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Mark of the beast

By Ochereome Nnanna
THE feud between the Senate and House of Reps, which thwarted the presentation of the 2010 Appropriation Bill by President Umaru Yar’ Adua reminds us of the parable of the two foolish goats at the precipice. There was a narrow precipice, so narrow that only one animal could cross at a time. First, two lambs started crossing.

When they got to the middle of the precipice, one bent down and the other climbs its back and both were able to cross safely. But when two goats got to the same position none agreed to yield to the other. Instead they decided to slug it out. Both fell over the steep precipice and perished.

Shortly after the election of Hon. Dimeji Bankole as former Speaker Patricia Etteh’s replacement, the House, as part of its efforts to redeem its battered image, took on the constitution review along with its rival chamber, the Senate. That was when the immaturity, selfishness and egos of the leaders and members of the Red and Green chambers came to the fore.

A needless row emerged when the Senate drafted the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Chairman of the Constitution Review of the Senate, to head the Joint Committee on Constitution Review (JCCR). The Reps insisted that there should joint chairmanship since the Deputy Speaker of the House, Bayero Nafada, was in charge of Constitution Review Committee in the House.

Even though on the surface the row was blamed on ego, it was the other ego (money) that sparked it off. The sum of N500 million was voted for the project and anybody who was the chairman would control the manner in which the fund was spent.

The joint effort was eventually stalled and each chamber went its separate way. Since that January 2009 fiasco, the contest of will between the two sides has continued in spite of the fact that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at Section 53 makes it clear that the Senate President is the chairman of the joint session while in his absence the Speaker of the House of Reps would preside.

It would appear that the Senate was waiting for an opportunity to retaliate. Just a day to the Thursday, November 19, 2009 date for the presidential presentation of the 2010 Budget, Senate President David Mark suddenly decided that the Senate chamber, which was created to accommodate a little more than 109 people, should be the venue of an event that would require the attendance of about 600 people!

He said the management of the National Assembly would make the arrangements, as if they had the secret magic formula to do so. In other words, David Mark single-handedly sabotaged the budget presentation.

Much later, senators and others started this puerile argument that a joint session for budget presentation by the President is “unconstitutional”. One wondered when they discovered this, since, for 10 years previously, the budget has always been presented to a joint session.

The joint session system has become a part of our political culture and tradition, and it has always taken place in the House of Reps chamber because of its space advantage, even though the Senate President always presided.

Every nation has its democratic conventions, and some of them are not always read off from their constitutions. When US presidents are sworn into office they take a walk to the White House down the Pennsylvania Ave in Washington DC.

We saw President Barack Obama and his family do that. There is no provision for it in the US constitution. But it is a grand and inspiring show. The same can be said of the spectacle of our President presenting the most important legislative proposal of the coming year at the joint session of the National Assembly.

The joint session brings all eyes of local and international stakeholders on the Nigerian economy to one spotlight. It is usually a much-anticipated event. Nigerians are surprised that the import of this event was lost on the very people who are at the very centre of it.

That aborted budget presentation, particularly the reason for it, was a slap on the President and people of Nigeria. David Mark placed his personal ego above the overall interests of this great nation.

It is a pity that former President Olusegun Obasanjo successfully imposed this fellow whose name has been linked to many of the ills of this country as Senate President. It was this same David Mark who headed the committee that gave away the hard-earned Igbo property in Port Harcourt to some lazy and greedy locals as “Abandoned Property”.

As Minister of Communications, he was quoted as saying that telephone was not for the poor. The advent of GSM telephony has since proved him wrong besides the fact that in more advanced countries even at that time in 1988, you did not need to be rich to have access to telephone. That was what Mark, if he meant well as a Minister, should have aspired to.

He was also one of the infamous “IBB Boys” who forced General Ibrahim Babangida to annul the presidential mandate of the late Chief Moshood Abiola, who was later murdered in detention. He later ran into exile and came back to become a senator.

He was a forceful advocate for Obasanjo’s tenure elongation which was defeated under the Ken Nnamani tenure as Senate President. And to reward him for his services, Obasanjo plunked him into the office of the Senate President to continue his “good work” on Nigeria from where he stopped in May 2006.

It is a mark of the beast that in Nigeria people like David Mark thrive and flourish in every weather.


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