The National Assembly is fast gaining notoriety for its intolerance to the fundamental rights of legislators to freedom of expression.
Ovie Omo-Agege, the senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, became the latest victim on Thursday, earning himself a 90-legislative-day suspension for daring to say that the Electoral Act amendment by the Senate was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Senate sits for 180 or 181 days in a calendar year, therefore 90 legislative days translates to half a year.
It did not matter to the senators that Omo-Agege was flanked by nine other senators when he addressed the press conference in February and was merely a spokesperson on behalf of all of them.
Among those who supported Omo-Agege were Abdullahi Adamu, former Governor of Nasarawa State; Umar Kurfi, Benjamin Uwajumogu, Binta Masi Garba, Andrew Uchendu, Yahaya Abdullahi, Ali Wakil, Abdullahi Gumel and Abu Ibrahim.
It also did not matter that Omo-Agege had already apologised to his colleagues by the time Dino Melaye, controversial Kogi senator, raised a motion saying Omo-Agege’s comments had brought disrepute to the Senate.
Of the 10 senators, only Omo-Agege was suspended — for expressing his conviction that in amending the Electoral Act, the lawmakers were thinking about just themselves and their reelection, not necessarily the development of the country’s electoral system.
Who are the other lawmakers to have suffered similar fate in the past?
For insisting that the Electoral Act amendment was targeted at Buhari, Adamu was swiftly removed as Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum. In an attempt to justify their move, the lawmakers said Adamu was removed for financial misappropriation and mismanagement.
“Part of my crime is my stand on the amendment to the Electoral Act. In that controversial amendment, the Senate seeks to change the order of elections decided by the electoral umpire, INEC, for the 2019 general election,” Adamu told journalists.
“Some of my colleagues and I were opposed to this amendment on the grounds that it is not the duty of the senate to determine the order of elections. It had never been part of the Electoral Act and there is no need to deny the commission the right to do its duty as it deems fit.”
Asked whether he feared being suspended, Adamu said: “I would not be surprised if such an extreme form of punishment is being contemplated by the senate leadership, [but] if the intention is to gag me or intimidate me, I am afraid it would not be worth the effort.”
‘Luckily’, Adamu survived suspension, but whether he will be bold enough to oppose the senate leadership in the future is left to be seen.
Ndume was once Majority Leader of the eighth Senate. He had contested the senate presidency but lost out to Bukola Saraki.
But Ndume recorded another loss when he raised a motion during a senate plenary drawing attention to newspaper reports accusing Saraki of importing bullet-proof SUVs into the country without paying appropriate custom duty, and also that Dino Melaye did not graduate from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, as he claimed.
Saraki and Melaye were later cleared after a probe panel established that the former was not the importer of the said vehicle, and that Melaye indeed graduated from ABU Zaria.
“For making hurtful statements” against fellow senators, Ndume was suspended for six months.
At the beginning of the eighth National Assembly, Jibrin was one of the right-hand men of Yakubu Dogara and played a prominent role in his emergence as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
As his reward, Jibrin was named Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, a committee widely known to be ‘juicy’.
The story changed when, just after the presentation of the 2016 budget to the legislators by President Muhammadu Buhari, Jibrin was removed as Chairman of the appropriation committee.
He immediately took to Twitter to narrate how he was removed for refusing to allow Dogara and other principal officers of the House to illegally ‘pad’ the budget.
He said his removal enabled Dogara to insert several illegal items into the budget to the tune of billions of naira.
But despite ‘shaking the table’ with all the strength he could muster, Jibrin ended up with a 180-legislative-day suspension. All his allegations came to nothing, despite the many evidence he claimed to have submitted to the EFCC and ICPC.
Members of the two chambers of the National Assembly who have serious cases of wrongdoing against them are still walking free with no sanction against them.
For instance, Foster Ogola, senator representing Bayelsa West, was exposed as parading a fake PhD certificate in Christian Leadership from one GMF Christian University, Lagos. The so-called university is not registered by the National Universities Commission (NUC). In fact, investigations show that the purported university is located in a flat of three rooms somewhere in Isolo, Lagos.
Similarly, Dino Melaye claims to have obtained certificates from Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science. But this is not true. Both institutions have publicly denied Melaye’s supposed studentship, saying that he had not completed any degree courses with them, hence could not have graduated.
Still the National Assembly has found no need to sanction either men’ both of them are walking free.