[OPINION] The Senate ‘Armistice’: We Are The Losers By Raymond Nkannebe

Bukola Saraki-Ike Ekweremadu

Fellow Nigerians, last week Tuesday, something terrible happened while we watched. Something close to an abomination if not more, befell us. A friend of mine called it an ‘anathema’, you could as well refer to it as a ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ (apologies to T.S.Eliot). It was one which many of us in our traditional cavalier attitude, glossed over. Where did it happen? It happened in no less a place than the hallow red-chambers of the Senate─a place where sanity, decorum and respect for the Rule of Law by default, should reign supreme. The actors were the just elected senators but the victims were several: The Senate Standing Order, the Rule of Law, Nigerians and the Nation itself as a Natural Person. While the act in itself is worrisome, what boggles the mind is the reception of the ‘crime’ by over 180 million Nigerians either consciously or unconsciously. A development that has since left me muddled in a pool of wonder.

Fellow compatriots, last Monday, in a Facebook post on my Wall, I had this to say: Truth has to be told, Saraki and Ekweremadu came upon the leadership of the Senate through the wrong door; an anomaly. It is therefore our responsibility at civil Society to protest the subverting of the Democratic Process. In doing that, partisan interests must be eschewed as our collective interest and future is in the balance. If we give tacit support to the “Democratic Coup” of June 9th, through silence, then we must have set in motion a bad precedent and must entertain an ugly future.”

I was reacting to the odoriferous stench, oozing from the so-called hallowed chambers of the senate that has seen recriminations from opposing camps even as they prepared for plenary the next day, being 28th of July.

Before my avowal, Daily Sun Newspapers in a scathing Editorial on the 23rd of July, had already picketed the senators calling for a probe of those who were, or are complicit in the doctoring of the rules of the Senate, a development that saw the house divided against itself over those to rule it. Towards the end of a limpid and courageous presentation of the facts behind the embarrassing disputations that have characterized the current senate since it came into existence nearly two months ago, the editorial was very blunt and precise in what it asked for:

Nonetheless it is important that we get to the root of the alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rules. We hope the outcome of the Police probe will go a long way in laying this forgery saga to rest. The probe should neither be selective nor targeted at any particular senator. But it should not spare anybody indicted in the forgery, or shy away from recommending them for prosecution. It’d of course also go without saying that any action that had been taken, using the controversial senate Standing Orders (Amended) would be null and void, if the document is proved to have been forged

It was a legitimate and courageous admonition indeed! But the editorial board would be disillusioned unknown to them at the time.

The forgery the editorial referred to was the allegation by sizable and significant members of the senate that the Senate Standing Orders/Rules which guide the senate’s entire proceedings was forged. When a senator is sworn in, the first documents that are handed over to him are the constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria (FRN) and the Senate Rule Book/Standing Orders. The Standing Order is the instrument that guide the conduct of every senator and spells out how the business of the senate is to be conducted. The first rule in the Standing Order, deals with how the presiding and principal officers of the senate are to be elected. And once they are elected, the senate then becomes properly commenced and may commence business for which it was created by the Nigerian Constitution and guided by the Rules as contained in its Standing Orders. The Senate Rule book can be said to be a Catechism book of sort of the Senate doctrine.

But something happened. It appeared that due to vested interests, prior to the inauguration of the 8th Senate, some senators who were members of the last senate deemed it fit to amend/forge parts of the Rule Book in a manner that would confer advantage on them in the realization of their prebendal and parochial thirst for power, possibly because they have connections or unfettered access/influence to classified documents of the senate. Their hatchet-job paid off and the baby of the effort: a surreptitiously amended Rule Book (2015), ostensibly amended without the knowledge of other members of the senate contrary to established and recommended practice. Their filthy-lucre was satisfied on the 9th of June, but Senator Kabiru Marafa would burst their bubble the next day at plenary however, belatedly as these conspirators had agreed to cling on to one alibi in the event they are not caught inflagrante delicto or red-handed if you like. It was the defense of ‘I don’t know’ just as criminals would say: Mum is the word.

Being de-facto leaders already and closer to the gavel, these enemies of state, saw it fit to suspend plenary desperately until the 21st of July to allow for nerves to calm down and the placation of tempers where tenable, to lobby for the legitimation of their crime through informal means. 21st of July soon came. Not done, a new date for the commencement of plenary was announced to give more time for the “Nigerian Factor” to run its course and take care of things.

It was just as they had estimated on the day plenary resumed as the senate in a motion moved by senator Samuel Anyawu (Imo East) and supported by 81 members pursuant to Orders 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Order 2015 passed a Vote of Confidence on the Saraki/Ekweremadu led Senate amidst celebration and wild cheer after haven bared clenched fist only a month ago.

While they toasted, hugged and shook one another, knowing what they had done, many Nigerians did too, oblivious of what hit them. While many senators rejoiced, the Laws of the Land wept. The constitution screamed from the burden of prostitution by compromise while the Rule of Law, the cream and hallmark of Democracy lay prostrate.

Dear reader, such was the magnitude of what hit us last week unknown to many of us. Such was the standard we elevated in the conduct of our affairs. A precedent where mere denial of a crime was enough to secure exculpation. A precedent where evil compromise validates a wrong.

Ever since the said development, it appears the Media too have joined as accessories after the fact in securing legitimacy for this day-light robbery by not reporting and telling Nigerians the consequence of the proverbial ‘Hand of God’ in the Senate Chambers while the nation watched. Instead, it has been in the vanguard of the celebration of the return of amity in the senate. To them, the end was worth the means however ugly and have made the ‘intent’ of the senators an alternative forgone with unnecessary emphasis on the form in utter disregard of the ethos of Equity. For the Media (especially the Traditional Media), and many Nigerians who have hailed this crime perpetuated by the forgery of no less a book than the Bhagavad Gita of the Senate, to my befuddlement, “Anyhowness” and Arbitrariness remains a model; hence why they have failed to see the level of disorder which they have since elevated to a throne.

Any conscientious mind would immediately agree with us that the beauty of Democracy anywhere in the world, is the collective avowal of the people to be guided by laid down rules and procedures which the majority of the people, have by legislation (in representative capacity), ratification, referendum or any other means given upon themselves to regulate their conduct and the conduct of those who exercise these powers on their behalf. And if eventuality demands for such rules to be amended, the procedure shall be in the manner set out in the body of rules by whatever name it is called. In an ideal Democracy, the key word is ‘Rule of Law’ and not those any one man as propounded by A.V Dicey many decades ago. As a democratic concept, it has come to be accepted religiously by nations who would rather be called ‘Democratic States’.

In a speech delivered to the students of the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy School of Law on April 19th, 2012, the United States Ambassador to Ukraine, John F. Tefft on the topic, “Establishing the Rule of Law in Ukraine: Building a Modern Society”, Tefft adopted as a working definition for the Rule of Law, from an explanation of the concept found in a 2004 Report of the United Nations Secretary General on the Rule of Law. It reads:

For the UN, the Rule of Law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions, and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to Laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated and which are consistent with International Human Rights Norms and Standards. It requires as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of Supremacy of Law, equality before the Law, accountability to the Law, Fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency”.

We have in this treatise, adopted this inside-out conception of the concept as a template against which what happened in our hallow chambers shall be mirrored against.

If really, we are a democratic state where the virtues of Rule of Law are articles of Faith, then the shenanigans that was ratified by the senate last week, mocks the concept. How can we claim to be a serious democratic nation when we have a penchant for not allowing ourselves and institutions to be guided and governed by the codes we have given upon ourselves? If a highly placed organ like the senate which should be the temple of the Rule of Law, is desecrated by its own ‘worshippers’, can we in all earnest claim to be a democratic nation? Are we not only fooling ourselves by merely erecting democratic structures and floating institutions with democratic semblance but practice an authoritarian or near fascist regime? How should democracy here not be described at best cosmetic with the latest robbery at the senate that we have allowed to come to be in our signature manner?

Let me at this point, tell us the consequence of what we have all endorsed consciously or unconsciously? In legal practice, when a thing is not covered by any legislation, resort is had to the judge’s decision on that issue when it comes for determination before the court otherwise known as Case-Law. A priori, when a provision of the Law is utterly jettisoned or in this instance, ‘amended’ in a slapdash manner, such a development would derive legitimacy by the tacit approval of the public when they keep mum on the issue. Their silence acts as popular consent and approval and the original provision of the Law, takes a bus.

It does not demand any rocket science to know that may be tomorrow, next year, or in the next senate, a decade from now or perhaps a century, potential senators would rely on the authority of what has just happened with the Senate Rules, to do an act which could be more grave than those of Ekweremadu and Saraki (it does not matter that they have denied the act. That is what criminals do: denial) and the society cannot blame them, hence today we give Saraki and Co. a pat on the shoulder for their white-collar robbery.

The Judiciary, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the entire senators, the so-called organized Labour, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Nigerian Union Of Journalist (NUJ) and indeed all of us Nigerians should be ashamed of ourselves for not knowing even as I write, those who entered into the hallow chambers of the senate to rewrite the Rule Books. It is a national embarrassment to say the least. The blame –trade that occupied the past 7 weeks speaks volume of how we are a tardy people living in a nation where anything goes.

The clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Maikasuwa says he does not know who dunnit, he points to Former sen. Ita Inag who held sway as the Chairman Sen. Committee on Rules and Business, Inag sings the same tune. David Mark would rather not be involved. Ekweremadu presents a defense which is no more than an exercise in logic with no substance and so the defence continues ad infinitum. Till this day, we still do not know who altered the Rule Books of the senate and those who know, have sworn to stand on the oath of silence they swore to and dare not breach.

It follows that we may as well, wake up one morning to discover that our constitution have been amended and the sections that detail the mode of becoming the president of the country, doctored to the whims of the actors as we saw with the senate Standing Order for in a country where “Anyhowness” goes, nothing can be ridiculous enough after all!

One is further miffed and obfuscated that the threat by the Police to investigate and probe into the matter have suddenly died down since the senators came to a truce without Nigerians knowing why the previously clenched fist have suddenly relaxed. What we are rather told is to be happy since normalcy have returned to the senate─a normalcy obtained at the pain of the desecration of the laws of the land in a clime where the Rules ought to be guarded and respected jealously.

This is not the first time our leaders have shown that they can get away with impunity. This is not the first time that we have shown proclivity and signs of a nation not ready to be guided by rules. Indeed it can be said that in the 16 odd years of our democracy, respect for the Rule of Law, has always been a Sisyphean task. The rules have always been sidelined so vested interest could walk. The Ota farmer and former president, Olusegun Obasanjo led the procession with his third-term gambit that almost became a success. Invoking section 145 of our constitution while late president Umar Musa Yar’adua lay sick on his hospital bed in far way Saudi Arabia to allow the then vice-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to act was delayed until a bogus ‘doctrine of necessity’ was coined out. The same thing played out at the Taraba government house where an obviously incapacitated governor stuck to his gun and would not allow his deputy act contrary to the spirit and letter of section 189 until the end of his tenure. The end of last administration saw senators and governors decamp from one political camp to the other without losing their seats in sheer mockery of section 68(1) g of the 1999 constitution (as amended) with the climax being the Tambuwal-Saga where a sitting speaker of the House of Representative from a majority party, decamped to a minority party yet retained his position as the Speaker not minding what the Rules of the house say. An act that has seen the APC senators in the present senate leaking their wounds after the ‘coup’ of June 9th saw the emergence of an opposition senator as the Deputy President of the 8th National Assembly.

The latest in the series of bastardization of the Rule of Law here, is the ‘hand of god’ amendment of the Senate Standing Order. Only time would tell what these litany of ugly precedents would birth tomorrow.

Writing on Liberalization and Justice in his book, “A Matter of Principle”, Ronald Dworkin, a professor of Jurisprudence said, “if our government can provide an attractive future only through present injustice─only by forcing some citizens to sacrifice in the name of a community from which they are in every sense, excluded─then the rest of us should disown such that future, however attractive because we should not regard it as our future either”

In the same vein, whatever truce that may have been brokered at the senate, does not confer legitimacy per se on the headship of the senate since injustice and fraud was meted to some members of the senate and the Nigerians they represent in the process. Those basking in the euphoria of this ‘armistice’ should have a re-think for the principal victim of the ‘Coup’ of June 9th, is the Senate Standing Order and not the senators who have now made concessions by the greasing of their palms and mere compromise and shifting of grounds by warring factions does not placate the spirit of those body of rules.

Once again, we have shown that the principles of Democracy still elude us and we are either at our wits end on how to turn around the tables in our favour, or just don’t want to do things the way they ought to be done.

We end by warning that the 8th National Assembly has just foisted on us a bad precedent and have enlisted a cancerous order. It behoves us to reject this new cycle of legislative malfeasance or forever live with the unarguable bitter fruits tomorrow for those who bring ant infested faggots into their homes must be prepared to live with lizards the proverb says!

Nkannebe Raymond , a Lawyer and essayist writes from Kano. He can be reached through: Raymondnkannebe@gmail.com. 08068271477. Follow me on twitter @RayNkah

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