An address delivered by the President of the Senate,
Senator Anyim Pius Anyim to the Benue State House of
Assembly on February 19, 2002.
I feel deeply honoured to be in your midst today. To me, it is a thing of joy that we can freely gather here to talk about the prospects and promises of our democratic enterprise. My joy is further amplified when I remember that three years ago, an Assembly of duly elected men and women like this was a mirage.
Today, we are gathered here, all of us, freely elected by the people to be their eyes and ears and to represent their collective voices and common destiny. Again, I am excited by the fact that we are not gathered here on the ticket of any martial music or by the commanding grace of the jackboot brigade.
Rather, we are a privileged few bearing the cross and hoisting the banner of hope of millions of Nigerians. Every lawmaker, at any level, must see himself or herself as a custodian of the people’s destiny. Truly, in theory and in practice, every democratic government comprises three arms – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
Each of these must complement the efforts of the other. But out of these three arms, the legislature remains the engine room of government, indeed, the bastion of democracy.
And if for any reason the legislature allows itself to be polarized by extreme political partisanship or infiltrated by extraneous undemocratic forces, then democracy faces a clear and potent danger. As legislators, may I remind us that we are not just lawmakers but also leaders. As leaders and lawmakers we must exercise a high degree of tolerance, caution and circumspection in all that we do.
I am delighted that some State Assemblies have enjoyed a high degree of understanding and mutual respect with their Executives. Even more heartwarming is the fact that this is the only State Assembly with a female speaker. Madam, I congratulate you for doing a difficult job so very well.
Indeed, it is true that in any democratic system of government like ours, there must be separation of powers. But it must be clearly understood that separation of powers does not mean confrontation either among the various legislative levels or with the Executive or Judiciary. It simply implies an inherent mechanism for checks and balances among the various arms and levels of government. This does not preclude occasional or even regular disagreement but it insists that in settling such disagreements, objective standards derivable from established rules or guiding principles should be applied. In other words, the principle of the rule of law should be the rule of the game. Moreso imperative in the settlement of such disagreements is the overriding national interest; namely, national unity, national peace, national progress and indeed the need to sustain democracy.
My dear colleagues, the need to sustain democracy in our country today is the greatest challenge of our time. I am challenged spiritually, I am challenged politically and I am challenged socially. My compatriots, have you imagined what the scenario will look like again in this country if you wake up one morning to notice that 469 National Assembly members, several hundreds of State Assembly members, 36 Governors, 774 council chairmen, thousands of councilors and party executives are overpowered, suppressed and thrown out of their constitutional mandate. In that situation, the voice of the people would have been shut up, the expectations of the people would have been cut short and indeed the hope of the people would have been dashed.
My dear colleagues, this has happened over and over again in this country but now is the time for us to collectively work consciously to protect democracy. It is time for compromise and not rancour, it is time for reconciliation and not revenge, it is time for dialogue and not confrontation.
It is no gainsay that our challenges towards democratization have manifested in many ugly ways like the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) escapades, the Kano and Jos human carnages, the Odi disaster, the Middle Belt (Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states ) unfortunate incident, the Ikeja cantonment explosions and the most recent Jos market fire incident.
It has also manifested in the Executive and Legislative face-off at all levels, the States versus the Federal Executive, the State Governors versus Council Chairmen and indeed the State Assemblies versus Council Chairmen. Such national issues as the creation of local governments, the derivation formula (resource control ), revenue allocation and even the agitation for National Conference, worse still, inter-party and intra-party squabbles.
My highly esteemed co-labourers in the democratic vineyard, the picture may appear very oblique, but I can assure you that there is hope. There is hope in democracy and for democracy. All that I have tried to enumerate above pose no fatal threat, as they are problems of a new beginning. They are challenges we must face, they are challenges we must fight. They are challenges we must conquer. Everyone of us has a role to play. At this juncture, I feel very compelled to attempt a clearer definition of our roles as legislators.
Nigeria operates a bi-cameral National Assembly -the Senate and the House of Representatives. The composition of both houses and the election of the individual legislators are based on various national, geopolitical and ethnic reasons. While the members of the House of Representatives are elected on the basis of population density, Senators are elected on the basis of equality of States, with the Federal Capital Territory having only one seat. By this arrangement, the membership of the House of Representatives is not equally spread among the states. As it stands today, there are states whose members in the house are thrice the number of those from some other states.
The implication of this is that pursuing the various intricate interests and sentiments of their various constituencies more often than not do coalesce into the interest of their states or zones, the will of the majority may not capture objectivity.
The Senate on the other hand is comprised of three Senators each from every state no matter the size. The idea here is that the Senate is not just a Legislative House but is composed in a manner to balance national interest, ensure equity and fairness to all segments of the Nigerian community and above all to moderate the will of the majority in the House of Representatives.
Under my leadership as Senate President, our actions in the Senate have been informed and indeed inspired by the higher virtues of national unity, national peace, national progress and the pursuit of good governance.
May I further state that these considerations have as well informed our approach, our attitude and indeed our focus. We have no doubt suffered severe criticisms as a body. We have been vilified individually but we are consoled by the fact that posterity will be our best judge.
In the states, it appears that the State Assemblies have a more daunting task of not only representing the interest of their various constituencies but also to moderate their resolutions along the standards of objectivity and fairness to all.
At this juncture, I make bold to say that finding peace in the Tiv / Jukum crisis of the Middle Belt is your challenge. It is the test of your ability to fulfill the purpose for which you are elected i.e. represent the interest of your people. What are these interests so called – I have no hesitation to say that they include:
(a) to guarantee the peace and security of the people
(b) To create a conducive atmosphere for the enhancement of the political and economic well-being of the people.
(c) To consolidate legal and social status of the people by securing their enjoyment of fundamental freedoms which includes the protection of their individual and community identities. It does not matter that you are a Tiv and I am a Jukum. What matters is that we are all Nigerians and so while holding our different identities, we must stay together in peace. When this unfortunate development started, very well meaning Nigerians visited the scenes of the incidents and I am aware that serious efforts have been made both at federal and state executive levels to find a lasting solution to the problems. The Senate also set up an Ad-hoc committee on crisis management under the leadership of His Excellency, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. I am aware that that committee had as well visited the people and places of incidents, and yet today it is disheartening to discover that there are still hostilities going on.
My dear colleagues, how do you feel sitting down here while your people are in displacement camps as a result of internal hostilities in their own country. There are still senseless killings of our brothers and sisters by our brothers and sisters.
Today, it is our brothers and sisters in the camps, today, it is our brothers and sisters that are dying, I can assure you that tomorrow it may be ourselves.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We must rise up to this challenge.
As elected representative of the people, I do know that solutions can not be found except through a process that involves the participation of the people themselves and of course through their elected representatives. I do know that the earlier efforts did not deeply involve you but that does not entitle you to abdicate your responsibility. You must arise, you must resolve-arise to its challenge, resolve for peace. Sentiment must be set aside, personal and political gains must be thrown overboard. The focus must be peace and progress and liberty for our people. We must live together because God has destined it to be so. We must sustain democracy.
I must emphasize that the thing that binds us together as politicians is stronger than the things that separates us. Democracy is the binding cord, our respective individual and community interests divide us. We must protect democracy to actualize our respective interests. But more importantly, we must be alive to protect democracy, we must be at peace to give meaning to democracy, we must be free to enjoy democracy and its dividends.
Again I say, arise that we must save our people, our country and indeed our hard earned democracy. I have one suggestion, the House of Assemblies of Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba must meet and resolve to actualize peace in this region. I shall facilitate this and I hope you will support me.
My dear colleagues, there is no gainsaying that the position of the legislature in our country today is indeed very precarious. I make quick to observe that though the functions of a legislator is largely policy formation and the translation of same into a binding legal enactment, yet we are expected by our constituencies to provide infrastructure and perform other executive functions. Even at that, the oversight functions of the legislative house are misinterpreted as interfering with the executive roles. We are precluded from even necessary consultation but I say no to expectations of executive roles for the legislature. Our roles and responsibilities stand as higher virtues of political engineering that guarantees peace, fairness to all, security of lives and property and setting the criteria for governance. I am married to these virtues, I am committed to them, I am loyal to them, I am satisfied about this, I am proud of it . The expectations of our people must change only when we prove our real mandate in a circumstance such as we have now at hand.
I have taken time to elaborate on this because of the misconceptions among some Nigerians on the role of the Senate, the National Assembly and indeed the entire legislature. Such misconceptions, such misinterpretations of the various roles of the different legislative houses at both the state and national levels are direct consequences of long years of military rule. It is true that we have transited from military to civilian administration, but it is also self evident that we have not yet achieved a transition of the mind. This again is the challenge before us -how to demilitarize both our minds and the polity.
Once again, I admonish all legislators all over the country to seek the path of consensual agreement rather than recourse to bickering and sundry tendencies that promote military culture in a democracy. We must seize the euphoria of the moment to demilitarize both our minds and the polity.
We have seen long years of military rule and they have not done us any good. We must therefore, resist any inducement therefrom by playing according to legislative rules. It is my hope that God will grant us the grace and wisdom to make laws that will ultimately lead to good governance. This is my dream, this is my vision.
God bless Nigeria.