The recent invasion of the hallowed Senate chamber by hoodlums who made away with the mace, personal legal battles and an atmosphere of siege created by some members’ recent brushes with the police, are causing low plenary attendance at the National Assembly even when the 2018 budget proposals have not been passed into law. Of course, these are also causing fears, suspicions, victimization and mistrust to becloud the chambers leading to low legislative performance.
Last week Friday, the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal led by Yargata Nimpar nullified a ruling by Okon Abang of Abuja Federal High Court that stopped the arrest of Senator Buruji Kashamu who represents Ogun East by Nigerian law enforcement agencies. The new ruling said the Senator is not above the law and should be arrested if there is a need. Kashamu is being sought in the United States on drug charges but he had denied the allegations, saying it was a case of mistaken identity.
Operatives of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) had in May 2015, laid a siege on Kashamu’s Lagos home to arrest and send him to the U.S. to face the charges.Upon the subsisting legal matters involving individual lawmakers, Kashamu and many other senators facing trials in various courts have virtually not been attending plenary to adequately represent their constituencies.
Kashamu who has refused to submit himself to authorities asking instead for enforcement of his fundamental rights has also accused Nigerian security agencies of plotting to abduct and extradite him over a matter for which he had been cleared by judicial authorities in the United Kingdom. But the office of the Attorney General of the Federation has not relented and has filed several submissions before the judiciary seeking to arrest the Senator for extradition.
Also facing a legal tussle is Senator Peter Nwaboshi who represents Delta North. He was arrested, detained and arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before a Lagos Federal High Court for alleged fraud of N322 million and was subsequently remanded in prison through the order of Justice Mohammed Idris.
The lawmaker was charged for conspiracy and money laundering with two firms called Golden Touch Construction Project Limited and Suiming Electricals Limited. The EFCC in its allegation claimed that Nwaoboshi and Golden Touch Construction Project Limited purchased a property known as Guinea House, Marine Road, Apapa, Lagos for N805 million between May and June 2014 and that N322 million of the money was part of proceeds of “an unlawful act, to wit: fraud.”
It was on this premise that Nwaboshi wrote to the Senate over his ordeal with the EFCC maintaining his innocence saying, “As a lawyer, I am conscious of the fact that the matter is now in court and therefore subjudice. I am no longer at liberty to say anything that will be prejudicial to the trial of the case.”
For Senator Dino Melaye of Kogi West, he is not even healthy to face trials. His ordeal started with the unsuccessful bid to recall him from the hallowed chamber. The Abuja residence of the fiery lawmaker was subsequently besieged by the police and later arrested, manhandled and maltreated when he resisted to be arraigned before a Lokoja High Court.
From the National Hospital the lawmaker was taken in an ambulance and on a stretcher for arraignment before the Chief Magistrate court, Abuja where he is facing trial for attempted suicide and unlawful escape from custody and, at the same time, accused of criminal conspiracy and unlawful possession of prohibited firearms at a Lokoja High Court.
Although the arraigned lawmakers are not above the law as they have their individual flaws but not a few political watchers said their ordeals were predetermined show trials meant to intimidate the lawmakers and gag them from criticising the presidency and the chief executives of their home states.
Before the legal ordeals of the trio of Kashamu, Nwaboshi and Melaye, the duo of Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu have been in and out of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and even conventional courts several times. They have been alleged of false declaration of assets and all these were with the consent of the AGF, Abubakar Malami who has been accused of having a vested interest to weaken the parliament to the advantage of the presidency.
Also on record was the recent humiliation meted out to Edo South Senator, Matthew Urhoghide by political thugs at the Benin airport penultimate week. Urhoghide who is the Chairman, Committee on Public Accounts was molested for moving a motion that Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution be invoked against President Buhari for allegedly violating Section 80, subsections 1,2,3 and 4 for spending $496 million dollars drawn from the consolidated revenue fund to buy Super Tucano aircraft from the US without approval from the National Assembly.
Another Senator, Shehu Sani of Kaduna Central who has been in a running battle with his governor, Nasir El-Rufai, was also accused of sponsoring Isah Garba, Commander of a Joint Task Force (JTF), in Kabala Doki, a suburb of Kaduna metropolis who is currently facing a murder trial over the killing of one Lawal Dona.
Other senators still counting facing their ordeals are Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South), Stella Oduah (Anambra North), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa-Ibom Northwest), Jonah David Jang (Plateau North) and Suleiman Hunkuyi (Kaduna North). The all have stories of subsisting legal battles to tell either in the hands of their state governors or the presidency.
It was also believed that this fear of political victimization has also led to the polarization and internal wrangling now prevailing in the upper chamber.Many political watchers said the possibility of humiliation around the National Assembly even gave birth to the formation of the Parliamentary Support Group for Buhari which has divided the loyalty and oneness of lawmakers along the lines of the Senate President Saraki and President Buhari, pitching them against one another.
Specifically, Senator Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa West was said to have assumed the role of a leader of the pro-Buhari lawmakers probably to seek protection against allegations of money laundering preferred against him and son, Mohammed and one Felix Ojiako by the EFCC to the tune of N92 million at a Federal High Court sitting in Kano.
Apart from the existing disunity, which has robbed the chamber of robust and unbiased parliamentary debates, the constitutionally assigned power of oversight functions by the lawmakers is also weakened and abused. This no doubt, accounted for the weak handling of the case of invasion of the Senate and snatching of the mace in plenary and the flagrant disobedience to resolutions and disregard to invitations by the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali and Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.
The totality of all these undemocratic concerns threatening the functions of the parliament made the recent visit of leaders from the South-South, Southwest, Southeast and Middle Belt to the leadership of the Senate imperative.
With one voice, the leaders from these geo-political zones expressed worry saying that the country was at a crossroad. They also pointed out that Nigeria’s democracy was under threat and in critical condition. Represented by Chiefs John Nnia Nwodo, Ayo Adebanjo, Edwin Clark and Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, the leaders said these undemocratic events against the parliament were upshoots and indices of the fundamental disregard coming from the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal executive.
They also faulted the constitution of the country saying, it contains several loose ends that provides easy aberrations with offenders walking away scot-free. The statesmen affirmed that the only way out of the quagmire was to revisit the constitutional amendment seeking for devolution of power and fiscal federalism.
Nwodo said, “Our problems emanated from the constitution being presently run in the country as against the ones operated between 1954 and 1966 which gave room for decentralised federation with attendant development-driven or healthy rivalries among the federating units.”He also warned against further desecration of the parliament, saying it is the only arm of government that is representing the existence and true practice of democracy all over the world.