“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.
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.
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.”