By Ejike Anyaduba
With the 10th Senate inaugurated, the hope of effective legislation hitherto lacking in the previous senates, especially the 9th, has been renewed. But this hope may be improbable not because of the dearth of senators capable of discharging the office and holding the executive to account, but because of a surfeit of others averse to the common good and eternally opposed to popular legislation.
The 10th Senate as composed has no significant difference from the ones before it. What might have changed, if any, is the presence of new members and the change in the leadership structure. Other than that, it is the same 109 senatorial districts with the same number of senators, many of whom too conservative and too perfunctory in the discharge of their duties to legislate differently. It is still regrettable that the effort to yank many of them off the senatorial perch, especially the self-indulgent and the entitled, was not rewarded by the “treacherous” BVAS and IREV that malfunctioned at will.
Regardless, there are a few of the senators who would likely buck the trend, stick to the rules, and let the chips fall where they may. But for these few, the hope of a viable 10th senate may be well-nigh impossible. The manner of the emergence of its leadership is suggestive of a senate already hobbled and will be in constant struggle to extricate itself from the stranglehold of the executive. It will be a pleasant surprise if it turns out differently and the fear of reinventing the feckless 9th Senate is completely nipped off.
It is fairly right to argue that there is nothing as promising of success and doubtful of aridity as a senate with viable opposition. The 10th Senate has few opposition senators whose antecedents still communicate hope. These are Nigerians who would rather stick to principles than suck up to the executive in order to validate their office. It is expected that with these senators bills will be promptly debated and amended just as the power to conduct oversight functions, including holding hearings, issuing subpoenas, and requesting information from agencies and officials will be more responsibly exercised. One of the senators expected to inject new blood in the upper chamber of the National Assembly is Chief Victor Umeh. Though it will take the effort of more than a senator out of a beautiful span of over a hundred, to make an appreciable impact, it will surely keep the hope of Nigerians alive. The good thing about dissenting voice however low its decibel or drowned out by majority opinion, is that it still rings far into the future. It may be disapproved of – even rejected, but it hardly fails to accomplish the task of speaking the minds of the silent majority. It bears repeating here that the introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) into the Nigerian electoral system was not procured on account of majority votes. It was rejected in plenary. Fifty-two senators voted against it, twenty-eight absented while the remaining twenty-eight supported. It is not hard to see that the BVAS has been abused to purpose and is groaning, but its introduction was not the effort of a Senate majority decision. It came on public demand.
The return of Senator Victor Umeh as well as a few others inspires promise. It also inspires confidence. He is perhaps one of the few who scarcely talk about political correctness when confronted with consequential decisions. Umeh has the courage of his conviction and had on a number of occasions challenged the dead hand of oppression in order to effect justice. He is focused and does not miss the plenary as was often the case before now. He has no use for a cameo appearance and will double down on his previous performance.
His brief, but remarkable outing in the 8th Senate, still rings a note of approval in the ears of those who sent him. He is minded to bear their burden and keep their hope of a new Nigeria aglow. It is important to recall many of Umeh’s bold interventions in the 8th Senate and how such interventions were able to check the excesses of the federal government. As a member of the 8th Senate, Umeh fought the lopsided board appointment into the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and had it redressed. But before the intervention, the anti-corruption commission and many other federal boards were comfortable operating without the Southeast – a major stakeholder in the Nigerian project. Umeh equally engaged the drop-the gun-order issued to the vigilantes by the former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, and won. Without that intervention which came in the wake of the Fulani herders/farmers clash perhaps the latter would have been exposed to mindless rapine and death. None of these was achieved to the detriment of his core responsibilities as a senator. He sponsored bills, attracted constituency projects, and engaged in oversight functions. In fact, every aspect of the legislation was covered in his short time in the chambers.
However, it is his courage in speaking out against injustice that appeals to many who worked hard to thwart the conspiracy that nearly marred his return effort. Umeh’s presence in the 10th senate is as important to his senatorial zone as it is to other Nigerians on the wrong side of the government’s misrule. He has spoken out against the oppression of many Nigerians whose only crime is wanting to live free as guaranteed in the constitution. Nigeria is at crossroads and needs as many rational voices as she can muster to redirect her to the path of justice, fairness, and equity.
It can be argued that Umeh’s journey to the 10th Senate was tortuous to the extent that human contrivance nearly terminated it early. However, it is the fact of his representation, not the manner of his journey that is the thrust of this piece. While his contributions in the 8th Senate are still evident, what he will do in the 10th is anxiously awaited. The burden of leadership in Nigeria is much and requires synergy with a viable senate to bear. Many nationalities in Nigeria are currently facing an existential threat and have little use for yes-nodding-lackeys as their senators. It is well to remember that next to making laws and oversight functions, the most important thing is speaking out when the majority is silent. Legislation comes with responsibility and demands that it be entrusted to the care of responsible people.
Ejike Anyaduba wrote from Abatete, Anambra State.