In his September 24, 2021 article, titled “Absolute Rubber Stamp: Lawan-Led Senate Joins Buhari’s Kitchen Cabinet, Leads Presidency Annex, Deploys Oppressive Plans Against Nigerians,” Sunday Aborisade said apparently made the headlines first, then went fishing for evidence that matched.
Of course, there is a background to this. I have been accosted several times by some colleagues at the National Assembly complex with the joke that the Ninth Assembly which took off in 2019 made their pace boring. They said, unlike before, there are no daily crises to report. No glasses. No lighters flying out of the rooms towards Aso Rock Villa. This served to keep the journalists busy and to make the pace interesting. Although I sympathize with such journalists, the work of the legislator in a democracy is much more serious than creating media spectacles. Apparently, those who see politics as a bloody sport will never believe a game is going on until they can count bodies.
Since the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly, criticism has been leveled at its relationship with the executive branch of government. Some political commentators insist that parliament only demonstrates independence and effectiveness by barking and pulling at the president’s heels, and refusing to cooperate with him on policies, appointments and plans for the president. expenses, etc. This, even though both sides were elected on the same Platform.
Let’s take another look at the title of the Aborisade report at issue here. The kicker sufficiently betrays the journalist’s bias. But that’s not my concern, because democracy anticipates misdeeds by sometimes joining the delegation of freedom of expression. My concern is to review the issues raised by Aborisade. He began his report by describing the tension in the chamber over Lawan’s election as the 14th Senate Speaker as a sign that the ruling party had no confidence in its candidate’s victory. Does the writer really expect tension to be absent in an election of this magnitude?
In some parliaments, officers are chosen by party caucuses and ratified by chambers. But this has not been the case in the National Assembly since 1999. The choices of parties have been contested by their members in parliament in almost all exemptions. And it has nothing to do with the method of election. Just because Lawan got his party and caucus approval in the Senate doesn’t mean his victory celebration could begin before the election is called. So, whatever anxiety the writer noticed in the process, it was not a matter of party judgment.
The writer also said that an “unnatural alliance” between the Senate and the executive has “done our country more harm than good.” On the contrary, the cordial relations between the other two branches of government have so far facilitated the legislative work of the Ninth Assembly. I will cite a few examples of how this happened. Upon taking office, Lawan set out to reset and stabilize the national budget cycle from January to December in order to make the budget schedule predictable. Not a few people thought it was a tall order. The skeptics had a real case: before Lawan, others had tried but failed. It is now done, for the benefit of Nigerians and the economy.
The all-important Deep Sea and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (Amendment) Bill of 2019 was adopted and the following week promulgated by the President. President Buhari had reason to withhold his assent on the oil industry bill. Instead, he decided to pursue an amendment to PIA provisions that he is not comfortable with, which he did only 36 days after approving the bill. There are many other such developments which can be attributed to the spirit of cooperation and collaboration between the two branches in the national interest. Meanwhile, we have a record number of bills denied presidential assent in previous waivers due to mistrust between the two parties. This is certainly not the kind of situation we want to perpetuate. If Nigerians elect the president and most lawmakers from the same party, they certainly expect them to work together for national development.
Aborisade also brilliantly declared that the “Ninth Senate under Lawan introduced the most wicked, draconian and anti-popular bills since 1999”. His testimony? “The Social Media Bill, the Hate Speech Bill, the Repentant Terrorist Amnesty Bill, the Health Emergencies Bill. Interestingly, Aborishade had, in his report published in the same newspaper PUNCH on February 18, 2021, described one of the repealed and replaced bills as “the obsolete quarantine law enacted in 1926”. Moreover, the report does not specify when the “draconian” bills were adopted by the Senate. The omission was deliberate. None of them passed!
As a correspondent in the National Assembly of one of the main newspapers in the country, I assume that Aborisade is familiar with the workings of Parliament and the stages of the legislative process. Any legislator can introduce a bill for consideration. It is a privilege that cannot be denied even by the Speaker of the Senate who is just the first among his peers. Senators in plenary sitting ultimately pass or reject a bill only after a public hearing in which members of the public express their views on the proposed legislation. Did Aborisade say that the President of the Senate should have prevented his colleagues from proposing laws because he considers them “the most evil, the most draconian and the most anti-popular”?
Perhaps, due to the obvious intent of the article, the writer could not recall any Senate accomplishments over the past two years. He couldn’t even remember the re-establishment of the budget cycle he had praised in his own report. What about the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contact (Amendment) Act, 2019 which increased Nigeria’s share of its oil revenues from $ 150 million to $ 1.5 billion per year? The author had no recollection of the finance law which specifically amended 17 other laws to support key reforms in taxation, customs, excise, tax and other laws. He also completely forgot about the fundamental amendment to the Companies and Allied Laws. Or, the bill that criminalizes sexual harassment in higher education institutions in Nigeria and several others.
Before becoming Speaker of the Senate, Lawan had formed an opinion after more than two decades in the National Assembly on the best relations between the legislature and the other branches of government. He believes that the benefits of a cordial relationship far outweigh those of resentment. Lawan understands that other Nigerians have their own views on this and other national issues. He also accepts that he could be vilified for promoting an approach that seeks stability in governance and discourages avoidable conflict in the regime. It is perfectly understandable. But when a journalist decides to judge the opinions and actions of public officials, he must also remember the principles of fairness and balance that make the media the kingdom’s indispensable fourth power.
Awoniyi is Special Media Advisor to the President of the Senate
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