This 8th National Assembly Needs to Sit Up, By Sesugh Akume

By Sesugh Akume

This 8th National Assembly is a travesty, especially the senate even by their own previous very low, mediocre standards. It has being a tragicomedy theatre of absurdity on a daily and weekly basis. What makes it worse is, I think they are taking everyone–Nigerians and the Federal Republic of Nigeria–for granted.

What ever have they done properly since their inauguration, June last year? Last year they spent more time on recess than working. They couldn’t have been doing other aspects of their legislative duty because committees hadn’t been composed. Then came the committee compositions. You take a look at the bogus committees and all you can do is shake your head. For instance, there is a committee on defence, and other autonomous committees on the army, navy, and air force; not sub-committees under defence. So what does the committee on defence do and what do these ones do?

Then came the season of goofs and gaffes, bloopers and blunders. The senate president, Bukola Saraki was accused of forging the Senate Rules, which matter was reported to the inspector-general of police for investigation. Senator Shehu Sani, condemned the act of reporting the matter to the duly constituted body empowered by law to investigate such matters of forgery. He said it was ‘an in-house affair’. Since when did the senate become empowered to investigate and prosecute the crime of forgery, and not the police? Since when has the crime of forging operating rules of the highest lawmaking body in the land a personal and private, ‘in-house affair’?

In the last few weeks alone, Senator Ali Ndume said senators are ‘too big’, too important to be expected to be driven to locations of their oversight functions together in buses. These same senators who are too important to carry out their functions driven in buses, did the very same thing they are too important to do, when they took themselves to the Court of Conduct Tribunal this last time on billable hours by bus to support the senate president who is answering to personal charges of false declaration of assets years before he went to the senate.

nigerian senate

The other loquacious one, Senator Dino Melaye urged that the senate make it more possible to acquire ‘Made-in-Nigeria women’ and to lead by example. Thereby objectifying and reducing fellow human beings to commodities. This they heartily laughed over. Six days later, Senator Ali Ndume said on International Women’s Day, a day set aside for over one hundred years to recognise the contributions of women, to honour them, and promote issues pertaining to them, said Nigerian men should help out the women by marrying them in order to empower them, starting with the senate president who should start with a second wife.

Then came the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill which failed to go past the second reading. This proposed bill which has a lot of merit wasn’t properly packaged and presented by the promoter Senator Biodun Olujimi, who we must concede did a very shoddy job in the required homework she ought to have done. For starters, I’m told authoritatively that the other seven female senators of the one hundred and nine in the senate were not very abreast and carried along in its preparation and presentation. Neither were groups that have interests in the matter, and much less the public. It also has many inconsistencies. All these were easily avoidable. More so seeing that ours is a patriarchal, if not misogynistic society that would deploy whatever to shoot it down, no matter its merits, using antiquated harmful cultural practices and religion as excuses to justify their stance.

True to type, Senator Ahmed Sani came from his usual religious angle. Anyone hardly hears him on anything except when it comes to matters related to defending his preference for marrying thirteen-year-olds. Senator David Bwacha used the bible (in an upside-down manner as usual) to defend his stance against the bill, but further went ahead to say what was really on his mind, when he said it cultural to suppress women, because allowing them be would empower them to feel that they are equal to or above the men! He referred to the Hausa language colloquial ‘mijin hajiya’. ‘Mijin hajiya’ figuratively refers to a man (husband) ‘miji’ who is married to a ‘hajiya’ in this context a self-assured, well-to-do, self-made women who is status-wise above the husband. Ensuring equal opportunities for women as men, and free everyone of discrimination would convert Nigerian men to ‘mijin hajiya’ he argued. The other argument was that the constitution already guarantees the things the bill is proposing, but that is being clever. Laws clarify in detail and strengthen what is already in the constitution (which in itself has flaws). This is the level of dumbing down our society is getting from the highest lawmaking body in our land.

In such arguments which make no sense, religion is always the scapegoat. The bible says God made man (male and female), charged and empowered them to have dominion over the birds of the air, fish of the sea, cattle of the field–certainly not over one another. In Islam, a woman is under no compulsion to change her surname after marriage or even breastfeed her own baby after giving birth. But in Nigeria, religion is meant by politicians to be manipulated to achieve predetermined ends.

The bill was kicked out by voice vote, having failed to pass the second reading, but this is the same senate where the Frivolous Petitions Bill better known and the ‘Anti-Social Media Bill’ which seeks to gag citizens scaled through second reading within two weeks. In 2016 this senate is still doing a voice vote, even though they have facilities for electronic voting. The question is, how can one determine if there is a tie in a voice vote? How can one determine that the voices aren’t from the gallery? How can one know senators’ voting histories on issues with a voice vote? These gaffes, goofs, and deliberate manipulations of the system are ploys to take our society back to the stone age when the rest of the world is speedily advancing into the 21st century.

The 2016 budget was to be presented to be passed this week as promised. Senator Danjuma Goje, senate committee chairman on appropriations simply absconded. Not reasons, explanations, apologies given. We were simply told that it would be presented next week 22 March, and that is it. Meanwhile, the National Assembly budget is still a single line budget without a breakdown of the over one hindered billion naira earmarked by it to be spent.

Granted, it’s obvious from the above that we really don’t have so many quality individuals at this senate but this shocking with illogicality is a ploy, as is the taking everyone for granted deliberate. The legislature’s duty aside making laws and representation is oversight. But who oversees the one overseeing? This 8th National Assembly needs to sit up but it won’t, as long as the citizens, the legislators’ electors, employers, and paymasters stand aside and watch without monitoring and vociferously speaking up about manner of stewardship at every given opportunity, so would this absurdity continue.

Sesugh Akume
@sesugh_akume on Twitter