The lawmakers returned to the hallowed chambers midweek with daggers in their cloaks, ears to the ground and eyes on the mace. They came howling, sniffing and charging at some imaginary enemies like dogs let loose from a cage.
Even when the perceived enemies did not show up, they still went ahead to confront their shadows in a mock battle.
At the end of the scuffle, they declared themselves victorious and passed a vote of confidence on the leadership. It was a comedy of sorts but certainly not very amusing having become a replay of a familiar script in this absurd theatre.
How did the House get here? Some daily newspapers had that same day reported that there was a plot to impeach the Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and his team.
The reports claimed that a faceless group, Transparency Network was behind the plot. Members of the group were allegedly aggrieved over the award of contracts for the purchase of 400 units of Toyota Camry cars purchased for the committees of the House in 2012.
Although the reports did not disclose the identities of the alleged conspirators, the plot was allegedly billed to be executed on resumption of plenary.
It was not the first time the House will witness such frenzy moments and cry wolf when none was in sight. With no sign of any move to unseat the leadership that day, the reaction of the House was at best an anticipatory counter-coup that has raised more questions than answers.
Who is after Tambuwal? Who wants to seize the gavel from him? If the House had indeed uncovered a plot to overthrow its leadership, why is it not interested in exposing those behind the plot? Or was the entire impeachment saga a hoax contrived by the House to test the political waters?
Could it have been the handiwork of some spin doctors in Tambuwal’s media team to fly an impeachment kite to attract public sympathy in its perennial war with the Presidency?
Ideally one would have expected the House to go beyond the drama of vote of confidence. Since they believed the rumour that the chamber was under siege, they ought to look beyond the surface and unmask the anonymous conspirators.
As it stands now, all lizards lie prostrate and no one knows which of them has a belly- ache.
The opposition resumed on a confrontational note. Opposition leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, and his deputy, Hon. Suleiman Kawu, reacted rather rashly to a request from the Executive to brief the House on Nigeria’s centenary celebrations.
The event billed for next year is to mark 100 years of the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria on January 1, 1914. The action, which was taken by the British colonial masters marked the establishment of modern day Nigeria.
Jonathan had in his letter informed the legislators that he had constituted a 19-member Planning Committee for the celebration and requested for “a convenient date for the House of Representatives to receive a full briefing on the proposed programme” so that the lawmakers could also make their inputs towards the ceremony. According to the letter, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, was to brief the lawmakers on preparations for the centenary celebration.
What was the grouse of the opposition at the session? Gbajabiamila was bothered about the huge resources that would be spent on the ceremony. Good point! But that argument was rather presumptuous as the cost of the ceremony has not been made public.
On the other hand, Kawu claimed the correspondence breached the privilege of the House as the President was requesting audience with the House when he was yet to honour an earlier invitation the lawmakers extended to him.
This was more or less an ego trip, opening old wounds and portraying the House as an institution constantly on a vengeance mission.
The next day, the opposition raised dust over the deployment of Nigerian troops for “limited combat” in Mali.
Opposition Leader Gbajabiamila said the President had breached some constitutional provisions regarding the matter by not communicating with the National Assembly before the deployment of troops. He cited some provisions of the Constitution to substantiate the argument but the case soon crumbled when a more appropriate provision of the Constitution was brought forward to counter it.
The facts were later laid bare that given the nature of the assignment in Mali, President needed to inform only the Senate. Even at that the President is at liberty to send the troops and notify the Senate within seven days while the Senate has 14 days to accept or reject the request. While the argument was still going on in the lower chamber, the Senate considered the President’s request sent to them and approved the deployment of 1,200 troops.
Across the world, opposition is an integral part of the parliament and very important in democracy. We need opposition to raise issues and provide the citizenry with alternative views and perspectives other than those emanating from the ruling party.
However, those charged with the responsibility of leading the opposition must be cautious not to lose focus. In any democracy, opposition like criticism should be factual, constructive and add value to governance.
Quite frankly, the opposition aisle in the Green Chamber is peopled by some of the best minds and brains in the Seventh Assembly, but it could only be better if it does not drift down the slopy lane of playing to the gallery.
The legislative mill is up again and as usual the lawmakers are poised to respond to issues in the public domain.
In that light, the probes are being rolled out again. The House has mandated a special ad hoc committee to investigate the alleged disappearance of N2.1billion from the vaults of the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC). It has also ordered an investigation into the $1.5 billion loan procured by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation. This oily probe is to be handled jointly by the Committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Justice, Loans, Aids and Debt Management.
Similarly, the Committees on Environment and the Niger Delta Development Commission have been mandated to investigate the gully erosion ravaging some communities in Imo State. The Committees on Women Affairs, Judiciary, Labour, Employment and Productivity have been tasked to critically investigate allegations of discriminatory policies against women in the public service.
Fortunately, it is not about to probe the January 15, 1966 coup d’etat but has resolved to prevail on the executive to immortalise, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Nigeria’s first Minister of Finance and one of the victims of that unfortunate events.
It is a matter of equity and conscience that Okotie-Eboh should be honoured since all his contemporaries in the independence struggle and the ill-fated coup have been immortalised.
In essence, the House has resumed in full swing but it is hoped that critical assignments such as the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Constitution Review and the comprehensive amendment of the laws to bring all MDAs within the framework of the Fiscal Responsibility Act would not be sacrificed at the altar of some endless probes.