By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
THESE are the worst of times! The past week has brought into sharp focus the danger that institutions of a democratising society can become in the hands of over-ambitious individuals. This fact has become clearer, especially in the week that has been filled with controversy about the 2016 budget and matters arising therefrom.
When Senate resumed sitting on Tuesday this week, the order paper listed eight Bills for consideration, and these included two very controversial bills, that were directly related to one of the major issues in the polity today. These are The Code of Conduct Act Cap C15 LFN 2004 (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (SB 248), sponsored by Senator Peter Nwaboshi, PDP (Delta North); and The Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 (Amendment) Bill 2016 (SB 249), which is sponsored by Senator Isah Missau, Bauchi Central.
Is there anything familiar about these laws? They are! They seem to be the laws that are very much in the news at the moment, because they are very much related to the on-going trial at the CCT of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
It is very preposterous that the Senate would even dare to attempt to effect emendation of such laws of the land as were being used to try one of their members. And by the end of the day on Tuesday, the Bills had undergone the First Reading. It would be interesting to see if Nigerians can accept to be taken for a ride by such a self-serving institution as the 8th Senate of the National Assembly is turning out to become. The personal survival of their leader, the Senate President, seems to have become the most important issue for today’s Senate, contrary to the hope that Nigerians nursed, when they voted out the PDP in May 2015.
Stallion of change
In truth, many of the leading senators today, who are the most influential in the wheeling and dealing so characteristic of the institution, only hinged their chariots to the stallion of change for purely tactical reasons. They never desired any change, beyond getting the opportunity to continue the business-as-usual of keeping the Nigerian status quo of their personal privileges.
It is certainly unacceptable that Senate should be reduced to the lowest common denominator as the 8th senate is threatening to; certainly not the emendation of laws to suit an individual! Didn’t they swear NOT to allow their personal interest to cloud the performance of their duty?
But we have been here with the 8th National Assembly. In October 2015, House Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, dropped a hint that the National Assembly would commence constitutional amendment to ensure immunity for heads of the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. Leo Ogor’s argument was that: “if the head of the executive arm, the President and his vice should enjoy immunity, the heads of the other two arms of government, the legislature and the judiciary, should also benefit from the immunity”. Such immunity, according to him, “would reduce distractions and crisis in the National Assembly”.
Nigerians saw through the ruse; it was part of an eventually futile effort to stop any possibilities of trial for the Chairman of the National Assembly, Bukola Saraki. It didn’t surprise, that he took Nigeria on a breathtaking ride through the court system, up to the Supreme Court in an effort to stop an examination of his past conduct.
Incredible and bizarre
Ultimately, the court case opened, and while sub judice, Nigerians are already catching glimpses of the hind place of a ‘Sacred Cow’. It must be so troubling that they would resort to the most bizarre and the most incredible! How do they honestly think they can pull this through? On what ground would they stand? Would Nigerians accept that the 8th senate could amend laws under which Bukola Saraki is being tried, just because he is Senate President? What manner of country are we becoming? Shall we allow personal interest become basis to amend our laws?
Let us begin from the beginning. When Bukola Saraki pull through his car park stunt to seize senate in June 2015, those who knew his antecedents and the distance he was willing to go, cannot be surprised at the way the Senate has functioned ever since. The institution has reflected the troubled origins of its leadership and the politically exposed individuals who are its most influential members. They have an agenda that translates to individual survival as well as individual prosperity. These are the central ethos determining the operations of this institution today. Invariably, they are bound for the collision course with President Muhammadu Buhari, which the 2016 budget has providentially offered.
Buhari prepared a budget that did not recognise the long established, but ultimately controversial tradition of “constituency projects”; that was after he had refused to “oil” the process of clearance of ministers. They ambushed him in the budgetary process.
The Lagos-Calabar railways project was removed; vote to complete Idu-Kaduna rail project suffered a cut of N8.7b, meaning it could not be completed this year and they drastically reduced allocations for completion of major road projects across the country.
In the meantime, they reportedly inserted roads for which studies were not conducted and diverted funds to rural health facilities and boreholes that had allegedly been provided for before.
They knew what they were doing, and they also anticipated a reaction from PMB and the Nigerian people. Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, used telephone number 08036130007, to circulate a text to Members of the House of Representatives, which said: “though all items submitted by Committees were retained, you will see additional inputs that were necessary to be accommodated via little cuts (my emphasis). You are therefore enjoined to be prepared to justify reports both in the media and elsewhere; in case the executive arm disagrees”. This is the crux of the matter. The 8th National Assembly obviously does as it pleases even if such actions are not in our best interest. Many in that National Assembly had a free ride into the two chambers largely because the Nigerian people accepted a platform of change that was symbolised by President Buhari.
Today, some of the most reactionary and anti-people postures are emanating from the National Assembly.
They seem far more interested in their own collective personal interests than those of the Nigerian people. But just as we defeated the infamous Third Term Agenda, we can build a national movement to defeat the anti-people agenda that has increasingly become central to the operations of the 8th National assembly!
Chibok girls, Boko Haram and geography
AGAINST the backdrop of the second anniversary of the abduction of the over 200 Chibok School girls by Boko Haram, the London TELEGRAPH newspaper, on Monday, April 11, 2016, published an article by its Chief Foreign Correspondent, Colin Freeman, titled “Why Nigeria is the world’s most dangerous place to be a geography teacher”.
The article said that Boko Haram was singling out geography teachers in its terror campaign, because geography lessons contradicted Boko Haram’s “bizarre worldview on how the earth was created. Boko Haram believes that the Earth is flat rather than spherical, and that rainfall is caused not by evaporation, but by God’s divine will”.
As a result, teachers of geography are ranked with Nigerian security men as well politicians as prime candidates for assassination.
This threat to geographers was outlined in an “extensive new report”, by Human Rights Watch, which underlined the devastating impact of the insurgency on the school system, especially in the areas of the war. The report said that 600 teachers have been murdered since 2009, while 19, 000 have quit their jobs in teaching as a result of threats and attacks. At the height of the insurgency schools closed in 22 of the 27 local government areas of Borno state, thus taking hundreds of thousands of children out of the education loop.
The figures are frightening, with a total of 952, 029 school-age children forced to flee Boko Haram violence and around 600, 000 pupils losing access to schooling. Colin Freeman quoted from the Human Rights Watch report, that: “Boko Haram insurgents have shown particular distaste for certain subjects like geography and science…Teachers of these subjects are targeted”.
It then mentioned an attack at Mafoni Government Day Secondary School in Maiduguri, in September 2012, when the insurgents burst in and ‘“set their sights” on the geography teacher, Malam Anjili Mala…the gunmen simply rained six bullets into the teacher and calmly walked away. No one else was touched’. The background to this was that “the principles of geography and social science contradict the eccentric teachings of Boko Haram’s late founder, Mohammed Yusuf…”
In an interview with the BBC, Yusuf had stated that: “we believe that rain is a creation of God rather an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain”. He also rejected Darwinism and the idea that “the world was a sphere”, which he claimed ran “contrary to the teachings of Allah”.
A medieval perspective: This is the medieval perspective that fuels the ideology that has been responsible for the killing of thousands of our compatriots over the past six years of the insurgency. And as the report being quoted has shown, teachers and education have been on the trigger sight of Boko Haram in these years.
The most symbolic of its disdain for education was the abduction of the Chibok Girls two years ago today. That abduction, more than most other outrages associated with the insurgency, shocked people around the world and the #BRING BACK OUR GIRLS campaign helped to highlight the atrocities of the Boko haram insurgency at a time when the Nigerian government of the day lived in denial and had even refused to believe that any such abduction took place.
The narrative kept shifting; first it was Northerners that were killing themselves and so the administration was not bothered; then it was a conspiracy of the North against a Southern president and there were also desperate efforts to politically exploit the chasm that was being constructed between the North and South of the country.
Closure for the issue
But it was the nature of the anger that most Nigerians felt, that the Chibok Girls’ abduction was going to become one of the many factors that would trigger change in Nigeria.
Two years down the line, these poor girls are not back home and therefore, we have not found closure for the issue. And we cannot and deserve not to rest until those girls are back to their parents. The nightmare is plainly unacceptable and every new day that those girls stay with their abductors diminishes us further, because those girls should actually be in school harvesting the knowledge they could have eventually put into our collective struggle against underdevelopment.