The above was the impression of a friend about our legislators. I told him I hold our lawmakers in high esteem and could commit local hara-kiri or suicide bombing to protect their name, because the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria explicitly vests enormous power on them to make law for the peace, order and good governance. As a patriotic Nigerian I respect them even if they lead us astray since we elected them to represent us.
But for my friend, that the legislators, at Federal and State levels have not lived to expectation is to repeat the obvious. He couldn’t see what they have done with their constitutional power to the benefit of the citizenry. He told me that recently a respected columnist stated that he would never glorify criminals on his page alluding to the repeated embarrassing activities going on in the legislative chambers. He noted that while more than 600 Nigerians, human beings in flesh and blood, were mercilessly massacred in Shemdam, a village in Yelwa Local Government Area of Plateau State in an expected security-protected zone, the Senate of Federal Republic of Nigeria was busy plotting and counter plotting impeachment against its leadership for selfish and petty reasons as one of the plotters later confessed to bewildered Nigerians. Even though most Americans including the legislators approved the spending of billions for the execution of the Iraqi Project, he noted that they still have the sense of dignity to condemn their executive arm for betrayal over the atrocities perpetrated by their forces in Iraq.
At this point I felt like punching my friend, but I allowed him to continue so that I could fully understand where he was driving at. He looked at me and continued his diatribe with the passion of a yuppy preacher. “At the time the American Senate was drilling the Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld over the abuse of Iraq Prisoners, with all candor and sense of responsibility to protect their country’s battered image, members of Nigerian House of Representatives were also busy to reenact or surpass what their senior had curiously nibbed in the bud.”
He added that the behavior and character of some of our elected representatives could pass for such high level melodrama that could put our local clowns and comedians out of the humour industry. “That show, at the Senate and the attempted repeat of it by the House, if displayed by kindergarten pupils would have attracted some lashes of big koboko on their bare buttocks to serve as deterrent.”
I was surprised at his effusions as he talked so disdainfully about our lawmakers. I told him he was going too far. He looked at me for a while and continued by stating that at the time the British Parliament was challenging their Prime Minister on how to better the lot of their people through flexible taxes, interest rate and pension schemes, our legislators at all tiers are working out a sharing formula to share amongst themselves part of our statutory funds, as their budget, for frivolous foreign trips, ridiculous allowances and welfare packages.
I interjected by informing him that Nigeria is a black African country, so he should restrict himself to African or local context in the discourse and face the reality on the ground.
How many legislators from other West African countries travel abroad frequently for medical checkups as their counterparts do in Nigeria even when we have better medical facilities in our country? He asked as he ignored me. He continued by saying that the issue of check and balance is thrown into the dustbin due to the greediness on the part of the legislators. They are not contented with their official jumbo pay packages but seek for personal favours and palm-greasing from their victims that include the executive arms at the respective tiers. “Why do you think the leadership at the executive arms were able to easily and successfully pocket most of the legislators and even dictate who should lead the house and who should be suspended?” he queried.
Instead of answering his question, I asked him in turn to be specific by naming the problems the legislators could not address. His reply was straight as he pointed out that the unemployment is at an alarming rate, with graduates taking to robbery, young girls into prostitution, the elders into ethnic and religious crises and the polity bedeviled by endemic corruption. Little is being done by the legislative houses to tame the social and political malaise. He even predicted that they may not care about the rampant vices, as they may soon pass a resolution for the supply of bulletproof vests and armored cars to be attached to them and their families.
As interesting as some of the disclosures were, I was not impressed. I could not associate the image of our flamboyant representatives that I watch in TV with the contemptible things he said. I nevertheless allowed him to continue.
He put his jaw on his palms dejectedly and said that it is only in our legislative houses that lawbreaking is clearly covered-up while lesser criminals are investigated, prosecuted and jailed. The legislators have always shielded their own in the name of caucus resolution, executive intervention and party endorsement. It was not surprising that they denied the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) the needed power, which renders it a toothless bulldog that barks but not bite. “Anything goes in Nigeria, once one belongs to the big league,” he spat out.
This my anti-legislator-friend baffled me so much so that I asked him whether the legislators do not perform any of their statutory responsibilities. He replied that few Nigerians could recall the last time the legislators really fought for their interests. The news from the legislative houses are glaringly anti-populace, self-serving, and above all self-centred, he added. He mentioned that because of their greed for power amongst themselves, they often engage in physical combat to the stupor on the floor. Regularly they create unnecessary tension with threats of impeachment for monetary inducements. He said most Nigerians have come to identify the legislators as professional schemers for additional budgetary provisions to service their welfare.
Does it mean there is no distinction amongst the legislators in regards to their conduct? He laughed at me for my question as if I talked childishly. He said that nothing was more worrisome than the activities of senators from the South-Eastern Nigeria, who spearheaded the recent threat for the removal of their own as Third man in the country, adding that it was laughable that one of them, who claimed to be the most senior senator publicly disclosed that the aborted impeachment was his attempt to play political chess game to see how gullible his colleagues were and how cheaply they could fall into his usual traps of deceits, deception and for fun. For the other regions, he said some Northern legislators passed the Sharia law to convict the poor and hapless people, but not the rich and the powerful. The South-South legislators were freely enjoying the derivation funds for holidays abroad and sponsoring their wards to foreign schools. While the Afenifere areas are busy with petitions and debating the infighting of their governors or with their deputies and at the same time recognizing miscreants as their states’ law enforcers.
With all the wild accusations and allegations I asked him what he wanted the legislators to do.
“If the Nigerian legislators have ever gauged public opinion and rating of their representation, many of them could have resigned voluntarily from positions, except of course, that they have no honour,” he declared, concluding that “they have woefully failed to perform their oversight functions as the watchdog of the nation’s treasury as they pursue contracts for selfishness; they have portrayed Nigerians in bad light . . . they portrayed themselves as bunch of cro. . . .
“My friend, you better stop this!” I shouted angrily at him. “I don’t want any more of your baseless and unpatriotic allegations about our elected representative!”
I ended the debate but wondered whether he was wrong. We were neither at the beer parlour nor pepper-soup joint where it could have been reasonable to question his sense of judgement. I take consolation in the fact that everybody has the right to personal opinion. I wish to remain a patriotic Nigerian who sees the good and the bad but remains steadfast by keeping silent on unpleasant situations. But am I fair to my self and the country as I join the bandwagon of onlookers?
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Daily Trust, May17, New Nigeria May17, Nigerian Tribune May17 and Punch May18, 2004.