By the time you are reading this, you probably must’ve discovered what a lawyer friend of mine told me last Wednesday afternoon. He pointed out that there is a clause in the Nigerian Constitution which stipulates that when a ministerial nominee is not screened by the Senate after 16 days since his or her name was presented to the Senate, that nominee automatically qualifies to be appointed minister of the federal republic of Nigeria. This will mean that former Rivers state governor and now ministerial nominee from the same state, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi as of today (Wednesday, October 21) actually doesn’t need to go through any screening process by the Senate because his name has been with the Senate since September 30th.
And, in any case, considering the humbuggery going on in the Senate in the name of “ministerial screening”, it just as well might have been better if the entire charade is called off and the entire list of nominees rubber-stamped and returned to the president for deployment to their appropriate ministries. Maybe the senators have time to kill, but the rest of the country certainly have no such luxury; we are at least 20 years behind Egypt, which has since gone beyond surmounting the basic ingredients for development: reliable national statistics, uninterrupted power supply, sound and affordable healthcare delivery system, qualitative, affordable education to all citizens and a thriving, patriotic middle class. And Egypt is not even the best in Africa! Neither, for that is it a fully developed democracy in the real definition of the word.
In our own case, since the return of democracy to the country in 1999, attention has always been on the presidency and who occupies the office of president of the federal republic. It is only from time to time, especially during ceremonial occasions such as the screening of persons to be appointed to executive offices, that the media and the general public turn their searchlight on the Senate and the National Assembly as a whole. Once the ceremonies are over, few people bother to pin down the legislators and subject them to thorough examination to understand and assess how well they perform their functions. As a result of our collective nonchalance, the legislators themselves have become used to treating their responsibilities with appalling negligence and incompetence. There have been reports, which hardly get the media attention they deserve, of members in both legislative houses at the federal level spending not one but two to three legislative sessions without sponsoring a single bill or even making any meaningful contributions to debates on the floor of the chambers.
Two of the basic functions of the Senate are to make, amend or repeal laws as the case may be, for the good governance of the country, and the second is to ensure that the executive arm of government does not overstep its boundary in the execution of the laws as prescribed by the Nigerian constitution. This is where their famous (or infamous) “oversight” functions creep in. Where the two, that is the executive and the legislature disagree, the third arm of government, the judiciary, steps in to clear the ambiguity. The role performance and division of labour are supposed to be this simple; and they are indeed that simple even in other democracies that are bigger and more complex than Nigeria such as India.
Things have however reached a stage in our country where the ambivalence in the Senate has become so embarrassingly regular and frustrating to watch that we should seriously consider scrapping the Senate altogether; or at least whittle down the job description of the Senate to a level befitting the senators’ track record of poor performance.
Last Tuesday for instance, the Senate set a new record of ignominy for itself. First, unlike the penultimate week where the same Senate scratched through and, albeit unimpressively, screened 18 nominees in two days, last Tuesday, the Senate curiously decided to scale down its activities and raised the bar for poor performance by screening only two–two for God’s sake–nominees and sheepishly adjourned sitting for another 48 hours; mainly because most of them needed to escort the Senate president to answer questions at the Court of Conduct Tribunal the following day.
But that was not all. Among the two people they screened on that lazy Tuesday, one just happened to be the wife of one of them. Her name is Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim, who is currently a member of the Federal House of Representatives. To start with, even if there are no legal obstacles, is it morally acceptable that having sought and obtained a peoples’ mandate, with specific promises enshrined in a presumed Social Contract, that that same mandated person can just dump that same contract and just move on to another contact without obtaining the consent of the people? But that is not even the problem with Honourable Khadija’s nomination, because we can assume that she did obtain the consent of her constituents to accept to serve as a minister. The thorny issue around Hon. Khadijah is that by her own admission, the lady and her husband between them have dominated the political space in Yobe state for over a decade. Her husband, who is currently serving as a senator was governor of Yobe state for a cumulative period of ten years until2007; and from then on he and his wife have been the representatives of their Yobe East, zone ‘A’ constituency at the federal legislature up till today. Clearly something doesn’t add up here, especially given the fact that the same Yobe state happens to be in the unenviable position of being one of the unluckiest states in reaping the benefits of democracy for all of the period that Mr. and Mrs. Bukar Abba Ibrahim have been ruling over the state in one capacity or the other. And now, as if all of that is not enough, Mrs. Abba Ibrahim has to be the one to abandon her peoples’ mandate at the House and become a minister of the federal republic.
It is possible though, that this emerging political dynasty is being built with the full consent of the people of Yobe state; but even so there are quite a number of people who are already showing their displeasure over this insensitive dynastic trend. I have read in the newspapers and social media different versions of protests all communicating one message, which in summary amount to this: “No to the concentration of political power not only in one constituency or one household, but in one bedroom”.
Whatever be case, Mrs. Abba Ibrahim has already been confirmed. She was asked, by her husband and his colleagues in the Senate, to “take a bow and go”. Whether she received that special treatment because of her husband who was among the senators that disappointing Tuesday afternoon, or in deference to the memory of her politically influential father and grand father (may their souls rest in peace); or because of some outstanding quality about her which the senators only knew to the exclusion of the rest of us, there it was. In your face, so to speak.
But it is necessary to point out, for the good of all concerned, that though building political dynasties is a legitimate political pursuit for politicians all over the world, it does come with inherent dangers. In almost all cases, political dynasties inevitably generate resentment from the people. In my opinion, the strong bond between former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the Libyan people which had resisted American awesome power for three decades, started to unravel when it became obvious that Gaddafi was grooming his son Saif to succeed him. In Iraq, Saddm Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay played a significant role in generating odium for him by their unrestrained involvement in the affairs of governance; in Egypt, former president Husni Mubarak was despised more for the behaviour of his sons and the not-too-subtle indicator that he was grooming them to succeed him than for any specific crime he’d committed against the people; it is also very likely that events in Syria might have turned out less bloody if it was somebody else, rather than Bashar Assad that had succeeded his father Hafiz Assad. Nearer home in Nigeria, many people developed a negative perception of former head of state General Sani Abacha as much for his iron rule as for the infamous adventures of his children. In Yola people very close to former governor of the state Murtala Nyako say that he could behave survived the political crisis which consumed him had he not handed the reins of the governance of the state to his son.
What all this means is that the temptation to creat a political dynasty might be irresistible and the process of doing so exciting; but very often the consequences of that are scorn and resentment from the people which they often deploy without reason, without provocation, and without warning. This is without any misgivings whatsoever to the integrity, competency level or even the suitability of Honourable Khadija to the position being proposed; it is rather, a matter of striking a balance between what is a right and what is politically correct. Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim has won election as governor three times (1992, 1999,2003) and as senator also three times (2007, 2011, 2015) and his wife has won her election also three times. So either the people of Yobe are the dumbest people alive, or there is a genuine connection between the Abba Ibrahims and the people. I believe it is the later. But even so, no support should be taken for granted, especially political support; and no relationship should be overstretched. Mr. and Mrs. Bukar Abba Ibrahim, while they celebrate their good fortune, should be mindful of that.
This is wishing Hon. Khadija a successful tenure as minister of the federal republic of Nigeria.
By Garba Deen Muhammad.