Who Needs Etteh’s House?

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Not long after the N628 million contract scandal involving the leadership of the House of Representatives exploded in the face of Nigerians, Vanguard newspaper (August 29, 2007) carried an interview with Dino Melaye, the Chairman of the House Committee on Information and National Orientation. Mr. Melaye who has unduly advertised himself as one of the loudest supporters of the House Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Bunmi Etteh, in her current travails, had, in the course of the interview, startled Nigerians with a very loaded and overly distasteful statement that spoke volumes about the quality of minds that “make laws” for Nigerians in the nation’s Lower Legislative House.

Said Melaye: “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.”

It is now several weeks since Melaye gave this interview. In the absence of any form of refutation from the beautician from Ikire and her handlers, despite the very unflattering insinuations and disquieting imagery the choice of words clearly convey, one is at liberty to conclude that Melaye may have used the exact words deployed by Madam Speaker to serve her very generous offer to House Members. If then the language of deliberations in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly has achieved such a low descent, why then should anyone be surprised that House Members could so easily provoke serious envy in motor park touts and area boys by the kind of disgraceful and self-debasing combat they enacted the other day?

Last week, the panel investigating the outrageous house renovation contract submitted its findings, and as they clearly conveyed in their report, Madam Speaker grossly abused her office in several instances and copiously lied to the panel. Calls for her resignation or impeachment, which started ringing out from several quarters before and in the course of the sitting of the panel, have become even more loud, impatient and widespread.

By their actions and utterances, what is clear is that Etteh and her supporters are blissfully unaware of the depth of public disaffection and resentment this scandal has attracted to the Speaker and her House, and so are still fighting with all their strength even after the battle had been lost and won. For her, it is all about surviving and clinging on to the privileges of an office she is pitiably ill-equipped for, despite the heavy, crippling moral burden that now go with it.

The ordinary Nigerian out there, who can neither afford even a leaking roof over his head nor one decent meal a day is seething with rage that the Speaker and her motley crowd, no matter what they call themselves, the offices they occupy, or of what use they imagine they are to Nigerians, could muster the effrontery to seek to squander such a huge amount of money just to renovate a house! What this means is that even if due process was duly followed, and provision for the renovation clearly made in the budget, this category of Nigerians would still have been calling for the head of the Speaker and her deputy for seeking to impoverish them further. Such an expenditure profile can only represent one excellent way of advertising crude insensitivity and delusion of grandeur.

Now let’s look at the matter through the eye of the ordinary Nigerian who now sees Etteh and her supporters as a gaggle of heartless fellows hell-bent on prolonging his suffering. In present-day Nigeria, N2.5 million or much less (depending on who is building) can comfortably put up a three-bedroom bungalow. So, with N628 million, one would be hoping to get nothing less than 251 houses. That, to me, should constitute an estate, which would settle the accommodation problems of 251 families or more.

In her testimony, Etteh had claimed that what was allocated for the renovation of her house was merely N238 million. Well, that amount can build an estate comprising 95 bungalows or more. Now, long-suffering Nigerians out there are asking: What makes the Speaker of the House of Representatives so special that Nigeria would use the money that could offer “comfortable” accommodation to more than 250 or even 95 Nigerians to merely renovate her house?

That is what they are insisting to know, and I will be glad if somebody could step forward to answer this. That this question has remained unanswered is worsening their pain. Indeed, this is the same country where civil servants (performing duties as important (or even more) as what the Speaker does) are being mass-sacked for daring to ask for N9,000 minimum wage. This is the same country where it has been established that more than 70% of the citizenry live below poverty level. By the way, how much was used to build the house in the first place? Nigerians need to know. We have been treated to wild tales about beddings costing N5million, “cluster of houses” being upgraded, and a chapel and mosque being constructed, as if the Speaker’s residence is an ecumenical centre. In 1999, this same house was renovated at the cost of N5.28 million, while N2.5 million and N16 million were invested to further work on it in 2003 and 2006 (that is, last year) respectively. The nation has also been informed that the house was horribly vandalized.

By the way, where is Mr. Aminu Bello Masari, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives? Is he not aware of all the insinuations flying around, appearing to hint at the possibility that he may have horribly vandalised the house before vacating it? Even if the Idoko panel did not deem it fit to invite him to tell Nigerians in what state he had left the house, is it not necessary for him to speak up immediately to clear his name, which is being gradually rubbished by the present scandal? Or has he forgotten that silence is one way of saying that one is guilty as charged?

Well, Etteh is saying that we should be grateful to her for saving us N244 million by refusing to stay in a hotel. Thanks, good lady! But may I inform you that by telling Nigerians that keeping you in Abuja for only 107 days would cost them a whopping sum of N244 million, you are clearly suggesting to them that you are a luxury they can ill-afford, in fact, a dispensable burden too heavy to bear. Yes, you are also drawing unhelpful attention to the cost of maintaining the National Assembly, and by extension, inspiring questions about the desirability of Nigeria continuing to have two Legislative Houses. Indeed, whatever merits and perceived benefits that made bicameral legislature attractive to Nigeria’s founding fathers is gradually being diminished by what we have come to know as “Nigerian factor”. What we have seen is that instead of the two Houses constituting moderating influences on each other, helping to refine and fine-tuning the legislative process, they appear to have rather conspired to short-change the Nigerian people. They appear to be united by only one obsession: squandermania and profligacy.

I am told that they even fund their frivolous foreign trips with state funds. The less their number, the better for the nation. So, What does Nigeria stand to lose if one House is abolished? Yes, let’s have one House, until it becomes necessary to add another one. For now, what we have is simply superfluous.

Going by Mr. Dino Melaye’s statement quoted earlier, Nigeria has every reason to worry about the quality of lawmaking that takes place on their behalf in Abuja. Can any sound legislation take place in a House where members are only interested in “sucking and enjoying?” Are we sure we are not stuck with a House that believes in nothing, stands for nothing, without any sense of history, and clearly has no plans of changing anything or achieving anything? So why should the nation continue to waste scarce resources maintaining an unwieldy House, which only idles away or engages in vulgar discourse at the nation’s expense in Abuja?

Well, whether Etteh resigns or is impeached now would hardly affect the opinion of many Nigerians about the National Assembly. Perhaps, Etteh and her House deserve each other. In it we have “honourable members” who are prepared to kill themselves with blows just to impress one woman accused of gross misconduct and abuse of office, but would not lose a sweat to fight for the welfare of those they claim to be representing in the House.

Because, we have such calibre of lawmakers, who are in the House “sucking and enjoying” and forgetting the very important assignment that brought them to Abuja, Etteh and her Chocolate Cream soldiers can afford to flaunt their contempt for public opinion. As incensed Nigerians renewed their call for Etteh’s resignation, she caused a statement to be issued last weekend which practically told Nigerians to shut up, because, as non-members of her House of “Suckers and Enjoyers”, they are not qualified to comment on a matter in which their own money is involved.

The disdain in the statement is quite palpable: “The probe panel’s report has been laid on the table and what it contains are conclusions, not recommendations for punishment. One wonders when non-members of the House of Representatives started deciding how 360 members of the lower chambers run their affairs. What the procedure says is that the report will be debated when the House reconvenes after its two-week recess. It is therefore unfair and misleading for people to stay outside and tell 360 members of this honourable House what to do. It is like telling Nigerians that the people they elected cannot do the job.”

Well, Madam Speaker, we are sorry for daring to comment on a matter that concerns us. Very soon, your Honourable “suckling” members will return from recess, and after a session of “sucking and enjoying”, they would tell us their verdict on the findings of the Idoko Panel. They might as well not bother. We have already realized the great mistake we made by taking them to Abuja to “enjoy and suck” on our behalf. And that mistake is correctable. The National Assembly must urgently shed its excess weight. Every Nigerian must join the campaign to commence this process. So, if the House Members are wise, they would quickly read the handwriting on the wall and make haste to reclaim their respectability and vindicate their relevance, before a thoroughly sickened and tired nation finds an effective way to dispense with them.

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