By Femi Odere
In a democracy, a nation’s National Assembly is necessarily an assemblage of members from different socio-cultural backgrounds and conflicting worldviews that reflects the diversity of the society from where they are issued. These different backgrounds and worldviews are almost always reflected in their contributions to debates on the floors of the Assembly, which makes democracy what it is. But Nigeria’s National Assembly is a garrison political enclave that its members—-like a military establishment—-must strictly toe the line that has been drawn by its leadership otherwise it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that member—-in an organization of equals—-that espouse a different thought pattern from that which their two heads had laid. The senate chamber of the National Assembly is the locale where the regimentation of its members is most profound. Members of this chamber have all been forced into a straightjacket by Bukola Saraki, their Senate President. It’s indeed another sad chapter—-just as there are many sad chapters in the country’s political landscape—-that members of the National Assembly have willingly given their independent thinking to Saraki and Dogara, the Senate President and House Speaker respectively for keep. This unwritten but obscene gag order by these two principal officers has not only blanketed the entire National Assembly, but the cover is gradually being extended to the Executive branch with reckless impunity. It’s probably a matter of time before it is further stretched to ordinary Nigerians unless they shed their lethargic disposition and engage in vigorous public activism against this sorry 8th National Assembly.
Their latest display of arrogance and self-righteousness—-now becoming increasingly nauseating and annoying to the Nigerian people—-came in the wake of the complaints by Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing that the 2017 budgets from his ministries were unilaterally and illegally altered. Fashola had questioned the extent, if not the legality of the changes that the lawmakers made to his ministries’ budgets. In an interview with TheCable, an online news portal that was widely reported by other traditional media outlets, Fashola had suggested, among other things, that there may have to be “a judicial interpretation of the limits of the power [that] the parliament can exercise during appropriation” and that “nobody should be scared” to put this recurring yearly overreach of the National Assembly on the matter of appropriation “to rest once and for all.”
Fashola also mentioned specifics in relation to the budget of his Works ministry that it has “things like motorized boreholes, primary health care centres” that his ministry did not discuss with the Senate before the budget was submitted. The minister even acknowledged the role of the National Assembly in the nation’s budget preparation when he said in the interview that “there is room for consultation” but “to unilaterally increase the budget is not something that lies in the power of the parliament, although they can reduce it.” Fashola also said he cannot argue “fairly” that a legislator has no input to make into the developmental plan of a nation but “the question is how and when.”
As if Fashola had made a sacrilegious statement, the National Assembly descended very heavily on him in condemning him and his statement after the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the House Speaker, Yakubu Dogara had prepared the stage with their own condemnations. It didn’t matter that Nigerians are in total agreement with Fashola that the 8th National Assembly had gone, and continues to go beyond the limits of their powers as enshrined in the constitution. But they cannot be bothered because they know, just like everyone, that they’re not in the business of making laws for Nigerians but for themselves. It has even been reported that Dogara—-as the head bully of the lower chamber—-has summoned the minister to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for his audacity to call up their legislative irresponsibility, if not illegality, to the Nigerian people. One would think that Fashola’s statement about the constitutionality or otherwise of the legislators is something they ordinarily should have been abreast of if they have not read the ‘rule book’ upside down. The only sections of the book they see very clearly are the ones that involve their financial gains.
Again, as if they’re incapable of knowing when to leave bad enough alone, Sen. Danjuma Goje, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation from Gombe Central Senatorial district—-of all senators—-became the latest sniper that shot at Fashola with his own vacuous and emotive condemnation. Naturally, Nigerians expected Dino Melaye, the official senate Rottweiler to have picked the barking where the two captains of the garrison Assembly left off. But it seems that the barking responsibility fell on Goje this time because Dino now has the pressing matters of his recall (which now looks very real) to contend with. Aside the physical manifestation of his recall now starring him in the face, perhaps Dino already had a dream that the security operatives manning the National Assembly gate did not open the gate when he pulled up in one of his vintage “Dino cars.” And after waiting at the gate—-unknown and unrecognized—-did a passersby point to Dino an obscure parking lot from whence a pass could be obtained if he wanted to get in. But Goje did a poor job in his condemnation of Fashola.
Goje, who drew the attention of his colleagues to Fashola’s statements about the 2017 budget at plenary said, among other things, that the minister should cease and desist in his attempt to “mislead the Nigerian public to black paint the national assembly on the 2017 budget” and that “he should remember that he is now a minister” and as such should “behave like a minister.” Goje went further in his self-conceited peregrination on the floor that Fashola is “not a governor and [that the] national assembly is not Lagos state House of Assembly,” adding that it is “an assembly composed of very patriotic Nigerians, very experienced Nigerians” in which many of them “have done his job [and] many were governors before him.” Not done in his inarticulate, incoherent and unintelligible excoriation of the minister, the senator said that “Fashola should know that he is dealing with the national assembly of Nigeria. If the job is too much for him…[because] it comprises of three ministries [and] if he cannot adjust, he should do the honourable thing, he should do the needful.” And probably to remind the Nigerian people that the National Assembly is indeed a garrison in which the psyche of its members have been militarized, the senate committee chairman said with vacuous condescension that: “For now, I will seize (sic) fire, watch and see how the house will handle him, then we leave him with them. If they are not satisfied and they pass(sic) him to us. Then we will take him over.” This was said by one of the senate children of a lesser god, Senate President Bukola Saraki.
It must be emphasized here that Goje inadvertently exhibited a limited intellectual capacity by his inability to present a counter argument to convince the Nigerian people about the constitutional prerogative of the National Assembly to deface the budget. Rather, he delved into some worthless, pedestrian and emotive counter narrative to interrogate Fashola’s factual and pragmatic position that questioned the constitutionality of their act. Goje may—-in his warped and straight jacketed thinking—-wanted Nigerians to believe that Fashola is attempting to “mislead the Nigerian public to black paint the national assembly on the 2017 budget.” But Nigerians have since found those misleading them; and it is their National Assembly. The joke is on Senator Goje that Fashola should “behave like a minister.” One asks the senator when was the last time Fashola displayed an act unbecoming of a minister in comparison to Goje who would rather loot the people’s patrimony than to make laws. What Goje seems to be saying is that Fashola should have just kept quiet in the face of the most egregious violation of the separation of power which suited him just fine when he was a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Goje’s assertion that the minister is no longer a governor and that the “national assembly is not Lagos state House of Assembly…but “an assembly composed of very patriotic Nigerians, very experienced Nigerians,” many of whom “have done his job [and] many were governors before him” can be conceded to the senator. But what must be pointed to the senate chairman is that while the National Assembly may not be the Lagos Assembly, the present National Assembly has proven to Nigerians beyond a shadow of doubt that it is nothing but an assemblage of ‘kindergartners’ whose main preoccupation, if not addiction, is to constantly keep licking sweets (candies) rather than make any meaning impact on the lives of Nigerians in the face of humongous socio-economic problems manifesting in the polity in form of terrorism, herdsmen killing, cultism, kidnapping, economic sabotage, massive corruption and mass hysteria, among other things. It is rather a National Assembly most preoccupied with feathering the financial nests of its members to the eternal detriment of the Nigerian people. One must also say here without any fear of contradiction that what may be considered to be the accomplishments of Goje’s National Assembly pales in comparison to the robust developmental strides that were brought to Lagos state by its House of Assembly not only during Fashola, but also since the advent of the fourth republic. Always populated by cerebral members, it’s on record that the state assembly would engage in robust arguments with their chief executive when it came to the state’s developmental initiatives despite that both branches were from the same ruling party, which is how democracy must function. But Goje could not imagine his state assembly to have had a soul it could call its own when he ruled the roost in Gombe state. He would have been hard pressed to win a local council chairmanship election in an intellectually charged, highly enlightened political environment like Lagos.
Goje may have forgotten so soon that Fashola was the reference point for his colleagues in virtually all the states in the federation—-including the federal government and the international community—-when he was the Lagos governor and as the embodiment of all that is good in democratic governance. Goje should be reminded that Fashola set the country’s standards on how a society can be quickly transformed into modernity and how equitably the democratic dividends can percolate through its population. The senator’s attempt to remind Nigerians that “this is an assembly composed of very patriotic Nigerians, very experienced Nigerians” and that “many have done his job” sounds hollow, to say the least. Yes, the National Assembly members are indeed “patriotic” and “very experienced” in their reckless looting of the country’s treasure. This is the kind of patriotism and experience Senator Goje has in mind. Goje need to know that having done a certain job is quite different from having made a lasting and impactful difference with the job. His insinuation that Fashola should quit if the job is too much for him as a “super minister” unless he’s willing to “adjust” (a code word for Fashola to acquiesce so that looting can continue) should not even be dignified with an answer, in part, because Goje cannot know better than President Buhari who saw in Fashola what Goje may never be able to see when he gave him the job. A senator whose rap sheet covers a section of the walls of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) has no moral rights or the credibility to make suggestions of any kind to someone of Fashola’s caliber. One hopes that the House of Representatives would not follow through on their itching for a ‘fight’ with Fashola with their invitation so that they can save themselves yet another embarrassment—-as kindergartners that they are in a nation’s National Assembly—-from being lectured about what their roles are in a democracy from one of the most gifted Nigerian public officials in recent history. But one cannot bet on this because Nigerians are saddled—-quite regrettably—-with a National Assembly that just doesn’t know when to say when.
Femi Odere is a media practitioner. He can be reached at [email protected]