The year 2017 will be remembered for the good, the bad and the ugly in the Senate. In the outgoing year, the apex legislative chamber recorded high and low moments.
As enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), it spells out the three basic roles of the legislature to include: lawmaking, representation and oversight.
In this two-part series, I will examine some of the landmark achievements and low points in the Red Chamber in the year under review.
Unlike 2016 which saw the Senate being in the headlines most times for the wrong reasons, while flimsy excuses were given for the Executive’s inability to fulfill its campaign promises, the reverse was the case in 2017. Consequently, there were more protests against the Executive this year than against the Legislature. From the #OurMumuDonDo protests led by popular musician, Charles Oputa aka Charlie Boy, Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Bring Back Our Girls Movement, proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), online protests against the Executive among others, 2017 has been a tumultuous year for President Muhammadu Buhari than the Bukola Saraki-led Senate.
The online advocacy for the National Assembly to open its own budget to the general public for scrutiny yielded positive fruit, as the Legislature finally bowed to pressure. Consequently, for the first time in eight years, the National Assembly published the details of its budget, beginning with the 2017 budget, to underscore transparency as earlier promised by Saraki. This was hailed from various quarters.
However, just like previous national budgets, that of 2017 was plagued by late passage despite assurances by the National Assembly that it would be given accelerated passage. It was passed in May, the same month the budgets of 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively were approved.
While economic analysts have expressed concern that incessant delays that usually accompany the passage of budgets would affect implementation of the 2017 to 2020 Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), political economists have attributed it to the failure of the two arms of government to work in synergy in the overall interest of the citizenry.
In April and October this year, the Federal Government finally suspended and sacked the immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal over corruption allegations. Trouble started for the embattled member of the President’s kitchen cabinet, Lawal, after he insisted in 2016 that Federal Government would not fund constituency projects.
Although the Shehu Sani-led Senate Committee on Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, which had earlier found the former SGF culpable of alleged complicity in a N200million grass-cutting contract to clear “invasive plant species” in Yobe State, had demanded his resignation and prosecution, Babachir is yet to be docked by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) despite his sack; a development that lends credence to Sani’s allegation that the President uses deodorant to fight corruption within the Presidency.
In July, what was considered one of the biggest scandals in the outgoing year, rocked the upper legislative chamber when a serving senator, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, was caught in a leaked ‘sex tape’ involving two women.
The lawmaker who represents Yobe East Senatorial District and former governor of Yobe State was seen in a video putting on his clothes after having a romp with two young women.
The video immediately went viral and rather than toe the path of honour by resigning like his counterparts in other parts of the world, the Nigerian senator owned up but insisted that he had not committed any official wrongdoing and that the video was only made public after attempts to blackmail him failed.
In all of this, the Senate leadership did not utter a word on the scandalous video. This, in my opinion, implied that the ranking lawmaker had the full support of his colleagues.
Just when political observers thought Saraki had wriggled himself out of trial, as the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) discharged and acquitted him of all the 18 charges of false asset declaration, the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal ordered the Senate President to return to the CCT to face trial on three of the counts.
With just 13 months to the 2019 general elections, it would be interesting to see the number of senators that would abandon their campaign to show solidarity with the Senate President by accompanying him to the courts in 2018.
OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, Abuja