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February 24

February 24 BACK PAGE COLUMN In defence of Senator Marafa By Mohammed Haruna Mr. Alabi Tajudeen is an ardent reader of this column by his…

February 24


In defence of Senator Marafa

By Mohammed Haruna

Mr. Alabi Tajudeen is an ardent reader of this column by his own say-so. So far we’ve met only on the screens of our handsets as he frequently texts me his opinion on various issues unsolicited. Occasionally he has alerted me to news items that have escaped my attention. I’ve found those alerts useful.

He sent me one such alert over the weekend. “My dear brother,” he said in his text, “if you have any means of communicating with Senator Kabiru Marafa, tell him he is my MAN OF THE YEAR 2015 & MY MAN OF THE MOMENT.”

I’ve known Senator Marafa from Zamfara State casually long before he first became one in 2011. I’ve also had his phone number since his return to the Red Chamber last year. However, I hardly got in touch with him since he led the failed campaign to elect Ahmed Lawan from Yobe State as Senate President against Dr. Bukola Saraki. Even then I promised Tajudeen, my “ardent” respondent, that I’ll find a way to deliver his message.

I eventually did by forwarding his text to the senator after a phone call yesterday to confirm I still had the right number. Before then, however, I suspected something must have triggered Tajudeen’s text beyond his self-admitted dislike to me of Saraki over the former two-term Kwara State governor’s politics and Tajudeen’s commensurate admiration for Marafa for his determined opposition to the Senate President.

I suspected that it might have had something to do with news of the Marafa’s defiance of the Senate over its threat to suspend him for his remarks in support of a recent letter former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote to both the Speaker of House of Representative, and the Senate President, accusing the National Assembly of being out and out corrupt.

Before news of the threat broke out I’d, as I do routinely, clipped pages of several newspapers for photocopying into A4 size for ease of my record keeping. One of the pages I’d clipped was a two-page interview Sunday PUNCH (February 7) had with Marafa. As I’d merely skimmed through it before folding it away for subsequent photocopying, I wondered if the senator said something outrageous in his interview to have provoked the Senate’s threat to suspend him, a thing that must’ve made him Tajudeen’s “Man of the Moment”, in addition to being his “Man of the Year 2015”.

To confirm my suspicion I went back to read the interview in full. I found nothing in it to warrant the accusation by his two colleagues who had petitioned the Senate against him, namely, Isa Hamman Misau from Bauchi, seconded by Mathew Urhoghide from Edo, that his Sunday PUNCH interview, had “demeaned” the Senate.

Not so surprisingly, however, the interview turned out to be the object of the Senate’s great anger with Marafa. As you read this piece, the Senate may have already carried out its threat to suspend him based on the recommendation of it’s Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition, chaired by Senator Samuel Anyanwu.

Alluding to President Obasanjo’s well-publicized letter to the leadership of the National Assembly, Urhoghide had, in seconding Misau, said he did not take the former president’s charge seriously until it was repeated by one of their very own.

“I was not bordered (sic) about Obasanjo’s claim,” the senator said, “but on Feb 7, Sen. Marafa granted an interview and what he said are in tandem with the claims of Obasanjo. I don’t think the 8th senate has expressed any element of greed or recklessness, these are not friendly terms, they are despicable. So, he (Marafa) should be called to explain how corrupt the senate is. The committee should ask him why he colluded with Obasanjo to bring the reputation of the senate down.”

Any fair-minded reading of Marafa’s interview would find it hard to agree with the two petitioners that he “colluded” with the former president to sully the reputation of the Senate. Indeed it is hard to be more cautious than Marafa was in his choice of words in his newspaper interview.

First, he was careful to point out that he did not think Obasanjo’s letter, which he said he had not seen in full, referred to the current Senate. “I remember I saw excerpts of the letter and he was talking about laying bare the budgets of 2000, 2005 and 2015. He was not particular about the 8th Senate, I think.”

When the newspaper persisted in it’s believe that Obasanjo made no exception of the current Senate, Marafa was again careful to point out that the Senate President neither read out the letter on the floor of the Senate nor did he make it available to its members so he would not comment on its content. “I don’t like speculation,” he said.

All the same, he said, he agreed with the well-publicized gist of Obasanjo’s letter that fiscal transparency has been lacking in the conduct of affairs of the National Assembly, something Marafa said even the Senate President himself agreed with.

He said he objected not as much to the size of the National Assembly’s budgets as he did its lack of transparency. Anyone sincerely interested in the success of the current fight against corruption, he said, should key into the new zero-based budgeting system of President Muhammadu Buhari whereby expenditures are disaggregated item by item, line by line, to allow for transparency and accountability.

Few people would disagree with that. Indeed it beggars belief that anyone would accuse Marafa of “demeaning” the Senate by calling for fiscal transparency and accountability the way he did.

It seems then that the senator’s echoing of the gist of Obasanjo’s two unflattering letters to the leadership of the National Assembly was a mere camouflage to get at him as a relentless critic of what he says are the Senate leadership’s translucent conduct of the Upper Chamber.

Among his list of criticisms of the Senate leadership is that it forged the current rules governing the conduct of the house and frequently breaks even those ones. The leadership does not seem to have found credible answers to the huge controversy those charges have raised.

He has also accused the leadership of profligacy and patronage by, among other things, increasing the Senate Committees from an already high 57 to an unsustainable 67 and also by voting over 4.5 billion Naira for cars for the senators in spite of their car loans. Few reasonable people would disagree with the senator that the Senate leadership has been less than prudent.

Marafa has also accused the Senate leadership of upending the senate’s time-honoured and universal rules of ranking senators by experience. It has done so, he said, to patronize the new senators, mostly from the Peoples Democratic Party, the new main opposition party, who supported its controversial election in May last year. As with the allegation of forging new Senate rules for the leadership’s convenience, it has also not been able to give satisfactory explanation for pushing aside seniority and party size in its allocation of committee leadership.

However, in spite of the difficulty in faulting Marafa’s allegations, the Ethics Committee has apparently found no difficulty in recommending the senator for suspension. Its excuse, faithfully echoed by some media outfits, was that he refused to appear before it to defend himself.

Since then he has said he did not appear before the committee, not because he had no respect for it, which he insisted he did as a member of the committee in the previous senate and as someone who should respect law and order. He did not appear before the committee, he said, simply because he was not duly told of its new date after the first one was postponed because he had to attend the funeral of the mother of one of his colleagues who died last week. The Senate Clerk had claimed he sent him a text on the new date.

“I asked when he invited me to the meeting,” the senator said, “and he said he sent a text to me when he could not reach me. I went through all my phone messages and I did not see any text from him at all. I challenge the clerk to show me any evidence that he sent any text to me.”

It’s not impossible, but it’s hard to believe the senator would fib about getting fair hearing. But even if he did, the Senate leadership owed itself to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it was not out to witch hunt him because of his unrelenting criticisms of its conduct. Relying on last minute texts for invitation to an important hearing is hardly anyone’s idea of fair hearing.

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