Completely oblivious of the weighty expectations of the electorate on making sound laws, the Senate has voted to engage in untrammelled impunity. Controversially, it suspended a senator for six months on March 29. Ali Ndume got into trouble after asking the Senate to verify media reports on an alleged fraudulent car purchase and certificate forgery linked to two senators. When a probe cleared Bukola Saraki and Dino Melaye of the allegations, senators hammered Ndume with a suspension, a decision that is totally unwarranted.
We hold no brief for Ndume, but for the communities being hobbled by Boko Haram terrorism that are being denied representation in the National Assembly through the suspension of their lawmakers. Apart from the people of Borno South, which Ndume represents, also on suspension is Abdulmumin Jibrin, who represents the Kiru/Bebeji Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. Jibrin was suspended last September for making allegations that the 2016 federal budget was padded. This was shortly after the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, sacked him as the chairman of the Appropriation Committee. The suspension of lawmakers based on spurious allegations is reckless.
In line with this obnoxious practice, the Bauchi State House of Assembly had suspended one of its members in June 2012. Rifkatu Danna was suspended for challenging the relocation of the headquarters of the Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area to Bununu. Although the Bauchi State High Court faulted her indefinite suspension as illegal and said that she should be reinstated, the House refused. The people of her constituency were thus marginalised by the State Assembly for the rest of her term. In all this, these lawmakers have not done anything untoward against the Nigerian state.
Ndume’s suspension is tangential to the wiles of senators to undermine the anti-corruption war. His travails began in December, when as the Senate Majority Leader, he pressed for the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. This was in direct conflict with the position of the Senate, which threw out Magu’s candidature based on a report from the State Security Services, perhaps because no fewer than 10 of them are under the EFCC investigations.
In January, however, the Senate sacked Ndume from his seat. But the senator stood resolutely behind Magu, who was again rejected by the Senate during the second confirmation hearing in March. A few days after, Ndume asked the Senate to investigate media reports that an armoured Range Rover SUV worth N298 million that was seized by the Nigerian Customs Service belonged to Saraki. He also said the reports that Melaye (Kogi West) had no Geography degree from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, be confirmed.
Interestingly, a panel set up for the purpose quickly cleared Saraki and Melaye of any wrongdoing. This is neither here nor there because it was a panel that apparently worked to a pre-determined outcome. The pertinent questions raised by Ndume were not sufficiently investigated before the panel gave the two senators a clean bill of health. The issues raised by Ndume did not in any way damage the image of the Senate to warrant his suspension. Instead, they helped it to acquit itself.
Essentially, the suspended lawmakers should be recalled. In 2010, the House of Representatives under Dimeji Bankole as Speaker, suspended Melaye and 11 other members of the self-styled “Progressives” group for levelling accusations of bad leadership and corruption against the Speaker. However, an Abuja Federal High Court ruled that their suspension was illegal and ordered their reinstatement. This is a precedent that should guide the Senate and the House.
The National Assembly should follow the path of legality. The Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives should stop putting the parliament into further controversy with their leadership style. The standard practice in the British parliament is that the Speaker can suspend an MP for “disorderly conduct” for the rest of a day’s session. An MP, on account of a more serious infraction, can also be suspended for five days as a first offender; and 20 days as a second offender. In 2003, an MP – Michael Trend – served what is deemed as a long suspension of one month for obstructing investigation into his financial affairs. Since 1642, the House of Lords suspended a member for the first time in May 2001, according to British parliamentary records.
The Nigerian constitution is supreme. Any parliamentary code that is inconsistent with it is null and void, according to Section 3. Therefore, the Senate and the House should review their rules regarding the suspension of members.
The frequent resort to clamping down on lawmakers who disagree or make observations against the leadership ridicules the National Assembly. The parliament should not be a platform for personal aggrandisement, settling trivial political scores (like the Senate’s row with Hameed Ali of the Nigerian Customs Service) and dismantling the anti-corruption crusade. Saraki and Dogara should concentrate on critical issues of state – like passing the 2017 budget, the Petroleum Industry Bill – and elevating the NASS to a responsive and patriotic institution.