Xenophobic bouts put National Assembly asunder
There has been xenophobia from early historical account of racial sentiments in ancient Greek. Then, there existed denigration of foreigners as ‘barbarians’ by people who believed that the Greek people and culture were superior to those of others.
This is playing out currently in Nigeria’s National Assembly (NASS) over federal legislators’ responsibility towards the prejudiced attacks of Nigerians in South Africa.
Senators are currently at war with members of the House of Representatives over who should be heading to South Africa to assess the situation on ground, following hordes of concerns and controversies trailing ugly trend in that country.
Femi Gbajabiamila, chairman of the six-man team set up by the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, was the first to throw the unsavoury salvo.
According to him, it was unnecessary for Senate to duplicate the visit, after he (Gbajabiamila) was reminded that the upper legislative chamber had on February 28th constituted a seven-man delegation for the same purpose.
Gbajabiamila, who is the House Majority Leader, had along with the chairperson, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnenna Ukeje and a member of the delegation, Henry Nwawuba, informed journalists that the visit would afford members of the delegation the opportunity to have a first hand information on the reason for the attacks and why the security operatives in the country had failed to bring those behind such attacks to book.
He debunked insinuations in some quarters that the visit was a mere jamboree and waste of the nation’s resources.
His words: “There is need to visit South Africa to unravel the root causes of these xenophobic attacks and see how we can help in solving the problem. This is a bicameral legislature, both houses are independent but for the ease of governance and diplomacy, it would have been proper to have one house and not two houses, this duplication of labour is absolutely unnecessary for both houses to travel.
The insistence of the House members in embarking on the trip angered Senators whose team quickly reacted and cancelled their plan to visit South Africa, also meant to partner with the authorities on how normalcy could be restored.
Prior to 1994, immigrants from elsewhere faced discrimination and even violence in South Africa. Sadly, the situation did not abate after the democratisation of the country in 1994.
Between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people reportedly died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks. In May 2008, a series of attacks left 62 people dead, although 21 of those who died were South Africans. The attacks were on account of xenophobia.
In 2015, another round of xenophobic attacks against immigrants in general prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens.
Besides, given the frequency of the attacks, parliaments and governments across the African continent and beyond, harped on the need to come together to address the challenge.
This informed the resolve of the Ekweremadu-led team of the Senate to lend its voice in returning normalcy to the African country.
Constituting the committee at the wake of the recent upheaval, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki urged the delegation to address the matter with the South African government, with the aim of ensuring safety and security of Nigerians in the country.
However, the trip has to be aborted over the alleged insistence of the House to send delegation to South Africa.
Announcing their withdrawal from the journey, Ekweremadu, who is the deputy president of the Senate, described the House members as “too anxious to go on the trip” and should be allowed to do so.
“On our trip to South Africa, we noted that the House of Representatives insists on going to South Africa independently. We thought we could lead a single and harmonized delegation of the National Assembly to avoid the embarrassment of multiple delegations. The Senate, therefore, decided to pull out to allow the House delegation to proceed.
One key area of contention between the two chambers was that while the Senate had planned to send a seven-man team, the House had listed six members for the trip.
It was further learnt that each member of the delegation would get $5,000 each as allowance for the trip, one of the reasons why more lawmakers hankered for enlisting on the trip.
The Guardian gathered that while the Senate insisted that both chambers should send equal number of delegates, who would be joined by officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the House wanted more delegates and desired to take the expedition independently.
“We were forced to pull out of the trip. How can the Senate consider sending five delegates and the House wants to send 10 members, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends 12? What will Nigerians say about the size of the delegation? They (Representatives) became so overzealous about the trip. When it was clear that they would remain adamant on sending a large number of delegates on the trip, we had to back out,” a source at the Senate said.
When contacted on the areas of disagreement over the trip, chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, said he was not in a position to speak on why the Senate decided to pull out of the trip.
“I am not a member of the Senate,” he stated, explaining that the decision to visit South Africa was first taken by the House, not the Senate. He claimed that the Senate only took similar decision soon after the House did.
Gbajabiamila said he would reserve his comments pending when he sees the Senate’s alleged reasons for aborting the tour. “Until I read such an outlandish claim, I will not believe it or respond to it,” the House Leader stated.
Nonetheless, it was learnt that the House delegation is worried that should it be subsumed into the Senate team, House members would be embarking on the trip as junior partners.
Already, going by the constitutional provisions, the Senate is superior to the House especially with the Senate solely empowered to screen and approve nominees of the executive.
Disagreements between lawmakers of the two sides of the divide are not new. They had even disagreed on using the chambers of House of Representatives for receiving the President and laying of annual budgets by the executive. The chamber is considered larger in space.
In addition, after the 2016 budget tagged “Budget of Change” was brought to the National Assembly by the executive, the Senate declared its copy missing. The House was, however, quick to publicly display its own copy and declare it intact. The Senate later noted that its copy might have been doctored or replaced with another document other than that submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Senate pointed accusing fingers at Buhari’s Senior Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, who curiously remained silent while the saga lasted.
The President refused to sign the budget following allegations from the presidency that even though the lawmakers had reduced the size of the budget to N6.03 trillion, they padded it by removing key projects of the executive and inserting theirs.
While the Senators were adamant that they were done with the budget, urging the President to sign it into law and send any amendment to them, the House played the mediatory role of agreeing to re-examine the budget. Eventually a committee was set up, which consisted of the executive and members from both chambers, to fine-tune the budget, leading to its signing into law by the President.
Across the world there are racial discriminations present between people belonging to different groups. They are victimized based on their cultural or ethnic beliefs.
The onus also lies in the legislature to ensure peace and peaceful coexistence among citizens by formulating people- friendly policies and working at domesticating treaties and conventions that would unite people of all races, cultures, religions and languages.