The Senate: Treading With Caution at 100

by Anselm Onochie

For anyone that is objectively disposed to the contradictions that occasioned the high turnover rate of Senate presidency in the Fourth Republic, the tactful devotion of the early days of the present Senate to settling down is justifiable. The present Senate, with its array of veteran politicians, which includes 10 ex-governors, gives the impression that it is poised to practise true statesmanship, in its capacity as the legislative vicar of the nation.

The senate only sat for 15 days since inauguration before going for a recess. However, the Senate President must have relied on the time factor to give the Senate a pass mark when he was reviewing its strides in the first 100 days. In his opinion, the first 100 days of the Senate have been peaceful, with Senators living up to the expectations of Nigerians in the areas of lawmaking and goals that the Senate set for itself at the beginning of the current dispensation.

Many would argue that this Senate has not done enough in 100 days to enable an inclusive analysis of its character, or that of its leadership. But the daunting task of securing both office and residential accommodation for its members was enough to justify the intervening five-week recess, during which it was not tasked by any issue that deserves national discourse.

The accommodation problem came up as a result of what many people see as lack of foresight on the part of the recent past administration, which in a bid to please serving lawmakers, allowed them to buy over the accommodation occupied by them, all thanks to the monetization policy. Unfortunately, not sooner than the present lawmakers assumed office that it became apparent to most of them that they would be stranded in the Federal Capital Territory for want of accommodation.

As it is now, the new government has ordered a reversal of the decision, but additional impetus may be required to resolve the matter decently because it is a very sensitive issue which may go ahead to court discontents if not properly managed. Otherwise, it would cost over N2.5 billion to secure accommodation for the present lawmakers, most of who are experienced politicians but first time Senators. Given this scenario, it was not out of place for the Senators to call for a recess while the issue is sorted out.

The only incident during this idyllic recess was the death of ex-Senate President, Evan Enwerem which received due attention from the incumbent Senate President when he immediately arranged with several other members of the Senate to set up a committee for the funeral. Mark has since apprised the Senate on this development and a minute silence was observed on the floor of the Senate – in honour of the elder statesman – when it reconvened in early September.

The Senate President, His Excellency, Senator David Mark must be right in all respects to have awarded a pass mark to his constituency after 100 days. But whatever goals the Senate has set for itself, Nigerians expect it to make laws that will strengthen democracy and make for good governance in the country. Mark is not oblivious of this challenge and has continued to assure Nigerians that his tenure will be a reference point for focused and purposeful leadership, such that will strengthen the Senate and build bridges of understanding and fellowship among diverse spheres of the Nigerian society.

This is why it is expedient for him to ensure that the Senate is one and shall remain one united family with focus on the ordinary people of this country who elected the lawmakers into office. In other words, the peoples’ welfare should be the top priority of the Senate as it strives to do all that is necessary to uplift the living standard of the people. This unity of purpose and political maturity played out in the way that the Senate rose above the threat of discontent initially threatening the body on account of the way Senator David Mark emerged as the 11th president of the Nigerian Senate.

There is little wonder, therefore, that at every public and private assignment he maintains that his Senate would enact people-centred laws, laws that would impact directly and positively on Nigerians. He also insists that his leadership style would encompass legislative meticulousness, administrative transparency, probity and accountability. However, he should be reminded that the present Senate would have to work assiduously to earn public confidence; and sustain the widely-cherished legacy of Ken Nnamani, the immediate past Senate President.

During the 15 days sitting, which was supposedly a settling down period, the Senate confirmed the list of ministerial nominees forwarded by the President. In doing so, several nominees into the Federal Executive Council, FEC, were duly screened in such a manner that is expressive of transparency in the conduct of Senate affairs.

At the same time, the Senate also identified the urgency to look into the 1999 Constitution in order to address the shortcomings. This must have been informed by begging issues like: the agitation for equality in the number of states in each of the geographical regions in the country as demanded by the South east; the need to address the lingering question of first line deductions from the Federation Account; and come up with an acceptable revenue sharing formula among the federating units of the nation.

Significantly and expectedly too, the Senate has taken a clear position on many sensitive national issues as they emerge. This it did by mediating on the privatization of refineries which almost tore the oil industry apart, intervening in the frustrating privatisation of the Ajaokuta Steel Company, as well as the inordinate move by government to sale the National Theatre and other unpopular government policies that came up in its early days.

So far, Senate pronouncements on sensitive national issues have shown that this set of lawmakers would embrace the path of honour and side with the masses. This can be deduced from the collegial mode of deliberation in the Senate where several committees have been set up on respective issues to make for broad participation and reduce work load at the centre. This explains why Mark allowed his colleagues sufficient time to contribute to the litany of suggestions on the way out of the Niger Delta crisis, when Senator Heineken Lokpobiri presented the motion during a recent Senate session.

However, the Senate has cleverly avoided taking sides on issues bothering on financial impropriety, such as the scandal occasioned by the N628 million approved for the renovation of residences of presiding officers of the House of Representatives and other tangential revelations.

While it is important to respect the authority of the House of Representatives as a sister lawmaking body, most Nigerians still think that it is high time the Senate took a position on the issue since it has taken centre-stage in political discourse in recent times. This is because peoples’ expectations are high and the Senate cannot just afford to disappoint now.

The ability of the Senate leadership to exercise firmness in deciding national issues is not in doubt because the Senate President is not only an administrator but also a retired military officer. Inasmuch as he appears to be on the fence on some of these issues, it does seem too early for him to start stepping on toes. Perhaps, this is why he is careful enough to avoid being used by some vengeful ex-governors in the Senate to weaken the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. In all, the Senate President has shown himself to be an apostle of sequence and procedures, believing that issues will be addressed as they come up, depending on the dictates of expediency.

However, if all these could pass for treading softly, it is also important to remind the present Senate that the Nnamani-led Senate was popular because it stood up to apparent excesses in high places which pervaded its time and came out walking tall because the leadership neither compromised standard nor sacrificed due process.

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