Wednesday, the 18th of April,2018 would forever be remembered as a day of infamy in the annals of Nigeria’s legislative and political history. It was a day when some angry Nigerians, arguably constituents of suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, stormed the red chamber of the National Assembly complex and made away with the mace. The mace is the symbol of authority in the legislature and any decision taken in the absence of the mace is deemed null and void in the eyes of the law. This unfortunate and sad incident happened at exactly the same time Senator Ovie Omo-Agege “forced” himself into the senate chamber in violation of the ninety day suspension slammed on him by the senate the week before. However, Senator Omo-Agege has denied any link to the theft of the mace and the Police announced it’s recovery the next day. Investigations by the Police and other bodies are currently ongoing.
Undoubtedly, there is a nexus between the suspension of the senator, his “forced” entry into the senate chamber, and the invasion of the senate by some angry Nigerians. But not in the way that most Nigerians think.
Senator Omo-Agege’s sin which incurred the wrath of his colleagues, was that he in the company of nine other senators addressed a press conference in which he voiced fears that the re-order election sequence bill was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari. That bill has been placed on suspension in the aftermath of the drama that took place last week. According to the senate, that statement by one of their own within the precincts of the National Assembly complex, is an incitement of Nigerians most especially Buhari die-hards in Northern Nigeria against the senate. But our distinguished senators did not consider the revelation of the humongous salaries and allowances that they earn by Senator Shehu Sani, as an incitement of Nigerians against the senate despite the backlash that greeted it from all and sundry. They also did not consider it proper to suspend Senator Dino Melaye, a vocal acolyte of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, for using obscene words to verbally assault Senator Oluremi Tinubu on the floor of the senate. They applauded Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe when he declared that the President is incompetent.
Speaking on the suspension of the senator, Mr Kurtis Adigba, a public affairs analyst and one of Nigeria’s brilliant legal minds, opined that “Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was suspended in spite of a valid court order against suspending him. It is not in the place of the senate leadership to decide which court order to obey or disobey. The senate cannot be laying claim to the law and at the same time be in breach of the law. An order of court, no matter how unjust on the face of it, must be obeyed until it is set aside or revoked. The senate could have challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter, or make the order, but did nothing. Omo-Agege, was right in attending the plenary of the senate yesterday. And he should continue in the coming days.”
The crux of the matter is that we have a senate that has constituted itself into an opposition party and a cog in the wheel of progress of the Buhari administration. Their pastimes includes flexing muscles with the executive and it’s agencies, proposing unpopular legislation and passing resolutions that is not within their brief. A few examples to buttress my assertion are the face-off with the Customs boss, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd), the anti-social media bill, the anti-NGO bill and the recent resolution calling on President Buhari to sack all the service chiefs.
Regrettably, the senate cannot stomach dissenting views. There is no legislative precedent in the annals of this country where a senator will be suspended for expressing a dissenting opinion or alternative view not held by majority of the members. How can an institution which is supposed to provide a forum for robust debate of the policies and programmes of the government, transmute into one that stifles free speech, and suppresses opinions and dissenting views of it’s members?
Mr Adigba, throws more light on this issue. Speaking ex-cathedral “The senate is an important democratic institution where senators should be free to express their views and not be afraid of being suspended by an intolerant leadership. Democracy, is essentially about the freedom to hold and express views freely. The senate is not a military boot camp where the wishes of the commanders must be obeyed.”
I condemn the desecration of the hallowed upper chamber by some angry Nigerians. People should learn to stomach their angst and express their grievances through recognized legal channels. However, I see nothing wrong in Senator Omo-Agege’s action since there was a valid court order against his suspension by the senate. The laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria takes precedence over the Senate Rules which his colleagues relied upon to suspend him.
My grouse is that an entire oil producing region, made up of five million people, have been denied of representation at the senate due to legislative dictatorship. In the event that there is an oil spill, or a natural disaster which claims the lives of thousands, or the need to cite one or two federal projects in the region, the entire Urhobo Nation who have contributed immeasurable human, material, natural, and financial resources to the Nigerian state since independence in 1960 till date, have nobody to speak for them or fight for them as occasion demands. This is a great injustice meted against my people. A note of warning should be sounded to the senate leadership that if this suspension is not reversed, it has the capability of heating up the polity and leading to a new wave of attacks on oil installations in the creeks of the delta by aggrieved militants.