Bloated Senate, Empty Senators

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By Sonala Olumhense                               

I have heard a lot of things in my time, but I have yet to hear of a Nigerian Senator with a demonstrable commitment to Nigeria.

I spend a great deal of time on the website of the Senate because it is supposed to be a ready source of information on the so-called Upper House.  I have been obsessed with locating the trail of a Senator who—in practice—is putting the advancement of Nigeria first.

I have heard a lot of things in my time, but although I never tire of hearing of Senators who are fending greedily for themselves, I do not hear of any that is passionate about eliminating poverty in Nigeria.

Think about it: we have three years to 2015, and you never hear anyone within the pompous precincts of the Senate talking about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which Nigeria promised to achieve in 2000.

While many countries have worked hard to achieve those goals, Nigeria has fallen so far behind that in many respects, she is behind such countries as Rwanda, which was almost wiped off the map by a terrible ethnic crisis in 1994.

Also within Africa, I could mention the advancement of the MDGs in such countries as Ghana or South Africa, but Abuja hates to hear about countries that are used as the clearest indicators of the fall of Nigeria.

I do not want to embarrass the Senators, so let me simply mention the infrastructural collapse that is all around our Senators.   I do not hear any of them speaking with any true concern or sense of purpose in this respect about the failure of successive governments of which they have been a part.

These Senators, as I described in this column recently, have among other things bought for themselves new Toyota Land Cruiser luxury SUV cars, each costing about $100,000.  Congratulations, Senators.  I trust you are enjoying your luxury in the pathetic contrivances we call roads, and hopefully can no longer see the dying and the dead on those roads.  I trust you are enjoying your new possession without having to account for the cars that have been allocated to the Senator from your district in the past 13 years.

All a Senator has to do is wind up the windows of that heaven on earth when he travels the country, and Boko Haram will flee in the other direction.  All he has to do is turn up the music and he will not need to see the poverty and unemployment and ill-health beyond the windows.  It is not the Senator’s fault that a child has no potable water, or that a student is unable to pay his school fees, or that a pregnant woman lacks the medical attention that will save her life and that of her unborn baby.  No Senator wants to have to answer such questions.

And no Senator cares enough, either, to speak in favour of Nigeria’s democracy or her development in an open, honest, consistent way.  That is why democracy in Nigeria has become a joke; the first order of all who hold office is to ensure they do not lose the individual nipple through which they bleed the people to death.

Where is the Senator who can call on the President to declare his assets because it is the constitutional and ethical thing to do?  Where is the Senator who is patriotic enough to ask the uncomfortable questions about Nigeria’s pretend-war on corruption?

If you were to ask any Senator, you will receive effusive answers about the higher interests he is “pursuing.”  Take a look, for instance, at the “Senatorial District Page” of the President of the Senate, Mr. David Mark.  He lists his “Legistlative (sic) Interest(s)” as Foreign and National Security.  You wonder whether Mr. Mark is working on a joke, or is actually serious when he says his prime interest includes “foreign security.”  Read further, and on Target Achievement(s), he says he aims to achieve “Legislation on Improved Image For Nigeria.”  Not development, not security, not good governance—as clichéd and empty as those would sound—but to legislate “improved image for Nigeria.”

Our Senators never list their phone numbers.  That way, it is clear they wish to be responsible only to themselves.  They do not want a constituent to complain about how ashamed they are to call a particular individual his Senator.  Look at their profiles: they usually list the dummy, senatecontact@nass.gov.ng, as their address.

But if you really need proof that our Senators treat the Senate only as an ATM (Access To Millions), visit the District Page of one Emeka John Okey, who was born last year, but was a Senator before he was even born.  He assumed his seat on May 29, 2011 although he was born one month later: on July 1, 2011.  In other words, for all of June, 2011, this gentleman enjoyed in his mother’s womb the unbridled Senatorial lifestyle that is possible only in PDP-land.

Our Senators really do want Nigerians to know how dedicated they are: an image they have desired since 1999, and for which they wanted to be generous on their website with information.  And yet the pages extravagantly advertised as “ABOUT OUR DISTRICT,” “PROJECTS,” and “ACTIVITIES” bear the legend—after all these years—“Under Construction/Maintenance Please!”

Even Mr. Mark, who proudly proclaims himself to be “President of the Senate of the 6th National Assembly (2007-2011), Distinguished Senator of the 4th, 5th and 6th National Assembly: 1999-2011 Senates,” does not have a bucket of warm piss to report.

But it is these same Senators who ran into the streets in a frenzy last week, urging a man who promotes our democracy by refusing to declare his assets to “chase the coup plotters in Mali out of power.”

Our Senators, feeling particularly virile, wanted President Goodluck Jonathan to use soldiers to “immediately restore the democratically elected government of President Amadou Toure.”  They wanted to be champions abroad of what they deny at home.

One of the microphone warriors said Nigeria must “get involved both democratically and militarily” because “that is what America does.”

They were really baking, those Senators, but half-baked people, like half-baked patriotism, are easy to identify.  There is no Nigerian Senator—not one—that has ever cared about the poverty and underdevelopment of Mali.  If they snatch milk from the mouths of Nigeria’s children, how can they possibly be kept awake at night by Mali’s agricultural woes?

No, it does not take a pair of binoculars to see through the veneer of this sudden democratic activism: these Senators were simply scared that should Nigerian soldiers borrow a thought from their colleagues in Mali, none of them would survive.

Let me be clear: I believe that military rule is a contradiction in terms.  The paradox, unfortunately, is that the current army of occupation, symbolized by the Senators, is worse than the military.  If soldiers shoot to kill, these carnivores simply eat you alive.  As politicians, these are the world’s best example of why people think of the worst, from suicide to mass killing to military coups.  They hope, sadly, that the rot from which they benefit will last forever.

Their response to the situation in Mali is therefore completely in character: they care neither about their own country nor its people.  Their selfish motive, as always, is about guaranteeing the perpetuation of the easy life they have found, and its protection from people who talk bullets.

That is because, in the end, the most indolent and hypocritical are often the most cowardly.

•    sonala.olumhense@gmail.com

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