Advertising practitioners claim that perception is everything. Politicians are beginning to agree with them. Members of the National Assembly, the Senate in particular, are reported to be pretending to feel concerned about how the rest of us perceive them. According to those reports, the negative reactions they are getting from the public is giving them real cause for concern. And we are happy about it in the expectation that it will lead to genuine introspection and a possible change of attitude.
A similar scenario presented itself during the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida. Then Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Minister of Defence, General Domkat Bali, had granted an interview to a national daily in which he said that, by their perception, Nigerians had lost confidence in the Babangida administration. His reason for arriving at that conclusion was that that administration gave the people hope when it came on board and that hope had not been sufficiently and appreciably actualised. Then he added that, it was not for want of trying by that administration but it was as a result of the enormity of the problem they met on ground when they came into office. Nigerians exclaimed, so they know! That matter of fact self-assessment by a respected and high ranking member of that government gave its public image a resounding boost particularly as he pledged that the administration will continue to strive to enhance public good.
Does the Senate expect to derive such a benefit by this outburst which may, to all intents, be emotional just to attract undeserved sympathy? Whatever negative perception that legislative body is complaining about is self-inflicted. Before President Muhammadu Buhari took over, those lawmakers were living the kind of lifestyle that would have made Arabian princes green with envy. The media reported and they did not deny it, that the country spent, on the average, the sum of N250 million on each of the 109 senators in a situation where the same senators grudgingly approved N18,000 as minimum wage. At a point, the term senator became pejorative especially the ‘distinguished’ attached to it. Then, some senators with some level of conscience still left in them, remarked that the Senate is the only place in Nigeria a man will go to bed at night and wake up the following morning a millionaire. All they did was share money with which they bought up the nation and inflated property markets abroad in Dubai and elsewhere just as their wives and children cruised around in automobiles that were not available to Hollywood stars.
If by the reported worry they feel about their negative public perception they intend to attract positive sympathies, then they have missed it. The public attitude towards them is worsened by the stench that keeps oozing out of that otherwise hallowed chambers. When it is not power tussle, it is importation of exotic cars at inflated prices or corruptly padding the budget and pocketing money appropriated for so called constituency projects.
But the Senate, in our view, still has an opportunity to redeem itself. This, the members can do, by aligning themselves with the people who elected them through making laws that are designed, genuinely, to serve the interest of the public. We urge them to begin to cut down on their outrageous salaries and allowances or Nigerians will start to push even more strenuously for a Senate they can afford: a part-time one where they will only receive sitting allowances.