PENULTIMATE week, the Senate reviewed the events in the country and gave a damning verdict: a revolution is afoot unless urgent steps are taken to arrest the drift. As it noted, the government must adopt pragmatic measures to prevent a poverty-triggered revolution in the country. Deliberating on a motion moved by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu-PDP) titled “Bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots in Nigeria to nip in the bud the seeds of a looming violent revolution” and linking the issues of kidnapping, banditry, insurgency, ritual killings and others bedevilling the country to the menace of poverty ravaging all regions, the lawmakers adopted four resolutions as the basis for action to mitigate the issue of unemployment. They agreed to urge the Federal Government to declare an emergency on unemployment in the country, create more pro-poor social safety nets, dedicate 20 per cent of recovered loots to fund same and take other urgent measures to stimulate production and other economic activities to engage young citizens. In addition, the Senate enjoined the Federal Government to increase the budgets for education by allocating and effectively implementing 26 per cent of the yearly budget to education, beginning from the next budget cycle in 2020. It enjoined the states to do the same.
Furthermore, the Senate urged the Federal Government to adopt a policy of one factory per local government and set up an unemployment support fund as proposed by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, however cautioned that maintaining law and order should remain a key responsibility of the government. As he noted,“There is a need for us to separate the maintenance of law and order from the issue of poverty. It cannot be an excuse. No matter how bad things are, we must be able to maintain law and order. It is important that we as parliament give all the necessary support to security agencies and all government policies on security to see that we maintain law and order.”
We commend the lawmakers for recognising that a serious problem exists in the country. At least until now, the perception among the generality of Nigerians is that the National Assembly has carried on as if insulated from the pains, traumas and agonies of fellow citizens. Rightly or wrongly, the National Assembly is widely perceived as an institution that costs the country too much to maintain. At least in part, this perception has thrived because of the opacity with which issues of the remuneration of legislators have been handled by successive leaderships of the assembly, although the eight Senate under the leadership of Saraki has strived to be much more transparent than its predecessors. Against this backdrop, we think that the response of the Senate to the lingering fissures and divisions in the country, to which the Muhammadu Buhari-led executive arm of government has apparently been indifferent, is particularly ennobling. Almost on a daily basis, ethnic, religious and social cleavages have continued to pull Nigerians further apart from one another and if the regime of poverty, deprivation and despair in the land has confirmed anything, it is the fact that the country is tottering towards disintegration. Happily, though, the legislative arm of government seems to have woken up from its slumber and adumbrated the harsh realities of life in the country. The implication is that the charge that the lawmakers are alienated from the people will now be difficult to sustain.
To be sure, we are not against the Senate’s recommendation of social spending by the Federal Government. Time and again, we have insisted that government has a duty to the people. Indeed, in our reaction to the creation of a Ministry of Happiness by the recently ended Rochas Okorocha administration in Imo State, we pointed out that the entity called government itself ought to be a ministry of happiness; a fact captured in the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s credo of Life More Abundant. Sadly, however, the solutions proffered by the government in the last four years have merely touched the surface of the problems at hand. How, for instance, can Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s Tradermoni bring a bandit collecting millions of naira away from the bush?
One crucial issue which the Senate did not touch on is the need to examine the leadership recruitment process at all levels of governance. Till today, election into public office remains skewed in favour of moneybags, most of them without a genuine desire to serve. The major political parties are structures for capturing power and do not even pretend to be democratic entities. For instance, the primaries that produced chief executives at the national and state levels in this year’s general election were marred by widespread irregularities while the main elections themselves proved to be one of the worst in the country since it returned to civil rule in 1999. In this regard, we think that the National Assembly should have spoken as one and passed the recent amendment to the Electoral Act into law by overriding President Buhari’s veto. With wrong or partial solutions to the problems identified by the Senate, the fears it expressed might eventually be confirmed and there can be no predicting what ramifications a revolt by a traumatised citizenry may assume.