By Josef Omorotinmwan
ANYTHING that is misused is abused and anything that is abused is also devalued. We watched helplessly as the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gradually reduced the “Take a Bow” procedure to the point of embarrassment.
On occasions, though, certain people are required to appear before the legislative assembly. Such appearances include those moments when nominees for executive appointments must appear at the chambers of the Senate or the State Assembly for confirmation hearing.
Once appointed, such ministers and commissioners are also required to appear at the assembly periodically to brief the people, through their elected representatives, how their ministries or extra- ministerial departments are performing.
At the confirmation hearings, in very rare cases, a very prominent nominee who has clearly distinguished himself in society could be asked to take a bow and go without questioning, as a mark of respect.
This favour must be dispensed very sparingly or it would lose its lustre. Since our return to democracy in 1999, we could easily point at the late Bola Ige as a man deserving of such an honour.
We invite to the witness stand, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, one man who fought relentlessly against the abuse of the concept of “Take a bow”. At a time when his colleagues in the Senate wanted the “Take a bow” procedure extended automatically to all senators, Senator Chukwumerije stood his ground that the favour was “anti-intellectual and an animation of secret society methods” (Thisday, Thursday, 18 December 2008, p. 72).
It is a sin against the Holy Ghost to extend the “Take a bow” to ministerial briefings. From time, people have taken the ministerial briefing as an opportunity to know how the ministers of the Federal Government or the commissioners of the state governments are performing in their various ministries.
Recently in Edo State, this annual ritual was moving very smoothly until it got to the turn of the Commissioner for Health, Mrs. Cordelia Aiyowieren-Aiwize, when she was asked to take a bow. The question on everybody’s lip was, why? Whenever the “Take a bow” is applied, it only succeeds in leaving more questions than answers on its trail.
Essentially, the “Take a bow” concept destroys the noble ideal of free speech. And free speech is not simply the right of an individual to have his say, it is also the right of the rest of us to hear him. In one of his telling works, Essay On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) argues eloquently in defence of free expression.
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion still more than those who hold it; if the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error”.
Government by the people is based on the individual’s right to speak freely, to organise in groups, to question the decisions of government and to criticize it openly when it is necessary to do so.
It is only through free and uncensored expression of opinion that government can be kept responsive to the electorate. It is also through free expression of opinion that governmental power can be transferred peacefully.
Elections, separation of powers and other constitutional guarantees would continue to be meaningless unless each person has the right to speak frankly and to hear and judge for himself, the worth of what others have to say.
These are the gains derivable from ministerial briefings. When that is denied, all else is denied.
Asking Aiwize to take a bow was a disservice to her, when a good politician would pay any price for an opportunity to address the people. More than anyone else, Aiwize has been totally deprived by this singular act of taking a bow. She may have submitted a brilliant report to the Assembly.
But even granting that during the period under review, she discovered the vaccine that eradicates death and make people live forever, would the ministerial briefing not have been an opportunity to showcase her breakthrough to the people, which would have been of tremendous value to her future aspirations?
Again, a surgery in which the patient died could not have been too successful. If excellence was the basis of the “Take a bow” that was awarded the Health Commissioner, how come that a few days after the award, the Comrade-Governor visited her major territory, the Central Hospital in Benin City, only to find that virtually everything was in shambles? And virtually all the hospitals in the local government areas have nothing to recommend them! That award simply portrayed the legislators as either lazy or outright unresponsive.
After all, it is only a bad host that would be unwilling to listen to his guest. Why else was the guest invited in the first place?
Most importantly, Edo people have been totally short-changed by being denied the opportunity of knowing how their health sector is performing, no thanks to a legislature that is unwilling to work!
If excellence was indeed the basis for the “Take a bow”, all other persons in the system – the Comrade-Governor and his entire team – remain indicted.
This can be better understood on two basic premises: One, that the ministerial briefings were preparatory to the Governor’s presentation of the 2013 budget estimates; and two, that within living memory, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole stands out as one of the most performing Governors in the entire nation.
In the next few days, this same Governor, will be appearing before this same House of Assembly to present his 2013 Budget proposals. How about asking him to take a bow? Or does he not qualify for it?
How else will our legislators begin to realise the absurdity of their actions?