Three months into a global pandemic, the Nigerian legislature has been forced to contemplate the intense rot that has permeated the Nigerian government and its public service. In response to the unique challenges that the pandemic and the consequential economic downturn that has fallowed, Nigeria’s legislature has had to adapt by forging new alliances, pushing new legislation and challenging the executive on its mandate to protect and enable the citizenry.
We have compiled the best, worst and most unexpected turns from the legislature for the month of June.
BAD: Ahmed Jaha Babawo (Damboa/Gwoza/Chibok Federal Constituency, Borno)
Over the last three months, Nigeria has recorded a significant spike the number of cases of gender based violence and sexual assault. The violent rape and murder of student of the University of Benin triggered nation-wide agitation and protests that led to a state of emergency on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and a restructuring of existing legislation around sexual assault. While contributing to a motion to condemn the string of rape incidents in the country at the lower chamber of the National Assembly on Thursday, June 4, 2020, Ahmed Jaha Babawo representing the Damboa/Gwoza/Chibok constituency in Borno state was quoted as saying:
“Women should cultivate the habit of dressing properly and decently to avoid unnecessary harassment and abuse by men, because men are not wood.”
This statement invalidated the lawmaker’s previous efforts to enforce a harsher penalty for persons convicted of rape. He had pushed for the maximum penalty of death, or life imprisonment and gained significant traction. However, it was his comment on women’s dressing that stuck out for many Nigerians after a report of Thursday’s session by Pulse Nigeria attracting national outrage with many Nigerians calling and messaging him with condemnation after his contact information was shared online.
Borno State Rep Ahmadu Jaha also stated “men are not wood” in the heat of this rape crisis. PLEASE let’s email and make calls and educate him and ask him to retract – his number 08038775995
His email- [email protected] https://t.co/0QZz7YvFWV
— maryam laushi (@MimieLaushi) June 5, 2020
BAD: Idris Ahmed Wase (Wase Federal Constituency, Plateau)
Idris Ahmed Wase showed his hand when he showed public support for convicted lawmaker, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu. Kalu was disgraced late last year when he became one of the first lawmakers to be convicted of misappropriation of funds and punished with a 12 year sentence for misappropriating N7.65 billion during his time as governor of Abia state. Orji was released only six months into his sentence thanks to a legal loophole leveraged by his legal team.
During Wase’s visit, which seeks to legitimize Kalu’s conviction as an error of judgement rather than due justice, and that prison sentences for misappropriating of funds and other crimes should be treated as an expected feature of political office. According a report by the Nation, this is how Wase describes Kalu’s incarceration.
“My Leader, the late Chief Solomon Lar, told me not to fear, as a politician, to go to prison. He told me that going to prison is a badge of honour. If you are a good politician, you should be willing to taste prison experience because it will come to you in very many dimensions.”
Wase’s eagerness to minimize criminal convictions and explain away corruption in the senate should worry every Nigerian he represents.
BAD: Shehu Nicholas Garba (Jema’a/Sanga Federal Constituency, Kaduna)
In the midst of an economic recessions and massive cuts to the annual economic budget in vital sectors like education and healthcare, Nigerian legislators have proven there is no expense too high for their comfort. Take for instance, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Anti-corruption. Hon. Shehu Nicholas Garba just appointed 79 aides to his office, for the sole purpose of assisting him discharge his duties.
Chosen strategically from the 23 wards that make up his federal constituency Hon. Garba swears his 72 aides will bring representation closer to the people. Considering all aides were chosen from his party and the local governments in his constituency, in a period where only the most essential work is being done, we will be watching to see how ‘impactful’ his army of aides are.
The kicker, each honourable is only entitled to 5 aides.
BAD: Christopher Ekpenyong (Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District)
When will Nigerian politicians finally learn that you cannot keep interfering with the market and expect economic progress in the country. From border closures, to bans on important raw materials for several industries, it seems Nigerian politicians are only focused on pushing motions and bills that create the illusion of activity while severely hindering the ability of the industry to function. If Senator Christopher Ekpenyong is allowed to have his way, the printing industry will be the next to suffer interference from the Nigerian legislature.
Ekpenyong pushed the motion for the Nigerian Customs Service to review import duties for published books and raw paper. According to him, review duties would create the kind of environment that will allow the Chartered INstitute of Professional Printers of Nigeria (CIPPON) by making it more lucrative for clients to print books locally rather than print internationally and import locally. Where have we heard this kind of policy before?
Oh right, with fabrics. A simiar motion was raised in the 90’s to protect the Nigerian textile mills, but the lack of innovation and stiff competition from foreign producers who manufactured and sold cheaper eventually killed the mills. If CIPPON knows what is good for them, they better run from our good senator.
BAD: Mohammed Ali Ndume (Borno South Senatorial District)
Senator Ali Ndume has been very busy these last few weeks. Like Idris Wase, Ndume is pitching his tent and openly supporting another politician/civil servant accused of a federal crime. Ndume is standing as surety for the embattled Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina, the former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Force Team who was accused of siphoning millions of Naira from the institution and went into exile before he was arrested and charged. Maina’s bail cost a staggering 1 Billion Naira.
As if that wasn’t problematic enough, Ndume has spoken against civil servants receiving full salaries during the Coronavirus pandemic which has forced them to suspend in-person work. Ndume suggested this during a media briefing in his home constituency, suggesting that the civil service is costing the government too much and that civil servants in lower tiers be furloughed and offered palliatives till the pandemic subsides.
Considering the average civil servant earns only a little above minimum wage (less than 100 dollars a month), and the average senator’s monthly salary dwarfs this amount by several hundred million naira, perhaps Ndume should take his own advice and take a pay cut for his services.
GOOD: James Faleke (Ikeja Federal Constituency, Lagos)
Not everyone is moderate about decisively addressing sexual violence. Especially not Hon. James Faleke of the Ikeja Federal Constituency. Faleke is about as hardcore as they come when it comes to sexual violence and wants the maximum punishment meted out to serial rapists: chemical castration. Chemical castration as an alternative to life in prison or the death sentence for rapists and sexual offenders has been tested in Scandinavian countries and seen to reduce the incidence of repeat offence from 40% to 5%. However, ethical discussions have kept it from being widely adopted as a preventative/punishment measure for rape.
That didn’t deter Hon. Faleke from proposing it as a solution to rape in the country. His prayer to have it approved, but he did successfully get the House of Representatives talking decisively about the scourge of rape in the country and sustainable ways to address it. The House did come to a consensus, that like the Senate, there needs to be stricter punishments for sexual violence against all parties.
GOOD: Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North Senatorial District)
After years of government interference in the affairs of the National Electric Regulation Council (NERC), the Senate is finally ready to concede defeat and allow the organization return to the drawing board and redraft a strategy that can actually provide sustainable results in the power sector. Leading this new charge is the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan. It was he who admitted that despite several interventions by the federal government running into trillions of Naira, there was no improvement of power supply.
As part of the government’s commitment to transparency in this process, the Senate is mandating its federal committee on power to independently audit the government’s efforts to intervene in the power sector since its privatization and assess how helpful or harmful their efforts have been to solving the nation’s power problems.
This is a very important step in the right direction for the future of Nigeria’s economy, true market forces will provide the levelling ground for players in the power industry and kickstart true innovation.
GOOD: Matthew Urhoghide (Edo South Senatorial District)
The Central Bank of Nigeria has exhibited extreme impunity in its dealings since Nigeria’s return to democracy. From refusing to publicly share it annual records, refusing to declare profits from its dealings with the financial industry and its arbitrary financial policies. But it might finally get a slap on the wrist if Senator Matthew Urhoghide is allowed his way.
As the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Senate, Senator Urhoghide is acting on an audit query from the Auditor General of the Federation to explain why it has not remitted $3.3bn from the $21.3bn collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service as foreign tax in 2015. This isn’t the first time CBN has recorded significant shortfalls in its declaration of revenue. During Alhaji Sanusi Lamido’s tenure, there was also a scandal that revolved around unreported revenue.
Urhoghide has given the CBN’s top officials until next week to provide the required documents to prove that the discrepancies between what was recorded and what declared by the CBN. The BN has tried to explain away the difference as a shortfall from changing currencies.
To see the CBN held accountable in this way is a good sign for our growing democracy, we hope they follow through.
GOOD: Garba Dati Muhammad (Sabon Gari Federal Constituency, Kaduna)
It is incredibly rare to see a Nigerian legislator move motions that seeks to contextualize the place of Nigeria in global politics. It is even rarer when that legislator is not only seeking to improve Nigeria’s global standing in world politics, but is also advocating legislation that strengthens Nigeria’s relationships on the continent and in the diaspora. Honorable Garba Dati Muhammad is that legislator and the motion he is championing is a foreign policy that leverages on the global agitation for justice for black persons in Africa and the diaspora.
The motion Muhammad sponsored, was one he described as of ‘urgent public importance’. And indeed, marches across the world and even in Nigeria, advocating for the value of black lives and demanding that racist and bigoted legislation, process and practices be abandoned in favour of progressive politics erupted, forcing very difficult conversations. Garba Dati Muhammad believes that Nigeria’s foreign policy going forward must reflect this reality and honour the legacies of Nigerians who fought tirelessly to end race-based oppression on the continent during the Apartheid era.
Not only did Hon. Muhammad convince the house to adopt this motion, he also got them to act. The house mandated the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora to collaborate and organise a conference of local and international stakeholders towards fashioning comprehensive approaches to the ugly trend.
GOOD: Femi Gbajabiamila (Surulere Federal Constituency 1, Lagos)
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has been on a roll in the last month. He has especially pulled his weight on the international front, proving himself a powerful spokesperson for the Nigerian government, able to provide necessary results in a conflict fraught climate. Nigeria’s sovereignty was recently tested when a building within the compound of the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana was targeted for demolition and successfully demolished with no discernible reason for the provocation.
The land on which an embassy is built for all intents and purposes is considered land belonging to the guest government and wholly sovereign and answerable only to the leaders of the visitor’s government. To demolish a building within the compound of another country’s embassy without just cause is an insult at best and an act of war in the worst of circumstances. This was Gbajabiamila’s official response to the fiasco
“If Ghana has a problem and is approaching it through subterranean moves, then what do you think the outcome of the legal proceeding will be? So, I think we should pursue it from that angle; I think we should make it clear for the authorities in Ghana that Nigeria is not going to sit down and fold its arms.
“Reciprocity is a legitimate instrument in foreign relations. The doctrine of reciprocity is what should be considered.”
With such stern responses, the Ghanaian government has tendered an official apology and is actively working to rectify the situation.
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Political Journalist, Analyst and Social Change Advocate with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.