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Our Hallowed Chambers, Their Hollow Stories

On the eve of the expiry of its legislative life recently, the Seventh Senate passed 46 bills in 10 minutes in what was clearly a scandalous act of irresponsibility and insensitivity to the feelings of discerning Nigerian public.

BALA DAN ABU       e-mail: bala.danabu@theunion.com.ng

This is the season of fresh political air. And the atmosphere is filled with it, in fact, a lot it. The feeling of its freshness is still spreading. New faces are displacing old and familiar ones in key public positions.

With a new President already sworn in and new governors taking charge in most of the states of the federation, the wind of change is heading for the legislative houses across the country where new men and women are also emerging or are soon to do so as principal officers. Last week, the shape of things to expect at the National Assembly began to emerge.

Femi Gbajabiamila, an apostle of the now very influential Tinubu political dynasty, took the lead in controversial shadow election for the position of speaker of the House of Representatives. He beat Yakubu Dogara to the second position.

In the race for the office of Senate President, the joint ticket of Ahmed Lawan and George Akume came out of a similar exercise with the brighter hope of emerging as Senate President and deputy Senate president respectively this week.

Senator Bukola Saraki, the next most serious contender for that office is still fighting but it’s unlikely he will muster the amount of support necessary to weaken the political patchwork that produced Lawan and Akume.

The effort that produced this “scissors-and-paste” package took a lot of political horse trading among leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC and National Assembly members elected on its platform.

The nomination and confirmation of ministers and special advisers in the weeks ahead will complete the circle of the recruitment of new people for the nation’s political orbit. And that will leave us with the question that is often asked at the beginning of the tenure of every new government in this country. Will the Nigerian people get a better deal this time round?

While we await the appropriate time to ask that question, let’s take a retrospective look at the country’s 7th National Assembly which ended on Thursday, June 4. On the eve of the expiry of its legislative life recently, the Seventh Senate passed 46 bills in 10 minutes in what was clearly a scandalous act of irresponsibility and insensitivity to the feelings of discerning Nigerian public. It was done ostensibly to cover the grounds it lost while pursuing irrelevances in the whole of four years.

The House of Representatives rushed 14 out of the 46 bills. Even then, the processes leading to the passage of the 14 were a violation of due legislative procedure. The only good thing about the legislative calendar that has just ended is that leaders of the National Assembly were honest enough to admit that the institution they presided over was a colossal failure.

Both Senators Saraki and David Mark, admitted that much. Mark, as Senate President, accepted responsibility for the failure of the Senate. I don’t know if he expected the rest of us Nigerians to clap our hands and dance to celebrate this admission of failure. Mark showed no remorse on behalf of his colleagues’ poor work attitude and the damage it did to the polity.

In the House of Representatives, the story was not different. Emeka Ihedioha, deputy speaker, who presided at the final sittings of the House also admitted that members performed poorly. But that was under- stating the gross failure that was the 7th House of Representatives. Aminu Tambuwal who presided over the failure of the House has been rewarded with a higher and even more rewarding responsibility. He is now the governor of Sokoto State.

The legislative arm of government under our democracy is the weakest in terms of role interpretation and performance. Most of those who serve at this level, whether at the federal, state or local government level, do not seem to realise that there is anything to their work other than to share money and to shout and threaten the executive arm of government when there is no money to be shared. The allowances they pay themselves are outrageous and yet they do very little work. Their so-called oversight duties are usually personal business drives in disguise.

They use them as blackmail gimmicks to earn money illegitimately from their victims. Their numerous inquisitions into the activities of other departments of government which is where they waste most their legislative time, have hardly been productive in terms of solving problems. They rather make members richer and the nation poorer.

The state assemblies are even worse. They are centres of acrimony and political vendetta. Perplexity is the other name you can call them. Members are no different from the young child learning to eat on his own and who does not know which of his hands, the right or the left, to use. They can approve even obvious acts of illegality from the governor of the state if the money that comes with it for sharing is good enough.

The more troublesome latest trend is that most speakers of state assemblies function as if they are part of the domestic staff of the state governor. They are usually his appointees and must not hold an opinion different from that of the governor. To do so is to ask for impeachment which his colleagues are ever will to grant for money and personal ambition.

The worst cases under the 7th legislative calendar were in Rivers and Ekiti. I don’t know what those pugilists from these houses are going home to tell their children. All the talks about the lack of good governance seem to be blind to the place of the legislature in the process. The executive arm has unfortunately been the perpetual punch bag.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the failure of governance under our democracy is the failure of the legislature. Our legislators lack the moral discipline to cut financial wastes which is the bane of the failure of government in this country. They have not only encouraged wastes for personal gains but turned the legislative houses into centres of the most hideous acts of financials wastes and sabotage. Where do we go from here? President Buhari must play his role well.

He should refuse to be part of the dirty financial dealings that rule the National Assembly. He should also insist that his ministers do not oblige legislators with demands for gratifications in order to do their duties. He should make a rule that ministers and heads of other government departments and agencies expose such demands promptly.

But to do so successfully and without recrimination, they too must be upright, for as they say, “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.”

This may be as difficult as trying to turn the hand of the clock but Buhari must make an effort to minimise the stealing of public funds by false pretences that is a way of life in the National Assembly. But what does theses changes ever bring for the country and its citizens? That’s the big question. The National Assembly is one big centre of failure, deceit and theft of public funds.

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