Sunday, June 19, 2016

NASS: An Anniversary, A Farce

By Alabi Williams  
This 8th National Assembly, on June 9, rolled out drums to mark the first anniversary of its inauguration; it was an eventful year. It was a year when the current leadership of the legislature, particularly the Senate, weathered severe storm sowed by it, but watered viciously from the outside. Their resort to celebration and arrogant chest-thumping was not so much about how the NASS quickly transformed the business of lawmaking within one year, and how that had made the country more governable. It was also not about how well life has become more meaningful in the last one year for ordinary Nigerians. It was more about Bukola Saraki, the Senate president and how he managed to survive the plot by his own party to wrest the mace from his grip.
*Speaker Dogara and Senate President Saraki 
Remembering how deftly Saraki and his loyalists valiantly engineered that parliamentary maneuver to take over the leadership sure deserves several backslaps. It was a historical move; hence the entire anniversary plenary was dedicated to recollecting how the tricks were played, and to bond together in the assurance not to break ranks, despite the shift in the battle from the floor to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
The effusions were quite entertaining. Senators took turns to pour encomiums on that scheme and how deft hands have kept it from slipping. Minority leader and former governor of Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akpabio, poked fun at how the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) helped to install and stabilize Saraki, while his party tugged at his cloak to unmask him. Dino Melaye, ever boisterous, promised Saraki would never be unveiled, despite the distractions from outside. It was all smiles on the face of Saraki, whom he praised to high heavens.
 Indeed, victory is sweet, and for some, it does not matter the schemes that were deployed to fetch it. But there were some in the Red chamber who sat demurely all through the proceedings. They knew it was sham, but they have to live with it and wait for another time. They were outsmarted on that morning of June 9, 2015, when they followed another summon to the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja, instead of coming to the NASS after President Buhari, who allegedly issued the invite, had proclaimed the legislature.
The truth of that mix up will take time to unravel. Those who sent sms to invite APC senators to ICC knew what they were up to, to apparently distract the larger chunk of members from participating in the election of presiding officers. And the few APC senators, including Saraki, who shunned the invitation, and decided instead to sneak into the Red Chamber well disguised, also knew what they intended to achieve. Either way, what was at play was plain crookedness and not chivalry. The Senate has remained haunted since that episode, unable to be majestic and to rise up to the crucial challenges of a changed political atmosphere. Despite their huff and puff, they have not affected governance in any remarkable way.
Some people saw it coming in the manner the party in government was artificially and untidily strewed. In 2014, APC was all about how to win elections. There was no time and foresight to indulge in the luxury of an audit to test the integrity of its component units. After it won election, the next legitimate aspiration of members was how to allocate the booty. By that time, it was too late to enforce orders. Saraki and some people decided to help themselves to plum offices.

The management of the faceoff by the leadership of the party left much to be desired. The party chairman, chief John Oyegun, was never cut out for the rough and tumble politics of this generation. In the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) under which he was governor in early 90s, the party was the property of the Federal Government and matters of accountability were of good regard. In today’s APC of which he is chair, he sits on that chair at the behest of some party investors who are entitled to dividends. Oyegun’s good nature and his well-regarded public service life alone do not win elections in this dispensation. Remember he could not win his ward in the 2011 presidential elections, when he was vice presidential candidate to Ibrahim Shekarau in their days in All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). There is a limit to what he can do in APC, which is why he was unable to tame those who were eager to collect their share of investment in the June 9 2015 NASS drama.
 Till date, the APC is yet to do serious house cleaning in the manner of the change they promised Nigerians. And that is affecting the quality of behaviour and output from the legislature. On such important day as its first anniversary, you cannot point to one elevating and memorable verse from the Senate. Instead, we were entertained with high-sounding, but empty encomiums from the likes of Senator Dino Melaye.
We do not hear detailed and well-researched forecast on the economy and how to exit these hard times. We do not hear robust debates on how to engage the new uprising in the Niger Delta. At a time every serious minded stakeholder is calling for restructuring, NASS members are still in a stupor, unfazed and held captive by ostentation and geo-politics. They are so comfortable they cannot see the country drifting towards the cliff.
In this first year of change, the NASS has entertained citizens more than the people ever bargained. First, they told us the budget for 2016 was missing, after Mr. President had presented it before a combined session of the two chambers. Then, they told us civil servants had padded the budget. Later, the Presidency accused the NASS of padding the budget with all sorts of allowances and a face-off ensued. That took many weeks to resolve and citizens suffered the anxiety generated more. Manufacturers and other players in the private sector waited endlessly for the budget, to have a clear insight into government’s economic drive. That budget drama while it lasted did not present the APC and the legislature as having a good understanding of the change they promised, as well as the mood in the polity.
When the government dithered for months and remained clueless on how to resolve the matter of endless queues in filling stations, the legislature also had no clear answer to the challenge, apart from daily summons of the minister of state for petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu for endless debates. When government eventually decided to increase pump price of premium motor spirit (PMS) to N145, the legislature did not side with Labour and the people. Even the House of Representative that would rise to such occasion was of no use to the people. Today, the people are paying heavily for the failure of governments over the years.
It is the same story with the increase in electricity tariff. There was hardly any serious debate between the people’s representatives and the ministry of power, which was bent on imposing a burden on the people. The NASS had warned that the increase did not have its approval, but it was helpless all the same.
At every crucial juncture when the people had expected to count on their representatives, in the last one year, alas, they were not to be found. Therefore, if the 8th Assembly were to be admitted in the hall of fame for uncommon acts, it will not be for their pro-people actions. Rather, it will be for the inglorious act of installing Bukola Saraki as leader, and the fact that he has remained unhorsed, despite the furies of godfathers.
We are not permitted to talk about the humungous allegations of undeclared assets and falsifications by the Senate President. The CCT is handling those matters and time will tell who owns what, between the people of Kwara and their former governor.
But last week, the Police was reported to have reopened the case of alleged forgery of Senate standing rules by some senators to aid to election of Saraki. Some presiding officers of the Seventh Senate and other individuals have been invited to appear before it.
If this mater were to gain serious traction, in addition to the CCT palaver, the Senate will surely harvest enough distraction to last it every week of this second year. And come June 9, 2017, God willing, we shall witness another farcical anniversary show.


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