Why pay salary to a senator in prison?
A declaration the other day that a convicted senator’s seat would not be declared vacant and the convict would continue to be paid his salary and emoluments until Supreme Court concludes the case is curious and reproachful.
The disclosure by the spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, about the convicted Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Orji Kalu, has once again brought to the fore the need for us to consider a redirection of our moral compass.
According to the Senate’s spokesperson, Senator Orji Uzo Kalu, who was on December 5, 2019, sentenced to 12 years in imprisonment for offences bordering on fraud and abuse of office by a Federal High Court in Lagos, would continue to receive his salary and other benefits while in prison until the convicted senator has exhausted all avenues for the appeal of his conviction. This is in spite of the call by many Nigerians for the Senate to declare Kalu’s seat vacant having been convicted of fraud, a ground for disqualification of a senator by the constitution.
While it is instructive to note that the conviction of a serving senator for fraud is not a ground for disqualification during the pendency of an appeal against same, however, basic moral sense of decency dictates that the senator resigns his position, while he seeks to clear his name, for according to Plato, good people do not need the law to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the law.
Members of the National Assembly are elected to represent the interest of their constituents. They are to serve as the voice of the people on all fronts. But the sad reality, however, is that for the period it will take the appellate courts to determine Kalu’s appeal, and while he remains in prison, the good people of Abia North Senatorial District will have no voice at the Senate. The senator should, by all means, explore every legal avenue available in the determination of his innocence. However, people should not be made to suffer for his personal choices, which led to his conviction. In the same vein, the quest for the determination of his innocence should not be made to the detriment of the millions of people he was elected to serve.
Nigerians cannot continue to cry wolf where we have chosen to elect persons with questionable character into public offices. Indeed, there’s everything wrong with a system, which elects or appoints a man with a pending criminal charge against him into office. Besides, how do we classify the people who go all out to vote for him, the presumption of innocence guaranteed him by the constitution notwithstanding? As with Kalu, some serving public officials were either being investigated by an anti-graft agency or standing trial for some form of abuse of public office at the time they were presented by their political parties and elected or appointed into office.
It will be recalled that a former deputy governor of Osun State, Iyiola Omisore in 2003 won his senatorial election while in prison awaiting trial. Senator Godswill Akpabio was being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for diversion of public funds at the time he contested for Senate and subsequently appointed Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.
Former Governor of Abia State, Senator Theodore Orji was elected governor while in prison custody for charges bothering on fraud and was still being investigated at the time he was elected for Senate in 2015 and 2019. Others include Senator Danjuma Goje, Senator Buruji Kashamu, etc. The current Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Muhammed had been charged to court by the ICPC on allegation of fraud concerning some digital switch contracts when he was re-nominated to the federal cabinet.
Leaders of political parties must understand that they hold the party in trust for the people and must take measures to ensure that only credible persons are given the opportunity to be elected on its platform. Our politicians should understand that they are elected or appointed to promote the welfare of the people. Where can it be said that the lack of representation of the constituents of Abia North occasioned by the imprisonment of their representative is of any benefit to them?
As Nigerians we should be more circumspect with the choice of politicians in whose favour we chose to exercise our votes. We can be guilty of complicity and give the impression that the majority of Nigerians are corrupt. How else do we explain the constant recycling of indicted public office holders in a country of over 190 million people? Won’t people conclude that indeed leaders are a reflection of the people?
Finally, the point that needs to sink in is that the Senate should not be talking to the people about the legality of their action concerning a convict. They can annoy the people with the letter of the law without due attention to the spirit of the same law. Who will represent the senatorial district of Kalu, for instance, if the Supreme Court doesn’t settle the criminal charge, which began in 2007 before 2023? Indeed, the Senate needs to explain this position more clearly, lest we will conclude that the chamber is not as hallowed as has been noted, after all.