Saraki’s Senate: Vote of Confidence As Impunity -By Adeolu Ademoyo

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Adeolu Ademoyo

Adeolu Ademoyo


Is the Senate vote of confidence an attempt to pre-empt the case of forgery against Saraki and whitewash this allegation in the public sphere?

In one of their first duties (on Tuesday July 28, after a three-week break which was preceded with no legislative duty), as law makers in 2015, some members of the Eighth Nigerian Senate passed a vote of confidence on the leadership of Senate “President” Abubakar Olubukola Saraki and Deputy Senate “President” Ike Ekweremadu and other “principal officers” of the Senate. They are Majority Leader, Ali Ndume; Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Na’Allah; Chief Whip, Olusola Adeyeye and Deputy Chief Whip, Francis Aimikhena.

Parliamentary votes of confidence are common practices. However, there are often justifiable and publicly verifiable reasons and contexts for passing votes of confidence. The main contexts are during the course of parliamentary duties and when moral issues and the character of principal officers are at stake. So one question is: Why did the Eighth Senate pass a vote of confidence on its leadership as its first parliamentary duty? What is the legislative basis?

Let us take the first context, which is the parliamentary duties of Senators in the present Senate. Given that this vote of confidence is practically the first duty of the chamber, the question in the public domain is: What is the work basis of this vote of confidence? What has this Senate done for Nigerians, which should warrant a vote of confidence in its “leadership”?

Or is it sufficient for Senate members to just wake up and in the name of legislative immunity pass anything that catches the private fancy of selected members? Strangely, some ordinarily respected lawyers in the nation have defended this Eighth Senate’s legislative immunity on the basis of some crass legalism, and legal positivism; so is this whimsical and capricious vote of confidence passed by selected members of the Senate on its “leadership” also an act of legislative immunity? Given that this vote of confidence is the very first duty of the Eighth Senate in 2015, and where votes of confidence are often passed on the handling of preceding parliamentary duties, and where there has not been a single work done by the Eight Senate before this vote of confidence, it means the vote of confidence passed on the “leadership” of the Eight Senate is founded on nothing.

Hence, the vote of confidence is self-serving, for there is no preceding legislative duty yet from these Senators that would warrant a vote of confidence. To common sense, there has to be a prior act upon which a vote of confidence is passed. Something must therefore be fishy about the reason for this strange vote of confidence on a leadership of a Senate that has not worked, and that has no precedent of actual work.

Let us take the second context in which votes of confidence are passed-the context where moral issues and the character of officers are at stake. First a case of alleged forgery of Senate rules by the Clerk of the Senate, Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa, and some Senators in the red chamber led to the emergence of the present leadership of the Senate. The Senate “President”, Saraki has tried without success to distance himself from this forgery, which Nigerian Police claims it has established. So the relevant question is: Is the Senate vote of confidence an attempt to pre-empt the case of forgery against Saraki and whitewash this allegation in the public sphere?

The second example of the moral context is a vicarious one for the Eighth Senate – the allegation of corruption against Mrs. Toyin Saraki, the wife of Abubakar Olubukola Saraki, the Senate “President”. Toyin Saraki presently has a case of allegation of corruption with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). This allegation if proved, given the nature of the allegation against Toyin Saraki, which involves her husband, then the Senate “president” will have a case of grave crime and corruption to answer. Now a member of the Senate, Dino Melaye was one of the numerous bodyguards who accompanied Toyin Saraki to the EFCC.

Also, Melaye is one of the Senators who objected to the newspaper reporting of the Eighth Senate’s strange vote of confidence. So in this regard, the relevant question is: Is the vote of confidence an attempt to pre-empt, muddle and whitewash the possible guilt of the Senate “president” Saraki down the road in the Senate and therefore an attempt to whitewash him in the Senate and in the public domain?

In view of the fact that there is no other basis or reason outside these two contexts, the relevant question is: Are the privilege and honour of the Nigerian Senate not being abused and misused in a crass legalistic manner to pre-empt, and muddle the possible establishment of an alleged crime against Saraki and therefore whitewash his possible involvement in the alleged crime? By its strange vote of confidence, which has no basis in work and duty, is this Senate vicariously defending Saraki even before the act? And does this Eighth Senate have this power?

On a closer note, what exactly is the business of the Nigerian Senate–paid by Nigerian taxpayers–with the travails of Toyin Saraki, the wife of the Senate “President”? Is this behaviour of the Senate not the face of impunity (an impunity we were used to under previous regime of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and which we voted to stop) that will define the Eighth Senate under the superintendence of Saraki if Nigerians do not move fast and resolve the logjam in this Senate?

Members of the Eighth Senate seem to be aware of the self-serving nature and of the nothingness and arbitrariness upon which their vote of confidence rests. Why? Following the vote of confidence, a newspaper reported it. Given the split in the Senate between the APC and PDP, the newspaper reported the pattern of the votes of the vote of confidence. The reporting was a legitimate responsibility of a newspaper in a liberal democracy.

The newspaper then concluded that 22 APC Senators who voted along the rest of the PDP Senators are working against President Buhari. This is an interpretation, which can be debated in any direction. In view of the negative moral and political baggage around the head of the Eighth Senate “leadership” which they must resolve before the Nigerian people who are superior to any of the arms of government including the Senate, such debate must also include the possibility that these 22 APC Senators capitulated to Saraki and PDP horse trading and calculations in the Eighth Senate because of pecuniary gains to be made from being made chairpersons and members of Senate committees. Appropriate as this capitulation-based on pecuniary calculations and negotiation-may be in the eyes of the 22 APC Senators, it is morally illegitimate before the Nigerian people who voted for Change.

However, in debating this, it is trite to say that the Senate in carrying out its legislative duties has the independence to take position for or against the policies of executive arm of government. But it seems commonsensical to expect that such independence to differ with the executive ought to be in the service of the economic, political, social and moral interests of the Nigerian people–the only sovereign power-in a liberal democracy. This has not been the case with this Eight Senate in its short history.

And in the present context, the negative moral and political baggage the “leadership” of the Eight Senate carries is obvious. It is obvious because the Saraki and Ekweremadu (a PDP Senator) leadership of the Senate is a continuation of PDP politics and rule, which Nigerians rejected. It is obvious because it is impossible for a PDP Senator Ekweremadu (Deputy Senate “President”) to take a position in the Senate different from that of his party, PDP. It is reasonable that Senator Ike Ekweremadu must align with his party PDP in carrying out his legislative duties as Senate “President”.

Therefore, given that the Senate vote of confidence is the first job of the Eighth Senate, and given that this strange vote of confidence is not preceded by any legislative duty in the brief history of the Eighth Senate that may warrant such vote of confidence, and given the obvious political and moral difference between President Buhari’s government and the leadership of the Senate, a difference symbolised and led by the PDP Senators, it is a sound judgment that any APC Senator who joined in the vote of confidence on the leadership of Saraki’s Senate (which has a potential forgery case to answer) has taken a partisan position for Saraki’s Senate and for PDP on one hand and against the executive, the APC and the Nigerian people who voted for Change on the other hand.

However, any Senator has a right to his/her position. The right they do not have is to cross the line against the newspaper, a member of the fourth estate of the realm. In the case of the alleged forgery against some members of the Eight Senate, these members are claiming immunity of the Senate. Incidentally, their “immunity” stands on a legal and moral impunity because of their alleged forgery of Senate Standing order in constituting the Senate leadership.

Thus with the threat of the Eighth Senate against a newspaper, this red chamber’s “leadership” whose existence stands on impunity, and who is waiving a strange notion of immunity in their defence against the allegation of forgery is obviously moving from legal and moral impunity-its original foundation on alleged forgery and on nothingness-to its “immunity”-its defense against alleged forgery –into impunity–its misuse of its “immunity” in its threat against a newspaper, a member of the fourth estate of the realm.

Because this vote of confidence lacks any foundation in actual work or morality, this impunity and misuse of immunity by the Eighth Senate is a horrific reminder of PDP’s rule of impunity; it tars our collective memory. It is a tragic and an ominous sign for law making in the next four years in Nigeria – (a situation Nigerians cannot afford) under Saraki as Senate “President” and Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate “President”.

Adeolu Ademoyo, [email protected], is of the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.