Making a mockery of Governance34 views
Perhaps the 8th Senate is the worst, and most expensive, we have had since Nigeria became self-governing in 1960.
Perhaps the Senate panel that investigated the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East did a poor job when it failed to invite Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir Lawal, to appear before it to clear the air on the N233 million grass-cutting scandal, before turning in its interim report on the basis of which the Senate asked President Buhari to sack him.
Perhaps the Senate panel has realised its mistake, and has now invited the SGF to hear his own side of the story. That is all well and good, and I agree the right thing should be done at all times.
What I do not agree with is Babachir Lawal rushing to court to challenge his invitation and using that as excuse not to appear before the Senate panel. It is instructive that Lawal had agreed to appear before the Senate panel, but later made an about-turn and headed for the court.
This Senate may not be up to scratch but for God’s sake it is still our Senate, and it has constitutional powers, one of which is to invite anybody to appear before it to answer questions on any issue before it. I do not think it appropriate for the SGF to rush to court to challenge his invitation after agreeing to appear. Going to court, to me, is an after-thought, although I do admit he has a right to go to court.
N233 million merely to cut grass is outrageous enough in these austere times to warrant Senate scrutiny, and the Senate is right to look into it. In looking into it however, it should follow rules and be fair and square to all in its investigation. The Senate panel erred in not hearing from SGF Babachir Lawal before turning in its interim report which largely indicted him. Which is why the SGF himself lampooned the report as a bundle of fallacies insofar as he was not given opportunity to defend himself. May be the lawmakers, according to him, were out to malign him afterall.
But the panel chairman, Senator Shehu Sani claimed that the SGF was invited but he chose to send a representative instead of appearing himself. Let us accept that the SGF was not given fair hearing before the panel submitted its report. That however does not necessarily render the report fallacious. What I cannot understand is why the SGF is rushing to court only after Senate panel has now invited him. Why? What is he afraid of? Isn’t the invitation an opportunity for him to clear his name?
Perhaps the SGF is getting inspiration from Hameed Ali, the CGC of Customs. But he ought to realize that the CGC did not, by himself, challenge his invitation by the Senate, rather it is someone else entirely who has challenged the Senate for wanting to force him to appear before it in Customs uniform. No one ought to tell the SGF that these are two dissimilar situations. I disagree with the SGF recourse to court instead of honouring Senate invitation. If he had any grouse with the earlier Senate report on him, I think he should have challenged it in court when it was released, not now.
Neither do I agree with Senate President Bukola Saraki. I find as utterly detestable his response that he would ground the Federal Government of Nigeria if officials of government continue to go to court when summoned. Coming from a man holding the third highest office in the land, the statement is as reckless, irresponsible and uncalled-for as it is a threat against the government and people of Nigeria.
Let’s not make a mockery of governance. Saraki must accept that just as the Senate has the power to summon anybody, including SGF Babachir Lawal, he too, has a right to go to court, and that it was the Senate committee’s failure to hear the SGF’s side of the story that gave rise to this whole drama in the first place. One is even tempted to ask what new information the Senate now has to warrant summoning the SGF after the same Senate had conclusively indicted him and called for his removal.
Judging from its recent posturing, it seems the Senate under Bukola Saraki appears to be not only vindictive but also engaging in abuse of legislative summons. I have never seen where a legislature summons people as routinely as Saraki's Senate does, as if it were a court. Neither have I seen where a legislature summons someone on an issue AFTER it had passed a resolution on same. Agreed the Senate has over-sight function over the Executive, but such should be exercised within the ambit of law, not on rule of the thumb basis as Saraki's Senate appears to be doing.
Instead of threatening to shut down the FGN (something akin to shutting down the country), Saraki should allow democratic tenets to prevail. Blackmailing the government is not the way to go.
Having said that, I must now urge President Buhari to prevail on the SGF to withdraw his case in court and avail himself before the Senate; after all it was the President’s letter to the Senate urging it to take a second look that necessitated the Senate invitation now extended to the SGF. The country certainly does not need all this needless drama. The government needs to focus.
All said and done, I maintain my earlier stand that given the controversies surrounding both Saraki and Babachir Lawal, both should not be occupying the positions they currently occupy. Both, in the words of the Senate itself, have failed the integrity test.