The Red Chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral Legislature currently under the watch of Senator Ahmed Lawan, has aroused a fierce anger in the country following its rejection of a motion on Thursday seeking to debate the speech delivered by President Muhammadu Buhari on the Democracy Day.
The majority of the senators at plenary overwhelmingly voted against the motion when the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, who presided over the session, subjected it to voice vote.
The motion was moved by Senator Istifanus Gyang (Plateau-PDP), who came under Order 52 of the Senate standing order. Gyang had sought the leave of his colleagues to present the motion which the senator described as a matter of public importance.
According to Gyang, ‘’the matter of urgent national importance that I am bringing before this Senate has to do with the Democracy Day speech of President Buhari on June 12, 2019. This speech is already in the public domain. I am asking that in view of the interest it has generated, we should debate it.’’
Senate President Lawan had to cut short the speech of the lawmaker when he asked him to seek the consent of other senators to entertain the motion.
But, most of the members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)-dominated voted against the motion and it was consequently shut down.
However, Buhari’s speech delivered at the Eagle Square, Abuja, on Wednesday announced the renaming of the National Stadium Abuja after the acclaimed winner of of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late MKO Abiola. He also said with good governance the Federal Government could take 100 million Nigerians from poverty to prosperity in the next 10 years.
The seeming wrong starting step of the Lawan Senate has drawn the ire of some of the stakeholders in the Nigeria democracy project.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is calling on Lawan to be independent and show courage, claiming that it is wrong for the Senate President to refuse his colleagues the opportunity of debating President Buhari’s speech.
PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, who spoke for the party said the Senate should know it was serving the entire nation and not a section of the country or a political party, pointing out, ‘’I want to appeal to Senate President Lawan, to be independent and show courage. He should not allow himself to be controlled from outside. He should know that the National Assembly is a different arm of government that should check the excesses of the executive.
‘’Without a vibrant and independent National Assembly, our democracy will be a mere figure head. The legislature is the symbol of democratic rule. I therefore plead with him, not to shut out his colleagues from speaking. The speech made by the President yesterday (Wednesday) was meant to be dissected by the lawmakers. We needed to have it debated and see its workability or otherwise.’’
For the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the development was not a good omen for Nigeria’s democracy. According to their Spokesman, Alfa Mohammed, ‘’I would have said that it is too early to place the direction of the Senate leadership, but considering the fact that the Presidency openly championed their campaign, and as you could see, immediately after they were inaugurated, their first place of call was the Villa for a thank you visit to Mr President with the Deputy Senate President going on his knees.
‘’That is not a good omen for the flourish of one of the cardinal principles of democracy, the separation of powers. So, at a period as we have now that the executive arm of government needs a strict monitoring and check of the legislative arm to keep it on its toes, a rubber stamp legislature will spell doom for the country.
‘’…Meanwhile, I am not abreast of the development at the National Assembly and why the debate was turned down, but I can’t fathom any reason why the NASS should turn down a debate on the President’s June 12 speech, especially when the key element of the speech, the renaming of the National Stadium after the late winner of the June 12, 1993 election, Chief MKO Abiola, was widely accepted as a right step.’’
Campaign for Democracy (CD), a foremost pro-democracy group, says the action of the Red Chamber of the National Assembly shows that the Lawan senate is not in control of itself.
CD President, Usman Abdul, had this to say, ‘’one of the strong arms that reflect true democracy is the legislature. Therefore, the National Assembly should represent and accommodate divergent interests.’’
Arguing, the pro-democracy group which put up a strong mass resistance to military dictatorship in the country said, ‘’if the Executive is beginning to pocket the Legislature, it is like we don’t have a democracy. Look at the emergence of the leaders of the Assembly; look at the senator who became the Deputy Senate President, and look at their first motion and what happened to it, and you will see that the Legislative arm is not firmly in control.’’