The Senate and Buhari’s Body Language – By Magnus Oladesu



The appointment of Senator Ita Enang as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) and the dragging of the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki to the Code of Conduct Tribunal are two events in quick succession that leaves no one in doubt that President Mohammadu Buhari may have declared total war on the Senate and its leadership.

While tongues were still wagging over the moves by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, against Mrs. Toyin Saraki, wife of the Senate President, came Senator Ita Enang’s appointment.  While a good number of Nigerians opine that his appointment is well deserved, the preponderance of opinion is that it is a miscarry and payback for working with the Senate Unity Forum, a group of Senators loyal to the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

Give it to Senator Enang; he is experienced in legislative business. He became a Councilor in his Ibinono Local Government Council on a zero party in 1987 and moved on to the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention in 1991 during Ibrahim Babangida’s phantom transition programme. He moved up to the House of Representatives in 1999 on Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) platform and served for three consecutive terms before his elevation to the Senate. Thanks to ex-Governor Godswill Akpabio who kicked out ranking Senator Effiong Bob to install him.

Give it to him again; he made his presence felt in the Senate for both the good and not too good reasons. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, he was visible. Senator Enang also gave the opposition a run for their money. He was a thorn in the flesh of the official opposition like the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and the Congress for Progress Change (CPC). He was also affliction personified to internal opposition or anti-Goodluck Jonathan Senators.   He is indeed someone the North and Northern Senators would never forget in a hurry.

On a day the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) divided the Senate along North and the South, with people like Senator Ahmed Lawan, Senator Deputy Leader- Abdul Ningi, Senator Adamu Abdullahi, etc leading a vehement opposition against the Bill, especially the provisions on 10% Community Fund, he rose to expose the underbelly of the North as far as the oil industry is concerned.

He fired: “There should be equity and federal character in the allocation of oil blocks in this country. Eighty-three per cent of all present oil blocks are held by northerners”.  He reeled out how the Yar’Aduas, Alhaji Saleh Mohammed Gambos, Alhaji Aminu Dantatas, General Theophilus Danjumas, and the Alhaji Rilwanu Lukmans, etc had allegedly practically cornered the oil fields of the Niger Delta. In other words, while the oil fields and environmental degradation belonged to the Niger Delta, the oil wealth belonged more to the North.

Furthermore, PDP Senators who made to defect in 2014 won’t also forget him so soon. Citing Mr Ifedayo Abegunde in Akure North/Akure South Constituency, who lost his seat after defecting from the Labour Party in 2012 and the October 18, 2013 ruling by Justice Elvis Chukwu of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja that there was no division in the PDP, Senator Ita Enang said the affected Senators must go.

However, that was then. Senator Ita Enang had himself since defected to the APC immediately he lost PDP’s return ticket to the Senate. He was sacked by his former friend, Senator Godswill Akpabio. He is now best of friends with the Senator Ahmad Lawan- the same Lawan that vehemently opposed  Ita Enang’s darlingthe PIB. There is no enemy. It’s about permanent interest .

Today, Senator Enang apparently spares no slightest opportunity to get back at his former party in a mixture of vengeance and desperation to survive, even if to pick a crumb from the master’s (APC) table. It doesn’t matter to him anymore that he went to the House three times and the Senate once on PDP platform because those who are chauffeured by vengeance and desperation are bound to overstep the limits of reasonableness.

For instance, the role of Senator Ita Enang in the phantom forgery of Senate Rules cannot be overemphasized. He was practically everywhere in the media canvassing in favour of the Senate Unity Forum. In fact, an online report had alleged that he was the real brain behind the petition on purported forgery of the Senate Rules.

But no one would have had issues with him if he were spurred by conviction and truth rather than vengeance, desperation, and treachery.  Given the long-existing practice of the bureaucracy of each House coming up with a fresh Rules book every four years, can he really swear by his father’s grave that there was indeed a case of forgery? He said in one of his dithering Channels TV interviews that he was not sure that a Rules Book dies on the day the Senate it served is adjourned sine dine, yet he admitted that it was for each new Senate to adopt the Standing Rules so handed to it.  But how could the new Senate do that unless its presiding officers are elected and the rest of the Senators inaugurated?

Today, the Senate Unity Forum is in court wasting everybody’s time and bringing the whole institution of the Senate to ridicule and misinforming the unsuspecting public on something as important as Senate’s Standing Rules for their selfish interest.   The sum total is to embarrass and pile pressure on the Senate and its leadership.

Ordinarily, Senator Ita Enang’s appointment is more or less a public relations job meant to smoothen things between Senate and the Presidency. Usually, leadership of the particular Chamber a presidential Assistant is supposed to cover and the leadership of both Chambers (in the case of the Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters) are usually consulted before Presidential Liaison Officers are appointed. It has to be someone they are comfortable with and have respect for.   When there is cold war or the presidential requests get frozen, he or she thaws the ice and get things going. Many had therefore wondered how an Ita Enang, a clear ally of the Senate Unity Forum, people who have needlessly constituted themselves into an enemy to the Senate leadership, would to facilitate thing for the President in the Senate.

Besides, Enang was never gifted at human relations. The unpleasant feeling towards him clearly showed in the way his bills and suggestions on the floor of the Senate were always shot down.

Moreover, Ita Enang has also proven that long legislative experience does not necessarily translate to competence.   For instance, he, as Chairman of Rules and Business, misled the 7th Senate into the infamous passing of 44 Bills in a few minutes in its twilight against voices of reason by many Senators. This calls to question the quality of advice he would give to Buhari.

That, however, is Buhari’s headache. What worries some people is that Enang’s appointment could be a deliberate move by the presidency to sustain its arm’s-length attitude towards the Senate leadership in line with the stance of a hardliners in the APC.

The other line of thought is that Enang’s appointment might mean that the presidency is already thinking beyond the current Senate leadership’s era. For instance, in a 23rd July 2015 cover story by the Sun newspaper, entitled “APC Crisis widens as Plot Against Saraki, Ekweremadu Thickens”, it was alleged that the presidency was not disposed to submitting the ministerial list until it had flushed out the Senate leadership.

The report went further to say that “Sources disclosed that one of the reasons for the delay is to see if a change in the leadership of the Senate could be effected”.  Instructively, such an indicting story was not denied.

Now, with the unanimous vote of confidence passed on the Senate leadership, and the police investigation and the court cases on phantom forgery of Senate Rules not yielding results, it means the brains behind the onslaught will look for other means.

In a government decoded only by its body language, therefore, it is, therefore, not hard to draw serious correlations between the charges against Senator Saraki and the desperate moves to denigrate, undermine, and possibly overthrow the Senate leadership by hook or crook. If not, one wonders the wisdom in dragging Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal at a time the President should be courting the friendship of the Senate to which it is sending its ministerial list in a matter of days.

While we cross our fingers and watch developments, what is not in doubt is that the president is obviously not getting quality advice on his relations with the National Assembly as an independent arm of government. The bullish former President Obasanjo could not subdue the National Assembly when it was financially dependent on the executive, let alone now that it is financially autonomous.

Let me sum up by saying that any Nigerian thinking that this onslaught against Saraki is just about Saraki or the Senate is making a grave mistake.  It is actually the epic and defining battle for the independence of the legislature, and by extension Nigerian democracy as tyranny fast eclipses freedom. Haven’t we seen today the laws and morality guiding appointment of INEC Chairman flouted with impunity? Haven’t we seen appointees into institutions like the FIRS and AMCON, which should by law be cleared by the Senate assume office even before their clearance? Haven’t we seen sections of this country totally excluded in critical appointments against the spirit of federal character? Yet, not even in Obasanjo’s days were citizens so afraid to air their views and thus confined to deafened uproar for fear of witchhunt and jackboot? Rule of law has become laws of children. Cry, beloved country, cry, for you are the ultimate loser. This is certainly not
the change you bargained for.

Oladesu is a Lagos based Political Scientist



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