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Between Fights, Sanctions And Lawmakers

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The presidential system of government the world over is made up of the executive, legislature and the judiciary, with some even advocating the press as the fourth and Nigeria is no exception.

The introduction of this system of government, no doubt, is to enable the  various units function independently of the other but in actual fact, their functions complement each other to achieve a common goal.

Of course, if there is a disconnect in the function of any of them, there is bound to be negative consequences which send the wrong signal to those whose interest these various organs are meant to represent.

When President Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office as president in 1999, one ugly trend which has characterised the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives has been the various incidences of fights among members of the lower chamber.

Since then, the media, especially in Nigeria has been awash with various headlines, announcing the show of shame which the so-called honourable members exhibit on the floor just to show Nigerians that apart from making laws, they could as well exchange blows without shame.

Come to think of it, most of the fights which occur in the House happen not because of issues that would benefit the people of the country, rather, because of their personal interests.

For example, in August 1999, the House rose one day without an adjournment as members used their fists rather than their voices to decide a motion.

The argument was over whether or not the Federal Government should relocate four parastatals of the Ministry of Transport, namely, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) back to Lagos from where they were moved to Abuja in 1997.

As deliberations on the matter were ongoing, observers and members of the press present were taken aback as the House degenerated into chaos, and twice the then Deputy Speaker, Hon. Chibudom Nwuche, who presided in the absence of Speaker, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, had to escape through the back door, leaving in desperation, the symbol of authority, the mace behind even as several irate members gave him a hot chase.

Of course, with his colleagues left behind to exchange blows following his escape without a motion for adjournment, the House dispersed with the stalemate hanging as it were.

Again on October 31, 2000, Nigerians woke to be confronted with the news that riotous acts had marred the activities of the House of Representatives as the lawmakers exchanged blows with one another over an alleged N4 million bribe meant to facilitate the impeachment of then Speaker, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba.

The fight lasted for more than 30 minutes, and led to the stabbing of one of the members with cloths torn into shreds. Many others sustained bruises. It was also reported that seven members, five from the North and two others allegedly signed for N500,000 each for the action, and that attempts to calm the House after the ugly incident proved abortive as some members who christened themselves “anti-Na’Abba” boldly walked of the chamber demanding that Na’Abba step aside for probe. They had also vowed that no proceeding would be allowed in the House until their objective has been achieved.

Also on November 2, 2000,  the House members throw out by 182 votes to 76 a motion calling for the probe of House leadership resulting in a free-for-all fight.

Trouble allegedly started when the lower chamber of the National Assembly mandated its Ethics and Privileges Committee to investigate the allegation that the executive under President Olusegun Obasanjo had made available the sum of N500,000 to each member to induce them to remove Speaker Na’Abba. Some N4 million cash was tendered in the House as exhibit on that fateful day.

Expectedly, however, Presidential spokesman to President Obasanjo then, Dr. Doyin Okupe in reaction to the allegation, dismissed it as “cheap blackmail and melodrama”.

But in another twist, chairman of the House Committee on Anti-Corruption, National Ethics and Values then, Mr. Adams Jagaba told the House that he had evidence that the executive tried to induce some of the members with money to remove the speaker. Said he: “We gathered that the source of money is the president, channelled through the Presidential Liaison Officer (PLO) of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Esther Uduchi. Each member was given N500,000. “I want to tender the money as exhibit”.

Jagaba presented six bags popularly called “Ghana must go” before exhibiting their contents (N4 million) on the table bearing the mace, claiming that the money came from former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili.

Jagaba claimed that the money was received by Hons Yinkas Balminas, Dan-chuda Lawal, Bello Yaro, Josiah Gokun, Jubril Babangida and Mohammed Arzika, who in turn handed the money to him.

Speaking on the issue then, the deputy leader of the House, Mr. Mao Ohuabunwa  expressed shock at the development, and advised members that “It would be better for all of us to carry our bags and go home. How did this money come about?”.

To make matters worse, attempts by Jagaba to further clarify the issues led to pandemonium as pro and anti-Na’Abba members began to exchange hot blows from 10.30 a.m. – 12.25p.m. of that fateful day, as the speaker completely lost control of the House which gave room to a rowdy session.

Another incident was the drama of the contract scam in September, 2007, during the tenure of Nigeria’s first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh.

On  September 20, 2007,  confusion and fracas had marred the sitting of the House of Representatives panel which investigated the contract award for the renovation of the Speaker’s (Etteh) official residence in Abuja.

It all began when Hon. Patricia Etteh was called to the witness box by the chairman of the panel investigating the matter, David Idoko. As Etteh made her way to the witness box, some members of the House who were loyal to her gave her a standing ovation.

Angered by the development, other lawmakers pushing for the probe let out invectives which eventually led to fisticuffs between the camps loyal to Etteh and those opposed to the award of the contract. In the midst of the confusion, security men led Etteh away from the over-crowded hearing room which led the panel to adjourn sitting abruptly without letting the people know what was next on its agenda.

The aforementioned incidents are by no means exhaustive, yet it would not be fair if the latest one that happened in June, 2010 is not given a mention.

On June 29, 2010, members of the lower chamber of the National Assembly engaged themselves, in a free-for-all fight.

The immediate cause of the fight among some of members was a motion which was moved to seek the invocation of Order 5(i) Sub Rule, 2 and 3 under matters of privilege in the House Rules with the aim of suspending some members for alleged misconduct.

However, the rest is history. But for how long would Nigerians continue to pretend that the conduct of our elected representatives, especially at the lower house should be their business and not that of other Nigerians?

I think that members of the National Assembly, including the Senate, states and local government assemblies who continue to relegate law making to the background, and engage in frivolous fights be sanctioned. In the final analysis, I suggest that each time this ugly incident occurs in the various houses across the land, those concerned should be sanctioned and the people of Nigeria made to know and understand that, at least, action has been taken so that those who really deserve to be called honourables are separated from the rest.

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Opinion

  Buhari’s Vault Face

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Since the end of the ruling party’s presidential primaries, and the selection of a Muslim running mate by the party’s standard bearer, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the voice of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara, has been the loudest and the most critical, even though he is a member of the ruling party. He has posited that fielding a Muslim – Muslim ticket is an anathema in a multi-religious country like ours and a marked departure from nation-building. The former speaker is fully aware of the delicate balancing of geopolitical, tribal, and religious interests for the purpose of national cohesion and unity.

Dogara’s position is right on point, and he continues to espouse it boldly, even to the vitiation of his political capital. Unfortunately, Tinubu’s decision to choose a fellow Muslim was nothing new, rather it was a reenactment of what President Buhari started in 2015.
Since May 29, 2015, Nigeria as a country stopped making any significant effort toward nation-building. He might have exuded a frail visage, but his appointments were bold and telling. From the outset, his policies clearly signalled a Northern agenda. In hindsight, it is clear that President Buhari was lying in his inauguration speech, when he said, “I belong to no one, I belong to everyone”.

We know better today.  At no time in our history has this country been so close to the precipice. Armed men with more sophisticated weapons than the Nigerian Army have flooded our country, ravaging lives, destroying farmlands, raping our women, kidnapping for ransom, and impoverishing our people. As if that was not enough, we were recently ranked as the second most terrorised country in the world. Buhari’s government has repeatedly told Nigerians that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. They have been lying all along, and they know it. They also know that we know that they are lying. Sadly, that is the ministry of Lai Muhammed. Even the Nigerian economy is on the brink of collapse, and the exchange rate of $1 for N1000 is at hand.

Nigerians already know that we are operating phony federalism system. They are aware that our oneness as a nation has a certain uniqueness to it. For instance, the penal code is the judicial system in the North, while the South operates the criminal code. It is so seamless that most Nigerians are unaware of it. Is it bad? No. In fact, it makes for inclusivity, and it accommodates our diversity. However, the issue of insecurity, terrorism, and banditry is an entirely different kettle of fish. Since 2015, the clamour for state police has increased tremendously, sadly, the North heavy (borrowing the words of Governor Wike) National Assembly had hindered the debate from gaining traction. Even President Buhari’s comments and body language on the issue have not helped matters. Fortunately, on January 9, 2020, the governors of the South West forced the issue by setting up a regional security outfit tagged the Amotekun Corps to develop indigenous solutions to local security challenges. However, Amotekun Corps was denied the licence to carry arms.

Interestingly, the viral training video of a similar outfit set up by the home state of the president is about to change all that. In the video, Kastina State Vigilante recruits were seen parading the same AK-47 rifles that the federal government has refused Amotekun, even though the North West and the South West are facing the same existential threats. In his response to the viral video, Governor Rotimi Akeredulo of Ondo State accused Buhari’s administration of running one country with two systems. According to him “the video making the rounds showing the equivalence of the Western Nigeria Security Network (Amotekun Corps) in Katsina obtaining Federal Government approval to bear arms is fraught with great dangers,” “Denying Amotekun the urgently needed rights to legitimately bear arms is a repudiation of the basis of true federalism, which we have been clamouring for. That Katsina was able to arm its state security force with the display of an AK-47 means we are pursuing a one-country, two-system solution to the national question.

In his effort to extricate the police from any connections with the State Vigilante outfit, Isah unwittingly confirmed the obvious, because he said the vigilante in the state was not licensed to carry AK-47s, but they were only trained to use them. The follow-up question should have been, trained by who? Who has been licensed by the federal government to train people in the use of such sophisticated weapons? Further comments by the spokesperson made it difficult to believe neither the police IG, nor the federal government was not involved.  In his words, “The Vigilantes were trained on other arms and combat maneuvers. It is not that they were given a licence or that the federal government has approved that they should use AK-47 Riffles. They were just trained on how to defend themselves. And to be categorically clear, there is no member of vigilante in Katsina that is using that kind of weapon. It wasn’t issued to them by the Federal Government or State Government. They were just trained on how to defend themselves.

“It wasn’t the police that trained them, the police were not there when they were trained, we didn’t participate in the training, but what I know is what I am telling you. They were not issued with AK-47 riffles, but they were trained on how to defend themselves because bandits and terrorists are using AK-47 riffles.”
There was another viral video last week, this time from the terrorist group known as ISWAP. The content of the video portends danger for the people of the South West. The video showed ISWAP celebrating the attack on a police vehicle at Ipele in Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State. The video was in fact a statement by ISWAP signalling their presence in the South West. The video has given credence, and urgency to the demands of the Governor of Ondo State to arm the Amotekun Corps. As a governor, his first primary duty is the protection of lives and property; and with the freshness of the Owo massacre of June 5, 2022, in our memory, no one can question the audacity of his next line of action. We are in cusps of a showdown between Ondo State Government and the FG, and the fallout might answer the state police question once and for all.

By: Raphael Pepple

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Opinion

Towards Improved Education For Nigerian Children

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There is no gainsaying, education is vital to the development of any nation. It is a process through which individuals are made functional members of their society.
It is also a process through which the young acquire knowledge, realise their potentials and use them for self-actualisation to be useful to themselves and others. In every society, education connotes acquisition of  worthwhile knowledge.  That is the reason different countries of the world invest in qualitative education of the entire populace, especially the younger ones. Nigerian government is not left behind in the effort towards the attainment of Education for All. Recall that ten years ago,  the federal government constituted a 17 – member committee for integration of the out-of-school children from the South-South and South-East into the basic education system. Inaugurating the committee in Abuja, the then Minister of State for Education, who is now the Executive Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, decried the low number of enrolment for boys in the South-South and South-East. In his words, “In spite of the collective efforts of governments at all levels, we know that we are still far from our destination as far as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All (EFA) are concerned. We know that we have made tremendous improvement in access and national enrolment but millions of our children particularly boys in South-South and South-East states are out of school”.
I think such commitment to addressing basic education challenges should be commended and encouraged for better result. In the South-eastern states,  the increasing boy-child dropout rate is a serious concern and one which will have a detrimental impact on the future of the region and the nation. In many families in this region, boys no longer have interest in education. This is basically because school graduates find it difficult to secure jobs that match their education. Thus, tthe younger generation see little practical value in staying in school beyond a few primary grades. Some parents equally see investment in the education of their children as a useless venture as such children often come back to them after graduation, failing to secure meaningful employment, when their counterparts in business have become, “millionaires”. So, the fundamental problem is our value system. The emphasis on wealth accumulation has trumped-up the core value of education. The family, society and even the education system teach our children to value wealth accumulation than the acquisition of knowledge and problem solving skills. A man’s worth is measured by his material acquisition, not minding how he got it.
This wrong value system, some people argue, is the reason for high rate of kidnapping, armed robbery and other social-vices prevalent in the country, particularly in South-East and South-South regions. Our youths are pre-occupied with an elusive chase for wealth which has prompted them to engage in unbecoming acts. Education experts also attribute the increasing number of out-of-school children in these states to poverty and poor quality of education leading to dissatisfaction from parents and opportunity cost as parents would rather have their children make extra money through hawking than going to schools.
This problem can be solved by governors of the South-South and South-East states declaring ‘total’  free education for primary and secondary school children. Adequate funding of the education system should be the priority of these governors, coupled with proper remuneration, training and discipline of teachers. Governments should ensure that funds allocated for out-of-school children are used for the slated purpose, ensuring that they carry out quality infrastructural works that would stand the test of time. There is need for Nigeria to emulate  other countries that provide for children who are not financially strong. Many of these children have talents within them that can facilitate a better Nigeria someday.
On the other hand, parents should also contribute to reducing the number of out-of-school children by ensuring that their children are planned for, so as to make it easier for them to be properly cared for. Parents should also be sensitised on the importance of education. They should be made to realise that no other investment has such a lasting effect as the education of children. Well-to-do citizens in the south-south and South-East states should support government programmes that will lift children out of poverty and ignorance and be of lasting benefit to future generations.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Road To 2023 Elections

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The race is on for 2023 elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has published  names of the candidates sent by the political parties.  The candidates of the major political parties are sensitising and orientating the public about the importance of the 2023 general elections. The masses are not left out as they have vowed to vote in 2023 elections embarked on voters registrations which was a success in many parts of the country.  As it is now, the beam light is on the following presidential candidates; Senator Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu of APC, Atiku Abubakar of PDP, Dr Peter Obi of Labour Party and Rabiu  Kwankwaso of NNPP.
According to online report by republic. com, INEC made a case for the creation of a new commission to deal with electoral offences. The proposed commission was first mentioned as a recommendation from a committee to look into electoral reforms following the controversial 2007 elections. It was published by Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and led by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Muhammadu Uwais.
The Independent National Electoral Commission’s Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, stated that the commission’s efforts to improve the country’s electoral process would be ineffective unless electoral offenders were effectively prosecuted. He also asserted that INEC’s current mandate was exhaustive and made it difficult for it to effectively prosecute and litigate electoral offenders. He cited that, since 2015, only 60 of 125 cases of electoral offences filed in various courts have resulted in convictions. Indeed, politicians are  mending fences and some who were not favoured are defecting to new political parties. Serious political consultations are going on in the country. Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo,  has denied endorsing the presidential flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress.  In a statement, Obasanjo’s Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Akinyemi, said the news  of the endorsement by Obasanjo making the rounds, especially from supporters of Tlnubu, is unhelpful to 2023 general elections. In anticipation of public presidential campaigns (or rallies) candidates are beginning to pay more visits to key national and state stake-holders, or mobilisers. These visits also include traditional rulers as well as former national and political leaders, for what many of them describe as ‘seek their blessing’. Thus, to boost their political ambitions for 2023 elections, Atiku Abubakar, Dr Peter Obi and the Vice Presidential candidate of APC, Shetima, attended the Nigeria Bar Association 2023 conference in Lagos.  Indeed, the frontline presidential candidates for the 2023 elections were invited to address a plenary, general conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which was held in Eko Atlantic  City, Lagos.  Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic and Peter Obi, of the Labour Party attended and addressed the delegates present. Rabiu Kwankwaso, of the New Nigerian Peoples Party, was also invited but did not participate, while Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress was represented by his running mate, Kashim Shettima.
Candidates who attended used the opportunity to assess their popularity with members of the NBA. Atiku touched on his plans for devolution, Obi discussed his proposals to address employment, while Shettima said he would be responsible for the security affairs under a Tinubu presidency.  Supporters of Obi and Atiku have held forte for their candidates on social media with clips from the events.  The public space is charged with electoral discussions. Meanwhile, INEC has set September 28 as the date for political parties to begin public presidential campaigns (or rallies) across all the states in Nigeria. According to INEC, campaigns will last until 24 hours before the election. With the development, the spokespersons would sell their candidates within 150 days to the public before elections. The Nigerian electorate are anxious to participate in the 2023 elections. Do not sit on the fence, be part of the project 2023.

By: Frank Ogwuonuonu
Ogwuonuonu resides in Port Harcourt.

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