419 Senators: Beyond Aliyu’s Apology

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Shortly after Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde was appointed the Acting Chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic decided to stage one of those very familiar perfunctory exercises they usually deployed with drama and fanfare to lure Nigerians into the false impression that, indeed, they are in Abuja for some “serious business.” They caused Mr. Lamorde to show up at the Senate Chambers to brief them on the programmes of the anti-corruption agency, and his plans to ensure that the big war against graft, would, under him, be waged with an even greater zeal and dedication.

But, unfortunately, things did not quite go the way the lawmakers had expected. In fact, the exercise ended up on a most disastrous note. Everything was going well as planned until one of their own, Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a three-term Senator from Niger State and former Deputy Inspector-General of Police, seized the moment and clearly spoilt for his colleagues what would have ended as another day of “fruitful deliberations” at the National Assembly.

“Mr. [Senate] President,” Aliyu had declared on the floor of the National Assembly, “I have said it before, but I am repeating it today without regrets that there are still 419ers in this National Assembly…I am not withdrawing my statement, I will mention one name!” But as he moved to make good his threat, the Senate President, David Mark, intervened and stopped him. Amidst loud protests from those yearning to hear Aliyu identify the alleged con artists polluting the hallowed Chambers of the National Assembly with their foul and revolting presence, Mark ruled that the matter should be referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics for investigation.

But, Aliyu could not be deterred by the intervention of the President of the Senate. He just wanted to open his mouth and let the names drop. It only took the intervention of his kinsman, Awaisu Kuta, who went up to him and whispered something into his ears, to stop him from naming the alleged Advance Fee Fraudsters, whom he had accused of colluding “with 419ers [to steal] millions of dollars.”

Now, since the clearly suspicious intervention from Mark and Kuta, Aliyu who was once bold, unequivocal and unstoppable, has totally parted ways with his zeal, courage, and, some would say, patriotism. He has, therefore been composing and singing different, discordant tunes, all very drab and uninspiring. First, we heard that he was going to mention the names to the Ethics Committee of the Senate any time they commenced investigations into the matter. Later we were told he would only mention them to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

A few hours after that, we heard he would whisper the names to only the Senate President. And, then, much later, when the House of Representatives, after threats by its Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, that “heads would roll,” announced its intention to summon Aliyu to appear before a probe panel it would set up to substantiate the weighty allegations he had made on the floor of the Senate, what we heard next was that Aliyu would only honour the summons if the Senate President asked him to. And now, the latest is that he has withdrawn the allegations and would not talk to anybody about it again.

Unfortunately, the too many references to the Senate President in this very untidy and overly disgusting drama soon began to gradually constitute a serious embarrassment, and there is every reason to believe that, at some point in time, this began to dawn on Mark. Apart from the fact that it was Mark who had stopped Aliyu from mentioning the names the very first day this scandal broke, despite the fact that Aliyu as a lawmaker enjoyed parliamentary immunity from prosecution on account of what he had said on the floor of the Senate, Aliyu had equally said he would only open his mouth if the Senate President permitted him.

And so, the question is: Why was Mark starring prominently in that clearly desperate, despicable and shameful effort to stop Aliyu from releasing the names? Who can say that the processes through which Aliyu may have been persuaded to change his mind and his story could possibly be edifying and wholesome? Now, Aliyu has withdrawn his allegations, and has also apologized to his colleagues for whatever embarrassment he may have caused them. According to him, his latest action was inspired by the useful advice he got from his lawyers that “no matter how detailed a police investigation is of a crime” the person investigated can only be prosecuted and “pronounced guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.” And so, when eventually Aliyu showed up at the Ethics, Code of Conduct and Public Petitions Committee, chaired by Omar Hambagda, he reportedly said he was barred by the law and Constitution from saying anything on the matter again. “If I do, I will pay the price,” he declared.

Now, given this scenario, one is forced to ask: How exactly does Aliyu, and even David Mark, define patriotism? Till now, I am yet to hear that Aliyu has said that his assertions were untrue. All he has said so far is that he was sorry for speaking about those matters (which, no doubt, he still believes are true).

Now, how can a Senator of the Federal Republic elect to conceal very vital information that would be most useful in the sanitization the National Assembly? How would such a Senator feel daily watching the alleged con artists making laws for the country? Yet, the same Aliyu is beating his chest and loudly insisting that it is very wrong for anybody “to call [him] a coward” since he had “served the Nigeria Police for 35 years and the latter part as a DIG Alagbon…My integrity is intact.” Now, what does that mean, especially in the present context? No wonder we have been yoked with such a police force that nobody remembers with joy, gratitude and pride. No wonder!

I would suggest that the Senator from Niger State should moderate the haste with which he undertakes any form of self-assessment, and wait for Nigerians to look at him and tell him what they feel about him. And he should not be hurt if they think he is very unpatriotic, cowardly and irresponsible, since he is concerned more with retaining friends among the same people he had openly described as fraudsters than helping his nation to cleanse its Aegean Stable. History will most certainly remember him as the man who had failed his country at a time it needed him so much to use the information at his disposal to sanitize its Legislative House.

It is most unfortunate that right now, the issue of the alleged fraudsters in the House is fast becoming stale and even obsolete, and has since been effectively overshadowed by the inane debates and wrangling that have been flourishing around and over Aliyu’s apology. Indeed, this would in no way help the image of the National Assembly. Even if Aliyu has chosen to change his mind so abruptly, should the entire House also fail to realize that the matter is far from being over, and that its integrity (assuming it had any before) is at stake? Wouldn’t it amount to further diminishing and dragging itself in the mud if it also decides to dump the grievous and hideous allegations at a nearby refuse heap and pretend that nothing disastrous had happend?

Well, I just have to drum it into the heads of our lawmakers that they have a great responsibility to reassure Nigerians of their unfailing patriotism, sense of responsibility, dignity and respectability; yes, they must reassure us that we have as our lawmakers decent minds, and not a bunch of con-artists masquerading as distinguished lawmakers! That is why, despite Aliyu’s unstable and disappointing positions on a matter as serious as this, which he himself had brought up with admirable zeal and boldness, the National Assembly must take urgent measures to reassure Nigerians and the international community that it is not a House brimming with distinguished fraudsters and common criminals and jail birds. And the only way it can do this is by ensuring a thorough probe into the matter and making public its findings. Aliyu must be compelled to divulge everything he knows, or else he should be sanctioned for helping to hide alleged fraudsters from the law.

Indeed, if this National Assembly is not able to demonstrate before Nigerians that it has the ability to recognize the crying need to urgently cleanse itself of the obvious stain and stench splashed on it by Aliyu’s allegations, then it can only mean that Aliyu was right, that what we have in Abuja to day is merely an Assembly filled with low and dishonourable characters who are incapable of appreciating the dignity and self-esteem that ought to go with the high office they presently occupy. And so, they merit no one’s respect, and might as well be disbanded. Quite unfortunate, indeed.

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