By Tonnie Iredia
Wednesday, November 02, 2016 is obviously a day when our current Senate ought to be remembered for making a great point during its tenure. On that day, our Senators resolved to go on strike if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fails to conduct all pending re-run elections into legislative positions in Rivers State. Following the threat, a few Nigerians berated the Senate for behaving like an over-grown labour union.
While not condemning the Senate for its decision, some of its former members, notably former Senate President Adolphus Wabara and Senator Ita Giwa sued for peace arguing that such a strike would amount to shutting down the government. The combined plea by Wabara and Giwa is however not persuasive in the least.
To start with, there are Nigerians who are not waiting for just a strike in the senate but an abolition of the body. Their premise is that a poor country like Nigeria does not need two bodies, Senate and House of Representatives to perform the same function of law making. The proposed strike by the senate will therefore give us an opportunity to see what our nation will lose or gain without a senate. In earnest, there are too many reasons why our senate should go on strike
First, what the senate is aggrieved about is justifiable. According to the senate, INEC’s failure to conduct the re-run elections in Rivers State, within the time frame ordered by the respective Election Petition Tribunals/Courts, is in total breach of the Electoral Act and Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution.
This action is seen by the senate as capable of endangering the nation’s democracy. If so, why should the senate or indeed any Nigeria not be angry over the subject? In addition, the infraction is not just a Rivers affair. A study by the House of Representatives has shown that there are no fewer than 66 constituencies spread across 19 states of the country that currently have no representation in their respective state assemblies.
If so, why can’t the senate pass a strongly-worded resolution demanding that this be done instead of going on strike? In our own view, the position taken by the senate is in order because our leaders and institutions by convention donot redress an issue until it causes a general uproar. This probably explains why the National Judicial Council for example pretended for longer than makes sense that it was unaware of the rot in the Judiciary until a sting operation by the Department of State Services laid the situation bare.
This column therefore welcomes the proposed strike by our senate. It is in actual fact already yielding the correct result because one day after the threat by our senators, INEC announced its readiness to do its job. A statement by the Secretary to the commission, Mrs. Augusta Ogakwu, in Abuja during the week, said that the commission has fixed December 10 for the conduct of the outstanding National and State Assembly elections in Rivers. It has also approved December 3 to conduct election to the vacant Ifako/Ijaiye seat of Lagos state in the House of Representatives.
On the same day, according to the statement, the commission will conclude rescheduled councillorship polls in some area councils in the Federal Capital Territory. Even at that, the strike by the senate should not be lifted as we still have numerous democratic obstacles. INEC for instance is not the only problem. Our Senators must therefore remain on strike to stop other infractions. Already, INEC’s Director in charge of Publicity, Voter Education, Civil Society and Gender Liaison, Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, has disclosed that the commission’s timetable could be affected by court orders, explaining that in Rivers State, INEC had just received three court orders restraining it from going ahead with the elections in Tai Local Government Area.
It is not frivolous injunctions alone that our senate should protest. The new trend where the public can predict court decisions on the basis of which Judge is handling the case should be among the issues the senate should vehemently oppose. Again, going by what happened in the recent governorship election in Edo, INEC may have to bow to security advice not to conduct election as at when due if some experts gaze into the sky and observe a likelihood of insecurity. For any of these not to happen, a patriotic body like our senate should send more threats and indeed go on strike so that our deaf actors can hear.
One other reason why our senate must remain on strike for a long period is that being a law making body, which is expected to follow the rule on strikes that says no work no pay, the nation would gain a lot. First, we may at last get an idea of what our senate spends especially what our most distinguished law makers earn (sorry, receive) as monthly salaries. Since 2010, when the former Central Bank Governor, now Emir Sanusi Lamido of Kano revealed that the Nigerian legislature consumes 25% of the nation’s budget, no one has been able to identify the exact pay of our legislators. All that is usually said is that our legislators are the highest paid in the world.
There is even the possibility that the legislators themselves donot know the exact amount. Whether it is newspaper or wardrobe allowance etc, such monies would hopefully be intact during their strike and available to be deployed to other cogent uses. We can at least use it to pay the salaries of medical doctors who as the nation saw last week in a number of places were protesting non-payment of arrears of their salaries.
If the senate can go on strike on the matter everyone will begin to fall in line. Elections will not only be held on schedule, why and how hoodlums often overwhelm an average of 25,000 police personnel and many other security operatives to hijack ballot boxes on voting day will be exposed. For every electoral infraction therefore, our senators should not just down tools, they should carry placards which would attract followers and thus make their point beyond reasonable doubt. Bravo to our striking senate.