By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.
Several people have pointed out that the legislative branch of government is the only institution that sets (liberal) democracy apart from dictatorship. In other words, since all systems of government, including totalitarianism, always have executive and judicial branches, it is precisely the presence of the legislative branch that gives liberal democracy its singularity. Yet, in a cruel irony, the legislature is the least desirable and most pernicious branch of government in Nigeria’s experience with liberal democracy.
You only need to look at the current cast of debauched and flippant know nothings in Nigeria’s Senate to understand this. Apart from being a thumping drain on the national treasury—with absolutely nothing to show for it—the senate has lately transformed itself into a depressing theatre of the absurd.
On March 2, for instance, Dino Melaye, Senate Committee Chairman on the Federal Capital Territory, while commenting on the need for Nigerians to buy “made-in-Nigeria goods” said, “It is beyond having one made in Nigeria attire and having over 70 designers’ attires in your wardrobe. We must reduce the allocation for made-in-Nigeria goods and services to the basics….We will also move in order to encourage made-in-Nigeria products and begin to talk about made-in-Nigeria women. Apologies to my uncle, the Governor of Edo State, we must as a people stop paying dowries in dollars and pounds. It is time for my colleagues here to become born again.”
It isn’t just the mindless buffoonery of the statement that is appalling; it is also the literal dehumanization and commodification of women it evinces. How can anyone, not least a senator, talk of women, “goods and services,” and “products” in the same sentence— in the 21st century?
But it got even worse. On March 8, Senate Leader Ali Ndume requested the Senate to make it mandatory for Nigerian men to marry more than one wife to demonstrate their “care” for women. When I read it I initially thought it was a joke; I thought it was another Nigerian humorous spin on the wild Internet hoax that claimed Eritrea had mandated all men to marry more than one wife or risk going to jail. But it was real.
The astonishing frivolity of the issues that now dominate Senate “deliberations” recalls an article I wrote on August 1, 2015 titled “Urgent Need for ‘Braintashi’ in the National Assembly.” Read below a slightly abridged version of the article. It is as relevant today as it was almost a year ago.
“Excuse the vulgarity and prurience of my choice of words, but most Nigerians are familiar with the local Hausa herbal aphrodisiac called “bura tashi,” which literally means “male private part, wake up.” Well, Nigeria’s National Assembly members need “braintashi,” my coinage for a stimulant that wakes the brain up.
“From the outside looking in, the vast majority of National Assembly members come across as brain-dead, monomaniacally mercantile knuckleheads who have no business being in the business of lawmaking. This is a regrettable thing to say because there are a few truly honorable, clear-headed men and women in the National Assembly. But it’s difficult to ignore the huge joke that the National Assembly has become.
“If National Assembly members are not exchanging fisticuffs over inanities—like hyperactive, ill-bred high-school kids—they are arguing interminably over unearned perks and over who chairs cushy, “juicy” committees or leadership positions. If they are doing none of the above, they are luxuriating in sybaritic lavishness. The other day, the Speaker of the House of Representatives admitted to spending millions of naira to charter a private airplane to fly to a community in Delta State to “commission” a church.
“Perhaps the lowest water mark yet in the show of brainlessness by the National Assembly happened a few days ago when 5 senators and 20 members of the House of Representatives constituted themselves into an ad hoc committee of bodyguards around Mrs. Toyin Saraki when she was invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to answer questions over allegations of corruption against her. I can’t wrap my head around why 25 full-grown members of the National Assembly feel the need to serve as shields to the wife of a Senate President who has been accused of corruption.
“Although I am being facetious when I say the National Assembly needs an overabundant supply of ‘braintashi,’ I am truly concerned that the National Assembly is fast earning notoriety as the place where brains die, as the graveyard of commonsense. The other day, Senator Shehu Sani, who rose to prominence on the notion that he is a human rights activist, a defender of the poor, and an advocate for due process, said police had no business investigating allegations of forgery against Senate leaders. 'The forgery problem is not the issue of police but the issue of the senate,” he said. ”I got elected on the 8th senate. I was provided with document that I used; whether that document was forged, I cannot affirm.'
“What was Senator Sani thinking when he said that? Forgery is a crime. Why should people who are accused of a crime be left to sit in judgment over their own wrongdoing? The forgery allegation may well turn out to be false or intentionally hyperbolized for political reasons, but only a proper police investigation can prove this.
“Again, Senator Dino Melaye who touted himself as an anti-corruption crusader and who rode on the crest of the BringBackOurGirls movement to political reckoning was among National Assembly members who formed a committee of bodyguards around the senate president’s wife when she was invited by the EFCC over allegations of money laundering.
“The infantilism, indolence, and moral and intellectual degeneracy of the National Assembly are some of the biggest pieces of evidence, if any is needed, that we don’t need a full-time bi-camera legislature in Nigeria.”