By Bisi Lawrence
A little way back there, it was like we were hardly going to be able to govern ourselves properly. If it was not a free-for-all in the “hallowed” chambers of our law-making elements, among distinguished and honourable men and women, it was that we manufactured an impasse in the progress of governance. And then we would begin to pant, and gasp and point accusing fingers in all directions. Now we seem to be a bit more focused on what is wrong as against who is wrong.
The Senate seemed poised to swing from one adjournment to another as though there was no work for it to do, though some people, (a few of them, well-meaning people) opine that it really has little to do, anyway. But now it has, at least, the screening of the proposed ministers, who should have been appointed a while back, to complete.
It would appear that it has been held back by the unstable position of its President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is in court on charges of falsification of his assets nine —or is it ten?—years ago at the beginning of his tenure as the Governor of Kwarra State. God help us! Well, all the same, the law is the law and to thumb your nose at it and attempt to get away scot-free, brings up that odious word, “impunity”. So, the law is not wrong.
Senator Saraki, a distinguished citizen, twice Governor of a State and a gentleman who knows his rights, thereupon sought refuge under the law also. He is pleading that the judicial panel before which he had been arraigned was not properly constituted according to the law.
The panel does not agree, holding that it is in keeping with the law which established it. The Senate President is therefore in another court seeking to upturn the decision of the court before which he had been arraigned— that is the Code of Conduct—but the higher court has adjourned “until further notice”. And, meantime, the lower court judiciously appeared to concede judicial superiority to the appeal court —just as it properly should.
Senator Saraki. of course, is not wrong to exercise his civil rights under the law. The Appeal Court cannot be faulted, either; it cannot even be questioned for a decision that it considers suited to the matter before it. Only a superior court can do that.
So, the wheels of our law-making machinery appeared to have hit a snag, but some would say we are practising democracy. But it really would have if the Senate had continued to defer the screening of the proposed ministers until its President had won a clear air before him.
Would that then have satisfied the definition of “a government of the people, by the people and for the people?” Of what benefit would that logjam have been for us, the people? None, whatsoever. But the Senate has shown that it can be responsible and appear mature, if even the members would seem not to know the full implication of their “solidarity” presence in court with their president.
However, this is all predicated on the insalubrious aspects of our Constitution. What all the definition of democracy prescribes and promises is freedom—freedom of thought and of choice. But the Constitution took that from us when those who made it prohibited the independent candidacy in elections. It is ludicrous that 55 years after we have claimed to be free, that right to freedom of choice has been taken from us.
There have been protests down the years from patriotic citizens who, unfortunately, have not been in a position to create the necessary change. It is on record that several people had stood for elections in this country without being members of any political party.
Some of them later joined political parties in which they became ministers. But those were the days when ministers did not need to be screened. The prime minister appointed his ministers from among the elected members of the house, and carried on with his job
Those who made the Constitution fashioned it for their own dreams of party politics, not as machinery for the progress of government, but as the soul of its existence. They probably envisaged that they would always be there. The provision that enforces the membership of a political party as a condition for election into a legislative house, also automatically precludes the membership of a legislative house from a non-party member.
And so no one may resign his membership of a party once he is elected on the platform of the party, except there is evidence that the party had suffered a break-away among its members— in which case the quitting member must perforce move to another party. We have been watching this scenario being played out in a series of an obnoxious drama called, “Defection”.
It seemed interesting while it continued. It is, in fact, still “ongoing”. The officialdom of the receiving party still arranges a lavish reception for the in-coming defector who has at last “seen the light”. It used to be in droves. It was so much easier and less burdensome than to form a new party. That was how Bukola Saraki breezed into the All Peoples Congress from the Peoples Democratic Party – though no one is likely to have forgotten that upsurge of a change in memberships.
He came in then with his train as though he would allow himself and his supporters to be assimilated into the fold of his new association. But it is now clear that his identity had always been distinct. There were, it would appear, three memberships in the Senate, as it is in the House of Representatives: one, of the ruling party, one of the opposition, and one of the defectors who owe allegiance to the interests of the leadership.
In effect, the last-named are in command of more votes since they are able to swing the decision in the direction to which they lean, democracy being a game of numbers. So we now see the tenant in control over the erstwhile landlord’s estate. The unsightliness of all this is that no respite is in sight. We all know why Saraki is in court. How many declarations of assets made by officials are squeaky-clean?
But the Constitution imputes that the party shall be supreme, if you want to stay in the game. It is highly unlikely that the party will in the end eat humble pie before a member, no matter how important he may consider himself to be. The party is made up of other important men and women who also consider themselves no less important than any of their peers. In fact, it is fashionable, if nothing else, to be seen as supporting the party.
On the other hand—I may have mentioned this here or elsewhere—the Senate President cannot be envisaged as giving in at the end. He is Oloye Olusola Saraki’s son, and that is worth a lot on the terrain of his heritage. But there must be a point at which the adjournment of the Senate’s plenary must stop and normal business is allowed to be conducted. The aftermath of all this will not be benign to the relationship of the members, one to another, within the chambers, though amity there is of the essence.
The Saraki issue, as we now may call it, is a challenge that calls for a good heart and a cool head. If the forces behind the indictment of the Senate President would pursue this matter to the end, he may lose his seat and the senate will no longer be the same. For the forces of loyalty may distort the sense of patriotism. But then, we have watched a theatre of the absurd in which loyalty is re-defined on the stage of defection.
If, however, the human touch is allowed to caress the rough edges of the situation, so that apologies may be offered and accepted, we may soon have an upper house of little contention and much progress. We may here reiterate that having counsel to “hold court” outside on the veranda during which they feel free to comment and pontificate on the proceedings of cases that are sub judice, may not only be prejudicial to the matters under litigation, but totally unbecoming of the practice of the learned profession.
Lawyers should be concerned about what demeans their image and does not in any way promote their case. We urge that they approach this subject with a sense of professional responsibility. In like manner, we would recommend a re-visit to the issue of independent candidature in our Constitution. A sober consideration would remove all this mess from our legislature.