The Senate And Oluremi Tinubu’s Freedom Of Speech By Aham Njoku
The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Thursday, June 26, 2014 mandated its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate comments allegedly made by Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central) which was said to have disparaged members of the Senate. She was said to have accused leaders of the Senate of providing uninspiring leadership and always pandering to the whims and caprices of the executive arm of government. The Committee headed by Senator Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo Central) was given two weeks to conclude their assignment and report back to the Senate.
Specifically, Mrs. Tinubu, the quiet and easy-going wife of the former governor of Lagos State Senator Bola Tinubu, a leader of the opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC) was accused of saying, “The Senate is not a place I really want to go back to except APC becomes the majority. But if it is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government, I don’t think it is the environment I want to be again. I have had my fill”. She then allegedly said that the Senate had failed Nigerians.
There have been insinuations that the swiftness with which the matter was tabled before the Senate by the Majority Leader Senator Ndoma-Egba a member of the PDP before the presiding officer, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu also of the (PDP) has political coloration. It has been suggested by some women activists that the action is driven by male chauvinism. Others are of the view that the whole probe is targeted not at embarrassing Mrs. Tinubu herself, but her husband, a frontline leader of the APC, Asiwaju Tinubu.
This writer is not interested in the above insinuations but is greatly disturbed that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria sitting in Abuja which should be addressing serious national issues including the debilitating insurgency threatening to destroy the fabric of the Nigerian nation, crude oil theft, mass unemployment, kidnappings, armed robbery, crisis in the education sector to mention but a few should busy itself with a comment made in faraway Lagos by a politician which should have attracted little or no attention if they were actually busy addressing critical issues affecting the common man.
In the first place, the probe is a gross violation of Mrs. Tinubu’s right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution. Section 39(1) provides, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference”. The point to note here is that the constitution being the supreme law of the land is far and above any other law including the Rules of the Senate.
Secondly, since the allegation against Mrs. Tinubu is coming from the Senate itself, is it right for the Senate to sit in trial against her? One of the cardinal rules of natural justice is expressed in the Latin Maxim “Nemo judex incausa sua”. In other words, one cannot be a judge in his own case. Here, apart from the constitutional violation of abridging Mrs. Tinubu’s right to freedom of expression, the Senate is the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge. It is doubtful if the Committee can turn in a fair and impartial verdict under the circumstance.
Further, the Senate should be aware that Nigerians have over time been worried about the parliament, including the House of Representatives and how they have been using their time to serve Nigerians. Budgets have never been passed on time for several years. Important Bills like the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) have been in limbo for many years without receiving due attention, while they focus on unimportant issues. It is like the proverbial adage of a man chasing rats while his house is on fire. A classical case of misplaced priority.
– Njoku, a lawyer, is based in Abuja
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