The Nigerian Senate is gradually becoming a retirement chamber for former governors who still want to remain politically relevant
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Dec. 16, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IN April, Godswill Akpabio, governor of Awka Ibom state, stirred the hornet’s nest and altered some political permutations when he declared his ambition to become a senator in 2015 when his second term as governor expires. What was supposed to be a mere declaration of interest by the Akwa Ibom state helmsman turned out to be a keg of gun powder that sparked a flurry of controversies in the state.
The moment the news of Akpabio’s ambition went viral, Aloysius Etuk, the incumbent senator representing Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, also declared his intention to return to the Senate. Etuk’s insistence to contest the seat with Akpabio who is considered by many as the political leader in the state, pitched his supporters against those of Akpabio. Days after, there were reported clashes between both camps as neither Akpabio nor Etuk had indicated any interest to forgo their ambitions.
The Akpabio versus Etuk rift bares semblance to what is happening in Niger state. The state has been enmeshed in a quiet political maelstrom over the purported ambition of Babangida Aliyu, the incumbent governor, to vie for a senatorial seat in 2015. Like Etuk, Dahiru Kuta, the incumbent senator representing Niger-east senatorial district, where Aliyu hails from, is unwilling to relinquish the seat and is gearing for a fight.
In a recent interview with a newspaper, Kuta reminded Aliyu that replacing him at the Senate would not be an easy task. He reiterated his commitment to seek another term in the Senate and also boasted that he could not be intimidated by other politicians in the state. “I am a grassroots man who has been in politics for almost 35 years now; I am one of the few senior politicians in Niger State. I have strong support of the people of my constituency. I am confident of the type of relationship that I have established between me and the people who elected me, so apart from God, I don’t fear anybody in politics.”
By virtue of their declarations and happenings in their states, Akpabio’s and Aliyu’s ambitions may have become open secrets, but they are not the only governors nursing aspirations to become senators. Feelers from various states suggest that many incumbent governors, especially those serving second terms have their eyes on the Senate. Those who have not mustered the courage to come out clear like the duo of Akpabio and Aliyu, are making covert moves that will bring their ambitions into fruition. In Benue State, for instance, it is said that Gabriel Suswam, the incumbent governor, is angling to go to the Senate in 2015. Like his counterparts, he has been meeting with people from his constituency to garner support for his ambition.
For political observers in the country, the senatorial ambitions of current governors hold no surprise. They are not the first to do so, neither will they be the last. Since Nigeria’s return to civil rule 1999, the Senate has become an attractive destination for ex-military administrators, former governors and ministers. For many of these men who have practically spent a better part of their adult lives in the corridors of power at various levels, a seat at the hallowed chamber is the best way to remain relevant politically.
At the moment, there are about 10 former governors in the Senate and there is a strong possibility that many of them will be there for a long time to come. Seven of the 10 governors turned-senators were elected during the 2011 general elections. The roll call include George Akume of Benue, Bukola Saraki and Mohammed Lafiagi of Kwara, Abdullahi Adamu of Nassarawa, Joshua Dariye of Plateau and Bukar Ibrahim of Yobe. Others are Ahmed Makarfi of Kaduna, Chris Ngige of Anambra, Ahmed Yerima of Zamafara and Danjuma Goje of Gombe state. The number will increase if the names of those of who served as governors before 1999 are included in the list.
Many reasons have been adduced for the sudden desperation by governors to become senators. There are those who opine that many of these governors, especially those who have been involved in some corruption cases, zealously pursue senatorial ambitions to shield themselves from the law.
Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State, is one senator who gives credence to this school of thought. It is widely believed that Dariye chose to go to the Senate in order to hide from the economic and financial crimes commission, EFCC, which was bent on prosecuting him for corruption. It will be recalled that while serving as governor between 1999 and 2007, Dariye was arrested in London in 2004 for being in possession of large sums of money. He, however, skipped bail and returned to Nigeria to resume his duties as governor. The EFCC charged him to court for the embezzlement of state funds in 2006 but till date, the case has not gone far.
George Akume, former governor of Benue State, is also another example. He is also accused of using the Senate as a means of evading prosecution. Akume became a Senator in 2007 after ruling Benue for eight years. He was re-elected to the Senate in April 2011 on the platform of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. The Broad Street Journal reported that sometimes in 2005, Akume’s international passport was seized by the EFCC.
Asides running from the long arms of the law, some have alleged that governors aspire for senatorial positions just to pass away time, enjoy their loots and rake in more ‘jumbo pay’ from the national treasury. With more than N48 million as salary every quarter, senators in Nigeria are some of the highest paid in the world. Unlike those employed in other spheres of human endeavour, Nigerian senators have so much time to spare as they do not have to work every day. Section 63 of the 1999 constitution states that: “The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each sit for a period of not less than one hundred and eighty-one days in a year.” That leaves a senator with about 184 days of idleness in a year.
Like a double-edged sword, having former governors in the Senate has its pros and cons. Some analysts have argued that because lawmaking is a different business from governing a state, the governors may feel like a fish out of water in the Senate. Wesley Ekpekuede, a political science lecturer at Niger Delta University, says the trend is bad for Nigerian’s democracy because it will deny other people the opportunity to contribute to national development.
“It is bad for our democracy because what we are doing is simply recycling leaders. How can someone who has been governor for eight years retire to the Senate? What contribution will he make? They are just there to enjoy the perks and pass away time.”Ekpekuede’s views tally with that of Olorunnimbe Mamora, a former senator. In a recent interview, Mamora said the Nigerian Senate will soon become an assembly of former governors.
“It has become the habit of former governors to see the Senate as their retirement ground. It will get to a time that the Senate will become the assembly of former governors. Unfortunately, we have nothing to show for it because all they do is try and remote-control the governors they installed. We are so unserious in this country; otherwise those who want to remain in positions should be people who have shown a level of commitment. These former governors lack legislative experience because they are coming from the executive. The Senate should be a place of serious legislative processes.”
For ordinary Nigerians, it doesn’t matter who goes to the Senate as long as they make the right laws to help move the country forward. Jude Uwem, an Abuja-based banker, said: Governors, ministers, anyone can aspire to be senators. What is most important to me and other well meaning Nigerians is that they make laws that will help this country develop.”