There are a few things that I would have loved we had done a little bit better. It will be difficult to begin to enumerate them. I believe that if I check from 1999 to 2003, I think some of the changes in leadership that happened between 1999 and 2003 were totally unnecessary. They destabilized the Senate. Within that time, I believe the Senate Presidents were leaving their houses for the National Assembly, not sure whether they will come back to the same chamber as Senate Presidents. That is not good enough for any leader. I think looking at it from that perspective, over the years, we have grown. We are matured now. The people who are in the Senate now are very different from the people we had between 1999 and 2003 without naming any individual and I believe that will continue.
In 1999, only a few politicians were convinced that the military were going to hand over. So, only risk-takers were prepared to invest money and go into politics. In 2003, when people started appreciating the stability in the polity, more people joined the race. So, by 2007, more came in and that is why if you look at the Senate now, virtually everybody in the Senate is an accomplished Nigerian.
There seem to be a misunderstanding between the leadership of the Senate and that of the House of Representatives. What is responsible for this?
Even in a family, you will have minor disagreement here and there. But let me make this clear, that there is absolutely no gap, no rift between the Senate and the House of Representatives. Our rules are clearly defined and we do not have to meet everyday, otherwise we will not be doing our work. They have their own place to work. We have our own place, I do not know the leadership you are talking about, but I know that we have a very cordial relationship between the members of the Upper House and the members of the House of Representatives. I think it is you journalists who are creating the problem to sell your papers quickly. If there is a small rift, you people will make it big. The leadership met in my house yesterday and we had dinner we wined and dined. We joked and talked. So, I do not think that there is anything that you consider as a rift and I am honest about that.
What about the chairman and co-chair issue over the joint constitution review committee?
Whether we have a joint committee working together or we have committees in the House of Representatives or in the Senate, at the end of the day, we are still going back to our individual chambers. So, I think there is a bit of mix-up. I do not know whether the belief is that once there is a joint committee working, the Senate will give up its own right to consider a Bill or the House will give up its own right to consider a Bill. No.
The essence of really working together is to save cost. And then to save time so that when the joint committees come up with a Bill, we are considering the same bill in the Senate. The House is considering the same Bill. I think that we must get that right. Assuming for a moment there is no joint committee, the Senate will consider its own, the House will consider its own, but we still have to meet. Because once there are differences, we get a conference committee. So, at one time or the other, we will meet and we all understand that. So that is why I am emphasising that let people not blow it out of proportion that there is a rift between the Senate and the House of Representatives. Of course, we are not reciting the same apostle creed nor are all reciting our Lord’s prayers. So we will be approaching it differently.
What is responsible for the unusual stability in the Senate in terms of its leadership unlike the previous Senates where leadership was changed several times?
One thing I have enjoyed working with this press corps is the frankness and candidness, the openness with which we have operated and I think that is what gives credibility to any organization. If you are frank and open, people will accept even when you make a mistake. If I make a mistake today as the President of the Senate, I will be the first person to own up. I will be the first person to apologise because to err is human. Anybody here can make a mistake. I am not an infallible person and no senator is. If I make a mistake, if I err, I will apologise to my colleagues and above, all I will apologise to Nigerians. So, the ability to admit ones mistake is the quality of a leader.
Secondly, the people who support you, carry them along. I say this because I saw in one publication that some people are not being carried along in the Senate. For goodness sake, for an election that took place 24 months ago, why should somebody remember it anymore? Every member of the Senate is equal. I am just chosen among equals to preside. Anybody here is capable of being the president. If you see it from that perspective, it means you must carry everybody along and you must be frank, because there are occasions just like in every human, you feel that one senator has done something which you do not like, open up. A leader must also learn to forget and move forward. So, a strong display of openness, I belief is what we need in this country and we are displaying it from the Senate. In our close session, several times my colleagues criticise me. They do it but I am grateful to them because after that criticism, in the close session, not one of them has come out to say, this is what we told the Senate President. If they are not good people, they will come out and say this was what we told the Senate President. But nobody has said so. We have had heated arguments in our closed sessions, but once we come out and the majority is saying this is where we are going, the rest will agree. The team play is also very crucial.