Question mark in the headline suggests robust doubt, lack of conviction, some bit of tentativeness – something editors should keep severely at bay. At least this much we were told by journalism teachers in those days.
But I have decided, sufficiently armed with some dose of impudence, to stick a question mark to this headline against the professional and even scholarly admonition of my journalism teachers. I am doing so, advisedly though. I have no doubt or any misgiving about a Nigerian Senate, the upper chamber of the bicameral legislature, which is making efforts or better still, planning to make efforts to turn a new leaf, to be born-again in the canonical fashion of a modern day Christian who has decided, through some spiritual penitence and all, to re-establish his or her relationship with God after some years of prodigal escapades and some iniquitous disregard for the Biblical litany of thou shall not do this, and thou shall not do that and so forth and so on.
Last week there was a little story in Daily Trust tucked away where such stories are tucked away when they don’t, in the professional estimation of the big boss, the editor, merit a roaring headline or a first page treatment. It is a story of the noble efforts of the Senate – point of correction, the National Assembly for which the Senate is the senior partner – making the aforementioned plans to embark on image redemption.
The story said Senator Ahmad Lawan had been appointed chairman of a panel to address the negative perception of the National Assembly by the people they represent. The membership cut across the two chambers and it has a representative of the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies. They want to enlighten Nigerians on the constitutional responsibilities of the National Assembly, especially as they concern constituency projects.
Such laudable, pragmatic and giant steps by the representatives of the people deserve a more prominent treatment in the news media but other earth-shaking developments in the week had sought to eclipse these eminently patriotic efforts of the legislators to educate the electorate about their duties.
The epic battle to save the soul of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, had dominated the news. The sensational stories of intrigues and betrayals involving the high and the hoi polloi of the party were too thrilling and even salacious to play second fiddle to the story of the yeomen task of house cleaning and image laundering by the Lawan committee. The legislatures’ story also suffered from the grim competition for space with other equally salacious servings from Lai Mohammed, the information minister and the erudite spokesman of the government, and his prominent customers – those who made it to the long and still lengthening list of alleged treasury looters.
And now that President Muhammadu Buhari has declared his intention to contest for a second term in the 2019 presidential election, the shockwave arising from this predictable Buhari act will do much to drown the committee’s work. But it is a task that must be done for obvious reasons.
For one, the assignment has to do with the political education of the masses of the people adjudged ignorant of the workings and the responsibilities of the honourable men and women in the House of Representatives and the distinguished senators whose thankless job in Abuja seem to be grossly unappreciated by their ignorant constituents. During the proposed interaction with their people, the Lawan committee will, hopefully, educate the people on why they have to embark on constituency projects. They are the representatives of the people and they know what the people want. And if the Federal government far away in Abuja, is not sensitive enough to the yearnings and aspirations of the people, they – senators and the honourables – are. And they insist that they be allowed to embark on constituency projects. If the government does not do their bidding, they would resort to self-help. All the noise the people hear back home about budget padding is nothing more than the little money they want to add to the budget in the interest of the people. I guess they would be given a round of applause.
It will also provide an opportunity, not for the people to ask questions and interrogate their representatives but, for them to get enlightened about some intricate things regarding service and rewards, something so tricky that even professors and senior advocates seem eternally unable to comprehend. The news has been going round that each senator takes home the sum of N13.5 million monthly. This is apart from their official salaries and allowances all consolidated and approved by the appropriate authority. The forum will be an opportunity to explain to the uninitiated the mechanism and the rationale and the raison d’etre for this payment, if such payment there is.
At this point someone in the audience, possibly a teacher who has not been paid his salaries for almost one year and more, would interject to say the figure had been confirmed by another distinguished senator of worth and integrity, someone by name Shehu Sani from Kaduna State. I would not be surprised if he is not shouted down and be told that Shehu Sani was merely playing politics and telling blatant lies. After all, which politician has ever been accused of speaking the truth?
But the impudent teacher, driven by hunger and anger, would recall what Professor Itse Sagay said of the legislators. If he recalled correctly, the professor who is the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption said “our current ruling class, particularly the Senate has no value, no honour, no vision, no integrity, no compassion for the sufferings of fellow Nigerians. The attachment of distinguished to their name is a horrible bastardization and gross abuse of that term.” The committee would educate the people and remind them that they have reported the professor to the president because they have found him to be a purveyor of hate speech. In any case they would ask: can the professor win election even as a councillor in his local government area? It is all bad belle from a man who is enthralled by the glittering attraction of the Villa.
In fact, if anybody needs the Lawan committee’s enlightenment campaign, it is this professor and his fellow travellers. Has he forgotten that the nature of the job they do in the National Assembly requires much more than the pittance of the N13.5 million people are shouting about? Have the people forgotten that the stingy president has abolished Ghana-must go bags?
And when they compare their annual emoluments alleged to be the equivalent of $1.7 U.S. with the $400,000 the U.S. president earns in a year, they, these professors and senior advocates (names withheld for fear of litigation) are simply advertising their ignorance. What does the American president do other than tweeting and threatening fire and fury and provoking trade war when not sacking his staff?
And those who talk about minimum wage and use the miserable figure to aggravate the people’s anger against their representatives should understand what it takes to be a senator or house member including the ones that don’t talk, don’t sing and don’t dance.
The next most important thing this Eight Senate has done, outside passing a record 96 bills and still counting and the shedding of Senate President Saraki’s pension and allowances from Kwara State, is the setting up of the Lawan Committee on image laundering. When they are done, Nigerians will know the truth and the truth will set them free.