The House And The Wasted Months

Last week, the House of Representatives saved the nation further disgust and embarrassment, when it finally terminated the protracted game of shame with which it had grossly diminished the nation and made it an object of scorn before the outside world these past few months.

Its former Speaker, Patricia Bunmi Etteh, and her Deputy, Babangida Nguroje, resigned their offices, when it dawned on them that the elevated, rickety platform, on which they had gallantly stood to flaunt their disdain for honour, decency and dignity, to the shame of all of us, was about to give in. An unduly stressed nation may claim to have got some measure of relief by the exit of the thoroughly stained duo, but if the nation must prove itself capable of grasping the full import of this tragedy (its tragedy), it must be able to determine the exact cost of that tensed period of legislative idiocy.

If there is anything we have learnt from the crises in the House of Representatives, however, it is that Prof Pat Utomi was probably understating the fact when he lamented bitterly, the other day, that the worst evil “those who conducted the last election did to Nigeria [was] to put in place a National Assembly that is 10 times inferior to the one we had before.” This is most painful because while other nations are strengthening their democracies, and introducing mechanisms to promote probity and transparency in their electoral processes, we seem to be stuck with the same old primitive system that only throws up the dishonourable and light minded among us, who lack the capacity to comprehend the strategic nature of the great national assignment that has fallen into their hands. “The last Assembly was bad enough,” Utomi maintained, “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.” He couldn’t have said it any better.

The story surrounding the crises in the House of Representatives is very simple and well known to everyone out there. Patricia Etteh had barely settled on her seat as an imposed Speaker of the House of Representatives when she approved the sum of N628 million for the renovation of her rented official house and that of her deputy. While she was away in the United States to celebrate and swim in the vanity of her birthday bacchanal, the media broke the story, and the nation, which was yet to overcome the deep depression occasioned by her demoralizing imposition as Speaker, was aghast at such obscene profligacy so early in the day.

On her return, against all known ethical considerations, she chose her own judges, in her own case, by setting up a panel to investigate a matter in which she was prominently involved. And surprisingly, the same panel she had set up indicted her. But like all persons who do not consider honour and dignity as necessary components in their struggles to remain relevant, she refused to heed the calls of virtually every Nigerian that could be speak and be heard, except, perhaps, Chairman Ahmadu Ali and Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, to resign.

Also, majority of the members of House of Representatives stood solidly behind her. As I watched the very revolting images of these full-grown men, fathers and grandfathers, on television, waving their handkerchiefs in the air, and shouting “Etteh Must Stay!! Etteh Must Stay!!!” I began to ask myself whether there was anything Nigeria stood to lose by abolishing our bicameral legislature and grossly reducing the number of these men and women who made big fools of themselves at our expense in Abuja? Indeed, we must be willing to admit now that whatever merits or perceived benefits that made bicameral legislature attractive to Nigeria’s founding fathers has been clearly diminished by the ever ubiquitous “Nigerian factor”.

Now, somebody must help me to understand this: on what moral principles did those men base their vulgar shouts in support a woman indicted for subverting due process and wallowing in outrageous, insensitive expenditures? And as if that revolting, infantile display was not self-debasing enough, these men, fully aware that the whole nation was watching them, clearly advertised their very low self-esteem and mindset by staging a free-for-all, where fierce blows were generously exchanged, not because of the welfare of the hapless Nigerians in their constituencies whose interests they claim they were there to represent, but because of an indicted woman who had so far distinguished herself by her strong distaste for honour and self-esteem. And for her and her alone, these fellows who expect us to refer to them as “honourable” members of the House went all out to prove to Nigerians that they were not anything better than the area boys at Oshodi and Isale-Eko.

Unfortunately, in the midst of this inglorious struggle, tragedy struck: a House Member, a medical doctor and loud supporter of the disgraced Speaker, Dr. Aminu Shuaibu Safana from Katsina State, slumped, and within a few minutes was certified dead.

On an internet discussion board after this very sad incident, somebody suggested that the most befitting epitaph for the late physician and lawmaker should be: “Here Lies A Man Who Laid His Life In Defence Of Corruption.” Somebody attempted a modification and came up with this: “Here Lies A Distinguished Doctor And Lawmaker Who Laid His Life In Defence Of A Corrupt Woman Who Was Not His Wife.” That somebody could come up with this kind of tribute in our environment where comments about the dead are always very reserved shows the depth of public odium Etteh’s supporters had drawn to the themselves.

That Etteh would still cling to her seat even after one of her very ardent supporters had paid the ultimate price in the course of the “Etteh Must Stay!” tomfoolery shows the kind of mindset possessed by the woman an unfortunate nation was forced to endure as Speaker of its House. There is this group of irredeemably foolish sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, who always chorused “four legs good, two legs better!” to disrupt meetings, and to the disgust of other animals on the farm; that is the picture that always comes to my mind each time I remember those lawmakers waving their white handkerchiefs and shouting “Etteh Must Stay! Etteh Must Stay!!”

Sadly, while these “honourable” Members shuffling about in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly found sufficient reason and motivation to fight and even die for this woman, the Association of Hairdressers publicly condemned and disowned her! What this means is that Nigeria would have been better off with these “Honourable Hairdressers” as their lawmakers than the gaggle of light minded fellows the nation was burdened with at the House of Representatives.

The scandal also threw up a strange creature known as Dino Meleya who did everything possible to prove that honour and membership of Etteh’s House were mutually exclusive. At the height of the contract scandal, Vanguard newspaper (August 29, 2007) quoted him as saying: “This woman [Etteh] told us, on the floor of the House, that she’s got two boobs. That the old [House Members] can suck one while the new would suck one. Honestly speaking, we are sucking. We are enjoying the sucking. We are doing that right now.” When one thinks of this fellow, and others like him, who are in the House to “suck and enjoy,” one can only pity the nation picking their bills in Abuja and the hapless people in their constituencies deluding themselves that they have some “lawmakers” representing them in Abuja. That we have several others with Mr. Meleya’s type of mindset and ethical preferences is the real tragedy.

It is believed that for these couple of months when the House of Representatives achieved almost nothing but constitute committees, create and investigate a scandal and go for countless, frivolous recesses, each lawmaker may have gone home with at least sixty million naira. The only way a proper restitution can be achieved in the House today is to compel them to refund this clearly unearned money. By doing so, we would succeed in underlining the fact that the nation is no longer prepared to stomach and pay for idleness and tomfoolery. The measure will equally encourage future lawmakers to realize the seriousness of the business they are in Abuja to execute. We may, however, pardon the Integrity Group, because, when properly considered, they have done a noble job in helping the nation to cut off the rotten head of a big fish. What a relief.

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NEPA/PHCN And Water Supply In Abakaliki

The last time I was in Abakaliki, serious work was going on at the Greater Ezeilo Water Scheme, which has served the water needs of the area for many years now. The recent contract signed by the Ebonyi State Government with a Chinese company, if properly executed, will greatly improve the supply of potable water to the people. But the major problem these efforts would face is NEPA/PHCN, which has become a national disease. Governor Martin Elechi must find a way around this, and prevent this soulless organization called NEPA/PHCN from sabotaging these noble efforts. It is commendable that he has promptly provided steel pipes to replace the plastic ones (where they still exist), to ensure efficient distribution of wholesome water. I think he should be happy to learn that has very dedicated and efficient hands at the Ebonyi State Water Corporation. During my visit, even while it rained, on a Saturday, the Water Corporation staff were out there working. In fact, the Acting General Manager of the Corporation himself was sighted entering the pits, with his men, laying pipes and all that. But even with all these efforts, NEPA/PHCN, the worst enemy of Nigeria, is still there, daring the ambitious water scheme to succeed. By the way, I thought there was a State of Emergency in the Energy Sector? Why then has the power situation become even worse? Hello, are you there, Servant-Leader?

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