Wetin Senators dey do sef?

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

Email: simboor@yahoo.com Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Simbo QEDThe Distinguished Right Honourable David Bonanveture Mark was away to Brazil for the more important matter of tending to the ego of the Super Eagles on that day. Some Nigerians might not have seen the sense in the trip, but what do they know, when it comes to governance? It was business, as usual, in the very busy Three Arms Zone of Abuja. It was only days after the ‘Ekiti magic’ and some of the Distinguished Senators were understandably in a celebratory mood.  In the Red Chambers, however, someone very important was not smiling. The Distinguished Senator Ndoma-Egba, a ranking member of the Senate, serving his third term on the trot, was not happy. His privilege as a Senator had been breached, he said. The business at hand was a serious one.

I saw Senator Babafemi Ojudu shift somewhat uneasily in his seat. Was this not the same day the Senator had been hounded and shouted down in a rather dignifying manner befitting of the Senate? Newspaper reports tell us that two Distinguished Senators “visibly moved against Ojudu” for seeking to let the Senate know that the rights of his constituents had been breached in the process of making the Ekiti elections the freest and fairest one since democratic election was invented by mankind. They had to “move” to arrest a report that someone “…led police to the hotel and smashed all the doors of the hotel…” in the course of delivering the most credible election we have ever had. But that was really nothing of substance in the hallowed chambers, that day – who cares about the rights of a few people breached? There was the more important matter at hand – the privilege of the Distinguished Majority Leader had been breached.

Senator Oluremi Tinubu might be better known as the wife of the former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, but there is no denying her very robust mind and passion for the people. Her drive in Lagos in support of education, women and health was exemplary. Of particular interest especially was her unwavering support for the Sickle Cell Foundation. That she might have found the Senate whose body language has lent itself more in the direction of letting sleeping dogs lie, rather underwhelming is not unexpected. So, in marking her third year anniversary as a Senator, she lets it out. She says – “Senate is not a place I really want to go back to except APC becomes the majority. But if it is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government, I don’t think it is the environment I will like to be again. I have had my fill.”

The Distinguished Senator Ndoma-Egba did not find this funny. He felt obliged to put things in context by reminding us of his status – “I am a senator first and foremost and by the grace of my colleagues, a member of the leadership of the Senate…And to the best of my knowledge, Sen. Tinubu has never raised any concern with me or with the leadership on the activities of the Senate.”

He quoted Senator Tinubu to have said that “… activities in the upper legislative chamber were depressing because its leadership has failed to address a lot of pressing national issues for partisan reasons. She accused the Senate leadership of pandering to the wishes of the executive arm of government which is led by the Peoples Democratic Party.”

Distinguished Senator Ndoma-Egba, I have news for you. What you quoted Senator Tinubu to have said is nothing but the truth. The Senate, in which you presently serve as Majority Leader, is a let-down.  The Red Chambers sits there in all its majesty, teasingly close to the rock, too far away from the dusty red earth of the car park designated for National Assembly visitors.  For those lucky enough to get that close to the chambers, their dream of meeting face to face with those whom they sent to go represent them in the Senate, too often end in that portakabin, where they turn them back.  Once, I saw a man turn his face away from the over-filled refuse dump positioned next to the portakabin with the question – What do they really do in this Senate?

How was I to know? What is there to commend to anyone about the Senate? Is it in performance? Is it the recent vote to deny an institutional backing for Presidential Debates? Is it in entrenching a ‘bow and go’ policy which shields nominees for public offices from screening and public scrutiny? Is it the ceremonial screening of Ministers without portfolio with no value to the process? Is its membership or leadership? Is it the number of ex-Governors who have found comfort there, prompting someone to liken the place to a retirement pad?

Is it in empowering INEC to deregister political parties even when the court has declared such action illegal? Is it in putting a check on extra-budgetary spending?  Is it because of its role in helping to resolve the Chibok saga? What is there to say for the Senate? Is it the life-defining bills passed? Is it because it has given us its own Obamacare? Is it the practice of absenting itself from a people-centric position on matters of national interest? In 2013, all of eight Acts were passed. Of the eight, apart from the same-sex prohibition act and the Appropriation Acts for FCT and Federal Government, others were amendments, including an amendment to the Appropriation Act itself. Of course, we know about the Committee work and oversight duties. Interrogating the Senate on that might throw up more questions than answers.

Did Senator Tinubu say she has had her fill? She is not alone; many of us have also had ours. I do not believe Nigeria needs a bi-cameral legislature for anything. We do not need more than one chamber – the House of Reps will do. We dare not accuse the Distinguished Senate of a ‘do-nothing, say-nothing’ approach to its duty? But it is time we ask ourselves again – Wetin Senators dey do sef?