Posted by News Express | 11 October 2021 | 402 times
WHO do members of the Nigerian Senate, the country’s upper legislative chamber, represent? To whom are they ultimately accountable? For the average citizen, these are easy enough questions, and the answer is a straightforward one, to wit: members of the Senate are accountable to and serve at the pleasure of the Nigerian electorate. From all appearances, however, Senate President Ahmad Lawan would seem to disagree. Addressing the august body last Wednesday following a motion on privilege by his deputy, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central), Dr. Lawan warned his colleagues off the Nigerian press, specifically instructing them to “talk less to the press on ways that will give the press a wrong impression. We should concentrate more on talking to our colleagues.”
The backdrop to Dr. Lawan’s instruction to his colleagues is the interview that aired on Lagos-based Channels Television the previous evening, in which Senate Minority Leader and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart, Enyinnaya Abaribe, appeared to accuse senators of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of having reneged on a gentleman’s agreement to allocate five percent equity share to the host communities in the Petroleum Industry Bill. When the bill eventually passed on the floor of the Senate, the equity share to the host communities had been reduced to three percent. If Senator Abaribe was right, the APC senators had basically shortchanged the host communities, ostensibly for political gain.
Senator Omo-Agege was not at all pleased with his colleague, the Senate Minority Leader’s comments during the TV interview– and the implication that the negotiations involved in the making of the Petroleum Industry Bill were less than transparent– and had reported his colleague to the Senate, hence Dr. Lawan’s instruction to his colleagues to keep the press at arm’s length. While the frustrations of the Senate President and his deputy are understandable, Dr. Lawan’s action cannot be justified on any ground. Asking his colleagues to steer clear of the media, as if the media were the enemy, is an inappropriate response to what seems to be a legitimate set of questions: how, in the course of negotiations in the Red Chamber, did five per cent get whittled down to three almost overnight? And what is the justification for granting non-oil producing northern states a staggering and inequitable 30 per cent equity share?
Dr. Lawan claimed that he “would have loved to give the Minority Leader an opportunity to speak,” but for the fact that “this is a matter of privilege.” If Dr. Lawan was not prepared to give Senator Abaribe the opportunity to defend himself and clarify his earlier comments, why bring up the matter? Senator Abaribe is entitled to feel that he is being hung out to dry. Dr. Lawan concluded his remarks to his colleagues thus: “I hope all of you have learnt a lesson or two from this.” It is far from clear what lesson the Senate President wishes his colleagues had learnt. Senator Abaribe did nothing wrong by baring his soul to the press on an important matter, and it is inconceivable to us that the Senate, the country’s apex legislative chamber, could function without the press.
Without meaning to, Dr. Lawan has solidified public perception of the Senate as a conclave of entitled, unaccountable, and overpaid elite.
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