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When Senators bent the law

By Emmanuel Aziken
Senator Grace Folashade Bent, the Yoruba born female Senator representing Adamawa South senatorial district can never go unnoticed wherever she is. If not her fashionable style then her outspokenness would give away the trendy and trenchant Senator in any gathering.

It was as such not surprising that at the inauguration of the present Senate that she became a strategic player in the David Mark kitchen cabinet.

A former broadcaster, she was also once a political adviser to Chief Audu Ogbeh when he was the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, Senator Bent had in the past lent her voice and person in the efforts to ameliorate the ecological conditions in the country.

Given her background it was surprising that Senator Bent would be the one to publicly breakdown the sacred wall of partition between legislative and executive responsibilities as explicitly defined in the constitution.

She crossed legislative bounds last Thursday when she sought to involve herself and her committee in the processing of Ecological contracts awarded by the Federal Government.

Surprisingly, she was supported in her efforts by the majority of her members who were present at an interesting shouting match between the committee and a determined Mr. John Odey, the Minister of Environment.

The intrusiveness of the committee was further compounded after the shouting match ebbed with her decision to constitute a joint committee comprising Senators and senior officials of the Ministry of Environment to fast-track efforts to check ecological degradations in the country.

Mr. Odey said he would not involve himself in the committee and even passed on the duty of nominating the Ministry’s representatives in the committee to the Permanent Secretary.

But Dr. (Mrs.) Bent would not allow him as she insisted that he must be a member.

In constituting a joint committee with senior officials of the ministry the committee’s autonomy is immediately brought to question. Even more, questions would be raised as to the source of the funding for the committee’s activities.

The intrusiveness of legislators into the affairs of their oversight ministries have in the past led to awkward developments.

Senator Nicholas Ugbane with oversight responsibilities over the power sector is today being tried over his alleged role in the multi billion naira rural electrification contract scam.

Senator Bent and her colleagues in the Senate Committee on Environment may well be sincere in their efforts and may have ignorantly crossed the limits of their legislative duties.

They are as such well advised to limit themselves within the roles carved out for them by the constitution and give Mr. Odey close legislative marking to ensure he implements the laws passed by the National Assembly. Where he fails, Senator Bent could then pounce on him!

Section 4(2) of the 1999 Constitution detailing the powers of the National Assembly states thus: “The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.”

It was off course within their bounds of making laws for the peace of the nation that Senators on Wednesday expressed outrage at the recent maiming of passengers of a luxury bus plying the Lagos-Benin expressway.

All the Senators who spoke on the motion sponsored by Senator Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu North) betrayed their human emotions as they deplored the scant regard for human life by the alleged robbers.

The Senate President who presided on that day was particularly disdainful of the driver of the luxury bus who he described as the worst criminal for not sacrificing himself rather than allowing himself to crush his passengers at gun point.

The Senate debate equally raised the issue of the division in the Senate Committee on Police Affairs. The committee vice chairman, Senator Mohammed K. Jibril described the committee as dead. Another committee member, Senator Otaru Ohize collaborated him.

The assertions of the duo would perhaps be reflective of the ill-health that has recently plagued the committee chairman, Senator Gbenga Ogunninya.

Moves by some Senators to bring the alleged non performance of the committee to debate were quickly suppressed by the Senate President, himself a past chairman of that committee.

Whether it is President Umaru Yar‘Adua or Senator Ogunninya, Senator Mark it seems is considerate of the import of ill-health on public officials and hence his similar decisions on the capacities of President Yar‘Adua and Ogunninya to continue in their respective positions.

Indeed before the motion on the armed robbery Senator Mark had almost violently suppressed a move by Senator George Sekibo to introduce the matter of the ill-health of President Yar‘Adua to the Senate floor!


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