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Nigeria’s 8th Senate Mirrors Nation’s Soul By Sonala Olumhense

First, a little housekeeping: Some members of Nigeria’s modern media (mainstream and other, including bloggers), are widely using the term, “Nigerian Senate.” 


The correct usage is “Nigeria Senate” because the Senate is an institution of Nigeria.  “Nigerian Senate,” which connotes something else, is appropriate when used by foreigners, for whom it captures both citizenship and nationality.

The Senate of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, which began in 1999, has a dismal history.  The so-called Upper House pays itself the largest legislative wages and allowances on earth.

A disproportionate proportion of its membership are always converted former governors; that is Nigerians who used their position and resources as governors to convert themselves into Senators. 

The situation in Abuja might not have been so bad had the institution not doggedly cultivated a reputation of greed, pomposity, and irresponsibility. 

The Senators have a taste for luxury, most of them voraciously buying expensive mansions in the federal capital.  It would also appear they think they are, or should be, entitled to an expensive car every year.  In 2015, each member obtained an official “loan” to buy one.  

Strangely, as 2016 opened, a new arrangement was fashioned for each of them to get yet another gleaming, top-of-the-line SUV Landcruiser at a cost, to an already crippled economy, of about N35.1m each.

That is over N35m in 108 instances [Senate President Bukola Saraki, his office already possessing an entire parking lot of luxury official cars, and being a little self-conscious he is on trial for a horrendous slew of corrupt acquisitions that would have been embarrassing had it been anywhere but Nigeria, demurred, at least for now].

It is little surprise that Saraki is in trouble for corruption; several of his predecessors in office, three of them within the first few years of the Republic), were impeached for related matters.  Together, Evan(s) Enwerem and Chuba Okadigbo lasted only a combined 14 months on the chair; each was bundled out for impeachable offences.

The fourth Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, did not win his election at all, but it was the heyday of the Peoples Democratic Party’s brand of impunity, and he was flown to Abuja and made President of the Senate, in line with the wishes of one President Olusegun Obasanjo. [So you know, in case you are not old enough: this is one of the reasons why, today, you hear some people choking when Obasanjo pronounces about impunity and corruption at the National Assembly].

What this means is that while it is the official responsibility of the President of the Senate to guide and regulate its proceedings, most of those who have held the job in the past two decades have lacked the spirit, authority, and presence to do it.

Despite that sordid history, none of the previous seven Senates comes close to the 8th, the current, in pure infamy, and it now seems that each week, the upper legislative chamber is increasingly diminished as an institution.  Designed to be highly-respected the institution now appears to be more of a criminal assemblage, and less of a legislative body.

But it is a thing of joy that the 8th Senate is doing the advertising of its own nakedness in the marketplace.  Like a prostitute fighting with a drunk patron in the streets, it is providing great theatre for everyone with a cell phone camera.

Regrettably it is all to the detriment of Nigeria, and to every black person every where. 

Around the world, Nigerians are cringing as Mr. Saraki, concerned about himself but not his country, is now daily being dragged from his exalted Senatorial presidency to the embarrassment of the courtroom dock.   Along with him, Senators compete with senior lawyers in dirty wigs to form a ring of false authority around Mr. Saraki in the self-deception that a falling Iroko can be restrained by twigs. 

Back in the Senate itself, the members had no trouble in the past two weeks fast-tracking a bill aimed at mowing down the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Administration of Criminal Justice laws to suit the needs of Mr. Saraki.  Few of them thought that the attempt magnifies their duplicity; of the few who did, only a couple whispered open opposition. 

The trouble is that all of those viewers who are shooting, saving and sharing pathetic videos of the farce of the Nigeria Senate farce do it in a specific context: they think this shameful charade is what Nigeria is all about. 

They may be right: Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber is a fair representation of the Nigerian intellectual, political, social and economic firmament.  The Senate is rotting like the carcass of an ownerless cow in the street, and its members are deservedly being scorned, abused and laughed at. 

Among the spectators are other members of the Nigerian elite who give the impression that they would have made better Senators. 

A few of them would, I am sure, but most would be worse.   I confess I have had the opportunity to meet a few former governors, permanent secretaries, ministers, ambassadors or managing directors.  They project themselves as angels; nobody knows accepts responsibility for any official malfeasance. 

But scratch the surface a little, and one finds that so many of them have bought or developed extensive and expensive real estate at home and abroad, most of which they never need and never use.  Consider how much real estate has been purchased in the United States in the past 16 years by Nigerian officials; on the East Coast alone consider the properties, some of them in dispute, purchased by former ambassadors.  Scratch a little.

In other words, on the cultural GPS, we a people inhabit the intersection of impunity and hypocrisy; the Nigeria’s elite are a selfish and egotistical animal who think they—and sometimes theirs— alone are entitled to the good life. 

I think that animal is what Saraki is, and it would be a delight to see him go to jail for a long time.  The question is why there aren’t hundreds of similar trials going on.  The reason the Saraki trial has become so sensational is that so many hypocrites and thieves who fit his profile and who should be in other courtrooms are either accompanying him to court as “supporters,” or watching the “war against corruption” on television and pontificating in public.

Nigeria appears to be fighting corruption on tiptoe, with words and platitudes, instead of the hustle and bustle.  Put the hustle and bustle into the equation, and much of the hypocrisy and impunity will not even get out of bed tomorrow morning.

One final word about Nigeria’s “anti-corruption” agencies that are saddled with fighting corruption: there is no doubt that with true government support, they will make an impression. 

But damage, not just an impression, is what is needed.  To accomplish it, the government should restructure the agencies to sharpen their focus.  As currently constituted, all they can provide is the occasional drama, Saraki-style.

The government must also involve the public, instead of making them spectators.  

Perhaps the destiny of the 8th Senate, in the end, is to demystify the Upper House forever.  To which I say, “Go ahead, Senator!”

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense