By Owei Lakemfa
WHEN the Senate on March 18, debated the mass killings in the country, 63-year-old Senator Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe stood up to make a contribution. In the process, he criticised President Muhammadu Buhari’s handling of the security situation in the country. He might not have thought about the possible implications, after all, in the hallowed chambers, he has immunity for whatever contributions he might make. He might also have been confident that the constitution guarantees him the freedom of speech. But he might be mistaken on both counts as some members of his constituency want to recall him. A Coalition of Abia South Senatorial Movement, CASSM say they are already distributing recall forms. One of the super patriots, Mr. Daniel Nwaeze, identified as a lawyer, presented the case against Abaribe: “What he is doing at the National Assembly is not what we sent him to do. We never sent him there to go and insult the President even when he has not attracted any dividend of democracy to the constituency.” The group leader, Paul Ikonne added more charges: “We sent him to the National Assembly to get projects and make good laws but the reverse is the case. He has failed woefully. Let him come home.” He did not state the bad laws Abaribe has been making. Also, Ikonne might be blissfully unaware that a single senator cannot make a law; not even the entire Senate has such powers. In any case, any bill passed by the combined National Assembly still needs the President’s assent, unless he declines. So the coalition in making such claims may unwittingly be indicting the National Assembly and the President.
Were the super patriots to succeed in recalling Abaribe or sufficiently harassing him, they will be sending a clear message to the legislators that they cannot enjoy freedom of speech, not even in their hallowed chambers. But the gladiators need to brace themselves for a serious fight because Abaribe has showed himself to be the quintessential Igbo warrior who was impeached as the Abia State Deputy Governor twice; 1999 and 2000, returned twice, before deciding to resign on March 7, 2003 as the third impeachment armada was assembled to shell his position. In the larger politics of the country, he had courageously stood as surety for the rebel Nnamdi Kanu who has since disappeared.
Another Senator with nine political lives is Dino Melaye representing Kogi West and currently, the Chairman, Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory. His case is similar to that of Abaribe except that the person he is at loggerheads with is the youthful Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello. Beyond the recall process, Dino is facing accusations of claiming falsely that there was an attempt on his life, and for allegedly sponsoring thugs and supplying them with illegal arms. With Dino recuperating at the strike-ridden National Hospital, Abuja following injuries sustained from his encounter with the police, it is uncertain when the people of Kogi West will have representation in the Senate. It is another lesson that senators need to think twice before taking on the executive whether at state or national level.
Apart from brawls with the executive, can senators discipline themselves even to the extent of suspending alleged erring members from the Senate? Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, a former fiery legislator who represented the Chibok/Damboa/Gwoza Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives on the platform of the then opposition ANPP, got upgraded into the ruling All Progressives Congress and the Senate. He was Senate Majority Leader before his impeachment on January 10, 2017. Two months later, he was suspended for six months. His undoing was calling for a probe of Senate President Bukola Saraki over allegations of importing bullet proof range rover with fake documents and for perjury against Senator Dino Melaye. He braved the suspension weather and returned to a quiet life in the Senate.
In a twist of fate, on April 12, 2018, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central), a member of the Ethics and Privileges Committee that sent Ndume on suspension was himself suspended for 90 legislative days for challenging in court, the right of the Senate to drag him before his colleagues in the Committee. Omo-Agege, a lawyer who believes he was being victimised for supporting President Buhari, went to court to challenge the powers of the Senate to suspend him. He got a breather from the court, but rather than follow lawful process, embarked on self-help. He forced his way into the Senate chambers to take his seat, while the thugs that accompanied him, injured an Assembly staff, seized the mace and kidnapped the senator representing Lagos West, Solomon Olamilekan Adeola as they made their getaway.
Even if the case of bringing thugs into the Senate chambers, causing bodily harm, assisting in the stealing of the mace and kidnap of a senator, cannot be proven against all reasonable doubts against him, I do not see Omo-Agege returning to the Red Chamber soon after resorting to self-help.
As expected, there is a groundswell of opinion that no matter what a senator does, the Senate has no powers to suspend him as the constitution does not so provide. This remains a specious argument even if a court had ruled in the past that an Assembly cannot suspend an erring member. How can a Senate be a Senate if it cannot discipline its members? Anybody who voluntarily decides to be a member of a group, must be ready to abide by its rules and be disciplined by it. Even boy scouts have rules which all who belong to it must abide by or be punished even by suspension. I have also read that even among gangs of thieves, there are rules which must be obeyed with punishment applied on erring members.
Assuming a senator draws a gun in the Senate chambers, would anybody argue that members must tolerate rather than throw him out? This is not farfetched as in 1982, Hon. Sidi H. Ali, PRP/Danbatta Federal Constituency of Kano State, while addressing Speaker Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, drew a gun.
We should not play politics with basic principles. If we elect lamakers, they must be able to function properly and behave within acceptable etiquettes. It does not make sense to campaign for a lawmaker that decides to be a lawbreaker. On the issue of representation, even when we have constituencies, the Senate is a whole; it is the Senate of the Federal Republic, and the overall interest of the Senate and the country should prevail over a constituency suffering temporary lack of representation arising from the misdemeanor or criminal conduct of its elected representative.