SPECIAL REPORT: Senate of Lateness, Disorderliness: Saraki, Ekweremadu, all others culpable

Nigerian Senate Chambers
Nigerian Senate Chamber used to illustrate the story.

“Distinguished Senators, please take your seat…Honourable Philips Aduda, the only senator without a state (laughter), the stateless senator, please take your seat…Senator Marafa, stop disturbing the Chief Whip, you are not sitting properly…Senator Wakili, please stop disturbing Senator Uzodinma.”

For members of the gallery of the Nigerian Senate, these whimsical locution is a familiar one. It is a 6-22 minutes ritual the Chief Whip, Olusola Adeyeye, performs daily to get the senators to settle down for the business of the day.

The time is 11:12 a.m. on Tuesday, October 31. And going by the motion of adjournment moved by the Senate leader, Ahmed Lawan, at the previous sitting held on Thursday, October 26, one wonders why the senators have not settled for plenary.

“I move that the Senate do adjourn to Tuesday 31st October 2017 at 10 a.m. prompt, I so move,” Mr. Lawan had said on October 26.

But when the lawmakers resumed on October 31, the senators preferred to have small talks among themselves, even after the Senate President had said the prayer. The day’s business is yet to begin and would not until the chief whip spends minutes calling the house to order.

The happenings on October 31 were, however, not unique. A PREMIUM TIMES investigation over three weeks revealed that the Senate does not start plenary until about an hour after the time adjourned to.

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

According to the Senate standing order 2015, as amended, the lawmakers are expected to meet between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. of Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Section 13 (2) of the order reads, “On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday, the Senate shall meet at 2.00p.m. and unless previously adjourned shall sit until 6p.m. unless before 6p.m. a substantive motion had been moved by the leave 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 6.00p.m the President of the Senate shall adjourn the Senate without question being put.”

However, the order in section 25 (h) empowers the Senate President to ‘interpret the rules.’ This probably explains the reason why the Senate has adopted the 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. plenary time over the years.

WHY SENATE STARTS PLENARY LATE

A PREMIUM TIMES reporter who observed the activities of lawmakers of the red chamber for weeks discovered among others reasons late arrival of principal officers, late arrival of other senators and non-maintenance of decorum as reasons the Senate starts plenary late.

By interpretation of the standing order, plenary is supposed to start at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. But never did it start at this particular time, or even 40 minutes later, for the weeks this investigation was carried out.

Findings by this reporter revealed that the lateness of principal officers of the Senate, most especially the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, remains one of the prime reasons why the senate sessions start late.

Apart from entering the chambers almost one hour late, the two officers hardly arrive the premises of the chamber until at least 24 minutes later than 10 a.m.

For instance, on October 25, Mr. Saraki did not arrive the premises until 10:25 a.m.10:26 a.m. onNovember 2 and 10:28 a.m. on November 8.

The same holds for the Deputy Senate President who arrived earliest on October 24 at 10:24 a.m.

Meanwhile, the arrival of these principal officers at the premises does not determine the start of plenary. Rather, they spend at least 30 minutes going about other ‘businesses’ before entering the chamber proper.

A time record kept for these weeks shows the average time of entry of the presiding officer into the chamber as 10:57 a.m.

On October 24, the senate president entered the chamber at 10:45 a.m. and said the prayer at10:48 a.m. Coincidentally, he entered at 11:01 a.m. the next day and on Thursday, October 26, and said prayer at 11:03 a.m. on both days.

On October 31, he entered the chambers 10:59 a.m. and said the prayer three minutes after while on November 1, a day the Senate President was away to attend the inauguration of Boss Mustapha, the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Ekweremadu entered the chamber at 10:56 a.m. and said prayer two minutes after entry.

The trend continued for other days: 10:57 a.m. for November 2, 10:58 a.m. for November 8 and 10:56 a.m. for November 9.

DECORUM

Order 56 (2) and (3) of the Senate standing order notes that “during a sitting, all Senators shall enter and leave the Senate with decorum” and that “every Senator when he or she comes to the chamber, shall take his or her seat and shall not at any time stand in any of the passage or gangways.”

This is what the law says; but in reality, things do not operate that way. The lawmakers have to always be reminded to be decorous.

The first paragraph of this report fully grasps what the Chief Whip, Olusola Adeyeye, goes through before getting a partial decorum for the plenary to start.

In all of the days PREMIUM TIMES closely monitored the start of proceedings, he had to call senators by names to maintain decorum. This takes at least another 10 minutes of the time, even after the senate President might have said the prayers.

On Tuesday, October 24 when the prayer was said at 10:48 a.m., the consideration of the previous day’s votes and proceedings did not start until 10:55 a.m. On Wednesday, October 25, it was six minutes after prayer, five minutes after on Thursday October 26, 10 minutes after on Tuesday October 31, and seven minutes after on November 1.

The shortest time spent by the Chief Whip to maintain decorum was five minutes; on Thursday, November 2 when consideration of votes and proceedings started at 11:03 after the prayer had been said at 10:58.

Meanwhile, on November 8, it took 12 minutes to maintain decorum. The longest time it took to maintain decorum was on November 9 when the day’s business did not start until 22 minutes after the prayer.

MOST PUNCTUAL SENATOR

For the weeks of this investigation, PREMIUM TIMES reporter observed the arrival of one of the senators who stood himself out as he constantly arrived earlier than others.

Representing Kano North, Barau Jibrin arrived the chamber latest at 10:17 a.m., most days having to sit alone to review the order paper before the arrival of others.

On October 24, he arrived at 10:17 a.m. On October 25, he arrived at 10:14 a.m.; at 10:16 a.m. on October 26 and at 10:12 a.m. on November 2.

PREMIUM TIMES reporter also observed that the scheduled activities of a senator mostly determines whether he or she would arrive early or not. Senators who have a motion, petition or report to present often arrive early and sometimes before every other to study their presentations.

On October 31 when Oyo senator, Monsurat Sumonu, was to present a motion on the ‘Inadequate maintenance of Federal Government owned hospitals,’ she arrived at 10:17 a.m.

The Kogi West Senator, Dino Melaye, arrived at the chambers at 10:18 a.m. on November 2, the day he raised a petition of “monumental fraud” in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.

The same style was adopted by Emmanuel Paulker of Bayelsa Central on November 8 when his motion on ‘illegal extension of tenure of board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC’ was first on the order paper. He arrived at 10:24 a.m.

QUORUM

The standing order of the Senate provides that ‘the quorum of the Senate shall be one third of the members of the Senate’. But for the days under review, only thrice was there a quorum when the Senate President said the prayer. This brings to question the decision taken at those times a quorum wasn’t formed.

The 109-member Senate has to have at least a one-third of its members, 36, to form a quorum.

A total of 18, 33 and 15 senators were present at the chamber on October 24, October 25 and October 26 respectively based on a count conducted after the Senate President had said the prayer.

Tuesday, October 31 recorded the highest number of 47 senators while there were 40 on November 2, 30 on November 8 and 17 senators on November 9.

Worthy of note is the plenary of Thursday November 9 which had, throughout, a scanty chamber. On this day, the Senate approved a $350 million loan request for Ogun State and mandated its committees on Diaspora, Foreign Affairs and Special Duties to investigate the unfortunate incident of death of 26 Nigerian girls whose bodies were found on a Spanish warship.

The irrevocability of these decisions comes under serious doubt as only 17 senators started the plenary and 18 of them were present at 12:43 p.m. when the motion for adjournment was adopted.

WHAT NIGERIA LOSES

Despite the lateness in commencement of plenary, the senators waste no time in calling for a ‘stand down of other items on the order paper’ and seconding a motion for adjournment whenever it was raised by the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan.

The plenary was ended at 1:24 p.m. on October 24, 1:27 p.m. on October 25, 1:16 p.m. on October 26, 1:38 p.m. on October 31, 1:13 p.m. on November 1 and 1:42 p.m. on November 2.

The latest time was November 8 when the senators unanimously agreed to extend the sitting beyond 2.p.m. Even at that, the plenary ended at 2:04 p.m.

On average, the senators ended the plenary at 1:26 p.m. after spending a mean time of 2 hours and 27 minutes each day, far less than the 4 hours quoted in the standing order.

Apart from the fact that the citizens are robbed of legislative time for important debates, consideration and passage of bills could have been effected. However, irrespective of the time spent at plenary, the senators also always receive full pay.

A PREMIUM TIMES analysis conducted based on data received from Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, shows that a senator earns about N19.66 million annually as salary and allowance. This excludes the hefty quarterly allowances lawmakers pay themselves – which they call office running cost.

OUR LATENESS JUSTIFIED – SPOKESPERSON

When confronted with questions on this report, Senate spokesperson, Sabi Abdullahi, justified all the activities of the senators including lateness to plenary and not forming quorum before proceedings start.

Mr. Abdullahi said the Senate has absolute power to interpret its laws and determine its activities.

“The power to interpret the entire rule itself, the final authority is our presiding officer, the Senate President. The constitution says we shall regulate our own affairs. That is the way it is. The constitution says the National Assembly shall regulate its own affairs. So what is internal to us is our own affairs.

“The interpretation of our laws or that order itself is subject to the presiding officer. And remember, we also by motion normally move to amend whatever it is in that document. You are fully aware that at some points we need to stand down and when we stand down, it’s for a particular purpose. So, there is nothing sacrosanct. That document is not sacrosanct. It is our document. We wrote it and we can change it in our own way.”

He challenged anyone who seeks to change the status quo to contest and become a senator in order to do so.

“This (starting plenary late) is not subject to anybody’s interpretation or debate because if we decide to stand down our order and to go down two, three, four hours beyond our normal time, why is nobody talking.

“Nobody can dictate to us. They are not senators. If they want to come and change things then let them come and become Senators and they can do what they want. Some of these things are not good for us. This is democracy, we should strengthen our legislature and not weaken them.”


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  • Emeka

    “Are you sure this spokes(wo)man said what was credited to him…?” If that is true, then we are in for it!

  • Suleiman Alatise

    What else do one expects from comedians and pretenders.

  • Patriot01

    What i find amusing is this: consider for example the senate enters plenary 3 days in a week, making a total of +- 12 days in a month, making a total of 144 days in a year of active official engagement on the floor doing their job they were supposed to do.
    The senators are supposed to spend at least 4 hours of scheduled activities like deliberations with order papers and presentations. That does not happen because going by what the writer points out they only spend half of 4 hours thereby reducing the working hours to barely 2, making a total active time of 72 hours of legislative time. The question then is: How does 72 hours translate to N19.6 Million Naira (Annual) of our hard earned national wealth? Is our system written in the constitution really protecting taxpayers? Does the senate standing orders have teeth in ensuring decorum & accountability? Are we as a people condoning lawmakers to perpetuate corruption? These and many more are some cogent questions that we need to ask ourselves, because at the rate this is going we are nowhere close to being productive.

  • MP-001* [Joint Chief]

    “The power to interpret the entire rule itself, the final authority is our presiding officer, the Senate President. The constitution says we shall regulate our own affairs. That is the way it is. The constitution says the National Assembly shall regulate its own affairs. So what is internal to us is our own affairs.”
    ——————–
    So basically you lot are a law to yourselves, Nigerians and Nigeria ? It’s a pity.

    • Steve

      They are the UNTOUCHABLES!!!

  • JasV

    I will definitely NOT be a senator with a buffoon like this sabi.

  • NoBeLie

    Good reporting Kemi, PT.
    Mr Abdulahi clearly doesn’t know that senators are there to be servants of their constituencies. Electorates have to beg them to do their job. And this is just one of the many wrong mentalities affecting us as a people.

  • Ahiaba Alilu Felix

    #19.something million per yr no wonder the battle for the position is always hot. They a just there cheating .God de

  • Tijani

    Every now and then Premium Times exhibits madness and degenerates into gutter journalism, assumedly for a stuffed brown envelope of sleazy cash. Of course no such record is published of Federal Executive Council meetings, manipulated or otherwise.

    • Steve

      Your details(stuffed brown envelope) about the sleazy seems like you know a lot about it yourself. Or did I miss something?

      • Tijani

        Your lack of comprehension is pitiful. Which part of the word “assumedly” is it that you do not or cannot comprehend? A simple comparison and contrasr analysis of Premium Times usual higher standards and this aberrant piece of trash journalism is a basic marker of fake manipulated news even to the undiscrening reader. That is assuming you can read.

        • Steve

          I knew I was missing something, clearly you’re a full time paid troll. Just wondering if you’re paid with brown envelopes or you’re just another favor-currying sycophant.

          • Tijani

            Well you certainly know everything apparently salient about paying and paid trolls, and about trolling. Fake pastorian dullardeen troll.

    • tundemash

      Mor0n, how does this justify the unseriousness of these your benefactor legislooters ?

  • Steve

    “The power to interpret the entire rule itself, the final authority is our presiding officer, the Senate President. The constitution says we shall regulate our own affairs. That is the way it is. The constitution says the National Assembly shall regulate its own affairs. So what is internal to us is our own affairs.
    LOL!!! Jokers.

  • OkoOsoOkoAje

    Hmm!!! What else does one expects? A nation deserves the nature of the leadership which emerges from her communities as it is a true reflection of the value system her citizens uphold.

  • shola

    Why should they be punctual? Who is to maintain order and decorum? The Nigeria senate is their property. They are the “untouchables”

  • NotTooComplicated

    Good investigative journalism. This may not change things much, but when people are aware that rubbish will be brought to light, those perpetuating it will think of changing. So I see this reporting to be beneficial to Nigerians. The more people are aware that our senators are only there for selfish means and not for the benefit of the people, the more people will call for change.

  • prince10

    Quite unfortunate Sabi shouldn’t have be a representative of any body so the senators has become lord unto them selves even more powerful than Nig president that was elected by all Nigerians, The arms of government that has become bane of retrogression supporting and fighting for corrupt people in our society, wonder shall never end,,,,,,

  • Eja

    Demallcrazy in action. Currently the biggest operational fraud in nigeria.