give the hallowed chamber a bad name, irrespective of its performance
Throughout our experience in constitutional governance, it is the only parliament where the government party and the opposition coalesce together in a marriage that negates constitutional set up of government and opposition. It is believed members are not divided on party lines at all; indeed there is a very thin layer of difference between the two major parties in the National Assembly.
Some people have alleged that the senator from Delta was the arrow head of the attempted civilian coup. If this was true, the prospects are frightening indeed. This is so because many Nigerians believe that at one time in the future, considering the wide gap between the poor and the rich, the millions of unemployed youth, many of whom have good professional certificates, may become restless and would just enter and sack the National Assembly. That could be the beginning of the beginning-apologies to K.O. Mbadiwe.
The National Assembly could be a natural target since most Nigerians believe that they are taking more than their fair share of the national cake. In fact there is a general belief that more about five percent of national income is consumed by the National Assembly with population of less than five thousand. Sure, the other branches of government – the executive and judiciary are not inhabited by saints. As everybody who cares knows what the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the president, the minister etc takes from the national till are no secret whereas the earnings of members of the National Assembly are shrouded in secrecy, making people believe that presiding officers of the two chambers earn as much as N35 million per month. And also that senators and members of House of Representatives take N15 million to N20 million per month. In a country where poverty is literally crawling of its four legs, the inequality is certainly unacceptable.
In some cases, the National Assembly is its own worst enemy. The general belief is that members dare not express different view points from those of the presiding officers or the assembly’s leadership as a whole. In a supposedly liberal democracy, it is wrong for a member to be expelled because he holds contrary views to popular palace positions.
Indeed Nigeria needs restructuring but not the physical, geographical or financial compartments which some people envisage but the restructuring of the mind and orientation will perform the magic which we envisage for the betterment of our country.
This 8th assembly should have a rethink. They should be apprehensive about what Nigerians think about them. Besides the annual ritual of senators and members of the House of Representative reaching out to their constituents with singlets, motorcycles and palm wine on annual basis, and beyond what they call constituency projects, they are one day going to dissolve into the larger society where they may not find life comfortable with their unearned billions.
Although Nigerians are reputed to forget and ignore events so easily, actions bordering on the notorious looting of the national treasury is certainly one that they cannot easily forget.
Expectedly, this strange event has continued to attract comments across Nigeria. In particular pundits have a field day drawing conclusions. One that is particularly cynical is that the invasion of the Senate is as result of the continuation of events that happened in Kwara State some 20 to 30 years ago. This was when they alleged the Saraki dynasty was imposing its will on the hapless Kwarans. This is a reference to the assumed power of Bukola Saraki over his distinguished colleagues. This power of money and sinecure positions, are what is propelling the assembly resulting into the negative image. It is indeed a black spot in our constitutional history.
But two issues stand out clear. One: Is it an offence or constitutional breach for a senator to have different views and express these views openly against the leadership position? Two: How did the present Senate leadership emerge in the first place? Is it not by cunning, by conspiracy or by some subterfuge? Until these two issues are resolve, the 8th Assembly particularly the Senate will continue to attract deserved odium from Nigerians.
Fasuan MON; JP writes from Ado-Ekiti.
Originally published in The Nation