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Published On: Mon, Mar 12th, 2018

Senate: On powers and responsibilities of the legislature

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By Jibrin Ibrahim

I am getting very worried about the politics of the Senate and the manner in which it often places its narrow interest above the nation. The news yesterday was that they will override President Buhari’s veto on the bill to establish the Peace Corps of Nigeria. This followed the adoption of a Point of Order raised by Senator Dino Melaye to override the veto. It would be recalled that the president had cited duplication of duties and funding challenges in declining assent to the Nigerian Peace Corps (Establishment) Bill, 2017 recently passed by the National Assembly.
The Nigerian Peace Corp is an NGO established and owned by an individual called Dickson Akoh, which was registered in 1998. It engages in the training and education of youth between the ages of 18 and 35. It receives grants from foreign and domestic donors, and it is uniformed and has paramilitary ambitions. I am not aware of any precedent in which parliament will legislate an NGO into a “State Institution” without even holding consultations with the Executive. It is an extremely foolish act to take someone’s private outfit and legislate it into a state institution. It would be interesting to find out how the Nigerian Peace Corp obtained the vast amounts of money it used to lobby legislators to get themselves their bill. The National Assembly has actually established very many institutions by passing bills and transforming all types of professional associations into government bodies and the president is absolutely right in deciding that this type of action must stop. We have too many institutions, and given the excessive cost of governance, our ambition should be to reduce the number of parastatals and not to multiply these.
Another institution being currently set up by the National Assembly is the ‘Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches’, which shall enforce hate speech laws across the country. Essentially, the bill, among other things proposed, claims that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction. We are all concerned about hate speech and its negative impact on social and political dynamics, but proposing the death sentence as punishment for this suggests that the legislators have very little understanding of hate speech and its forms. Hate speech that leads to terrible outcomes often look innocent on the surface and their danger is often embedded, not in the words enunciated but in the context and subliminal understanding that people have of what is behind the words. In the infamous Rwandan case of 1994, the words used are that “Tutsis are cockroaches” and I can imagine the difficulties of going to court and arguing that someone should be subjected to the death sentence because they have called another a cockroach. In other words, fighting hate speech often requires very sophisticated approaches that criminalising it could only further complicate. It is also important to keep in mind that the overkill on hate speech could seriously undermine press freedom. We need a much more considered approach in addressing the ravages of hate speech in our society and must avoid playing to the gallery.
This week, Dr. Musa Abubakar, secretary to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), had to take over the Agency as acting chairman. The tenure of the leadership had expired and a new chairman and members nominated by the federal government for ICPC are still awaiting confirmation by the Senate. It would be recalled that the Senate had placed an embargo on the confirmation of appointments made by the president following the presidency’s retention of Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), despite their rejection.
Following the refusal of the Senate to consider President Muhammadu Buhari’s nominees for the vacant positions in the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), it has not been able to meet this year. At the end of last year, eight positions in the 12-member committee became vacant, making it impossible for it to form the quorum required for it to meet. The president had in October last year nominated Mrs. Aisha Ahmad as a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to replace Dr. Sarah Alade, who retired from the bank in June. He also nominated Professor Adeola Festus Adenikinju, Dr. Aliyu Rafindadi Sanusi, Dr. Robert Chikwendu Asogwa and Dr. Asheikh A. Maidugu as members of the MPC to fill the positions of four others whose tenure expired last year. The Senate has again refused to consider the nominations. The International Monetary Fund this week made an appeal for the matter to be resolved so that the economic recovery currently enroute would not be compromised. The vacancies and the inability of Nigeria to pursue monetary policy is sending the wrong signals to international investors because it raises questions on the ability of Nigeria to take decisive actions in this regard because the MPC is the engine room for monetary policy, price stability and supporting the economic policies of the federal government.

Finally, thanks to Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, we now know that we have one of the most highly paid senators in the world. He was quoted in the media as having revealed that he and his colleagues receive N13.5 million monthly as running cost. This is the first time a member of the National Assembly will confirm speculations that Nigerian senators are earning N41.5 million quarterly as running cost each. The Kaduna senator who made the revelation in an interview he granted to TheNEWS magazine said the running cost was in addition to the over N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances of each member of the Senate. This vast income should make our legislators have a higher sense of responsibility to work for the national interest, rather than self-aggrandisement. I know that the Presidency also has a lot of faults, which I have addressed severally in this column. My point today is to draw the attention of the Senate, but also the House of Representatives to the fact that if they really want to represent the people, they must do what would benefit the public, rather than themselves.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.

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