The banalisation of senatorial business is taking its toll on the Nigerian Senate, a body of venerable, distinguished statesmen and women that seems to have become a useful subject for comedians. It parades some of Nigeria’s finest, most successful men and women and, sadly, some buttheads and clowns.
Why is the Senate losing its image? The reason is simple. For a long time, the Senate has been preying on and exploiting public emotions in its quest to expand its boundaries, using all manner of manipulative techniques to win the deludable public to its side. It prides itself as the superior arm of what it erroneously believes to be the first estate of the realm – the legislative arm of Government. Lately, it has been portraying itself as the moral bearer, constantly telling the public that it stands for moral rectitude. But, holding that puritanical image against the image of some of its members, the Nigerian people’s verdict is, simply, damning. Quite unlike the spirit in which it was established, the Senate hardly demonstrates mental finesse and poise in its plenary sessions; its sessions are sometimes derailed by polemical arguments laced with passion. Buoyant reason is often lost to propaganda, as – prompted by the crave to be seen on TV as eloquent speakers – some senators hyperbolize national issues.
The public is unimpressed – indeed, flabbergasted – by its cunningness and some of its self-aggrandizing antics. At a time when the people require each of the arms of Government to be in full throttle and on an all-around-the-clock emergency mode, the Senate is bogged down by the self-preserving antics of a few. Instead of cooperating with the Executive, the Senate is needlessly embroiled in a war with the Executive, wasting considerable time pursuing vested interest rather than public interest, pushing critical national issues to the background.
This is where I have an issue with T(homas) S(terns) Eliot’s claim that “the general ethos of the people they have to govern determines the behaviour of politicians.” If this assertion is absolutely true, are we now to judge the character and general composition of the people of a senatorial district by the behaviour of their senator? The Bible says: “By their fruit you shall know them” since you do not pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles; and, as our legendary musician and rainmaker, Majek Fashek, stresses, in his sonorous voice, “Whatsoever I and I soweth in this world more shall we reap.”
To say a little more about ethos, recall the three tactics employed by one of mankind’s most profound profiled rhetoricians, Aristotle: pathos, logos, and ethos. Whereas pathos is the art of appealing to the emotions and sensibilities of the audience, eliciting feelings that already reside in them, logos, on the other hand, is the masterful use of logic and evidence to drive home arguments. The Wikipedia defines ethos as: “a Greek word meaning ‘character’ that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. The Greeks also used this word to refer to the power of music to influence emotions, behaviours, and even morals. Early Greek stories of Orpheus exhibit this idea in a compelling way. The word’s use in rhetoric is closely based on the Greek terminology used by Aristotle in his concept of the three artistic proofs.”
Returning to our main subject, the Senate has gone about in its belligerence against the Presidency so blindly that it forgets that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is a Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN); and it keeps antagonising one of Nigeria’s most authentic constitutional lawyers, Professor Itse Sagay. In the spirit of letting sleeping dogs lie, twice President Muhammadu Buhari presented for confirmation his appointee for the post of Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and twice did the Senate reject him – even going as far as holding court over the character and reputation of Mr President’s nominee, condemning him in unspeakable terms.
Like the response of Lionel Messi to the aggression of Real Madrid’s Marcello, the President’s men turned to the Constitution and, low and behold, there is that Section 171 that reads in part as follows:
1 Power to appoint persons to hold or act in the offices to which this section applies and to remove persons so appointed from any such office shall vest in the President.
2 The offices to which this section applies are, namely –
…d Permanent Secretary in any Ministry or Head of any Extra-Ministerial Department of the Government of the Federation howsoever designated; and
4 An appointment to the office of Ambassador, High Commissioner or other Principal Representative of Nigeria abroad shall not have effect unless the appointment is confirmed by the Senate.
The Constitution has covered the field regarding appointments of Heads of any Extra-Ministerial Departments of the Government of the Federation howsoever designated, and the EFCC, being an extra-ministerial department, is subject to the suzerainty of the Constitution. So long as the Constitution has covered that field, any attempt by the National Assembly to make further enactments or provisions concerning or touching on that field without the express authorization of the Constitution will amount to a trespass into that field. “The doctrine of covering the field can arise in two distinct situations. First, where in the purported exercise of the legislative powers of the National Assembly or a State House of Assembly, a law is enacted which the Constitution has already made provisions covering the subject matter of the Federal Act or the State Law. Second, where a State House of Assembly, by the purported exercise of its legislative powers, enacted a law which an Act of the National Assembly has already made provisions covering the subject matter of the State law. In both situations, the doctrine of covering the field will apply because of the ‘Federal might’ which relevantly are the Constitution and the Act.” See Per TOBI, JSC. (P.108, Paras. C-F) in INEC v. Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt.806)72.
Now that the Presidency has called the Senate’s bluff, I pray that in its response, the Senate will take into consideration the counsel of Francis Bacon when he said that the desire of power in excess caused angels to fall.