By Dr Ezrel Tabiowo
When the Ninth Assembly was inaugurated on June 11, 2019, it came prepared to deliver on its mandate, which in clear terms was to ensure “a National Assembly that works for Nigerians”, following Senator Ahmad Lawan’s emergence as President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly.
The upper chamber, in keeping with promises outlined in its robust legislative agenda, laid the needed foundation, which, on the long run, would impact positively on the economy and bring about institutional reforms in other critical sectors of the nation’s governance structure after the expiration of its lifespan in June 2023.
Accordingly, within the span of two years and six months, it considered and passed vital legislations that before now defied passage since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.
It also collaborated with the Executive arm of government to embark on the successful restoration of the nation’s budget cycle in its bid to strengthen and stabilise the economy.
What many Nigerians do not know as the backstory of the standout achievements recorded by the Ninth Assembly was that lawmakers of both chambers, in the quest to realise these milestones, resisted entreaties by corrupt cabals who had hitherto frustrated and stalled the passage of some vital legislations, particularly the Petroleum Industry Act and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act.
They refused to be compromised by maintaining a patriotic resolve that put the interest of Nigerians and by extension that of the nation first, above any other personal or self-serving consideration.
Sadly, in spite of scoring many firsts from the number of outstanding accomplishments recorded, it is a statement of fact to say that the Ninth Assembly remains the most criticised and vilified in contrast to previous ones that achieved even less.
Nigeria’s leadership burden
In the field of Psychology, the Situational Theory of Leadership as propounded by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, is a management model that explains how the behaviour of leaders change according to the situation and development level of those they manage – and who can as well pass for their followers.
When the theory is applied and narrowed down to how effective governance can be achieved in Nigeria, it means until Nigerians begin to have a mindset that lauds the positive efforts of their leaders, the country might just be light years away from producing the type of leadership needed to improve on its fortunes.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not to suggest that Nigerians become praise singers to bad leaders, but the notion that “nothing good can ever come out of them” and the hasty rush to generally vilify them (leaders) and our institutions before the international community is a dangerous trend that can make good leaders go bad and reduce our institutions to morally decrepit rubbles lacking credibility and integrity.
Since this article is not intended to give an in-depth analysis into how the nation’s leadership problems can be addressed, I might as well stop here to enable me get to the substance of this piece.
A reporter’s blunder and obsession with bias
As an avid reader who spends a good number of hours daily surfing the internet for e-books and anything exciting enough to make a good read, it wasn’t difficult coming across a report written by the Senate Correspondent of Premium Times – an online newspaper.
Upon seeing the headline of the report which reads, “In 2021, Nigerian Senate sat for only 66 days, broke own rules”, I immediately chuckled as I paused to grab some ginger tea to spice up my reading moment, especially knowing how much of a penchant the author has for writing misleading reports. Again, I wasn’t wrong about my impression of the writer’s obsessive affair with bias from misreporting the Senate in the past. It wasn’t her first, actually. Could this behavior, perhaps, be a form of thinking error associated with cognitive distortion that has affected the reporter’s sense of judgement?
Although, I knew outrightly that the intent of the report was to deliberately hurt the reputation of the Ninth Assembly, I nevertheless gave in to my journalistic instinct to immediately do a factual rejoinder since I had a job to do, anyway.
I immediately reached out to the Director of Chamber, a long time senior friend of mine and jolly fellow, with a request to provide me with accurate details of the number of times the Ninth Senate was in session since its inauguration on June 11, 2019.
It is pertinent to note that the reporter in question has no knowledge whatsoever on the way sitting days are accounted for in the legislature, and never even felt the need to obtain the right information from the appropriate department in keeping with journalistic rules and procedures.
She also failed to explain how she came to the erroneous figure of sixty-six (66) days, and the criteria used in arriving at the false conclusion that the Senate had a “poor record” in 2021.
My question: Whose interest is the reporter possibly serving to take such a risk despite working for a credible media organisation as Premium Times? It wouldn’t be the first time she is trying so hard to project the Ninth Assembly as having recorded “more failures than successes”.
I dare say that if this persists, it would rub off negatively, if it already hasn’t, on the hard earned integrity of the newspaper, which the likes of my very good friends, Emmanuel Ogala and Ini Ekot, helped to build with their sweat and blood when it was established over ten years ago.
That said, details provided by the Director, Senate Chambers, showed on the contrary that the upper chamber sat for 154 days in the first session between Tuesday, June 11, 2019 and June 10, 2020. The number of times it sat was affected around February, 2020, when the first COVID-19 case was announced in Nigeria.
It showed further that in the second session, between Thursday, June 11, 2020, and Wednesday, June 9, 2021, the Senate sat for 145 days, following the pandemic which forced the National Assembly to adjust plenary days. It therefore means that in the first and second legislative year which started in June 2019 and ended in June 9, 2021, the upper chamber sat for a total of 299 days in spite of the federal government lockdown which came in phases and lasted for three months.
The Senate, in the third session, sat for 88 days between June 22, 2021 and Wednesday, December 22, 2021 (a six month period) before embarking for the Christmas and New Year recess. The total number of sitting days for the third session, which is still running and counting would be known by June this year.
The reason why the chamber in the third session did not resume on June 11, as it did in the second session, was as a result of the eleven (11) days break it observed before resuming on June 22, 2021.
The National Assembly by legislative calculation is said to be in session between Monday and Friday, as Committee meeting days and Public Hearings are also recorded as sitting days. Therefore, Budget Defence sessions are considered sitting days which also count for the times lawmakers sit during a legislative session.
The only days by the rules, which do not count as sitting days in the legislative calendar are weekends, public holidays and days when the Senate or National Assembly is on recess. Let it be clearly stated for the consumption of all, that plenary days which are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are not classified exclusively as the only sitting days under the rules.
In addition, a legislative year is not followed as a normal calendar year that starts in January and ends in December. So, ideally, I really do not understand how the reporter arrived at sixty-six (66) sitting days for the year 2021. What we have is either a first, second, third or fourth session in the lifespan of an Assembly, which begins in June of the preceding year and ends in June of the following year.
Again, with that clarified, I’ll descend further into the gravest commission of the reporter, which smacked of gross disrespect and insensitivity to the memory of the lawmakers who died in the House of Representatives in 2021.
She wrote: “Upon resumption on February 9, senators adjourned to mourn the death of a member of the House of Representatives, Ossy Prestige.
“A similar break was taken on April 13 to mourn the death of two other Rep members, Suleiman Lere and Haruna Maitala.”
Besides the fact that it is a longtime tradition for both chambers to adjourn sitting for a day in solidarity of the death of one of its members, why does it seem to me like it didn’t matter to the reporter from the way it was mentioned in the report? Were the deceased not deserving of being mourned? Was the chamber expected to brush aside their deaths and proceed with plenary like nothing happened? Where is our humanity for God’s sake?
Just the other day, a vocal Senator, Bala Ibn Na’Allah representing Kebbi South, who is always full of smiles amidst pleasantries each time we run into each other, had his son brutally killed in Kaduna.
The tragic event hasn’t dampened the lawmaker’s patriotic spirit when it comes to standing on the side of Nigerians and what is indeed right for our dear country, going by his contributions on the floor of the Senate after the sad incident.
In plenary sessions, other lawmakers such as Ibrahim Gobir, the Deputy Whip, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Sani Musa, Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Smart Adeyemi, Biodun Olujimi never get tired of screaming at the top of their voices while speaking vociferously for Nigerians who are daily affected by one misfortune or their other. And this is the thanks they get for the sacrifices they continue to make? In my opinion, our lawmakers deserve better. May God Almighty in his infinite mercy, grant the souls of all deceased Nigerian lawmakers eternal rest.
Dr Tabiowo is the Special Assistant (Press) to the President of the Senate and writes from Abuja