What is the meaning of distinguished senator?

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By Tonnie Iredia

Exactly a week ago, I had the privilege of attending a unique ceremony back home in my community of 3 villages. It was an interesting home coming event as many of us in diaspora were in attendance. One of the big guests happened to be a former legislator.

He came with his personal assistant and some local police who appeared to have been briefed on how to make sure their principal was well recognized (who says there are no state police?) Unfortunately, the Master of Ceremony (MC) at the occasion was probably not too conversant with the “order of precedence” as he was listing all the VIPs including this writer who is only a retired Journalist without reference to the real big man of the occasion.

The way the personal assistant moved about in anger over the delay in announcing the presence of his principal made the host to quickly direct the MC to make amends. The latter then profusely apologized for the slip before introducing the “distinguished Senator”.

Knowing that the big man was only in the Senate for a brief period before he was sacked by an election tribunal which found him not to be the rightful winner of his election, I became curious to know if the Oga was back to the Senate. The answer was simple:  ‘once a Senator always a Senator’.  Why would a person who failed in a venture be labeled as distinguished alongside others who made a success of the event?

For me, a person distinguished in any venture would be some eminent renowned achiever in the subject. Senator David Mark for instance, can be so described having distinguished himself in the Public Service of Nigeria.

First, he had an excellent career in the army from 1962 when he enrolled in the Nigerian Military School Zaria till he retired as Brigadier General in 1993. While in the army, he held two high ranking political positions. These were Military Governor of Niger State and then Minister of Communication.

There was in fact the interesting story which made the rounds then that when Mark was in charge of communications, he disconnected all debtor telephone lines including the one on the desk of the Head of State. David Mark is now a Senator of the Federal Republic and has been so since 1999 when he first won election to represent the Benue South Senatorial District.

He is currently the President of the Senate – a position he has held from 2007 to 2011 and again from 2011 till date. In other words, Senator Mark is in his second tenure as Senate President. Thus when a person like Senator Mark is described as a distinguished Senator, it sticks.

No one needs to be persuaded on it. So are persons like former Senate President Nnamani and Senator Markafi.  But when a neophyte in the Senate is similarly described, it provokes ample curiosity. How can someone be addressed as a distinguished Senator from the day he was sworn into the Senate?

It is true though that many Senators are not new to politics and that some had earlier served as State Governors. While some of them who served without blemish can pass for distinguished politicians, there is little sense in calling them distinguished in a new area where they are yet to be tested.

It is in earnest worse to describe those who left office with a chunk of corruption charges hanging on them as distinguished anything.  There are also others who like the big man in our village event got to the Senate through rigging. Our evidence is adduced from a public debate organized by the Senate on the INEC Bill on April 20 2005.

On the occasion, a Senator according to a report by the Punch newspapers cautioned his ‘distinguished’ colleagues as follows:  “Most of us came here (Senate) through electoral malpractices. So, we should be mindful of how we handle this bill”. Do such experts in election rigging also pass for distinguished Senators?

Well, since the debate was 7years ago, maybe we can rely on the new thinking that elections are now free and fair. However, the pattern of election results these days tends to suggest that more and more election losers are beginning to have the same experience as that of the Congress of Progressive Change (CPC) known as the theory of scientific rigging.

In any case, there is little anyone can do about the title ‘distinguished Senator’ because the misnomer is not just about the Senate. Rather it is about the vanity of politics in which every politician thinks he is the only important person in society – a feature which seems to be partly responsible for our inability to develop our nation. It is a concept whereby everything is seen as inferior to politics.

The case of the introduction of a N5000 note currency by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is a good example. While the rest of us are worried over the subject for sundry rational reasons, the perception of one distinguished Senator is that the CBN cannot go ahead with it without the permission of the Senate. In other words, the real issue is not whether the subject will turn out to be in the interest of the nation or not. Instead, what matters is the consent of the Senate which no one is sure would not be purchased.

That is the reality we face today. Once a politician is satisfied with a subject, all is well. Unfortunately, no one bothers about his antecedents or that of other politicians. This was shown last week at the event referred to earlier in this article which took us all – the diaspora of my community – to a homecoming event.

After the merry making segment, it was time to bid farewell to guests and to formally assign duties to every member of the committee for the main assignment – the community project. As a retired Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) I was to head the publicity subcommittee.

One of the points which the overall community head believed would help me to serve was that he had secured the willingness of other journalists to assist me. Among them were two politicians who were known to be strong publicity officials of the leading political party in the area.

They turned out to be people who actually worked with me in the NTA and had retired as Messenger and Cleaner respectively. Great Journalists! Well, I was lucky that the chairmanship was not zoned to the other 2 villages otherwise I would probably have been nominated to serve under one of them.

Such is the bizarre perception of politicians about himself, the rest of us and the nation. The average politician sees himself as the head of the Nigerian body which must grow all the time while other parts of the body are unimportant forgetting that a body which grows at the expense of the other parts would have problems. Indeed, Governor Okorocha would appropriately diagnose the ailment as political kwashiokorism.

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