Bad news from the House of Representatives
Aliyu Wadada, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Information and National Orientation’s declaration on Tuesday that the Freedom of Information Bill will not become a law could not have come with any element of shock or surprise to millions of our countrymen who are conversant with the antecedents of the lower chamber of the National Assembly. I am sure that many of them believe we owe them a lot of gratitude for being magnanimous enough not to have passed a bill for the abrogation of all newspaper, radio, television and online publications in Nigeria.
It looks like a waste of time that many Nigerians have been clamouring for a law that will make it possible for journalists to have access to information in a country where governance is never an open business. In a primitive political environment that has been unleashed on us, it smacks of a miracle that newspapers are being published at all. And I will not be surprised if many of the lawmakers are living with the belief that asking for a legislation that will guarantee free access to information amounts to nothing but pushing our luck too far. Is it not said that the right of one man to swing his arms should necessarily end where the right of another man to defend his nose begins? How then do the advocates of Freedom of Information expect our rapacious and irredeemably corrupt lawmakers to protect their ill gotten wealth?
Watching the television in the evening of last Saturday, my heart bled as members of the House took turns to gleefully endorse the payment of stipends to former Nigerian heads of state who assumed power through the barrels of the gun. In clear negation of the position earlier held by their counterparts in the upper legislative chamber, that former military heads of state should not partake in a remuneration package being put together for ex-presidents, the representatives insisted that Sani Abacha, Ibrahim Babangida and others who shot their ways to power were no less genuine national leaders than those that got into office with the aid of ballot papers.
Majority of senators had spoken against the inclusion of former military rulers during a debate on general principles of a bill for an act to provide remuneration for former presidents, heads of state, heads of federal legislative houses and chief justices of the federation. Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin, who presented the lead debate, had said the thrust of the bill was essential to amend Decree 32 of 1999 and ensure that only democratically elected former Presidents were entitled to benefit from the entitlements and benefits enumerated in the schedules to the bill.
But not so for these self serving lawmakers, who have consistently proven that they are on a mission to embarrass Nigeria. Hence, their action would not come as a surprise to discerning Nigerians who must have realised that most of them did not become members of the House by any fair means. Indeed, majority of them gate crashed into the hallowed chamber by deploying guns, machetes and other dangerous weapons with which they hounded their more civilised and more acceptable opponents into submission, just to force their way into the House.
The story is told of how PDP thugs, led by a retired general, invaded my native town in Kogi State on the day National Assembly elections were held. The hapless residents of the stronghold of Action Congress had turned out in their thousands to cast their votes when the thugs invaded the town and started shooting. Everyone scampered into the safety of their homes and peeped through the window as the thugs carted away the ballot boxes to do what they liked with them. A young driver to an AC chieftain in the area was saved by some policemen at the nick of time after the thugs had beaten him into coma and poured petrol on him, preparatory to setting fire to him.
The result is that the PDP candidate that ‘won‘ the election into the House of Representatives has since become the kingpin of troublemakers in the chamber, to the consternation of the people from the constituency who can not stop lamenting the embarrassment to which the young man has consistently subjected them ever since. Many have asked me whether he trained as a wrestler. Unfortunately, I have no clue. I also have not followed his career sufficiently to know whether he holds a black, white or red belt in karate. What is certain is that many other members of the House must have emerged in a similar manner, which explains why the chamber has become one huge boxing ring.
At the ceremonial opening of PUNCH‘s new corporate head office last week, Gbenga Adeyinka, one of Nigeria‘s most imaginative comedians, rendered a joke that was as instructive as it was hilarious. His son had told him that his ambition was to become a member of the House of Representatives. Adeyinka‘s immediate response was to give the young man three dirty slaps. He protested and asked if it was wrong to aspire to the House of Representatives. ”Not so, my son,” Adeyinka responded. ”If you want to survive in the House of Representatives in Nigeria, you must prepare yourself for dirty slaps.”
While there has been clamour in recent times for a reduction in the number and remuneration package of our lawmakers because of the burden they constitute to the nation‘s exchequer, the event at the House of Representatives penultimate Friday is an indication that they constitute a liability to the nation in more ways than draining our treasury. Their comportment and utterances can be as costly to the nation‘s conscience as their urge for money is to the national purse.
They are no longer content with siphoning our money through bogus constituency allowances, they are also hell bent on co-opting the men that had disrupted our national life and hijacked power for no other reason than vaulting ambition. After the show of shame they exhibited in the presence of school pupils who had come to watch their proceedings on the day they exchanged heavy blows and tore one another‘s cloths, they are sending out yet another signal that a good life awaits anyone who succeeds in plotting his way to the top. Could this be why a friend said it is more appropriate to address many of the lawmakers as representathieves?