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The rumble in the House

By Ochereome Nnanna

UNLESS sanity prevails, come Tuesday June 22, 2010, we might be treated to another round of attempts to change the leadership of the House of Representatives when the Green Chamber returns from its annual recess.

A group in the House which calls itself “The Progressives” had, over a week ago given the Speaker,  Dimeji Bankole, one week within which to resign his post or be exposed for alleged corruption and incompetence.

From what I can see of this burgeoning fracas, there are two separate issues at stake. The first concerns allegations of corruption against the Speaker. The second is power struggle between two opposing groups.

Speaker Bankole is alleged to have irregularly authorised the award of contracts to the Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria (PAN) at inflated prices. When this issue came up over a year ago, the dust it raised was allowed to die down when the matter was referred to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, which later reported that no wrongdoing was discovered.

If the people who were making this allegation were serious about their perceived war on corruption they would have rejected the clearance of the Speaker and articulated a petition to the anti-graft agencies. Instead, the matter was forgotten only to be exhumed when some of the ringleaders of the current push to oust Bankole lost their positions as committee chairmen.

It is worrisome to note that any time you hear of cases of corruption in Abuja, especially in the National Assembly, it must either be that the person being accused has lost out in the power game and corruption is a mere trigger to shoot him out of office, or some people have lost out in the power game or financial deals and want to get their own back. Almost on a daily basis, almost in every department of government, corruption is the order of the day but the story only makes it to the news media when some disgruntled people feel cheated or shut out.

If the so-called Progressives were truly out to fight corruption, should they have needed to give Speaker Bankole a seven-day ultimatum? Should they have threatened to expose him? Would they not have simply done so? That ultimatum sounded very much like an invitation to the Speaker and his supporters to come and negotiate terms. Now that the Bankole group decided not to oblige their demand for the Speaker’s resignation we wait eagerly to see the details of the “exposure” the Progressives promised.

If they and the EFCC are able to prove their allegations of corruption against the Speaker and any other person, or at least establish a prima facie case against him, the law must take it course as in the former National Chairman of the PDP, Dr Vincent Ogbulafor’s case.

The other aspect of this face-off is power struggle with corruption charges as the camouflage. The question comes up again: Why is it at this moment when some members of the “Progressives” have lost their plum positions that it was suddenly discovered that the Speaker is corrupt and lacks leadership qualities? He has presided over the affairs of the House for about 30 months now.

Members of the “Progressives” are also vicariously liable for Bankole’s alleged sins if they knew about them and condoned them for 30  months. If Dino Melaye, the most outspoken arrowhead of this group, was still the Chairman of the House Committee on Information, would he be fighting Bankole? When he was the Chairman of the Committee, why did he not fight the Speaker?

These questions owe their relevance in the context of  Melaye’s own past record of voluble and visible fights in defence of vested factional interests. The last time we saw him on display, he was fighting like a market woman on behalf of the deposed Speaker of the House of Reps, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh. He was throwing punches in the chamber, waving the white hand kerchief of his faction and pulling his eyes at opponents, insisting that the Speaker and her Deputy would not resign over the official quarters renovation scam. Even when one of the members of the pro-Etteh camp, Dr Aminu Safana, slumped and died in the chamber during a fracas, Melaye was one of those who insisted that the Speaker must stay on.

Let us say it again. By all means, if there are genuine issues of corruption let those liable for them face the law. But if the issue is purely that of a mere power struggle for selfish ends, we must let the so-called “Progressives” understand that we are not interested. We sent the parliamentarians to Abuja to represent us and make laws for the good governance of our country, not to fight over positions and money.

It is not in the interest of this nation at this juncture for the leadership of either of the chambers of the National Assembly to be pushed out for no genuine reason. Many factors account for this assertion. In the first place, we have less than a year to the end of the 2007-2010 political season.

A new leadership will start reconstituting the committees and taking its time to assuage hurt feelings as a result of the change. In the middle of it, the many unfinished businesses, such as the 2010 Appropriation Bill, the on-going electoral reforms, constitution amendment, creation of states, passage of the Freedom of Information Bill and so many other outstanding issues will remain untouched.

Besides, the political season is heating up. A couple of months from now, the impending electoral contests will take away attention from official duties. It is not in our interest to encourage a change of leadership at this juncture, unless someone has broken the law.


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