Victor Afam Ogene
“I have accepted a seat in the House of Representatives, and thereby have consented to my ruin, to your ruin, and to the ruin of our children. I gave you this warning that you may prepare your mind for your fate.” – John Adams, 2nd President of the United states of America (1735-1826)
In penning these words to his wife, Abigail and their five children, Adams was obviously under the clear understanding that the legislature was the anvil upon which every hammer of public discontent descended. Aged only 39 at the time, Adams had just been elected to the USA’s first Continental Congress, as delegate from Massachusetts, in 1774.
Although Adams, a top-notch Federalist and deep-rooted political philosopher went on to become the first Vice President, and later second President of the USA, succeeding the immortal George Washington, the ‘burden’ which comes with serving in the legislature as against the Executive branch was not lost on him throughout his distinguished career.
Back home in Nigeria, the fear which Adams nursed about public office, especially as it concerns the legislature, continues to titillate the public almost 200 years after the U.S congressman’s demise. Between the Senate and the House of Representatives, there is apparently no shortage of theatrics in-between sessions, with the state assemblies offering occasional side-shows to compliment the orchestra of spectacular comic relief. Remarkably, these brickbats, besides providing the citizenry the elixir needed to vent pent-up anger and frustration with life itself, invariably end up with few useful lessons which, going forward, aid the institution of public service to imbibe new moral ethics – thus making living more tolerable.
Yet, to be able to synthesize the positives embedded in any public spat for the general good, society ought to be able to discern between fact and fiction, as well as decipher truth from propaganda. After all, as native wisdom counsels, it is from the black pot that cometh the white pap!
Sadly, in Nigeria, upon the dawn of a fresh ‘scandal’, the goal is often to applaud the accuser and hasten to convict the accused in the court of public opinion. Just name and shame the fellow(s) concerned until they are able to prove their innocence, in an inverse application of the standard law which presumes an accused as innocent, until proven otherwise. It does not matter if the pursued, most often in front of the chasing mob, is the one now chanting, ‘thief, thief, thief’ in order to secure a get-away.
It is against this backdrop that the Nigerian tribe of analysts, commentators and indeed, public opinion influencers ought to, unlike the Roman plebeians, seek an intense understanding of the real issues involved in the Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Representative Abdulmumin Jibrin face-off.
Colunmist, Niyi Akinnaso, writing in the back page of The Punch Newspaper of Tuesday, August 2, 2016 captures this mindset succinctly when he asserted thus: “Whatever the outcome of the investigation, however, the alleged culprits have fallen short of the honour and respect due to their ranks, at least in the court of public opinion (emphasis mine)”. Really?
Although Akinnaso concedes that “to be frank with ourselves, the National Assembly is constitutionally empowered to modify the budgetary proposals submitted by the President, by deleting or adding particular items to the budget”, such realization was sadly not potent enough to dissuade him from dismissing the concerned institution as “The House of Representative Thieves?”
It is such quick-to-convict disposition and blanket condemnation that usually pitch the public against the legislature. Often, such conclusions arise out of the claim – and sometimes correct charge – that some legislators derive personal monetary and other benefits from their positions and projects which they influence into the Appropriation Act.
Well, maybe. But assuming, without conceding that such scenario exists, how is that tantamount to an institutional failing on the part of the legislature? Indeed, if truth must be told, the real culprits, if any, ought to be officials of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), which advertise, shortlist, award, supervise, and effect payment for all projects/services certified okay.
Agreed that there are chances of being arm-twisted by ‘powerful’ individual legislators, that still does not detract the MDAs culpability in the event of any malfeasance. Pray, why won’t such MDAs whistle-blow, especially as they and all the nation’s security architecture belong to the Executive?
Before one loses focus concerning the issues at hand, only one issue could be distilled from the din of cacophony that has trailed the 8th National Assembly, be it in Senate or the House of Representatives; to wit: those who lost out of the equation in both chambers on Inauguration Day 14 months ago, are still sulking and seething. And every crevice in collective unity offers an opportunity to draw long knives and seek regime change, if only to assuage bruised egos.
Remarkably, the current attempt to rail-road the House of Representatives into committing a kind of class suicide, in pursuit of the avenging mission of a distraught member is a familiar path often trudged by legislators who held the short end of a stick after every internal struggle for power and recognition.
If recent memory is anything to go by, an Etteh ascends the throne and a Farouk misses the all-important Appropriation Committee chair as a reward for his part in the enterprise, and all hell is let loose. Enter a Dimeji Bankole, and a Dino (and friends) don’t get the recognition they crave, and the House snowballs into a huge mat for wrestlemania.
But while these two instances could be regarded as internal affairs of the House, the externalisation of similar disagreement, reached a new high in the 7th Assembly under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, which I was a proud part of.
Two quick instances, using the 7th Assembly’s two Presiding Officers, Tambuwal and his deputy, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, would suffice. First, on January 6, 2014, preparatory to resumption from Christmas/New Year break, some interest groups went to town to canvass the possible removal of Ihedioha, citing the new-found-majority of the burgeoning All Progressives Congress (APC), following the defection of 37 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) House members. As Deputy Chairman, Media and Public Affairs, I have to counter such move, citing, among others, Section 50(1) (b) of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution, as amended, to wit: “There shall be a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, who shall be elected by the members of that House from among themselves.”
The same constitutional provision was to come in handy, when on October 28, 2014 Speaker Tambuwal announced his switch to the APC, and the full weight of the state power was deployed in an undisguised attempt to unseat him.
Instructively, in spite of the clear provisions of the constitution, as stated above, many cheerleaders masquerading as analysts had, in deference to public hysteria, cried themselves hoarse on the propriety of a Tambuwal resignation.
Sadly, under another dispensation, we are yet to see a change in attitude – one in which an arm of government is allowed to self-regulate. Speaker Dogara, and indeed, his leadership, serve only at the behest of their honorable colleagues. And the House Rules and the Nigerian constitution clearly spell out how any of them can exit their privileged position(s). I have searched through both documents and I could not find where hounding one out of office is cited as a route towards dethroning any of them.
Though Jibrin denounces the word “padding”, he seeks to make heavy weather over claims that Speaker Dogara inserted projects into an Appropriation Bill which he authored. Oftentimes, the tendency is to play the ostrich in such matters, when in actual fact, it is generally acknowledged that primus inter pares anywhere in the world, from class monitors, to student representatives, labour leaders and even Presidents get a little more.
Pray, who in his right senses would expect a state governor or President, who ran on the same ticket as their deputies, to wield the same amount of influence?
Without a doubt, Representative Jibrin appears to be on top of the propaganda warfare which he unleashed barely hours after his removal as Appropriation chair of the House. A disciple of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s ignoble war propagandist, Jibrin apparently holds dear Goebbels’ notion that “if you tell the same lie enough times, people will believe it; and the bigger the lie, the better.”
One such big lie which Jibrin has ceaselessly trumpeted is the claim that he installed Speaker Dogara and some other principal officers. The question that naturally trails this claim is: how? Perhaps the embattled lawmaker did not reckon with the wise counsel of late French dramatist, Jean Anouilh, who cautioned that “propaganda is a soft weapon, hold it in your hands too long, and it will move like a snake, and strike the other way.”
If Jibrin contributed funds towards the quest, I wouldn’t know, but as an insider who ran the media wing of the Consolidation Group, which produced the Speaker and his deputy, Lasun Yusuf, I challenge Hon. Jibrin to name one, just one member who he convinced to join the Dogara camp, himself having crossed over barely one week to inauguration on June 9, 2015.
I do need to point out, however, that the essence of my intervention today is neither to denigrate Jibrin , nor question his integrity ( members of the 7th and 8th Assembly are free to draw up their own conclusions); rather my concern centers around how to preserve the sacred institution of the legislature, rather than have its disgruntled members lie through the teeth, in a classic rehash of the ‘You Tarka me, I Daboh you’ episode.
It would seem, regrettably, that Representative Jibrin is perhaps too far gone in his open display of hate for Speaker Dogara, that he could gloss over the timeless warning of his presumptive hero, Goebbels, who himself asserted, “there will come a day when all the lies will collapse under their own weight, and the truth will triumph again.”
To Jibrin and his co-travelers, that time is nigh, in September, 2016 when the honorable members of the House of Representatives will resume for plenary. Until then, he may do well to take a deserve vacation, away from the path of propaganda and the denigration of an institution which he ought to help fortify.
––Hon. Ogene, a journalist, served as Deputy Chairman, Media & Public Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives (2011-2015).