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Olusegun Adeniyi: Senate, Nigerian Governors Retirement Home

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At the last count, no fewer than 13 governors whose second term in office expires next year are believed to be eyeing the Senate. For some of these governors, it is not that they are interested in making laws for the good governance of the country, it is just that they must have official titles in Abuja to continue their wheeling-dealing. And to achieve their objectives, some of the current senators must give way for them.

Ordinarily, it is not wrong for governors to aspire to be senators but at a time we are trying to build institutions for the advancement of our democracy, turning our Senate to a retirement home for governors, including those who have abysmal records of service in their states, cannot be the right way to go. How can we develop expertise and knowledge on legislative matters when institutional memories are easily dispensed with on the altar of unbridled ambition, essentially in promotion of self?

It is noteworthy that what is fast becoming a tradition actually started in 2007 when after their second term in office, many of the outgoing governors decided to run for Senate. Six of them succeeded. They are: Bukar Abba Ibrahim (Yobe), George Akume (Benue), Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa) and Joshua Dariye (Plateau). Adamu Aliero who won in Kebbi moved to the Federal Executive Council as Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister while the current Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu was defeated in Bauchi State. More governors would later join their colleagues in 2011 and today we are looking at a situation in which another batch of 13 could end up in the red chambers by next year.

For instance, the “uncommon transformer” (Godswill Akpabio) has told Senator Aloysius Akpan Etok, currently representing Akwa Ibom North-West, to pack his bags and be ready to leave the Senate seat for him. In Benue State, Gabriel Suswan (who incidentally was in the House of Representatives for eight years before becoming governor) is determined to send former PDP National chairman, Senator Barnabas Gemade to his political grave. With Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan declaring his ambition for Delta South, it is unlikely that Senator James Manager will be sleeping easy and Theodore Orji probably probably believes Senator Nkechi Nwogu should simply be making laws in her husband’s kitchen. Even Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State (who many Nigerians hardly hear about) wants to go to the senate! In the case of Cross River State, Governor Liyel Imoke (himself a former Senator) has publicly declared that he would not run but he may also have “zoned out” Majority leader, Senator Ndoma Egba, SAN.
However, the most sinister in all the plots is perhaps brewing in Enugu State where Governor Sullivan Chime is taking no prisoners in his bid to wrest the Enugu West senatorial seat from Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Already, the governor has conscripted the traditional rulers in the senatorial district to become his canvassers while he has the party structure firmly under his grip.

What is particularly distressing is that some of these governors have spent the last seven and a half years in office without making any significant pronouncements on even the state of their states let alone national issues. To therefore expect them to make any serious contributions to the work of the senate is mere daydreaming. But beyond that, we all ought to be worried about the tyranny of governors. They lord it over their state legislators, determine who represents their states at the National Assembly and literally dictate who succeeds them while stifling all opposition to their own ambition.
For sure, we cannot legislate against the governors aspiring to the Senate or to any office for that matter. But the cynical manner in which the legislature is being treated in our country will have long-term consequences on our democracy. According to available records, once they get to the Senate, many of these former governors are hardly ever around for any serious legislative work aside the fact that there is even a moral/ethical issue that is being ignored.

It is common knowledge that virtually all the governors are on scandalous life-long financial packages from their states. Yet they are still entitled (and the current ones are collecting) their remunerations from the Senate. Since it is only in our country that you can literally eat your cake and have it, it is no surprise therefore that these executive distinguished senators can be collecting pension and still be earning salaries from public treasuries! Where in the world does such a thing happen but Nigeria?

While that is an issue we must address, my current concern is that we are degrading what is without any doubt the most critical institution in a representative democracy which is the legislature. It is not an accident that lawmakers do not have term limits. It is because experience and institutional memories are vital qualities needed for such assignment. In the case of the Senate that has onerous responsibilities, it is important we look at what obtains in the United States from where we borrowed the idea of presidential system of government.

There is an interesting article on the website of the Dirksen Congressional Centre written by Betty K. Koed, an associate historian at the United States Senate Historical Office, which highlights why the Senate is a critical legislative institution. The point was driven home by a story of an interesting encounter between Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as captured by the writer:

It is said that on his return from France after the framers had completed the U.S. Constitution, creating two houses of Congress, Thomas Jefferson called (George) Washington to account for having agreed to a second chamber, the Senate, in the U.S. Congress. “Of what use is the Senate?” he asked Washington, as he stood before the fire with a cup of tea in his hand. As he asked the question, Jefferson poured some of the tea into his saucer, swirled it around a bit, and then poured it back into the teacup.

“You have answered your own question,” Washington replied.

“What do you mean?” Jefferson asked.

“Why did you pour the tea into your saucer?”

“To cool it,” said Jefferson.

“Just so,” said Washington, “that is why we created the Senate. The Senate is the saucer into which we pour legislation to cool.”
The Senate, according to Koed, serves as the “cooling factor”. To that extent you need maturity as well as experience that comes from years of service in the legislature and that explains why the term for a US Senator is six years as opposed to two for House members. That also explains why much premium is placed on seniority determined by the length of continuous service. For instance, Patrick Leahy will be 40 years in the Senate by the 3rd of January next year on a day that would mark Senator Orrin Hatch’s 38th. No fewer than five of the senators have spent more than 30 years while ten have spent 20 years and above and I am not counting the years that many of them had spent in the House of Representatives before reaching the Senate.

In contrast, only two Senators from the class of 1999 in our country are still in the senate. They are Senator David Mark, current Senate President and Senator Bello Hayatu Gwarzo, Senate Majority Whip. Of the class of 2003, only six are still in the Senate. Yet as I said earlier, the biggest culprits for this state of affair are the governors, many of who have scant regards for democratic principles. First, they lord themselves over the legislative arm in their states by emasculating assembly members who in most cases are treated like errand boys. And then, they ensure that those who go to the National Assembly are “loyalists” since whatever the governors want, the governors get.

That point was underscored most eloquently by President Goodluck Jonathan in Dutse, Jigawa State on Tuesday week when he said: “I always tell our party that until we change our delegates pattern, the governors must dictate what happens. Under the present delegates we have for national elections, any governor, who is fit to be a governor, has control of about 70 percent—whether we like it not.”

It is therefore no surprise that at every election cycle since 1999, many senators, including the exceptional ones like Udoma Udoma and Olorunnibe Mamora have been played out. The immediate consequence of this high turn-over of senators is its toll on the quality of debate and legislation for good governance in our country while the ultimate victims of this unfortunate state of affairs remain the people who are denied quality and effective representation at virtually all levels.

It is perhaps appropriate to say that President Olusegun Obasanjo should also take part of the blame. Due to his meddlesomeness (and their own internal contradictions), the Senate for the first five years became a revolving door, producing in its wake a total of five presidents at an average of one per year. But since 2007, there has been a measure of stability which is now threatened by the antics of governors who evidently do not care much about whether or not our democracy survives and thrives.

The Ceasefire with Boko Haram
In the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency, if there is anybody that the Presidency should build cordial relationships with, it is the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima. However, having mismanaged the kidnapping of the Chibok girls a time immediate response could have probably helped, it would seem that some people needed to find a scapegoat for their own ineptitude. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong man.

I have in recent weeks had several interactions with Governor Shettima on the situation in Borno vis-a-vis Boko Haram and our military and never has he had one negative word to say about the efforts of the Federal Government. Even when there are speculations that he is not taken into confidence in the ongoing negotiations, when I called him on phone last weekend to know about the current ceasefire deal that many Nigerians are quick to dismiss as a phantom, he confirmed that he is aware of efforts being made with some moderates within the organisation who are ready to settle for peace. He also told me that the federal government should be supported while arguing that the current cynicism in the media is unhelpful.

It is a shame that the Federal Government cannot learn from the management of Ebola crisis in the course of which Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu collaborated with both Lagos and Rivers State Governors Babatunde Fashola and Chibuike Amaechi respectively to achieve results despite that fact that they are in opposition. What is even more unfortunate is that there are insinuations that the presidency’s disposition is being influenced by former Governor Ali Modu Sherrif who is now a regular visitor to Aso Rock. Yet, whatever anybody might be telling them, there is no way the Boko Haram crisis can be effectively contained without the critical inputs of the governors of the three affected states and the last time I checked, Sheriff is no longer the Borno State governor.

However, while I have issues with the political pettiness that is driving some of the decisions as to who to involve and those to ignore in the counter-insurgency operations as well as the tardy manner in which information concerning the ceasefire has been handled so far, the fact we should also not ignore is that negotiations like this are always tricky and there is never a guarantee that it could not at any point unravel. So what we can only do is work towards making it work bearing in mind the saying that nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I believe the Jonathan administration deserves our support in the efforts to find a lasting solution to the Boko Haram menace either by force of arms or through negotiations or a combination of both. However, as I stated earlier, it is also important for the administration to carry along the governors of the affected three states. We need such unity of purpose to defeat the entrepreneurs of violence and their sponsors/sympathisers in our country. With all the critical stakeholders working on the same page, it is possible to put an end to the Boko Haram menace in our country.

 

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The Verdict Written By Olusegun Adeniyi and Culled from Thisday; olus@thisdaylive.com

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