Magazine article New African

Nigeria's Show of Shame: "Nigerians Are Too Busy Trying to Scrape a Living to Concern Themselves Unduly with What They Know Is Going to Happen Anyway and about Which They Can Do Very Little." Welcome to Nigeria Where MPs Now Let Their Fists Do the Talking in Parliament Instead of Their Mouths

Magazine article New African

Nigeria's Show of Shame: "Nigerians Are Too Busy Trying to Scrape a Living to Concern Themselves Unduly with What They Know Is Going to Happen Anyway and about Which They Can Do Very Little." Welcome to Nigeria Where MPs Now Let Their Fists Do the Talking in Parliament Instead of Their Mouths

Article excerpt

ON 22 JUNE, LAWMAKERS IN Nigeria's House of Representatives threw decorum to the winds and engaged in fisticuffs. At least one member sustained a broken nose, another had his clothes torn and a female member was manhandled out of what the newspapers insist on calling "the hallowed chamber".

At stake was the missing sum of [begin strikethrough]N[end strikethrough]9bn which the speaker, Dimeji Bankole, claimed he needed for eight bullet-proof cars for his convoy. It is perfectly true, of course, that moving around in the country is fraught with danger--the underpaid, under-resourced and undervalued police force are often accused of complicity in the crimes they are paid to deter--but even then, [begin strikethrough]N[end strikethrough]9bn for eight bulletproof cars seemed somewhat excessive.

Money--or how to get it--appears to be the only topic on the agenda. Only recently, these same lawmakers, 360 from the 36 states, were agitating for an increase in their quarterly allowance from [begin strikethrough]N[end strikethrough]29m to [begin strikethrough]N[end strikethrough]45m in a country where the minimum monthly wage (when it is paid) is just [begin strikethrough]N[end strikethrough]7,500, which is hardly enough to feed a family of four--and never mind pay rent, school fees, hospital bills and the rest of it. Passing laws for the good governance of the constituencies they represent comes a distant second--if it features at all.

As it happened, a group of 75 schoolchildren from a local school were in the gallery of the House of Representatives at the time the fisticuffs broke out. The children were there to observe the democratic process in action. They certainly got more than they bargained for. As one of them remarked afterwards: "We saw how things are happening in Nigeria. Most of our leaders are [as old as] our parents but they disgraced themselves."

What they also saw were journalists being manhandled by the security aides, anxious to ensure that the unseemly fracas didn't make it onto the pages of the following day's newspapers, but which only ensured the opposite of what they intended. When will they ever learn?

Unfortunately, any sign that these same lawmakers were themselves perturbed by what everybody is calling their "show of shame" was belied by their subsequent actions. Instead of addressing the issue, they proceeded to suspend the 11 legislators--the so-called Reform or Progressive Group--who tabled the matter on the floor of the House.

As another legislator put it, with the troublesome element out of the way, "there will be peace and we will be able to perform our duty ..."

The main issue in the country, though, is that President Goodluck Jonathan's desire to conduct credible elections in less than a year from now, to which end he appointed Professor Attahiru Jega, a respected academic with a "radical background"--he was president of the confrontational Academic Staff Union of Universities during the military era--as the new head of the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Jega has himself been quoted as saying that he considers his appointment to be "the greatest challenge of my life" and vowed not to let the country down, but he also pointed out that no one person could do it by themselves and called on the support of "other heads of government agencies, especially the police and security agencies, the armed forces and the judiciary, to please give us maximum cooperation", along with "all political parties" whose conduct in the House of Representatives so shocked the hapless schoolchildren only the week before. …

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