We live in a peculiar time. The electorate is all well too aware of the need to curb corrupt practices. Somehow, it is reasonable to state that such expectation is its preserve and it is a kindred shared by the Judiciary. Whereas, the Senate assaults the axiom by a wanton disregard for the electorate that provided its mandate and neither did it consider the implication of a legislation that has not been tested, proven inconsistent, ambiguous nor conflicting in its purpose and judicial administration.
As our Senate did not take into account that the premise and debate resulting in a Legislation may be taken into account in judicial pronouncements – the debate or the lack of the same leading to this repeal would not assist the Judiciary in focusing on the intention of the House of Assembly. Its skulduggery and haste will reduce a well- intended legislation to a judicial nightmare. This attempt at repealing the legislation exposes the Senate, not only to ridicule, our national law making process becomes the butt of hysteria for future Constitutional students in Law Schools all over the world. This in itself is a good reason for the Senate to have dissuaded itself from its action.
If the repeal, which is unlikely to be signed by the president, gains the imprimatur of the House of Representatives, then we are faced with another tussle between the presidency and the legislature. It can be safely assumed that these legislature and executive shall go down in our national annals as a government engaged in internecine feuding. This article is not about the impending imbroglio. It seeks to examine the truth that a lawless society deserves this type of upper chamber.
Am I attempting to robe the Executive in the same cloth of shame as the Senate, over the repeal of this Legislation? No, I am not! Their positions are quite clear. It is not further from the truth to state that the Executive of the Nigerian Government agonises over a finger in its leprous hand because of the misfortune presented in tarring it, with the same brush as the House of Assembly.
That aside. But, our Senate is representative of us and in berating it, we need to take a closer look at ourselves as a nation, society and people. What this Chamber has done is not peculiar in our polity or mentality.
It has been interesting to read the acreage of variegated belles-lettres and sometime serious analysis of the initiating process of repealing the Independent Corrupt Practice Commission Act 2000(ICPC). It ought to be made clear that the president has not ratified the new legislation and the indications are that he is unlikely to. Therefore, the current legislation subsists. The process initiated by the Senate is in its sovereignty is a central area of Constitutional Law. Whether, we like it or not, this Senate is competent to make and unmake legislations without the possibility that such legislations may be declared unconstitutional. The Judiciary in most democratic jurisdictions act with caution and avoid challenging the sovereignty doctrine. As a Senate cannot bind a successive one – therein lays our hope. Or, is it our misfortune? I am uncertain, which one is true!
It is that sacred doctrine, which is the basis of the chutzpah that informed the attempt to repeal the ICPC 2000. Such arrogance is displayed at all levels of government. It is only impertinent in the Federal House of Assembly. And, why should it not be so? There is no viable opposition in the ideals of the Senate or in the lower chamber. When last did our lawmakers fall out with each other and rely on public opinion to pass a Bill? The electorate is not consulted for its input as normative in any law making process. But, representations are requested as an aftermath. Is this not putting the cart before the horse?
No reasons can be advanced, as to why the Senate could have considered that it would get away with this blatant rape of the people. Could it be, as a nation we are stupefied to our civil responsibilities and it is believed no one is brave enough to challenge the lawmakers? Do these lawmakers seriously believe that the country is still under a military dispensation, where no one dared to react to the enactments of military governments?
I am still to witness a greater civil snobbery of the servants to their masters. As the Nigerian public officer does not consider himself as a servant of the people, the fait accompli that the Senate expects to be rubber-stamped is in line with the perception of its relationship to the people it serves. This must be a heritage from military rule. Therefore, are the lawmakers democrats? How can they be? The essence of democracy is people power and that involves representation and consultation. This Chamber needs to be mindful that the representation of people is its primary function. When the peoples’ representatives repeal and make laws for its purpose, then they are not different from dictators.
Earlier, I stated that this type of Senate is reflective of society and no wonder it chooses to be liberal with corruption like the society it serves. After all, we have a society that never reacts to “little souled mercenaries who are croaking so loudly and are willing to sell their country for filthy lucre and let their names be handed down to posterity branded with the curse of being traitors to their country.” (Gary W. Gallagher, The Confederate War).
How many contractors have been paid for supplies that were never delivered or roads that were never built? How many civil servants have retired to such opulence that is glaringly a dividend of corruption? How many civil servants have tendered for contracts in their ministries where they are employed? Look around in Nigeria and it is alarming that most, if not all of our so-called wealthy class have had the patronage of government, at one point or the other. Whether they own Banks or Bakeries, whether they are ministers or minions; whether they are professionals or pensioners, whether they are traitors or traders; whether they are forwarding or ‘419ers’ – the break is often from the Nigerian State Treasury; whether legitimately or otherwise.
If this government were not sanctimonious, it would have prosecuted contractors and suppliers that siphoned government funds before it took over power. Therefore, the repeal of ICPC 2000, started with the Executive that has not required accountability of the past, when there is adequate legislation to prosecute. Also, as the electorate has not sought such accountability, why should the executive bother?
In most civilised nations, there is a record of each Assemblyman’s participation in the making of legislations; we should seek a release of contributions made in the debate to repeal this Act. This information ought not to be published by the executive because a serious account would be mired in bias. It is the duty of our journalists and their newspapers to provide these details. If this could be done, it would serve as a deterrent to others before voting on matters of national importance. By nature, dishonest politicians are cowards, no matter how brazen they are. I hope, someday, Mr. Justice Akanbi would parade the skeletons in the senators’ closets. At least, we know Senators Nzeribe, Anyim and Speaker of the House of Representatives along with others would someday defend the allegations levied against them.
Our politics would never be devoid of opportunists who are in politics for its naked power. There is no doubt about that. The same obtains in developed world. But, when the aggregate of bad men is greater than good ones who are in power to serve their fellow men and fatherland, we need not ask about the quality of politicians that steer the ship of the State. The process that selected an overwhelming majority of bad eggs into the sacred bowel of our constitutional administration must not escape scrutiny. If such questions are not addressed, the incongruity of the Senate is only set to deteriorate. Could the recent party primaries be the benchmark for the quality of lawmakers in the next administration? If so, it is difficult to be certain that further perverse repeals will not be in the offering.
I come back to the place of public opinion in all of this. I, like countless others have signed petitions in our host countries, when the actions of our representatives are different to our purpose and wishes. Arguably, such protests may not impact on the direction of the party whip. Nonetheless, the politicians feel the ‘heat’ that Rev Jesse Jackson advised at the recent peace march in London. Ask Tony Blair.
Politicians by the nature of their service are afraid of public approbation and many would not dare to be ensnared by a constituency that can challenge them. This is a weakness that our electorate must capitalise upon. In the gaze of a television camera or radio microphone, no politician would dare to put a foot wrong. So, whilst we are deliberating on the actions of our senators, let us exploit their weaknesses to strengthen our society and our country. After all, we are the masters and they are the servants. Now, is the time to remind them of this sterling relationship, which they may well have forgotten!