The atmosphere at the Red Chambers, which is the Senate, last Tuesday was electrifying. For the first time in a long while, the lawmakers turned out in their large number for the day’s plenary, coming a day after the country marked its 52nd Independence anniversary low keyed. Journalists were also excited, perhaps with the large turn out of the Senators and the issue at stake-Nigeria at 52, reports Dele Ogbodo
The lawmakers rolled up their sleeves for the day’s business. True to the day’s trappings, the session indeed was unique, with all the 109 Senators co-sponsoring, the motion tabled for debate was titled “Congratulating Nigeria and Nigerians at 52”. Senator Ita Enang, representing Akwa Ibom North East, who led the motion’s debate, in his introduction, noted with joy that Nigeria at 52 is gradually and steadily developing her production capacity as an independent nation. Why is Senator Enang glad? He said: “That from May 29, 1999 till date, Nigeria has had the longest reign of democratic government in her political history. For me therefore as a lawmaker, there is every reason to celebrate the country, the people and its leaders at 52. Senator Pius Ewherido, of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), representing Delta Central, who took his turn early, said his congratulatory greetings would go only to the ordinary Nigerians, who have remained committed and tenacious in the face of all odds.
He said the 7th Assembly owes the people a duty: “To liberate them from the suffocating hands of state governments who constantly deny them of their budgetary allocation. I recalled that in the previous constitutional amendment exercise, states assemblies voted against themselves when it came to fiscal autonomy, which is a basic ingredient for the freedom and liberation of the people”. According to him, it would be a mirage to sing Hossanah at 52, when the last tier of government cannot deliver dividend of democracy due to the bully attitude of some state governors. He said: “A situation where a local government gets N200 million a month and what gets to the local government is N40 million that can barely pay its staff, something tells me that the local governments as we have them in Nigeria today are not equipped to even participate in this national government. “We must devise a way to stop one tier of government from pilfering another tier of government especially as our nation marches on.”
Is There Any Reason To Celebrate?
Is there really any big deal celebrating Nigeria at 52? For Senator Uche Chukwumerije, representing Abia North Senatorial District, the answer is no. Perhaps to fulfil all righteousness, he said grudgingly in his presentation: “Well, I joined all the other speakers in congratulating the originality and patriotism of the initiator of this motion Senator Enang.” Before releasing his bombshell on Nigeria’s comatose state, however, he drew parallel lines with some countries almost in the same category with Nigeria but today are better off: “And to make my point on this, I want to draw the attention of my colleagues to the general view of the condition that we face. In Turkey, it took their charismatic leader Gen. Mustafa Kemal alias Ataturk, only 21 years to transform Turkey from a feudal state to a highly modernized state till today. It took some South Asian countries less than 30 years to move from undeveloped ex-British colonies to what they are today known as Asian Tigers.
“It took South Korea 18 years to move, handicapped as it is, from being a dependent country to one of the world’s third exporters. And it took China, exactly 48 years to move from a small status initially being derided by the West as the begging bone of Asian to a super power,” the Senator said.
When you therefore take into consideration, the development of Nigeria in over 52 years as a country, Senator Chukwumerije said “you would come to see what I meant by saying that the first speaker, that is Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, was indeed very generous when he only compared us to a 52-years-old human being.
“If you compare Malaysia, that took ordinary palm oil from us some years back and turned that product into its main export product, what would you call the country from which it was taken that is today importing all those things?” I can only describe that country in one word that Nigeria is either a failed state or on the verge of being a failed state. According to him, the country has failed because the basic expectation still remained a pipedream. “So we must therefore accept that objective reality, that as of today, Nigeria is a failed state or nearly a failed state. “I think, one of the greatest difficulties facing us is what you call federal government, and I can say that boldly and with courage anywhere. The second is the issue of corruption.”
Mark: Nigeria is Not Where It’s Supposed to Be, But It Has Progressed
While the Senators were enjoying the session as the debate rages, Senate President David Mark refuses to accept Senator Chukwumerije’s description of Nigeria as a failed state. Senator Mark said: “We may not have done well, but to say that we are a failed state is one extreme end of it and I disagree completely with that. “In my candid opinion, we have challenges no doubt, those challenges are there but I believe with political will power, we would meet those challenges. When things begin to go wrong, we must have the courage to speak out.” Senator Mark, however, admitted that even though Nigeria is not where it is supposed to be, but that the country has progressed as one nation is an achievement in itself.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that we are not where we would love to be but certainly we are not there.
But that is not to say that we haven’t made progress, but we have made some considerable achievements for that alone we need to show gratitude to God.” Prayers, the Senate President explained, is good, but it cannot solve the nation’s problems unless the people imbibe the culture of hard work.” He said: “We need to pray and work, prayer alone will not solve the problem. “I think more than anything else, we just need political will to take our policies to logical conclusions whether it is at the executive level or legislative level or any other level and I believe that unless we are determined to politically pursue the decision taken that would be of benefit to this country, we would still be where we are in another 10 to 20 years.”
While aligning himself with Senator Ewherido, he said that the local governments were not functioning well because there are no funds to run them. “Well, the excuse that if the funds get to them they will misuse it is not entirely true, we are helpless really, because the administration and finance of local government is at the state level.”
At 52, Senator Mark stressed, that one area that the leadership class must focus attention on is education, adding that as long as there is ignorance in the land, the rate and pace of the country’s development would be very slow.
For former Nasarawa State governor, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, there is every reason to congratulate Nigeria because despite the many challenges that threatened the survival and stability of the country, it has survived.
He added that lamentations would not take the country anywhere as there is need for all to have a new orientation and cultural rebirth with everybody being a stakeholder in the Nigerian project.
At the end of the debate, the Senate resolved to congratulate President Goodluck Jonathan, the people of Nigeria, and all tiers of government, while urging the three tiers to work harder to return Nigeria on the path of economic growth and national stability.