Monday, November 23, 2009

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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Oluniyi David Ajao said...

You have said my mind. Our obsession with titles is very embarrassing to me. It's even worse that people carrying these cheap titles do not live-up to the useless titles. Those insisting on being addressed as "honourables" are behaving dishonourably all the time. Same applies to the "distinguished". The House contains too many sycophants, cowards, fraudsters, forge masters, liars ati bebe lo. Shame.

I agree with your conclusion. If they continue with the shameful bickering, the President should deliver the budget to us via the media: TV, Radio, newspapers and the Internet.

God Help Nigeria.

N.I.M.M.O said...

1. Our love of titles actually tally with our colonial experience. Nobody loves titles or ceremony more than the British. Yeah, maybe we try to outdo them sometimes but then ...

2. There was an interesting piece in the Vanguard of Sunday about the origins of the current imbroglio. Its all ego-tripping and people wanting to elevate their personal crisis to the level of a national one.

They said that in the British/Canadian Parliament, the Queen/President reads the budget in the House of Lords and those who don't get seats -usually those MPs from the House of Commons - just hang around or sit on the floor!

Now, that's the part our own Senate wants to copy. They will not copy the rate at which those other Houses pass bills or make laws. They want to copy how they sit even without knowing WHY those Houses sit the way they do.

3. What the President is presenting is not the budget but rather the Appropriation Bill which if passed by the both Houses then becomes the budget which he can read to the nation anyhow he wants to. I understand the President has resolved to read the Bill twice at the two different venues to please all parties.

Left to Nigerians, he might as well read the Bill at the National Stadium or just send it to them via email or better still post the video on You Tube and send them the link. Then each House can decide when they want to deliberate on the Bill.

Maybe they can post their deliberations on You Tube too. At least that would show that they worked this year at all.

Anonymous said...

The major and most significant contributor to why our legislators behave and act the way they want is unarguably the fact that majority of Nigerians don't even know that they have the right to recall or to demand certain standard from their representatives. Most people thing legislators are some super people who are most powerful. But the truth is that their powers lie in the hands of the electorates. How many legislators ask for the opinion of their constituents before voting on a bill? How many of them hold a town hall meeting on issues of national importance before the house or senate. How many constituents have the contacts of their legislators? How many Nigerians know what bill is in the National Assembly and what it means to them? We the citizens don't keep them accountable and when they come for re-election they have a smooth pass. It is obvious that most Nigerians are not familiar with legislative procedures and may not know what the responsibilities of their representatives are towards them.

Solomon, to add to your latest opinion which I agree with, I will say that we need to do a lot more to educate our citizens to know that they have a right to demand inclusive representation from their legislators. We must de-emphasize the 'powerfulness' of the legislators and rather emphasize the power that constituents have to do and undo with their representatives. Lack of this knowledge is a major reason why the legislators are taking their constituents for granted.

As constituents, do we know the voting history of our representatives? Please those Nigerians familiar with these procedures must continue the struggle to educate a lot that know little or nothing. Struggle for a better nation is a collective effort.

tankojjetty said...

I love this post...
& i would subscribe to the president bypassing the "honourables"....
their a lots of mediums he could use & you proposed some...
i like your posts because you raise issues & propose solutions...good job

Anonymous said...

nigerians are useless anyways.. who cares. all they seem to do is try to rip off the weak and vaunerable. cut off the aid and let darwin take care of the rest.

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