OPINION: The 8th National Assembly and the rest of us. By Is'haq Modibbo Kawu

Date: 2016-04-14

THESE are the worst of times! The past week has brought into sharp focus the danger that institutions of a democratising society can become in the hands of over-ambitious individuals. This fact has become clearer, especially in the week that has been filled with controversy about the 2016 budget and matters arising therefrom. When Senate resumed sitting on Tuesday this week, the order paper listed eight Bills for consideration, and these included two very controversial bills, that were directly related to one of the major issues in the polity today.

These are The Code of Conduct Act Cap C15 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (SB 248), sponsored by Senator Peter Nwaboshi, PDP (Delta North); and The Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 (Amendment) Bill 2016 (SB 249), which is sponsored by Senator Isah Missau, Bauchi Central. Is there anything familiar about these laws? They are! They seem to be the laws that are very much in the news at the moment, because they are very much related to the on-going trial at the CCT of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. It is very preposterous that the Senate would even dare to attempt to effect emendation of such laws of the land as were being used to try one of their members. And by the end of the day on Tuesday, the Bills had undergone the First Reading. It would be interesting to see if Nigerians can accept to be taken for a ride by such a self-serving institution as the 8th Senate of the National Assembly is turning out to become.

The personal survival of their leader, the Senate President, seems to have become the most important issue for today’s Senate, contrary to the hope that Nigerians nursed, when they voted out the PDP in May 2015. Stallion of change In truth, many of the leading senators today, who are the most influential in the wheeling and dealing so characteristic of the institution, only hinged their chariots to the stallion of change for purely tactical reasons. They never desired any change, beyond getting the opportunity to continue the business-as-usual of keeping the Nigerian status quo of their personal privileges. It is certainly unacceptable that Senate should be reduced to the lowest common denominator as the 8th senate is threatening to; certainly not the emendation of laws to suit an individual! Didn’t they swear NOT to allow their personal interest to cloud the performance of their duty? But we have been here with the 8th National Assembly. In October 2015, House Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, dropped a hint that the National Assembly would commence constitutional amendment to ensure immunity for heads of the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. Leo Ogor's argument was that: "if the head of the executive arm, the President and his vice should enjoy immunity, the heads of the other two arms of government, the legislature and the judiciary, should also benefit from the immunity". Such immunity, according to him, "would reduce distractions and crisis in the National Assembly". Nigerians saw through the ruse; it was part of an eventually futile effort to stop any possibilities of trial for the Chairman of the National Assembly, Bukola Saraki. It didn't surprise, that he took Nigeria on a breathtaking ride through the court system, up to the Supreme Court in an effort to stop an examination of his past conduct. Incredible and bizarre Ultimately, the court case opened, and while sub judice, Nigerians are already catching glimpses of the hind place of a 'Sacred Cow'. It must be so troubling that they would resort to the most bizarre and the most incredible! How do they honestly think they can pull this through? On what ground would they stand? Would Nigerians accept that the 8th senate could amend laws under which Bukola Saraki is being tried, just because he is Senate President? What manner of country are we becoming? Shall we allow personal interest become basis to amend our laws? Let us begin from the beginning. When Bukola Saraki pull through his car park stunt to seize senate in June 2015, those who knew his antecedents and the distance he was willing to go, cannot be surprised at the way the Senate has functioned ever since. The institution has reflected the troubled origins of its leadership and the politically exposed individuals who are its most influential members. They have an agenda that translates to individual survival as well as individual prosperity. These are the central ethos determining the operations of this institution today. Invariably, they are bound for the collision course with President Muhammadu Buhari, which the 2016 budget has providentially offered.

Buhari prepared a budget that did not recognise the long established, but ultimately controversial tradition of "constituency projects"; that was after he had refused to "oil" the process of clearance of ministers. They ambushed him in the budgetary process. The Lagos-Calabar railways project was removed; vote to complete Idu-Kaduna rail project suffered a cut of N8.7b, meaning it could not be completed this year and they drastically reduced allocations for completion of major road projects across the country. In the meantime, they reportedly inserted roads for which studies were not conducted and diverted funds to rural health facilities and boreholes that had allegedly been provided for before. They knew what they were doing, and they also anticipated a reaction from PMB and the Nigerian people. Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, used telephone number 08036130007, to circulate a text to Members of the House of Representatives, which said: “"all items submitted by Committees were retained, you will see additional inputs that were necessary to be accommodated via little cuts (my emphasis). You are therefore enjoined to be prepared to justify reports both in the media and elsewhere; in case the executive arm disagrees". This is the crux of the matter.

The 8th National Assembly obviously does as it pleases even if such actions are not in our best interest. Many in that National Assembly had a free ride into the two chambers largely because the Nigerian people accepted a platform of change that was symbolised by President Buhari. Today, some of the most reactionary and anti-people postures are emanating from the National Assembly.

They seem far more interested in their own collective personal interests than those of the Nigerian people. But just as we defeated the infamous Third Term Agenda, we can build a national movement to defeat the anti-people agenda that has increasingly become central to the operations of the 8th National assembly!

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