Nigeria And Her Perpetually Diminished Assembly

Last Sunday, The Guardian (September 2, 2007) carried an interview with Professor Pat Utomi in which he lamented that contrary to every expectation that the 2007 electoral exercise might somehow console the nation with some form of improvement in the quality of lawmakers that would be dumped in the National Assembly, Nigeria still, sadly, found itself saddled with a class of legislators that is ten times worse than any it ever had. The worst evil “those who conducted the last election did to Nigeria” he said, was “to put in place a National Assembly that is 10 times inferior to the one we had before. The last Assembly was bad enough, but we were supposed to make progress from there. Most societies would make progress and in the next elections get better. But what we got is a much more inferior National Assembly this time around.”

Indeed, Pat Utomi spoke my mind on this issue! Any reader of this column would easily recall that in several essays here, I have never been able to contain my sorrow and deep pain over the quality of lawmakers we end up with each time, and how such a misfortune continues to sabotage our best expectations for progress and development, since all it does is to extend generous incentive to the Executive to celebrate its insufferable ineptitude and directionlessness with indecent fanfare. As our decadent politics and the mostly base characters that star in it continue to inflict the nation with grossly underweight and light-minded fellows as lawmakers, that is, individuals who neither have any acquaintance with sound ideas nor the capacity to appreciate the gravity of the assignment they are supposed to be performing in Abuja, what the nation gets in return can only be retrogression and unchecked decay. What has remained sadly true is that for most of the lawmakers who had diminished our legislative chambers with their uninspiring presence these past few years, their real reason for showing up in Abuja was just to scramble over dirty naira notes like wanton street boys over balls of akra suddenly falling off the tray of an indiscreet hawker. Indeed, these were mostly down-and-out fellows dusted off from here and there, easily excited by such little things as a sumptuous lunch with the president, and they emerge each time from such encounters feeling so high that they forget their very important brief in Abuja. In them, we found the best example of a prodigal House in hapless nation! And if indeed, as Prof Utomi reminded us last Sunday, the present set of lawmakers is ten times worse than the others before them, then the future, dear reader, is indeed scary. We are already seeing the signs, aren’t we?

Everyone can now appreciate my pain and sadness. Nothing seems to change in our National Assembly, whether it is their strange mindset or the way their leaders are always handpicked by external forces and imposed on them. When Anyim Pius Anyim became Senate President by the “vote” of one man, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was not even a member of the National Assembly, and he began to place his godfather’s interests over that of the nation, I lamented here in an essay I titled: “The President Obasanjo Gave The Nigerian Senate.” Anyim had ensured the Senate remained an appendage to the Executive, until he fell out with Obasanjo, due to a clash of their individual interests. When Adolphus Wabara also came on board, through the same route, that is, by the decree of the same man, and then continued to lead the Senate through the same path of irresponsibility and unproductivity, I also cried out in another essay captioned: Wabara: How Long Shall We Suffer Thee?” In fact, until the inauguration of the present National Assembly, Wabara’s Senate had remained the best example of a rudderless, unfocused and totally purposeless Assembly. It was a Senate which believed in nothing, stood for nothing, without any sense of history, and clearly had no plans of changing anything or achieving anything.

Now, virtually everyone recalls with refreshing nostalgia the dignity and sense of direction the former Senate President, Mr. Ken Nnamani brought to the business of lawmaking in Abuja, but as far as I could remember, his tenure had practically made little or no noticeable effort to transcend the Anyim/Wabara demoralizing paradigm until on Wednesday, September 1, 2005, when I focused my sad eyes on the drab National Assembly over which he was presiding and screamed in this column: “Where Is the Senate President?”. Although the article, unfortunately, attracted a very abusive rejoinder from Nnamani’s media adviser, there were also rejoinders from several Nigerians who shared my frustration and pain over the almost lifeless National Assembly he was leading, while a ruthless civilian dictator rode roughshod on Nigerians. Please, permit me to quote the concluding paragraph of that essay: “As an implacable Executive drives the nail hard on a hapless populace, the unspoken question everywhere is: Where is Senator Ken Nnamani, the President of Nigeria’s Senate and leader of the National Assembly? Does he ever pause to ask himself the real reason why he is in Abuja? Has he ever told himself that his office demands more ennobling engagements than supervising the cutting of cakes at society weddings and chairing some multitudes of largely unedifying events? What is his response to the undisguised programme of perpetual impoverishment which the current government is executing with chilling dedication? What can Nnamani say is the achievement of the National Assembly under his watch? Where is Nigeria’s Senate President? Sorry, he is on a permanent leave.”

Now, I refuse to take any credit for Ken Nnamani’s sudden recovery of his focus, which caused the National Assembly to start showing a sense of direction and purpose, thereby reclaiming the respect and confidence of Nigerians. Who am I to move a whole Senate President? All I keep insisting is that I consider the National Assembly a very essential and strategic institution in any nation, and how it chooses to discharge its constitutionally assigned roles may sink or advance the progress of that nation. That is why, during the dark years of Obasanjo, when he operated in utter disdain for laws and decency, I had heaped greater blames on the National Assembly. Indeed, I do not think that other nations whose rulers try to behave like human beings waited until they had elected angels into office before they began to get quality leadership. It was clear to me that if by any stroke of misfortune America suddenly found itself with the kind of legislature Nigeria regularly gets, President George Bush will make the Obasanjo disaster pale to total insignificance. In fact, each time I look at Bush, the picture I see is that of a thoroughbred dictator held on a strong leash by a responsible Congress. What this means is that leaders can be compelled to rule responsibly if countervailing institutions and relevant laws are strong enough to keep them within the bounds of reason, patriotism and decent conduct.

So, Obasanjo was able to ride rough-shod on hapless Nigerians and impoverish them as suites his fancy because, he was merrily aware that the principles of Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, which differentiates a democracy from a dictatorship never made any meaning to the good-for-nothing and totally debased National Assembly headed by the light-minded fellows he personally handpicked and installed. All we had got were a gaggle of disoriented and misdirected lawmakers, who idled away at Abuja at huge expense to the nation, while the people whose well-being they were supposed to safeguard were grossly brutalized, impoverished and re-enslaved by a irremediably wayward Executive. In fact, at one point, after examining the quality of National Assembly Nigeria was cursed with, I had to commend Obasanjo for resisting the temptation to totally become another Idi Amin, because, from all available evidence, there was no Assembly with the requisite will and patriotism to scuttle such a vile ambition.

Well, the expectation had been that all these should have since become part of our dark, distant history. But, unfortunately, in 2007, we are still stuck with an even worse variety, a species no one could have imagined would still be with us at this time and age. Whatever modest advancements Ken Nnamani may have recorded in his time have been rudely reversed, and the nation dragged further backwards. While small countries like Kenya, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, are all advancing and refining their electoral processes and strengthening the instruments of democracy in their domains, Nigeria is still a willing captive to the backward, vile fancies of a few prehistoric men, who, it would seem, have vowed to ensure that Nigeria never moved forward.

In 2007, we have a Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, who are there, not because of any special qualities or superior ideas they may possess, but because some fellow, whose eight year siege on Nigeria now ranks as the nation’s worst trauma, thinks they should be there, to solely represent his narrow interests. That’s where we are, dear reader, and if you watched the recent nausea-inducing farce they called Senate screening of ministerial nominees, and saw how would-be ministers in whose hands the nation’s destiny would soon rest were either merely entertained with perfunctory and even frivolous questions, or just asked to “take a bow” and go, you would then appreciate what Pat Utomi was saying about the quality of lawmakers we are stuck with today.

Senator President, David Mark, may even be sincere, and probably wishes to preside over a Senate which Nigerians would happily respect, but these are hardly enough. One may be sincerely wishing to assist another person to make some meaning out of the directions for administering a life-saving drug written in Greek, a language both of them are blissfully unfamiliar with. His good intentions notwithstanding, he would be of no real help to the other person. That’s how these things go. I appreciate Mrs. Patricia Etteh’s admirable struggles to move the House of Representatives forward. But it is also easy to see that she is already overwhelmed, like the fellow battling to interpret Greek words he is unfamiliar with to another person. It is usually a pitiable spectacle.

One admires Etteh’s zeal, courage and struggles to take charge of the situation, but how long can a nation in crying need of persons with sound ideas wait for perpetual learners. Well, a child confronted with a highly complicated toy can only dismantle it, to bring it to his level. That is exactly what is happening in the National Assembly today. And so, instead of bright ideas and quality lawmaking going on, we only hear bellyaching tales of pursuits of vanities and revolting contract scams and other obscene tales. And mind you, this will continue to assault our sensibilities until we decide to put our fifth eleven aside and go for the first. But can we?

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