It had all the elements of drama. But, deeply etched on Senator Smart Adeyemi’s histrionics and lachrymose display was the dilemma of the Ninth Senate’s being unequally yoked with the Presidency.
The Senator representing Kogi West, while making his contributions to the debate on the nagging security situation in the country, gave the impression that some of the lawmakers, particularly those on the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) are truly fed up with the security in the country.
Their predicament seems to be compounded by the demand of espirit de corps, to be ‘on the same page with the executives’ because, while the ship of state continues to derail, Nigerians were united in wondering whether the federal lawmakers are still alive to their responsibilities.
Close watchers of the National Assembly also noted how the lawmakers have over time been held hostage by a perceived unwritten pact not to rock the executive boat. Consequently, Senate President Ahmad Lawan’s desperate ploy to remain on same page and paragraph with the executive seem not to be in their interest anymore.
Many senators, who seem not favourably disposed with the rubberstamp tag of the 9th Senate, have been eating the humble pile in silence. But, with failures in many areas of national life, particularly the worsening insecurity in the country, it seems the chickens are coming home to roost. Have the disenchanted Senators began to speak up and bare their minds, no matter how unpalatable it may be to the governing party?
It is definitely not the best of times for the governing APC. The time for trading blames with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may be over. The reality seems to have dawned on Senators.
KNOWING that Nigerians are watching and taking notes, but apparently enraged by the overwhelming insecurity in the country, Senator Adeyemi went hysterical during the plenary on April 27, 2021. He wept profusely as he contributed to a motion on a recent case of insecurity in Niger State.
Senator Sani Musa, representing Niger East, had in his motion, disclosed that Boko Haram had overrun three Local Government Areas of Niger State. The situation, he said, heightens apprehension that the Federal capital is just two hours away from the theater of attacks in the three local councils already under the grip of the insurgents.
Adeyemi, who has been an APC stalwart, threw caution to the wind as he spoke agonisingly about the situation in the country. He even urged fellow APC lawmakers to rise up to the occasion and urge President Muhammadu Buhari to wake up from slumber.
His words: “We cannot pretend that we are capable of confronting the situation in our hands, America as powerful as they are, when the effect of CORONA virus pandemic overwhelmed them, it came to a point that China came to their rescue.
“We shouldn’t pretend that we don’t need foreign support now, let nobody deceive us. A lot of billions of Naira has been voted for security services, nothing is coming out of it. We wouldn’t wait until our nation gets burnt, let us shout and call for foreign support.
“I am an APC man and I have been supporting my party, but the President should get to know that we, who are supporters of APC can no longer keep quiet, the President must rise to the occasion. You will not see the truth and you are afraid to say it, until you die?
“The nation is on fire, the President must rise to the occasion. It costs us nothing to ask for foreign support, we must rise up to the occasion we must bring in people to save this country or else we will be consumed. It has got to a point that we cannot sleep with our two eyes closed…
“Every part of this country is threatened from the North to the south, nobody is safe, nobody can travel 15km in our nation, I feel like shedding tears for a country that we grew up where nobody harasses you, when you travel from Lagos to Maiduguri.
“I have done it in times past, today I cannot travel to Kaduna or to Niger State, where I was born. The President must know that this is a bad time for our nation. We must look for foreign support to save this nation.
“We must rise to it, they are killing people in the west, south and the North. We should shut down the National Assembly, let us shut it down if we cannot save this country, we stay in our homes. Our country is bleeding, people are in poverty, people are hungry, there is no food, the insecurity is threatening us, it is better we are not here, people are dying, everyday Nigerians are dying, we must rise up to the occasion, I so submit.”
Expectedly Adeyemi’s dispassionate did no go without a contrary voice, especially as his stress on the ravaging insecurity was perceived as an affront and open attack on the governing party and the Presidency.
Was that an open attack or call for the Senate leadership to speak truth to power? Senator Oluremi Tinubu decided not to let Adeyemi go scot-free. From the background, Senator Tinubu tackled Adeyemi, asking, “Are you in PDP? Are you a wolf in sheep’s clothing?”
Although Adeyemi, ignored the tantrums from his colleague and fellow party member, he was emphatic in showing the misinterpretations on what is happening in the country.
Nigerians took up the refrain in a curious backlash as they hit back at the Senator representing Lagos East for her attempt to politicize and thereby trivialise the insecurity issue. Some observers said her counter comment represents the stance of top government officials that the opposition was overblowing the country’s security challenges.
A lawmaker from a minority party said: “It is tragic that in the face of the threats against the corporate survival of the country, members of the National Assembly are yet to think of any meaningful effort at resolving the problems caused by insecurity.
“In other climes, lawmakers should have summoned the executive arm to explain why the fight against insecurity is not yielding expected result.”
Recently, the National Assembly was also pilloried by some pro-Presidency elements for inviting President Muhammadu Buhari to explain the status of the war against insecurity.
It was glaring that the legislative arm of the government has surrendered its role of deepening and sustaining democracy; hence lawmakers seemingly grovel in servitude to the executive arm, which it should ordinarily hold accountable.
Of the more than 15 senators that contributed to the debate on the activities of Boko Haram terrorists in three Niger State local governments and other parts of Nigeria, none was happy with the state of things.
Not too long ago, there was a similar debate on the armed forces reform bill. When it came up for second reading, the debate almost turned the red chamber upside down following disagreements among lawmakers. That the bill could not be passed for second reading was mainly because of similar sentiments of protecting the party holding majority control.
The perceived and unusual abrupt ruling by the Senate President did not go down well with the minority leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who sponsored the bill. As a ranking Senator, Abaribe promptly invoked order 73, thereby calling for division, which apparently demonstrated his resentment with Lawan’s ruling and his desire for the real voting. The effrontery rattled the Senate President and he waxed authoritarian in an attempt to ignore Abaribe’s invocation of order 73.
The real devil in the bill was thereby exposed, as it became obvious that Lawan did not want the division, which would have brought to the open the simmering animosity among Senators. Was there a hidden black spot in the armed forces reform bill or was the devil in Lawan’ Senate Presidency, with its avowed position to remain on the same page with the executive?
Some lawmakers expressed disgust that even in the midst of clear opposition on many issues, Lawan had stood his ground to truncate moves for real legislation to take place. This, they say, have always been the greatest undoing of the 9th Senate.
A similar development happened just before the National Assembly proceeded on the Easter break, when the bill came up for the second reading. Out of unexpressed fears, some senators killed the bill without allowing it to even pass through the second reading.
By its citation, this was “A Bill for an Act to give effect to section 219 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to provide for the establishment of the Armed Forces Service Commission and for other related matters, 2021.”
But, during the debate on the general principles of the Bill, to pave way for its Second reading, many Senators from the Northern part of the country with the exception of the Senate Majority leader, Abdullahi Yahaya, raised serious objections to the Bill.
Senators from the Southern part of the country argued in support of the Bill. The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, who initially supported the Bill went further to disclose that there were devils in the details of the Bill. Uproar, bitter ethnic sentiments, use of foul and un-parliamentary languages overtook the Senate.
At the end, Lawan was left in a dilemma when order 73 was invoked by the Senate minority leader, Eyinnaya Abaribe. It was as if the mere mention of order 73 threw Lawan off-balance in the dread that if the order was sustained, the center may no longer hold in the Senate.
However, Senator James Manager, who is one of acclaimed few original ranking members of the Senate came to Lawan’s rescue by advising the Senate President to act appropriately in a manner that the lawmakers will not be brought to ridicule.
No sooner had Lawan ruled and immediately called on the leader of the Senate to proceed with the next agenda, than a point of order was raised by the Minority Leader. “My distinguished colleagues, Order 73,” Abaribe had declared.
For clarity and emphasis, he added: “Any senator may challenge the opinion of the President or the chairman by claiming a division. You have the right to vote, so Mr. President I call for division and I want us to vote one after the other.”
Cutting in, Lawan said, “Let me first of all say that it is not my opinion, it’s not my opinion that the Nays had it. We took a vote the Nays outnumbered or outweighed the Ayes. So, I think it is not right or it is not correct the minority leader imputes the fate of the bill to the President of the Senate. I think you may find another thing, but I didn’t rule inappropriately.”
To that, Abaribe had joined, “Mr. President, I have been in this senate since 2007 and anytime anybody stands up to claim a division, division is voted upon. I am not saying that you did right or wrong, I am only saying give me my right and my right is that I am saying all our members here have to get up and vote for or against.”
Lawan sought solace in his Deputy, saying ‘you raised your hand
DSP. Omo-Agege, in a bid to rescue the President, said, “I was only going to point out what you already said. The essence of order 73 is to challenge the opinion of the President or the chairman, the powers you just exercised is not an opinion and therefore not subject to order 73, I so move.”
But, James Manager in saving the day said, “Mr. President, we have had senators challenging the opinion of the Senate President in the past, the ruling of the President of the Senate, order 73 is very clear on that. Mr. President, this is Parliament is about twenty something years old.
“Why it will go it will vindicate you. Not your own opinion now, the opinion is being challenged and once your opinion is being challenged, you will allow the voting to take place.
“I sincerely believe that to wriggle yourself out of this you should allow a division to take place for people to now vote. From the nays and the ayes it will be you did not allow this to go down as if you have not allowed division to take place here.
“It is a humble advise Mr. President. I am an old man not by my age but I am fairly old here, divisions have taken place here and most times it has not gone against the ruling of the presiding officers. So let this be one of those ones.”
Lawan heeded the advice and opted for a closed-door, during which Abaribe was prevailed upon to drop the order 73. In the rowdiness that ensued, the Senate President after about two minutes called for a closed session.
After the closed session that lasted for about 20 minutes, Lawan announced that Abaribe had agreed to withdraw his opposition to the ruling that nailed the Bill. The Senate Minority leader later formally withdrew his protest and even announced that he had stepped down the entire Bill.