Speaker Bankole’s Ceremonial Tears

For a young man whose almost every photograph is distinguished by a toothy smile that somehow reminds one of Ibrahim Babangida, when the wily General was that age, the image of Dimeji Bankole, Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, weeping profusely before the members of the Children’s Parliament who had visited him in his Abuja office, would have marked a refreshing change.

But, sadly, our press photographers missed that bit, and we were merely served some drab tales about how Bankole was overcome by emotions, and had to let the tears flow freely from his ever twinkling eyes, after his younger colleague, the Speaker of the Children’s Parliament, Miss Chinyere Nwaneri, had lucidly articulated the harrowing ordeals Nigerian children regularly experienced, and which the authorities were yet to raise a finger to address.

“We have come to inform the Speaker about some inhuman treatment that children are going through in this country. Some are being raped by even their parents while some others are going through mutilation. We have tried to sell the country abroad through our programmes but these things are affecting our image. You should try and do something about it,” the Speaker of the Children’s Parliament told Bankole in Abuja.

I want mention in passing that I have serious problems with all these talks and efforts and cravings to “sell the country abroad.” It is very saddening that the bug has equally caught up with our children. For goodness sake, let’s sell Nigeria to Nigerians first, let them have faith in it, and develop stakeholder-feeling towards their nation.

How long shall we continue to woo unimpressed buyers with our substandard product? Why can’t we deploy all that energy to dissuade Nigerians from continuing to see their country as some unfortunate but richly-endowed whale washed ashore by sea waves, which anyone who is able to outsmart the others is very free to rush onto with sharp knives and large basins to cut and carte away as much as he or she could, before the fish totally rots away?

Let’s make Nigeria work, and we won’t have any need trying to “sell Nigeria” to anybody. A good market, we all know, sells itself. Moreover, all this talk about “selling Nigeria” makes me very uncomfortable. I am not ready for any twenty-first century slave-trade!

Now, back to Bankole’s tears. When the matter cropped up at our weekly Editorial Board meeting at the Independent three weeks ago, there were disagreements among my colleagues as to the actual reason for the Speaker’s tears.

Was the House Speaker weeping because he was hearing about the plight of Nigerian children for the first time? Or had he just emerged from a very rewarding rehearsal with a band of professional mourners, and so wanted to show off his prodigious talent?

I don’t think I have seen Bankole make a speech since he became the Speaker of the Lower House, neither did I see the footage of Miss Nwaneri’s presentation in Abuja when the Speaker hosted her and her colleagues. If I had, it would have helped me determine whether the Speaker of the Children’s Parliament had displayed such exceptional oratorical skills that the Speaker of the Adult Parliament had to weep and bemoan his own handicap.

Well, like Bankole, I had also wept because of a child’s very touching plight last May, but unlike him, I lacked the power to do anything. I was on the perilous Onitsha-Owerri Road heading to Orlu to watch my friend, Pastor Mike Ihenacho’s stage presentation of his play.

As we pulled up at a filling station to buy fuel, a very tender (and I must add very weak) voice cut through my ears to my very heart: “Buy Pure Water! Buy Pure Water!!” As I turned to look at the owner of the soul-rending, tiny voice, the very tender boy I saw carrying a small bowl containing about six or seven ‘pure water’ sachets could not have been anything beyond four years. I thought about my own daughter of that age back in Lagos, and oh, what a dreadful, scary thought!

My heart bled. I struggled with tears.

I longed so much to give him more money than he could make in three days and ask him to go home, but I had a restriction. Remember the Nigerian factor: Some of those fellows idling away at the filling station there might come up with the crazy idea that I wanted to do ‘juju’ with the hapless boy, and my compassionate act could land me in serious trouble! And so, I moved away most reluctantly.

Even as I write now, I can still hear that haunting voice. My heart still bleeds for that tender child and several others like him out there forced into the streets by the impossible conditions created in such a richly-endowed country like Nigeria by callous, ultra selfish and thieving rulers who have always cornered the commonwealth to themselves. We live in a country where about ninety percent of the nation’s resources are in the hands of less than ten percent of the population.

How can Bankole’s tears help that little, tender child hawking ‘pure water’ along Onitsha-Owerri Road and several others like him around the country? Since he wiped his tears in Abuja, after the visit of the Children’s Parliament, can anyone guarantee that he still remembers even a word of all that the children had told him that day? If yes, what practical steps has he tried to take through the House he leads to ensure that those who sexually abuse their children, relations or even non-relations, no matter how highly-placed, are made to pay for their hideous crimes?

What about those Government officials whose actions and non-actions create conditions that make this country hellish to children? Has Bankole’s House any plans to check their boundless greed and heartless exploitation of the disadvantaged?

Or are they not all one and the same people?

Not too long ago, a UNICEF report stated clearly that Nigeria is very unsafe for children. Again, an official report of the University of Maiduguri’s Department of Obstetrics, as reported by Daily Independent last November, contains the chilling information that 400 out of every 1000 children in the North Eastern part of the country die before they attain the age of five! The situation could be as worse in other regions. In its editorial of Friday, March 7, 2008, Daily Independent reported that a World Bank survey not too long ago had discovered that about 20 million Nigerian children “go to bed every night without any meal.”

Now, what do all these mean to our ‘Weeping Speaker’ wallowing in limitless privileges, and the unfeeling and exploitative class he represents?

Okay, just the other day, the newspapers were awash with reports about Bankole’s lavish wedding. In the course time, too, God willing, the cry of a baby will ring out from his house, and we can be sure that the delivery will take place in one of the best hospitals in the UK or the United States. And as the child reaches school age, he or she would certainly be enrolled in one of the best schools abroad, especially, if the father remains in public office.

But, what are Bankole’s plans to ensure that a rich country like Nigeria also builds, equips and duly staffs good schools that can be affordable to other children born by other human beings like himself? How does the House he leads ensure through its oversight functions that the various departments of Government perform their statutory obligations to the citizenry to alleviate their hardship?

As Bankole wept that day before the members of the Children’s Parliament, N600, 000 ‘change’ which is his Entertainment Allowance as a lawmaker was lying safely in one corner of his fat account. Also, the N500, 000 duly awarded him as Wardrobe Allowance sat pretty in the same or another account, itching to be spent. He should have started by donating these to help at least few Nigerian kids through school.

There are also the jumbo Constituency votes which most of the lawmakers, reportedly, spend on themselves, instead of the purpose for which they are mapped out and the several other huge allowances that flow into their purses almost on daily basis. Over and above all these are their scandalously fat salaries, which are upwardly reviewed with alarming regularity.

For this year, the National Assembly allocated to itself the sum of N147 billion naira in the Federal budget, a hundred percent increase from the N76 billion they got last year. As all these resources flow to the largely unproductive National Assembly, the children of the masses, the most productive class, whose very sorry conditions Bankole would want us to believe had brought tears to his eyes, study in dilapidated buildings and are taken to hospitals that are in very horrible, scary states. This class of Nigerians has been effectively conquered and forced to live like slaves in their own country.

That is why the Speaker must be told that his tears were utterly meaningless to most right-thinking Nigerians. In fact, I found it very offensive that he would be seeking to appear to be sympathetic to the plight of the unfortunate Nigerian children while he is also at the very top of the oppressive class supervising the mass suffering that has become the daily menu of these very children.

We may condemn the parents of that less-than four-year-old boy hawking ‘pure water’ out there, but choose to turn a blind eye to the very impossible conditions that could motivate parents to take such an action.

So, Bankole and the callous class he represents should spare us their ceremonial tears and duplicitous sympathy. Such grand acts may earn them major roles in Nollywood, but to the longsuffering and grossly impoverished Nigerians, such spurious gestures are simply provocative.

Written by
Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
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1 comment
  • Bang! You simply, for lack of a better phrase, hit the nail n the head. It’s unbelievable how uncaring and heartless we all are towards the very people we are supposed to protect and nurture. What saddens me is when people have the myopic view that things are getting better, Sure, Nigeria is a great country, sure Nigeria has potentials, but we are way, way off from the promised land and not even sure we are on the right route