Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dishonourable Tenants of the House

Dr. Wale Okediran was spot on in his analysis of Nigeria’s House of Representatives in his latest book titled ‘Tenants of the House’. The shocking, preposterous, nauseating and infantile display of shame enacted by some scoundrels in the Nigeria’s House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 vindicated the veteran author and immediate past president of the Association of Nigerian Authors.
In the full glare of cameras and right in the presence of some 75 pupils of the City Royal Secondary School, Nyanya, Abuja, our parliamentarians engaged in karate, judo, boxing and wrestling. They kicked and threw punches at one another, shredding clothes of fellow legislators in the fracas. One of them in the process had a fractured arm and another a bloodied nose. Even journalists covering the National Assembly were not spared as some of them were brutalised in the course of carrying out their legitimate assignments. This is awful! I couldn’t help asking myself, why are we so cursed?
Since June 5, 2007 when the 6th National Assembly was inaugurated, intrigues and power play have dominated its activities particularly in the House of Reps. Within six months, the first female Speaker of the House, Hon. Patricia Olubummi Etteh, was ousted over allegations of financial mismanagement and replaced with Hon. Oladimeji Bankole.
Bankole himself is having a running battle with some elements who do not fancy his leadership style. First, he was alleged to have been involved neck-deep in a N2.3 billion car purchase scandal. A committee was set up to investigate the allegation but nothing serious came out of it. The evidence of Barrister Festus Keyamo, who was a star witness at the public hearing on the allegations, was discredited by the committee. Thereafter, the masterminds and the arrowheads of that accusation beat a retreat and recently returned to ask the Speaker to resign within a week, otherwise they would expose his shady deals. The Speaker called their bluff and at the expiration of their ultimatum, the Group of 11 (G-11) who call themselves “Progressive-Minded Legislators” alleged a N9 billion contract scam against the Speaker. They even went as far as submitting a petition to the chairperson of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday, 21 June 2010. Subsequently, they petitioned the ICPC on June 23.
In the words of Dino Melaye, the kingpin of the ‘Progressives’: “We have documents to prove that some items approved by the Body of Principal Officers, of whom the Speaker Dimeji Bankole is the chairman, were inflated. “A unit of 40-inch LCD TV set was purchased for N525, 000 each, contrary to the price list by the Bureau of Public Procurement and market price of N180, 000.” Also, he said, “while three bullet-proof Mercedes Benz cars were bought for over N50m each, two Range Rovers were bought for N57m each.” The House leadership was further alleged to have bought torches, car seats, fire extinguishers and sundry items for members at inflated prices. What a bazaar! Pray, what are the House members to use electric torches for? Is that a requisite tool in the art of law-making or performance of oversight functions? These allegations should be investigated thoroughly.
Having said that, however, the so called “progressives or G-11” have a share of the blame going by the way in which they went about their whistle-blowing activities. What they did has a tinge of vendetta as many of them lost out in the re-shuffling of chairmanship and deputy chairmanship positions carried out by the Speaker on 3 June. Moreover, the way they disrupted the House proceedings on 22 June is infantile and unparliamentary. Having watched the footage of the fracas, I have a feeling that Dino Melaye and his cohorts were actually grandstanding and playing to the gallery. Their play-acting and over-dramatisation do not diminish in any way, however, their claims which I strongly believe need to be verified by the anti-corruption agencies.
Eleven years after Nigeria’s return to democracy, the hallmark of our legislature remains instability. It is crisis galore in many of the state Houses of Assembly. On 22 February this year, for example, the ugly scenario recently witnessed in House of Reps was also on full display in Edo State House of Assembly when Speaker Garuba Zakawanu was violently toppled in a power tussle. Similar occurrences had happened in Bauchi, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Bayelsa States, to mention a few. This is mind-boggling and heart-rending!
While I am glad that the Peoples Democratic Party has come out to openly condemn the indecorous act of members of the House of Reps, the majority of whom belong to that party, I believe the national embarrassment the incessant brawls and bickering in the nation’s legislature at the national and state levels has caused the nation deserve having these undesirable elements recalled by their constituencies. Otherwise, they should be voted out in the next general elections. We the landlords of this House of Democracy must be prepared to sack these unruly tenants when their rent expires.