Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Jos, Nigeria

Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, convicted

he sudden turn of events for Abia North Senatorial District following the judgment of the federal high court Lagos which delivered the verdict that convicted their senator – Chief Orji Uzor Kalu – has brought up other things that equally affected the District such as the reality that this senatorial district will have to be represented henceforth from a correctional facility rather than the national assembly complex Abuja.

Also disturbing is the fact that this District will not enjoy the courtesy of visit from their Senator as should be the case due to the obvious. The idea of a constituent and a representative is one that was modeled to be symbiotic and looking at the situation now, particularly given the pronouncements from the national assembly, it becomes immediately clear that our democracy seemed to attach more value to the person of the representative.

That the constituent will suffer denial of certain legislative pecks mattered less and, I feel that it should not be so. Truly, this is why the Nigerian electorate must begin to have some sense especially in candidates they commit to before, during and after campaigns! I am bothered about the fact of having a convict representing decent peoples. I am also disturbed that our constitution as a republic does not prioritize our constituencies the way it should.

Going by the response of the upper chamber of the national assembly to the effect that the seat of Chief Orji Uzor Kalu was intact and may never be a subject of litigation; one wonders if the essence of representation was still symbiotic or all about the representative and to the detriment of the people they represented. And if my interpretation is correct; does it mean that if the constituent does not approach the courts; their senator will continue to be an individual resident in a correctional facility.

For one, Abia North has suffered from visionary representation in the last 4 years. Former Senator Mao Ohuabunnwa performed so woefully that the people had to – in anger – return Chief Orji Uzor Kalu as their choice in the 9th assembly. Unfortunately, their Man-Friday had a case of fraud for 7.5 billion naira. The late Senator Uche Chukwumerije was not only a father but did his best to serve his constituency as was expected of one who has been in politics from the days of the military. His retirement from active politics opened the door of Abia North to disservice and to self-serving representation.

Today, with democracy endearing itself to many Nigerians through lawmakers like Hon. Patrick Asadu, Sen. Uche Ekwunife, Sen. Victor Umeh, Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe, Sen. Stella Uduah etc.; Abia North not only had deficiency in terms of visible dividends of democracy accruing to them, she has to also make do with a federal constitution that allows a convict to continue the job of lawmaking from prison! This is the most absurd and weird thing about democracy in this country.

I am aware that former Sen. Joshua Dariye from Plateau Central district went to prison while in active service and, he remained there until the expiration of the 8th national assembly. Perhaps it is due to misinterpreting the essence of lawmaking otherwise a lawmaker’s duties included the sponsor of bills that affected his constituent as well as the federation, initiating and undertaking constituency projects, receiving constituents in his/her office and generally doing all it required to draw federal attention to his people.

Can a convicted lawmaker do these? The answer is a NO. The most that can happen is for the constituency to not be denied its allowances but the benefits of other oversight functions that required the visible presence of the lawmaker may well elude the people. I recalled the testimony of Sen. Victor Umeh on his experience when he got inaugurated by the senate.

He said that there was some Keke Napep that accrued to his constituency before he came in and that it took the strength of character and the passion to serve his people to recover those. By his revelations, it is clear that lawmaking was more about presence in the national assembly or state houses of assembly than it was about being returned by INEC.

In times past, the 8th national assembly has had to make a case for attaining a quorum in order to take critical decisions. Quorum – we know – is basically about presence in the national assembly or in the state houses of assembly as the case may be! So if a quorum was necessary for effective lawmaking; one wondered why the same national assembly justifies the absent and convicted lawmaker as still a representative instead of declaring the seat vacant and authorizing INEC to conduct a by-election to get his replacement.

Left for the good people of Abia North, a decision to commence the process of a recall of Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu in order to pave the way for a replacement may tear the constituency apart because the constituent was already divided between former Sen. Mao Ohuabunnwa – who’s most probably jubilating – and, Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu; on one hand and several other interested parties on the other hand. Only a legal approach that seeks to favor no one but the good people of Abia North could resolve this impasse.

In conclusion, I wish to reiterate the fact that the hardworking and good people of Abia North do not deserve to be represented from a correctional facility. No constituent in Nigeria today – given the level of abuse of public trust that most Nigerians get from the political leaders – deserved to be represented by a convict or an ex-convict! And as a reminder; a representative is the face of the people he/she represented.

Therefore, it is high time we began to understand the spiritual, psychological, legal and constitutional implications of electing just about anybody to be our leader. Although, Abia North had failed to pick for themselves an individual who was as hardworking and honest as they were; nevertheless their predicament is not totally hopeless if they took the necessary steps to rid themselves of this stigma.