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Donkeying or monkeying around: What kind of Senate is Akpabio’s running?

In Aesop’s Fables, we read of a donkey that climbed the roof of a building, hopping and prancing about playfully until the owner climbed up…

In Aesop’s Fables, we read of a donkey that climbed the roof of a building, hopping and prancing about playfully until the owner climbed up after it and whacked the donkey to stop its shenanigans. Stunned, the donkey looked up at the owner and said, “Why? I saw the monkey do this yesterday and it provided you great amusement.” 

If the donkey had known the Hausa proverb that said where one goes to dance and is rewarded with gifts and riches, another might go and be rewarded with beating, he probably would have thought twice about dancing on the roof. He would have considered that though monkey and donkey are just separated by one letter, they are fundamentally not the same. 

The 10th Senate in Nigeria, under the leadership of Senator Godswill Akpabio, has started off not certain if it is a donkey doing monkey business or vice versa. Barely a couple of months in, we already have a series of unfortunate events that suggest a cognitive dissonance with reality on the part of the Senate. Senate President Akpabio has brought a rather playful attitude to the task of running the legislature and seems quite oblivious to that most Nigerian of expressions: the boys are not smiling. 

Already, a women’s group, the Niger Delta Women’s League, has staged a protest with calls for Akpabio to resign his appointment. They have even given him one one-month ultimatum to meet their demand. Their particular grouse is the largesse the senators’ have awarded themselves, which Nigerians learnt about when the Senate president playfully announced to his colleagues that the Senate clerk has sent them some monies to “enjoy our holidays.” I mean, they have only started work just a month or so before and already they are going on holiday and they are paying themselves a lot of money to go enjoy themselves while the rest of Nigerians are being asked to chop off their fingers and add them to the national soup. These are sacrifices that people can scarcely afford. 

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Anyone who lives in Nigeria knows to what extent the subsidy removal has strained the meagre earnings of Nigerians who have been told that they have to pay more for fuel so the country could save more to build better infrastructure.

Ignoring the mood of the country, Senator Akpabio decided these austerities should not affect himself and his colleagues. And when it was brought to his attention that such matters were not to be announced for the hearing of the common man, he said, “I withdraw that statement. In order to allow you to enjoy your holiday, the Senate President has sent prayers to your mailboxes to assist you to go on a safe journey and return.” 

Insult to injury. Of course, Nigerians felt insulted and they made this known in the typical lackadaisical Nigerian fashion—on social media rants and newsstand bickering. Perhaps only the Niger Delta Women’s League had decided to take this outrage to the next level, to protest and demand Akpabio’s resignation. But again, with Nigerian politics, nothing is as it seems and one stands the risk of being made a fool of by taking things on face value. Is there a possibility that the outrage of these women has been procured by some other politicians pulling the puppet strings somewhere? Yes, that cannot be discounted since even a cursory look does not show the existence or any activity of the so-called Niger Delta Women’s League prior to this protest. 

Is there also a possibility that the outrage is genuine, sincere? Absolutely. What Akpabio has been doing warrants such outrage and calls. 

It is not just about this holiday enjoyment slip. There are other infringements. For instance, one of the first things the Senate did upon its inauguration was to amend the 2023 supplementary budget to allocate an extra N70 billion for the house. The purpose of this allocation is purportedly to refurbish the National Assembly. This is the same complex that in 2021, a contract of N30.2 billion was awarded for its refurbishment to Messrs Visible Construction Nigeria Limited. While this contract is still being executed, with nine out of the 18 projects completed for a cost of N19 billion already, as disclosed by the Executive Secretary of the FCDA, Shehu Ahmad, the senators decided they wanted to do things differently. 

While the Senate, through the Senate Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Yemi Adaramodu, and other lawmakers who have made media appearances, have tried to brand Nigerians’ outrage over this appropriation as “spurious”, it is their justification of it that appears even more spurious. They claim that they needed the money to install carpets and flat screens in their offices. They even claimed that some of them had to bring chairs and tables from their homes to the NASS because apparently, these aren’t available in a building that cost the country nothing less than N115 billion every year since 2015. That figure was N139 billion in 2022. Yet, senators are still trucking in tables and chairs from their homes, if the senators are to be believed.

When you consider that the Clerk of the Senate, Magaji Tambuwal, in trying to clear himself from the holiday largesse slip, said he paid out N2 million to each senator as part of their office running cost—as captured in the 2023 budget—then you end up with more questions than answers. Something does not add up. 

If there was anything that demonstrated the levity that Senator Akpabio brought to the discharge of this onerous national task, it is in the handling of the ministerial screening exercise where what should be the hallowed ground of the Senate was turned into a circus with nominees jocularly told to take a bow and go because they got emotional, and others who needed to clarify discrepancies in their school certificates, like the one who started primary school at age three, or the other who was admitted to the university with two credits, were asked to bow and go.

Of course, everyone knows horse trading and favours are done in such political arrangements, but the comicality with which this task was handled by the Senate president did not reflect the grim state of the nation or the seriousness of the assignment. 

Nigeria is facing severe economic hardships and many Nigerians need their faith in the country renewed. Yet, here we are with a Senate that demonstrates, repeatedly, a dissociation from the reality of the country, the hardship that the citizens are facing and the urgency and professionalism that need to be brought on board to salvage the situation. What would be worse would be for this expensive institution to be turned into a wanton money-guzzling stand-up comedy sideshow that no one wants and no one finds funny.  

The dealings of the NASS have always been questionable and the rationale for a bogus, expensive bicameral legislature has always been disputed. Suggestions for the trimming (or more appropriately, the slashing) of the cost of governance have come up for discussion often. It will come up again and again with the way Akpabio’s senate is conducting its affairs. 

To return to Aesop’s fable, it is pertinent to point out that donkeys are often kept for work—they are called beasts of burden for a reason after all—and are rarely found in the circus, while monkeys are primarily kept for the amusement of the keepers. The National Assembly is not a circus and should not be run like one. It goes without saying that our legislatures are not monkeys either and they should not present as such. Let donkeys be donkeys while monkeys monkey around. 

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