Nigerians love their titles. As such, it is common to find people with a Chief, Dr., Engr., or all of the above in front of their name. And, they expect to be referenced by their title which indicates their many achievements and successes. It is no different for Nigeria's legislators. The members of the House of Representatives insist on being addressed as 'Honorable', while their peers in the Senate are referred to as 'Distinguished'. But given the record of the present class of legislators, and their most recent battle over where the 2010 budget is to be read, it is hard to call members of either body anything but useless.
BATTLE ROYALE FOR THE BUDGET'S VENUE
President Yar'Adua's attempt to read the 2010 budget before the National Assembly in the House of Representatives created a major fracas that only serves to put politicians in further disrepute. The Senate took offense to the President's decision to read the budget at the home of their 'Honorable' peers and demanded that the venue be changed. This in turn spurred a negative response from members of the House of Representatives that has now led to a standoff with the President opting for a "policy of non-interference"and "allowing [legislators] time to put their house together". In the meantime, the budget will not be disclosed and debates on its contents will be delayed.
Such readings have typically been held in the House, as it is a larger space that holds at least 360 persons, versus the Senate chamber which holds only 150 seated bodies. However, David Mark, the head of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, decided that tradition is irrelevant and thus, the budget should be read where he wants it to be read.
THIS SHOULD BE NO SURPRISE, UNFORTUNATELY
Unfortunately, such childish behavior is little surprise to most Nigerians and especially those who follow Nigerian politics closely. After all, this is the same body that presented the Political Boxing match of 2007 during the Ettehgate scandal. Most recently, a member of the House, Chinyere Igwe, slapped a Sergeant of Arms for the indignity of asking the legislator to present his identification so as to enter the premises. The 'Honorable' is yet to be sanctioned for his dishonorable behavior. Furthermore, although members of both bodies automatically become millionaires once they manage to gain, legally or otherwise, their position, their last session was a disgrace with the nation's 109 Senators only showing up for 90 days of work in 2008. And, as of February 2009, the House of Representatives had only passed an unimpressive 21 bills since its tenure began in 2007.
AND NIGERIANS CONTINUE TO SUFFER AT THE HANDS OF THEIR OWN
It is an abject shame that Nigeria's legislators would dare demand to be called honorable and distinguished when it is clear that collectively, they are anything but. This latest disgraceful and childish outburst only reinforces that the nation, in the hands of such 'caretakers' is in trouble. Their childishness delays Nigerians from accessing information on the 2010 budget in a timely manner, a budget which already is said to not be enough for the nation's needs given these hard economic times. This delay will also limit the amount of time Nigerians have to weigh in on the budget and the amount of time their representatives - the so-called 'honorable' and 'distinguished' - should spend debating each line and every kobo projected to be spent or not spent.
POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: NO-VOTE & NO-INCUMBENT OPTIONS
I have previously advocated the no-vote option, and despite the derision it raised in some readers, I unfortunately must raise it again. At the time, I referenced the nation's track record of fraudulent elections and stated that if a significant number of Nigerians simply didn't turn up to vote on election day, the lack of enough people at the polls as a message of discontent, would be an embarrassment for whoever came to office at all levels of elected government, and technically, place their mandate in question. Given this most recent example of legislators proving that they do not care about the people they are supposed to serve, I will amend my earlier no-vote option by suggesting that those who do go out to vote for National Assembly candidates opt to not re-elect any incumbents. Doing away with all incumbents, will likely be a lesson to politicians that there will be consequences when they ignore the needs of their constituents and instead feed their already obese egos. A no-incumbents strategy is literally one of the only strategic yet peaceful options left for Nigerians themselves to force the political accountability that is necessary for true democracy to actualize in the country.
As for the fighting bodies of Nigeria's National Assembly and especially its leaders, David Mark (Senate) and Dimeji Bankole (House of Representatives), remember that such behavior is unbecoming, particularly in a nation allegedly working to transform its image, a task that legislators should not be collectively working against. And, try to live up to the titles you demand to be referred to, or else the only title that will ultimately stick will be 'Useless'. My advice to President Yar'adua is that he circumvent both bodies and read the budget on national television, radio stations and online to those who the budget will affect the most - the Nigerian people.
From the Archives:
- Chinyere Igwe: Reflective of a Bigger Nigerian Issue
- Getting The Senate We Paid For
- Getting The House Of Representatives We Paid For
Should Yar'Adua Get A Pay Raise?
- Look To The Ivory Coast For Inspiration