Senate’s code of ethics
COMING from the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the announcement that the Senate would soon commence its code of ethics, by sanctioning erring members, is gratifying and worthy of encouragement. It is particularly significant because in the past years, corridors of government, including the Senate, have too often been traversed by men and women of questionable integrity.
Yet, government’s regular rhetoric of bringing real governance to the people will most likely remain a mirage until the conduct of public officials is brought above board. Dr. Saraki will be held accountable to his pledge to instil ethics into the workings of the upper legislative chamber.
Whilst inaugurating some Senate committees, Saraki charged members to observe high ethical standards in their dealings with ministries, departments and agencies. “You must take care that you do not bring any ethical question upon this hallowed chamber. Any committee member found in any unethical, doubtful behaviour will be sanctioned by the Eighth Senate,” he told the congregation of senators.
Surely, this pronouncement is consoling because this democracy regime has been walking an ethical paradox. Whilst the ruling government’s catchword, symbolised by President Muhammadu Buhari’s initial body language, is ‘change’, activities in the other arms of government seem to reflect a change of tactics of the usual business.
Self-evaluation measures such as this, is what is expected of leaders of the state. An innate fact of the admonition is a recognition that the senate has been behaving in an inappropriate way. What the public have always known about the senate has come to be recognised by the Senate itself. Indeed Nigerians would like to be assured that, by this proposal, the Senate is turning a new leaf in its ethical conduct.
If the Senate is falling in line with the prevailing temperament of government, it has an onerous duty to convince Nigerians of its moral turn-around. The magnitude and quantum of scandals around lawmakers seem like an official insignia. In the last 16 years, the quality of leadership at the National Assembly has left little to be desired. The conduct of legislators and their proclivity for power for its sake, the years of invidious bickering, the display of unruly, even violent behaviour and use of money as instruments of statecraft, are pointers to their unethical life.
Besides, many senators are known to have been elected as simple ordinary men and women, but on getting to the Senate, were transformed to self acclaimed all important citizens with obscene lifestyles of flamboyance, haughtiness and disregard for the electorate. Moreover, the fact that people of questionable characters, who brought moral opprobrium to their offices as governors and ministers, now pontificate in the National Assembly, is a hard lump to swallow for well meaning Nigerians who truly seek change. All this calls to question the appropriate decorum for senators.
In seeking to check lawmakers, this newspaper, in an earlier editorial, made an observation that bears repeating: “Owing to the absence of internal mechanism to check erring members of the National Assembly, there is also the impression that the senate places low premium on integrity and moral probity. Presently, no legislator has been brought to book over results of legislative panels investigating cases of corruption. There is a glaring accountability deficit and fiscal indiscipline in the conduct of the public affairs of this country. Nobody questions the management of taxpayers’ money, and public office holders are never transparent enough to open the books to the public.”
The Senate president has made a bold statement, which should not be treated like the usual political address. To show Nigerians the sincerity of purpose and intention, he must ensure that his words are marked by actions. The first place to begin this ethical regeneration is the Senate Ethics and Privileges Committee, which is the ombudsman of the Senate. This committee should be the arrow-head of the Saraki-led Senate. From the constitution of its members to their function as checks on the conduct of senators in their oversight functions, every activity should reflect the moral awakening of the new order. Needless to say, a Senate ethics and privileges committee that fails to properly discharge its duties, under whatever guise, is a mockery of the parliament.
The first impression the average Nigerian is likely to have of the senator is that of grandstanding, self-posturing, money-amassing and influential political elite. This impression is yet to abate because Nigerians are familiar with numerous truncated high profile investigations of senators, whose involvement in mind-blowing scandals still send ripples in our political economy. Such investigations passed as if the indicted law-makers were destined to be shielded from the law by all means. A genuine ethical regeneration would, as a starting point, eschew any form of undue privileging of erring members; in the same manner it would prevent anyone being punished unjustly.
To further the Senate’s moral vanguard, party whips and minority whips should carry out their functions as whistle-blowers and moral checks on their party members. Their positions are not mere titles to adorn their curriculum vitae for future lucrative assignment. They are to ensure that senators are ‘whipped’ in line for good conduct and behaviour.
The Senate’s ethical self-evaluation would not be complete without diligent prosecution by appropriate authorities. In its constitutional duty to ensure that criminals do not have access to public office, the police, for instance, should not treat allegations against senators with levity.
Notwithstanding their constraints, the police should thoroughly investigate allegations, and arrange to prosecute erring senators.
If the Senate genuinely relishes the ethical transformation it seeks, the prima facie quality its members must possess, being public officers, is integrity. It means adherence to ethical principles and sound moral character. Anything short of that is not acceptable.