The Senate in Nigeria's Political Development


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The Senate in Nigeria’s Political Development:

The case study of Anambra




Uche Chukwumerije



Culled from VANGUARD, Sunday, January 09, 2005

SENATE in Nigeria’s political development: Senate, the upper tier of the legislative arm, has historically played a stabilizing role in a polity. This is so because it is attributed with maturity and experience besides its peculiar virtue of representationally balancing out and overarching geopolitical inequalities of members of a plural political community.

In Nigeria, this role has been very necessary to engender a feeling of participation by the various components of the fragile union and help our fledgling union to maintain a clarity of national perspective and rigorous discourse within a culture of vigorous democratic practice. Today, in the present phase of the development of our democracy, such a role is critical. This is a transition phase in which Nigeria’s political system is groping its way out of the long dark shadows of military command-rule and generational disorientation. The transition has to be guided to a wider democratic space.

Your performance, the performance of the legislature, will provide the crucial guide. Therefore, your unblinking commitment to the rule of law, your courage in upholding democratic values, and the rigour of your examination of national issues could be the main factor in determining the depth of our democracy, or indeed the prospects of the endurance of our democratic order.

You cannot afford to fail in this task. In the effervescence of our multi-ethnic politics, your maturity must provide the bulwark, protecting the future of democracy and the future of Nigeria from the continual pulls of centrifugal forces.

Senate in Anambra: Senate’s involvement in the Anambra crisis has been characterized by dignity, caution and a little less than corporate unity of purpose. The first attempt was a fact-finding exercise which produced Senator David Mark report (August 2004). The report is yet to be debated. The second involvement is a peace mission which produced Senator Arthur Nzeribe report. The report has not been debated. However, soon after, there was nearly an attempt by Senator Arthur Nzeribe to formulate a strategy to convince the Senate to see the wisdom of declaration of a state of emergency in Anambra State. The third involvement is the extension of the oversight functions of Senator Anisulowo’s States and Local Government Administration to Anambra. The report is currently before the Senate.

Although the Anisulowo Report does not offer a proper opportunity to discuss the Anambra issue for reasons which I shall outline shortly. Nonetheless the commotion and open dissent that greeted its introduction has created a historic sense of climax, a feel of the approach of a definitive moment whose time has come. We may then use this event to take a categorical stand - to review our past of prevarication, correct obvious lapses and properly locate Anambra crisis and State crises as positive instruments of strengthening the muscles of democratic culture and advancing the cause of constitutional democracy.

A Review: In conducting such a review, we must be guided by two questions. What is the role of the Senate as a constitutional body? The second is what is the role of the Senate as a political body? The two roles are inter-related but distinct. One allows the parameters of law to tame our hearts’ desires and check sectional distractions. The second brings our wisdom and statecraft to bear on the truth, as distinct from the legal fact, of a given issue, in the broader context of the imperatives of democratic culture and national integration.

Reviewed in this light, the Senate has to admit that its Constitutional role is severely limited, especially in the context of the prevalent but unspoken expectation that seems to focus mainly on the option of a declaration of a state of emergency as the solution to Anambra crisis. The verdict of the Constitution is unequivocal: Senate has no power of initiative on declaration of a state of emergency. Section 305 of the Constitution explicitly gives the power to the President. The specific definition of roles in the specific issue of declaration of state of emergency clearly precludes Senate’s general over-sight and law - making functions.

Therefore, to behave in a way

that suggests that Senate can initiate the process of declaration of a State of emergency is to encroach on the preserves of the Executive. To juxtapose such roles in such a highly sensitive issue will injure the letter of the Constitution and expose the Senate to the suspicion of allowing its hallowed chambers to be misused for other and unpatriotic interests.

The Constitutional reality must be respected. No where does the Constitution allow the power or principle of oversight functions to bestow on the Senate the status of a National Proconsular Overseer or a Super-national Class Senior Prefect. Such a posture is bound to inflict incalculable harm on the practice and rule of federalism

3. Our constitutional role: To deploy the full weight of its powerful position to the solution of Anambra crisis and enlargement of our democratic experience, Senate has to undertake a clear articulation of its constitutional role with political wisdom and legal correctness. Such an approach should begin with the following measures:

Respect for due process: Senate should respect its own tradition and rules. It traditionally puts on hold any issue which is sub-judice. Its sense of order has also traditionally discouraged it from skipping and jumping over issues already placed in a chronological order of sequence. The implications of precedent are clear to the prospects of early discussion of the Anambra crisis by the Senate. The first is the hurdle of sub-judice. The propriety and mode of Federal Government involvement in Anambra including any moot of declaration of state of emergency is currently a subject of litigation in the Supreme Court, in addition to an on-going investigation by a panel instituted by the ruling PDP. Senate has to await the termination of these proceedings.

The second hurdle is precedent. David Mark Report on the same issue is pending on the floor. The Senate has to conclude discussions on the Report before it can take up Anisulowo Report. The third is procedure. Anisulowo Report, laid on the table like dozens of oversight reports of several Committees, has to be treated like other oversight reviews. Nothing has happened in Anambra to compel a special attention to this Report. The recent flare of violence is a clinically planned commando act of external aggression. It is definitely not an index of the escalation of internal tension and social conflict in the State.

No case for state of emergency: Although the issue of immediate debate of the Anambra issue is foreclosed by Senate tradition and Rules, it will save us a lot of time if we constantly bear in mind that the situation in Anambra does not meet the stipulations in the Constitution for a state of emergency. I am encouraged to comment on this by the fact that at least one Senator has made the issue a subject of public discourse. Of the seven ingredients listed in the Constitution (Section 305: (a) - (g)), only two - 305 (c) and (d) - bear the faintest, remotest and most superficial resemblance to the situation in Anambra. The two ingredients refer to "breakdown of public order and public security" But Section 11 (1) and (2) have been clearly constructed to show the meaning of break-down of public order and public security. When the meaning of break- down of public order and public security in Section 11 is further amplified with ordinary dictionary definition of break-down, it is clear that the Anambra crisis does not fall into this category, for two reasons. One, civil society in Anambra State has always run smoothly, undisturbed –– schools, legislative and executive structures, markets and commercial activities, etc. Everything on ground confirms a smooth flow of every essential service.

Two, the pattern of arson suggests a professionally coordinated commando operation targeted at government buildings. But it failed to paralyze the arteries and veins of civil life because the popular masses were in no way involved. Thus, the Anambra situation differs in every material detail from the crisis in Plateau State. There were never such volatile situations as violent clashes of social groups, losses of lives and disruptions of essential services.

Solution of the riddle of balance of terror: A major confusing superficiality in Anambra is the strong message of balance of terror. The impression is deliberately given that two equally armed groups are at war and that the readiness of each side to deploy its formidable arsenal against the other has created a balance of terror. Unless both sides are neutralized - so goes this tale of blackmail - the state of insecurity and anarchy in the State will continue. It is true that there are two antagonistic political groups in Anambra. But there is no evidence to point to two armed formations, dug in trenches and couched for a war of attrition.

Allegations of federal impartiality: Rather, one point is clear - namely, the persistence of popular allegations that it is the federal might that is deployed against the state authorities of Anambra. Mr. President has eloquently pleaded his innocence and absolved the Presidency from any partisan involvement.

We must believe our President. But many questions about the pattern of responses of federal government to every twist of the Anambra crisis begs for more convincing reassurances of the impartiality of the central authorities. A sample of such questions:-

Why have there been no arrests and punishment of culprits after the criminal act of kidnap of the Anambra governor July 2003?

Why is the Federal Government’s compliance with court judgments on Anambra selective?

Why have there been no arrests and punishment of culprits after the criminal act of arson on public buildings in Anambra November 2004?

Why have federal authorities not responded with public inquiry to the several allegations of complicity, dereliction of duty and indifference against the Police during the three-day unchallenged orgy of arson in Anambra, - especially since the clear implication of State - sponsored terrorism should immediately rattle the Constitutionally designated custodian of peace, if innocent? There are many more questions.

Janus-faced creature: The answers to these questions cannot be incompetence because it is unimaginable that our crack Police Force who tracked down the killers of Iyabo’s friend’s two children in far - away Burkina Faso could not hunt down arsonists operating on government buildings in full view of its personnel, as is evident in video footage.

Nor can it be inferiority of firepower because it is inconceivable that the Police who can erect in a twinkle of an eye walls of human ‘Mobile’ pillars to protect public buildings and keep surging crowds of protesting workers at bay and release warning barrage of shots at the least provocation could not expend as much as one canister of tear gas against arsonists during the three-day mayhem in Anambra

The awkward silence of the Federal Government over these questions creates huge credibility problem for it. The result is the fast emergence in popular mind of an image of the Presidency akin to that of a Janus-faced figure in Igbo folklore. Once upon a time there is a man in a certain village.

At night he becomes a spirit and kills whoever his prejudice picks on. During the day, he turns a human being and pays condolence visit to the bereaved family. Until the federal authorities give convincing answers to these questions, the load of circumstantial evidence weighs against any protestations of innocence.

The moral question : If the moral question is ever to intrude on Senate’s consideration of the Anambra issue, one would advise two sets of action. One is to persuade the defaulting side to honour every term of the agreements freely contracted because it is morally reprehensible and despicable to do otherwise. African tradition and basic norms of civilized behaviour should condemn such breach of faith as an abomination. But if this approach fails, the cheated side should be persuaded to check every temptation to interfere with constitutional democracy, to patiently lick his wounds and to wait for the next round of elections to exact maximum penalty for treachery. Indeed, he may be advised to take counsel and consolation from Mr. President’s famous statement that a profit-motivated financial contribution to his electioneering campaign should be regarded as a bad investment -- a solemn reflection that hits at the dialectical tension between the self-seeking pulls of political god-fatherism and the populist impulses of Constitutional democracy.

Any other course outside these two options is an invitation to solutions outside the rule of law. The sad fact is that there is a wide gap between morality and law, and our dispensation endorses the Constitution as the sure ground on which our political order is founded. It is equally sad that none of the latter––day converts to morality can also convincingly approach equity with clear hands.

4. The path to peace: From the steps outlined above, it is clear that the constitutionally acceptable and statesmanlike role for the Senate is,

refer Mr. President to the relevant sections of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1959 (sections 5, 1a and b, 153, 1 m; 153 sub 2; 174; 211; 214; 215 sub 3 and sub 4) in addition to sect 9 sub 4 and sect. 10 of Police Act. The law gives all the powers to Mr. President, Police Service Commission, Inspector General of Police and the Federal Attorney-General to arrest, investigate discipline and prosecute culprits as the case may be.

persuade the antagonists in Anambra to appreciate the unfortunate gap between morality and the Constitution and to seek conciliation of divergences either through democratic dialogue, the law courts or future democratic elections

encourage the major stakeholders of Anambra and South East zone to reach inwards into their traditional self-adjudicating strength and work in concert to put their political house in order.

The options : Age and maturity enjoin the Senate to handle the constitutional provision of a state of emergency with deepest caution and highest sense of responsibility. The option is designed by the Constitution to serve as democracy’s last-resort device to save the system and/or the nation from life-threatening disaster. It is not designed to snuff out the little bush fires of routine democratic hassles.

It is the duty of distinguished Senators to ensure that this ultimate weapon is not trivialized and misused as a partisan weapon of local league matches.

A precedent set in any State of Nigeria today can tomorrow confront your State with a fait accompli. Let us not allow a fleeting partisan gain of the moment to constitute the deadly snare of our democracy tomorrow.

Distinguished Senators, may I emphasize again that you have a crucial stabilizing role to play in this phase of development of our fragile democracy. State of emergency is a killer of democracy. Every act of declaration of emergency in ANY State of Nigeria is an act of self-rejection by the political system and a vote of no confidence by the democratic order on its ability to manage its survival.

Dear Senator, the implication of this process of self - dehydration is grim.

The political option: Beyond the weapon of declaration of a state of emergency there are other options. The burden of age wisdom and maturity should recommend this path to the Senate. It is a political option that transcends the narrow precincts of constitutional role and frees the Senate from the temptations of proprietary infatuations offered by the lure of oversight powers.

The Senate should encourage our political system to develop its self-cleansing and self-adjudicating potentials. The Senate must first ensure that every external source of support and strength to either side of the Anambra conflict is plugged and that the Police have re-discovered in Anambra their famed efficiency. Once this is done, the spirit of democracy will be re-activated to create the enabling atmosphere for arbitration and conciliation. The Senate must have the guts and institutional courage to create such an atmosphere.



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