November 14, 2009

A Senate retreat and its pending issues

By Emmanuel Aziken
The calmness with which Senators reacted to some disquieting developments at the Senate retreat that ended in Enugu yesterday may have reflected the maturity of the David Mark Senate. Or perhaps it suggested the grip Senator Mark has over the Senate.

In time past the obvious disarray that many of them complained of in the first days of the Enugu retreat would have immediately dovetailed into a closed door session. Heads would have rolled to satisfy the egos and temperaments of the nation’s distinguished Senators.

When during the Nnamani Senate Senators reportedly mumbled over the flight arrangements to an event in the Southeast made by then chairman of the Senate committee on Special Duties, Senator Ahmed Mohammed it cost him his job.

On returning to Abuja after the weekend event the leadership quickly eased the Kwara Senator from his office.
Such is the extent to which the Senate leadership would go to mollify the angst of Senators who are not known to tolerate discomfort.

However, the mutterings in Enugu could also be put within the context of the unending power dynamics in the Senate.
A number of Senators did not have good words for Senator Ayogu Eze, the Senate spokesman and chairman of the retreat organizing committee. But given Eze’s considerable influence in the Senate leadership there were suggestions that there were deliberate attempts to impugn his character as a way of pulling him down in the eyes of the Senate leadership.

A number of Senators in muttering to newsmen their dissatisfactions piled whatever faults they could on Eze a former journalist, describing him as “your man,”

Any effort by members of the Senate press corps to defend their man was easily quenched by their own dire experiences.

Remarkably, the press crew in Enugu was without the former Compass Reporter, Mr. Jackson Adebayo who crafted the memorable headline “Senators and their wild angels in the land of Sharia,” after the Senate retreat of 2008 in Kano.

There were permutations among correspondents in Enugu on who could surpass him in headlining the atrocities of the Enugu home girls who had in the past exported their human wares to the retreats in Port-Harcourt and Kano.

Despite the lax observations, the Enugu retreat was, however, not lacking in legislative imaginations. It is perhaps evident of the seriousness with which the Senate leadership considers its purposes that it put electoral reforms at the theme of the retreat.

Senator Mark in his characteristic tone for bluntness was to shock some on the opening day when he affirmed that Prof. Iwu was not to blame for the nation’s electoral woes.

His assertion was received with the firm applause of the majority of Senators many of who clapped in response.
The retreat opening was also the first time that the immediate past President of the Senate, Senator Ken Nnamani would grace a public event conducted by his successor.

On the second day of the retreat, the Senators carved out time to ponder the ecological problems of the Southeast region. Three of the five Governors were present. Abia was represented by its deputy Governor with Ebonyi being the lone exception.

The Governors painted graphic lamentations of the ravages of erosion in the region with Governor Peter Obi also lamenting how the Federal Government was compounding the problems with its award of erosion control contracts in non-erosion sites!

On Thursday the Senators fanned out into the other four States of the Southeast region to acquaint themselves with the development and infrastructural challenges of the zone.

On the fringes of the retreat was also talk on the alleged N88 million paid by some local government chairmen across the country for the award of honours as performing local government chairmen last weekend.

It was a disaster waiting to happen especially for the Senate committee on States and Local Government Affairs. Given the extent to which consultants have in the past used the name of the Senate in raking fortunes, this issue is especially disconcerting.

It is claimed now that the Senate committee was not the recipient of the funds allegedly collected by the consultants who facilitated the awards in the name of the Senate committee.

Committee sources, however, claim that the N400,000 reportedly paid by each of the performing award recipients was to aid the logistical efforts of the consultants who compiled the indices for giving out the awards.

Whether that defence stands up or not, the matter of Senate committees treading with caution in their engagement of consultants should be well sounded by this development.