Fifty-four senators had already taken their seats for an emergency plenary scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday 6 November 2023 but the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, who would preside over the session, did not turn up at the chamber until 11:54 a.m.
The votes and proceedings of the emergency plenary stated that it was convened to deliberate on issues of national importance.
Mr Akpabio did not even bother to apologise to his colleagues for keeping them waiting for almost two hours. He went straight to his chair, hit the gavel and read the senate prayers as a sign of the commencement of business for the day.
The scenario was repeated the following day when the senate president kept his colleagues waiting again at the chamber for one hour and 19 minutes, arriving at the chamber at 11:19 a.m. for the plenary. The senators must now be used to their presiding officer’s habitual tardiness as Mr Akpabio has been late to every plenary sitting since he was elected to the position by his colleague senators last June.
To cite a few more instances, on the next legislative day on Wednesday 15 November, the plenary did not commence until 12:01 p.m. On Tuesday 21 November, it started at 11:42 a.m., while at the last sitting in November, held on Wednesday 29, the plenary started at 11:41 a.m.
What Senate Rule Says
According to the Senate Standing Rule, plenary starts at 10 a.m. on every legislative day.
Rule 8 sub-section (2) of the Senate Standing Rule (as amended) states: “On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the Senate shall meet at 10:00 a.m. and unless previously adjourned shall sit until 2:00 p.m., unless before a substantive motion had been moved by the Leader of the Senate or a Senator acting in that capacity “that this Senate do now adjourn” and if such a motion be moved and if the question thereon has not previously been determined, at 2:00 p.m. the President of the Senate shall adjourn the Senate without question being put.”
But because the senate president who presides over the sitting always arrives late, the plenary has always begun much later. As a result of the tardiness, many Senate committees have had to postpone important meetings because the Senate plenary ended late in the evening.
The 10th Senate has sat at least 26 times since its inauguration last 13 June. A daily PREMIUM TIMES observation of the Senate’s sittings by this reporter showed that on none of those occasions did the plenary commence at 10 a.m. as mandated by the Senate Rule. A review of the votes and proceedings of the Senate also confirms this newspaper’s observations.
Late sitting is not peculiar to the current assembly of the Senate. Records also show that the Eighth Senate led by Bukola Saraki and the Ninth Senate led by Ahmad Lawan often breached the same rule. However, unlike in the preceding assemblies, the breach by the 10th Senate under the leadership of Mr Akpabio has rather become the rule.
Senators raise concern
Many senators have privately expressed concern over the long time they had to wait in the chamber before the commencement of plenary, PREMIUM TIMES reliably gathered.
A senator who requested not to be named said many senators no longer bother to report on time, instead delaying their entrance into the chamber on legislative days until after the senate president has taken his seat.
The senator said the issue was later discussed at an executive session during which Mr Akpabio apologised to his colleagues. But rather than turn a new leaf, he has persisted in his disregard for time.
Efforts made to get the position of the Senate on the issue were not successful as its spokesperson, Yemi Adaramodu (APC-Ekiti), did not respond to many calls to his phone number and was not accessible in his office at the National Assembly.
Mr Akpabio could also not be reached in person for his comments. When approached by PREMIUM TIMES, Jackson Udom, one of his media assistants, refused to speak on the issue.
Like Governor, like Senate President
Mr Akpabio’s habit of lateness to official public functions dates back to when he served as governor of Akwa Ibom State from 2007 to 2015 and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs from 2019 to 2022.
People who have worked with the senate president told PREMIUM TIMES that he had a habit of arriving late to official government functions when he was a governor and minister.
Three of his former aides recalled to this newspaper that Mr Akpabio rarely turned up on time for official functions.
One of the former aides who requested not to be named for fear of victimisation said: “I’m not sure he (Akpabio) had time for even Exco (State Executive Council) meetings, except when he wanted us, for the sake of legal requirement, to endorse some resolutions.”
Another narrated how Mr Akpabio once summoned traditional rulers to a meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. at Ibom Hall, a state government-owned event centre, but eventually did not turn up. The aide said the monarchs were kept waiting for over five hours at the venue before being told that the meeting had been postponed till the next day.
“You won’t believe it, Akpabio also didn’t show up the next day for the meeting,” the aide recalled.
The President, Campaign for Democracy, Odili Peter, described the habitual late commencement of the Senate plenary as an act of “indiscipline”.
Mr Peter argued that the “indiscipline” may affect the productivity of the parliament and hamper Nigeria’s pursuit of good governance and national development.
“Nigeria is a nation with immense potential and resources but is faced with an endemic disease that hampers its growth and development. It is indiscipline. Indiscipline is now on the rise and on the march across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
“For elected public officials and civil servants, particularly in the red chamber (Senate), indiscipline has become the most destructive obstacle to productivity and national development. Let me just say that nobody keeps to time anymore and we all as a nation pay the price.
“Punctuality, which is the bedrock of work performance and productivity, seems to have been publicly jettisoned deliberately. It is so terrible that one will hardly find any politician or public officer in the office before 10 a.m. They seem to have adopted their own work timetable aside from the official 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. of the public service known hours of service. This ugly situation significantly disrupts productivity and efficiency, and ultimately batters our nation,” Mr Peter lamented.
He further noted that the civil servants in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the federal government also exhibit similar habits of “indiscipline.”
“Apart from reporting late, most government offices have on their own adopted a three-day work week. Many Ministries, Departments and Agencies are practically empty on Mondays and Fridays. They have added Mondays and Fridays to weekends on their own, thus giving themselves a four-day long weekend. This practice is mostly common in Abuja.
“These are serious national issues that the Senate should look into and make laws for their prohibition, but instead they have been yoked with the civil servants they ought to check and correct.
“In civil service rule, lateness attracts punishment, queries are issued on civil servants who often come to duty beyond schedule by the superior officer. But in the case of the Senate under Akpabio, who will query him? That is a big question begging for an answer. This 10th Senate has brazenly become a den of indiscipline, mother of greed and corruption under Akpabio.”
Mr Peter said by often starting their business late, senators were pointing “to the fact that we do not need full-time senators.
“It should be part-time work because there is no serious work there. It also tells us that our lawmakers do not see legislative work as a serious business. They see it as a place where national wealth is shared. Reason they come to work at will.
“I think there should be a regulatory body that will be monitoring, not only the Senate but civil service as a whole. Otherwise, lateness to duty at the Senate will continue just as we have it in the core civil service.”
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