Few weeks ago, Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio, like some of his second term governor colleagues who are eyeing a transition from government house to the National Assembly complex, while speaking on a live television programme, reiterated his vaulting ambition to contest for Ikot Ekpene senatorial district when he vacates the governorship seat in 2015. He will swell the horde of former governors retiring to the red chambers of the upper legislative arm. Governor Akpabio, is also rumoured to be interested in the presidency or vice-presidential slot should anything dramatic happen to the Jonathan/Sambo ticket at the eleventh hour in 2015 or more assuredly after the duo complete their second term in 2019. For an ebullient politician like Akpabio, he cannot afford to be left out of the thick of things after 2015. His ambition has since pitched him against the Senator currently representing his senatorial district, Senator Aloysius Akpan Etok. In most states the race for Senatorial seats in the hallowed chambers of the National Assemby has thickened, threatening to overheat the polity.
Since the country’s return to democracy in 1999, the hallowed chambers of the upper arm of the Nigerian legislature has cut a reputation for attracting very senior citizens across the country; ex-military administrators, former governors and ministers, top political leaders all at one point or the other have graced the red chambers of the National Assembly. But it is now trending, that second term governors seeking political relevance for personal aggrandisement use the Senate as a vehicle to keep their political career active.
In other climes, the Senate is revered for its ambience of dignity and honour, only deserving of men of no less virtue. In Nigeria, it has become a safe haven of sort for corrupt ex-governors with running cases with the EFCC. Joshua Dariye for instance, in 2004 was arrested in London for money laundering. He jumped bail and returned to the country to resume his duties as governor of Plateau state. Today, he is a ‘distinguished’ Senator of the Federal Republic. Former governors turned senators with cases with the EFCC include Bukola Saraki, Chimaroke Nnamani, among others. Their presence in the Senate, keeps the anti-graft agencies at bay. Till date their cases have remained inconclusive. A sad reflection of the nature of anti-corruption war the government is waging.
Ex-governors who failed to lift their state beyond where they met it have somehow found their way into the Senate. Some, like the former governor of Plateau state, in a desperate bid to use their influence to garner votes, dumped their parties for new ones where they could vie for the Senate hassle-free.
Prominent governors like Rotimi Amaechi, Babangida Aliyu, Sule Lamido and a few others rumoured to be vying for the plum job or vice presidency, might eventually have to settle for a seat in the Senate as the political coast becomes clearer in the months leading up to the 2015 election. These second term governors, wield enormous political clout in their states, and are likely to win their districts unopposed.
The influx of retiring governors to the Senate is an indication that their (s)election into the National Assembly complex are for reasons far from the nudge of the people for qualitative representation based on antecedents and the believe that their candidature can deliver democracy dividend.
Second term governors who do not contest for Senate are either sceptical of their chances because they underperformed as state governors or will face stiff opposition from an incumbent Senator in the district. Many, like Mr. Akpabio realise that there might be no politician in the district that can match their political and financial clout if they throw their hat in the ring with victory all but guaranteed. Former governors like the pardoned political fugitive, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is motivated by the quest to revive his ebbing political career in the Senate.
Eleven erstwhile governors, are currently in the 7th Senate. We can be certain it will increase come 2015 as it did after the 2003 and 2007 elections. Expectations were rife that they would use their wealth of experience to influence debates on national issues in the Senate. A Senator noted that probably, the ex-governors, thought they would continue to wield the kind of powers they had while they served as governors, “ except for a handful, who are doing well in the Senate, the rest are just here doing nothing. You don’t even see them often in the Senate doing their legislative work, and when they attend committee meetings, they almost talk as if they are still governors. That is why some of them don’t even come to the Senate, they stay away.”
DSP Alamieyeseigha, former Bayelsa State Governor, an ex-convict. who jumped bail in the UK, disguised as a woman to evade British officials for money laundering charges was granted Presidential pardon by Jonathan, ostensibly, to pave way for him to contest for the Senate in 2015. His posters has since surfaced in Bayelsa with a slogan: “Pardoned to serve.” To this extent, the Nigerian Senate has been desecrated.
Corrupt ex-governors seeking political relevance by thronging to the Senate calls for some concern. Second term governors aspiring to be senators in 2015, must be borne out of a genuine desire to serve the people of their senatorial district.
For those whose tenures as governors can even be described as successful find it difficult to replicate that success in the Senate. They simply go into oblivion as soon as they realise that they no longer call the shots, but are part of a wider debate in the Senate. Their inputs were implemented with little or no delibration when they were governors. They lose motivation overtime to make meaningful contribution on the floor. It is therefore abundantly clear that their presence in the National Assembly is not to serve the people but their rapacious tendencies. If former governors, with the huge resources they controlled in their states could not make any meaningful impact, why should we expect miracles from them when they get to the hallowed chambers of the Senate?
A former Senatorial candidate in the Federal Capital Territory, Mr. Kayode Ajulo believes “majority of senators perform below our expectation. It has gradually turned into a retirees forum where the qualification is that you must be retired or sacked, and in the absence of the next thing to do, you pick your party’s ticket and move to Senate, this shouldn’t be the case. The senate is supposed to be the heartbeat of a dynamic and people’s legislature. Everywhere in the world, the Senate is the totem of parliamentary democracy; that is why it is called upper legislative house.”
This, undoubtedly, has rubbed the Senate of its vibrancy and robust legislature, needed to move the country forward.