Nigeria: Buhari and the Senate should sheathe their swords

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In the past few weeks, the Nigerian Senate has suffered desecration and a couple of its members endured humiliation. Hoodlums made their way into the red hallowed chamber of the Senate and carted away its mace, the symbol of its authority, with little resistance. The senator suspected to be behind the incident is apparently unperturbed, even as he was initially “questioned” by the police. Another senator, who pointed out the impropriety of the action of the executive arm of government in recently buying military aircrafts from America without legislative appropriation, was mobbed in his home state afterwards. Another more colourful senator was recently driven in an ambulance for arraignment in court for what have largely been adjudged to be politically motivated charges. And before then, a colleague of his barely escaped murder charges after his accuser recanted his confession. To say the Nigerian Senate is under siege would be an understatement.

Unhappy chief
Although President Muhammadu Buhari is not likely happy with the Senate for the many griefs he has suffered from them, it is doubtful he sanctioned these actions. Even so, they were almost certainly done to further his interests. This is because all the now “persecuted” senators have in one or way or the other, either by their words or actions, been antithetical to the president’s interests. It then begs the question of what the president wants from the Senate. He would like the longsuffering 2018 budget to be passed, for sure. It is probably the most he can hope for, though. Otherwise, had the relationship been rosier, he would probably have wanted to do much more with them. Take the example of the military chiefs that are becoming increasingly unpopular in light of myriad killings going on unabated across the country. Were the president to fire them, he may find it extremely difficult to get their replacements confirmed in the Senate. And he certainly could not now fire any erring member of his cabinet for the same reason. And with politicking for the 2019 elections now in high gear and a couple of the potential presidential contenders being members of the Senate, he may as well jettison the idea of getting much cooperation from the chamber.

Reproach but overlook
But if that is the case, why alienate them even more? The Inspector General of Police has shunned the Senate’s summons twice already. And it does not seem like the police chief worries about any potential punitive action against him by President Buhari; after all, when he supposedly disobeyed the president’s orders to relocate to Benue State in the middle belt of the country to quell the still brewing herders-farmers clashes there, he was largely left alone. These actions by appointees of the president towards institutions like the Senate and individuals who are vocal in their opposition to him create unnecessary difficulties for the president and his desire to get re-elected. It is thus imperative that he calls his appointees to order. True, Mr Buhari’s purchase of urgently needed military equipment without appropriation is reprehensible. But it is similarly reproachful of the Senate to even attempt to politicize the great matter; that is even as Mr Buhari likely had ample time to intimate the Senate about the purchase beforehand. Senate President Bukola Saraki could have been held in confidence, at least. It is doubtful that had Mr Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara been informed, they would have created unnecessary complications after the fact. Still, to even suggest an impeachment of Mr Buhari at this time would be foolish. Our democracy is hardly stable as it is. With myriad killings and altercations all about, a move to remove a president who is extremely popular in the most volatile part of the country is hardly wise. Even so, Mr Buhari should be formally apprised of the infraction he committed. In the same vein, mechanisms available in law and the constitution should be deployed to “forgive” his error.

Assess fairly, act responsibly
That said, the public and the media should be fair in their criticisms of the president. Take his recent trip to America; there were quite a number of unfair criticisms of the aging leader. As I personally followed the proceedings of the trip in the media, especially those that relate to his meeting with Donald Trump, the American president, and assessed the president did relatively well, I was more than a tad astonished by the scathing rebukes that came from what are ordinarily respectable people. We should all just start acting responsibly. The Senate should pass the budget and stop being a pain in the neck of the president. Mr Buhari should also call off his men from the backs of those “distinguished” people.

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