WHAT could lead otherwise honourable members of the House of representatives to unabashedly exchange blows on the floor of the House? Our panellists examine this and arrive at damning conclusions about the quality of service that they have provided over the years. The conclusion is that fro things to improve, there is need to do without â€œvuvuzela politiciansâ€ from 2011â€¦
Moderator: What are the issues in the National Assembly that could lead to the type of violence that Nigerians witnessed on the floor of the House of Representatives?
Ogbidi:Â Service and accountability to the Nigerian people, are for me, the two main issues at the National Assembly.
Eguabor: What is going on at the National Assembly is part of the general problem that Nigeria is facing at the moment. People are elected to do things they have no idea about, and worse still, they have no ideas about how to learn these things. The core of the matter is to get them to legislate instead of being shadow governments under the guise of oversight functions. Getting legislators to concentrate on lawmaking is the kernel of the matter.
Nnanna: I agree. They have lost focus about their purpose of being in Abuja which is to serve the people of Nigeria. On getting to Abuja they were concerned with the higher standard of living of the executive branch. They have power to appropriate funds so they decided to help themselves. In the midst of that it became a contest over being in a better position to gain the money that is available.
Those in the good books of the leadership protect the system. Those outside protest the leadership. House of Representatives earlier. Under Patricia Olubunmi Etteh,Â those who felt that they were not favoured capitalised on the furnishing contract to push out Etteh. The fracas was long drawn until Dr. Aminu Safana died on the floor of the House.
It is all about money, not about principles. When legislators fight elsewhere, it is over disagreements on ideologies, issues or collapse of coalitions, not the type of things we saw at the House of representatives.
Benson: It is an issue of leadership, quality leadership, accountability, and probability. What comes round goes round from Etteh to Bankole. Curiously, under Etteh it was over expenditure, now it is accusation of fraud. Instead of the leadership explaining resorted to raw display of power. People are asking questions. Bankole is a product of a group that claimed that it wanted the leadership of the House to be accountable now he cannot account to the public.
The procedure that led to the suspension of the Progressives is not in line with due process. The motion should have been moved before they were forced out of the House. The issue about survival, self preservation of the House leadership. The House leadership wants to keep others out to stay in power.
When Arthur Nzeribe was suspended from the Senate in 2001, the motion was moved, passed then theÂ suspension.
Onajide: We have not matured socially and politically to handle issues democratically. The same fire on the mountain took place in 1963.
Now my point is the qualifications for election to these offices in the National Assembly. How did a hairdresser become Speaker? What happens when she meets with renowned parliamentarians? We have problems with our value systems. Where else would (Dimeji) Bankole become Speaker? What is his experience in administration? I was special assistant to Chief FRA Williams in the Constitution Drafting Committee. We went round the world to learn how others operate their legislative houses.
Everywhere we went the Clerk of the legislative house was a lawyer, some with academic background in addition.
Here we make those decisions without any considerations for the type of job the person would do. People getting into offices because of who they are, who wants them in office rather than their ability to meet the demands of that office.
Our value system recognises things that are flamboyant. In my report I wrote that under the presidential system officials should not be called Excellency. Wives of Local Governments Chairmen are even called First Ladies. We are obsessed with titles. Even in the Church, it is wealth that determines knighthood.
When we are spending money to celebrate 50 years, we should be looking at 50 years of backwardness. The foreigners would be laughing at us. The media is part of the problem.
Uwazurike: We have a collapse of leadership and values in every aspect of public life. Our leadership is mercantile, and our value is so permissive that anything goes. As far as the House of Representatives is concerned is a grand scam, it is not a financial scam. It is mass deceit, mass hysteria.
Why would the concerns Representatives be threatening their Speaker with â€œResign or we expose you, if you hold on to power we will expose youâ€? After a time they waved the media some documents of inflated contracts at the media.
The next day there were headlines of the fraud. Someone pointed out that a Committee bought the items.
On June 21, a day to the opening of the House, the 11 legislators went to the EFCC and accused Bankole and House leadership of fraud.
Everyone expected the showdown. All parties came prepared for the showdown. Legislation is about who had the numbers. Etteh lost her on the floor by numbers. You can only resign on the floor on the House or be impeached there.
While the House was in session, you needed at least 180 people to change the leadership. The procedures are clear.
You move a motion, counter a motion, or raise a point of information or order. You cannot physically stop anyone from making a contribution. Was it in order for Dino Melaye to stop another member, who the Speaker had recognised from making a contribution? Was it in order for Dino and his group to be blowing whistles to disrupt the session? Should they have been allowed to grab the mace?
Shouting about the corruption is not evidence. Evidence in writing has to be submitted to the appropriate authorities. Dino and Idahosa-West had the capacity to produce evidence. Dino lost his position after a false allegation of corruption against another member of the House, he apologised about the false allegation.
Those who lost their committee positions became progressive members, holding the House hostage.
First a motion was moved that they leave the House until the next day. Another motion said they should be away to the end of the session. Not a voice spoke against the two motions.
Not one voice supported the so called Progressives. The expelled members have not presented a petition to the House of Representatives, in case they think they were treated badly on the floor of the House.
I feel insulted if 11 members would come in to blindfold me claiming that they work for me. If Bankole had listened to them, if the Speaker had met their conditions, everything would have been swept under the carpet. They are pursuing a private agenda to take over leadership.
You cannot take the House leadership from the streets. Till date they have not presented a single petition. Does it mean that politicians are not corrupt? There are corrupt politicians, a kettle cannot call the pot black.
Ikhariale: The Gang of 11 for me are vuvuzela politicians. They thought they could hoodwink the Nigerian public by screaming in the most indecorous way. The 11 were once office holders in that parliament.Â In a House of 360 people, a few were chosen to lead and they started causing problems when they lost their positions. Dino was behaving as a tout.
He should not be a clerk in a pools house but he is described as Honourable. If there is corruption, they have a right to raise it.
If there is going to be democracy in this country, the National Assembly should lead it. What happened that day was an eye opener. The violence that was manifested on that day was mind boggling.
They were a national embarrassment, a shame to everything that was parliamentary. They could lose their cool depending on the issues. I cannot see the point that Dino and others were pushing, he is not better than the others he is accusing.
He should have gone to the nearest police station to report the allegations of corruption or give the details to the media to publish. Waving a document at Nigerians and saying it contained the evidence was insulting.
The incident is another opportunity for Nigerians to look at the quality of the membership of the House of Representatives in particular, and the legislature in general.
Benson: Dino was raising a point of order and defended himself that it was civil disobedience for him to behave the way he did because he was not recognised to speak. Doris Ubor was suspended for asking for rule of law to be followed.
Uwazurike: You do not speak until you are recognised, it does not matter how long you shout point of order. We know who said what. We know who said â€œthis would not happenâ€. We know who tore another memberâ€™s papers and poured the shreds on him. We know how the session was disrupted.
If you are asked to leave the House you leave. When Senator Arthur Nzeribe was asked to leave the Senate, he left with all his maverick. If Hon. Doris Ubor was asked to leave she should have left. There is no justification for violence in the legislation.
What we saw at the House Representatives happened in Delta State House of Assembly last year. The Speaker was lifted from his seat and thrown as part of the measures to suspend him to date.
The attempt to take the mace was meant to cause disorder in the House. It is not a motor park. It is not the first time we have moved for a change of leadership in the House, creating confusion is not the way to legislate.
Aggrieved as they claim to be, the 11 suspended members have presented no petition to lead to a discussion on their fate. EFFC has a statutory right to investigate the allegations, the suspended members can help EFFC by giving them the documents for the investigations.
If right questions are asked, we would get the right answers. They are only creating a media frenzy, they are going round begging. For them to go back to the House, they should apologise. Bankole should also apologise for misusing the press. He should be accounting to the public not using his aides to ignore the issues his accusers have raised.
Edu: Dino has no reasons for his violence. He was not recognised to speak. The lady (Doris) humiliated herself. If she behaved like a lady nobody would have thrown her out. I read about some ladies protesting the way she was treated. If you behave like Dino, you would be treated the same way. How often have we seen our lawmakers roaring over legislative issues? It is always about their allowances and change of House leadership.
Onajide: How do these people earn the millions of Naira we are told they take home? What does a banker earn annual? What does the civil servant earn? Do you remember the miserly amount that people resigned over at the House of Commons (England)? Would the money not the National Assembly is paying to itself not have been enough to improve the welfare of Nigerians? Would there be beggars everywhere? Do you know how much amusement that our rubbish provides for foreigners?
Uwazurike: What they earn is not anywhere close to the figures being bandied about. The confusion comes from what happened when Obasanjo was thinking of third term. The National Assembly asked for constituency allowances for members to work in their constituencies. They insisted that the government would award them the job. The legislators get the money and decide what to do with it, which is why the EFCC can deal with them if it wants.
They added the constituency votes to their salaries. The Committee Chairmen have other allowances and they have aides who they are supposed to pay, but they keep the money. One of the allegations used against Nzeribe when he was suspended was that he did not retire the allowances meant for the Health Committee which he led..
Eguabor: I am uncomfortable with the direction we are giving the event that took place. I thought that we were looking at the House as a legislative body where the rights of the 11 progressives should have been protected.
Even if one person had a grievance in the House, should someone not have corrected him, whether he has gone to the press or not. It is the tyranny of the majority. We are dealing with a House that is totally corrupt. Nigerians do not deserve these Representatives.
We should blame ourselves. The journalists who cover this House are in conspiracy with the administration of the House. The Speaker recently inaugurated the leadership of the media in the House, I thought that was pay back. Who do you give the evidence of corruption? We are dealing with a more ruthless issue.
The Speaker is in the majority now, when the majority moves from him, he would be a former Speaker. The Senate has stabilised its leadership by mature handling of those who opposed it.
In dissolving Committees and appointing those he wanted, did the Speaker take competence into consideration, or he just removed one person for another?
Benson: If Doris was from the North and treated that way, there would have been mayhem by now.
Ikhariale: My intervention is to correct an impression that there would have been mayhem if Doris is from the North. If you behave as a tout you would be treated as one, it is not a matter of where you come from. There was no label on her face, she was just lawless. Nigerians must hold people responsible for their action. There should be no blanket of corruption thrown around. You cannot perpetrate corruption by saying you are fighting corruption so you will not follow the rule, that too is corruption.
Those 11 violated the sovereignty of Nigeria. If the mace is the symbol of the legislature, anyone who disrupted the session or went for the mace, had lost his right to be protected. You cannot be a legislator and undermine the power of the Speaker. There is no way to justify the behaviour of the 11, especially when there were kids there.
The case speaks for itself. There is no case anyone could make for them. They went off the hook. If the Speaker falls out of favour he should be removed. Majority is the point, you can sometimes have a stupid majority, but it is still the majority.
Edu: Just an aside, the former Speaker is getting a national award.
Nnanna: The emergence of the Speaker in 2007 was a repeat of a culture of immunity from those also want things their way, not minding how it affects Nigeria. Most of the people in the HouseÂ are beneficiaries of the decadent system that rewards incompetence and the wish of those who hold Nigeria captive. People who have no shame have a narrow focus on power and money. They forgot that children were in the gallery. The Speaker mentioned it in the introduction. Why did the Speaker not keep the children away when he knew that a showdown was on the way?
Part of the solution to this problem is a painstaking election primaries, not chieftains of political parties imposing candidates for elections.
Uwazurike :It was not possible for the Speaker to stop them because the legislators that day came with foreign instruments purposely to cause trouble. They were prepared for a show down by every means.
Arogundade: It was good for the children to witness this. Years back we were the young generation. These younger ones whose rights are being violated need to see these things and make changes when they are of voting age. That show of shame had the right audience, the school children.
It is a product of the political arrangement we have. People do not believe in basic rules just as they do in their political parties. Our Students Union parliaments were more orderly because they depended on the quality of ideas. The same people making noise in the House of Representatives defended the furnishing fraud in 2007. It is all about money. People have made investments for their elections and must recoup them as profit and make more money for the next election. The same people now protesting once defended the expenditure on cars. There is need for probity in the National Assembly to avoid this sort of confusion.
Ogbidi: The legislators want to be judges in their own cases in their own cases. Nigerians should not allow it. After the noise they would set up their committees to absolve themselves of the allegations. The EFCC should come in and do a thorough investigation of the allegations. Our legislators are only interested in their own issues. they have no concern about legislative duties.
They should make laws for the good governance of the people. The basic amenities that the people should enjoy are not available. They are fighting to amass wealth for the next election.The way they came in is responsible for the way they are treating the people. If the people got them to the Assembly, they would know that they could be recalled.
Uwazurike: You still have the power to recall legislators. We knew how the candidates got the tickets under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. TheÂ vicious fight in Edo State over the new order and in Ondo would go round. PDP is also having its own internal squabbles over whether the President should run or not. If you cannot abide by the rules, you should resign, that is my advice for the legislators.
Speakers of Student Union parliaments were respected. If you did not respect the Speaker, the students enforced the law.
If you are a legislator and has an issue that you want to present to the House, you should be prepared for the task. Not a single voice supported the motion to keep the legislators in the House. It is a proof that they were wasting time.
Why is the PDP silent?
Ikhariale: If PDP was a party, it would have reacted. I understand that the Gang of 11 actually thought they had the support of the other members of the House. They did not realise that they did not have the numbers. The Gang of 11 prepared to cause mayhem. If there was debate, we could say they lost their cool. Their fight was not to advance the cause of legislation or protect the Nigerian people.
They must have bought the whistles outside, whistles are not sold in the House. They must have lied that they had no weapons on them to bring those materials into the House. Were not screened with metal detectors/ How did they bring whistles into the House?
Some of us sweat arguing our position on issues, but to prepare to bring out weapons to be used in disrupting the proceedings of the House, is not unacceptable.
The foundation for stupidity is being laid permanently. Even as we complain about the quality of the membership of the National Assembly, the standards for being a legislator are being further lower.
I have studied the 55 gentlemen who wrote the American Constitution. They were the best their communities could have at the time. They came from the best schools of their time. They wrote 200 years ahead of their people, the average age was less than 50. the proof of the quality of their work is the few times that document has been mended in more than 200 years.
Now with a School Certificate you can qualify to be a legislator. You may not even present a certificate, if your apprenticeship in acquiring some skills is taking into account. Nobody is really asking someone to present certificates. We are preparing the grounds for worse legislators than the fighters we have now.
Edu: I think making our votes counts idealistic. The media has a big role to play in enlightening the people about the power of the votes that belongs to each of us. If I am giving up my vote for a loaf of bread it could be because I do not know it is worth millions in terms of money to the person I am giving it. We do not think of recalling them because we did not vote for them. Education is important and the press has to play a role in this. For Nigeria to come out of the doldrums people have to be educated.
Arogundade: Majority of the members are also passive parliamentarians. I was in Ado-Ekiti for a grassroots programme and one of the things the people complained about is that their representatives never say anything during sessions. The trend is that retired generals, ministers go to the National Assembly or send their spouses. They have no agenda, that itself is a big problem. Money is at the root of everything. A circle of crisis follows the change of Committee leadership.
I have never been a fan of the presidential system. One day the contradiction would lead us to think again. In America there is federalism and States have their Supreme Courts and Constitutions. These take a lot of burden off the centre, and limits the impact of the issues they treat in Washington.
The issues in Nigeria have remained roads, water, and food. When Professor Patrick Utomi launched his campaign in Oloibiri (where the first oil well was drilled in 1956), to draw attention to devastation of oil spillage, he was ignored. I would have liked a parliament where you cannot be a Minister if you are not elected. Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, had to keep defending the role of Britain in the war in Afghanistan.
He had a duty to keep explaining to parliament.
PDP is not a party, it is an amalgam. The issues of poor internal democracy in the political parties are not limited to the PDP.
The other parties have no fared better in terms of democratic tenets. If you are the Governor, you are the leader of the party. What is the party Chairman?Â The loyalty of the party leadership and members is to the provider of the resources to not the party.
Eguabor: In the Edo State House of Assembly, a legislator was axed on the head, so this confusion is not only in the National Assembly. The issue of one man one vote is taking place in Edo State, where the Governor is taking action on this matter. No matter your qualifications or whoever wants you to be elected, if nobody votes for you, you cannot become anything.
I condemn the action of the 11 but it is not a justification for the impressions that have emerged. We have been talking about a code of conduct for politicians, they are the ones proposing it for themselves.
Some of these things are happening because it is the eve of the next election. Why do the politicians not take voters serious? I think we can deal with some of these issues by moving from docile to an active electorate.
Benson: The PDP asked the legislators to stop the fight before the resumption of the House. The party has invited the fighters to resolve the matter the family way.
How can we do things differently in 2011?
Ikhariale: If there is independent candidacy, there would have been a way out. It would have been a way for our votes to count. We are not left with a choice than to vote for those the parties present.
Benson: One man one vote is good, but violence makes one man one vote impossible. Security remains a challenge.
Edu: They stood in Ekiti while they were shooting and voted.
Onajide: The role of the press in all these is important.Â Many of our people take money and keep quiet. The media should expose dishonesty in all spheres of life. We are not doing enough in the media. We compromise our position too much.
Arogundade: We have to situate the position of the media in the context of the country. One of the problems we have observed is that it is becoming difficult to speak of independent media in Nigeria. There is private media but the independence of the private media is now questionable. With the governors and other politicians moving into the media, the matter has worsens. There are limitations in the objectivity of the media with this setting. If the publisher is a PDP Governor how can the media criticise the party?
The media is driven by Information Communication Technology today. We are encouraging our people to use the internet as the alternative media to get ideas across. There is no longer a common purpose in the media as we had in the bid to end the military rule.
Onajide: We are talking about the media since Zik.
Arogundade: other issues are also affecting the media. Some practitioners who have acquired skills are moving into government and other things. There is the problem of building the capacities of current practitioners. Many journalists have not left school by June 12 elections, only 17 years ago.
Freedom of Information Bill
Arogundade: From what is going on in the House of Representatives, the Freedom of Information Bill becomes very relevant. Each time the bill comes up, the bill has been shouted down. We are no longer sure what the House argues against in the bill. Some Representatives are asking to be lobbied since they say that the European Union is supporting the bill with a lot of money.
Others are against a minority legislator like Abike Dabri leading the fight for the bill to be passed. There are no debates any more on it. Those have skeletonsÂ in their cupboards are afraid of the bill. If passed in the format that the Senate wants, the one requesting the information would have to obtain a High Court order to justify why he needs the information, it negates the fight for freedom of Nigerians to access information.
It is one of the major handicap for the media. Elsewhere you can request for information, which was how the media got the figures that exposed the expenses in the British House of commons. There is a lot of compliance. When society gets on the move, the media would improve.
Uwazurike: It makes no sense for the media to join the culture of impunity. The freedom of information bill is important in many ways. The government still recourses to old laws. If we look at the lives of the arrow heads of those opposed to the bill, it would pass. Examine the lives of those who want to represent us in 2011. Politicians are afraid of those who put them in office, those who can remove them, or those who can stop them from getting into office.
Politicians are desperate for power. We should examine the party leaders, they are changing. We should monitor the candidates and their lives. If someone says he is a lawyer a few questions would reveal if he is fake.
The media should show leadership. The National Party of Nigeria had majority in the National Assembly, but individual legislators had motions passed through the quality of their debates.
Arogundade: The Freedom of Information Bill is being misconstrued as if it is for the media alone. I was happy reading the business community asking for the law the other day. Even legislators need the law because sometimes the invite the executive to explain issues and the Ministers ignore the legislators. Those who oppose the bill forget they would leave office some day and become ordinary citizens like majority of Nigerians.
Uwazurike: Those in power forget they would leave power. Everybody sees power as opportunity to make money and remain in power. A former Governor is in the Senate today with two men who were his aides, one of them is even the Deputy Senate President, who he must stand up to recognise when he arrives for sessions. Power is transient, Bush, Brown, Cameron are all gone. Today it is (Barack) Obama who is in charge in the White House.
Ikhariale: We are running a democracy with an imperial mindset. There would be no democracy without dissent. The Americans saw the press as a necessary tool to protect their democracy. The average Nigeria does not understand the role the press plays. Without the cameras showing the fight in the House, we would not have known what happened. The society does not seem to appreciate the role of the press in democracy.
Somehow the importance of the press is being measured by the affluence of practitioners. There would be no democracy in Nigeria without an independent press. People who hold divergent views must fight for power. The press has to explain the issues to the people. The role of the press is not negotiable.
Edu: The political parties have to throw up credible candidates from which the people would choose. The media must continue to educate the people for them to know about the candidates. Some people have advocated making legislative duties a part time job, so that members do not kill to get there.
It is only in Nigeria that politics is a profession. You should have a normal job, and go to the House a number of times a week.
Ogbidi: Both the leaders and the led have to account to God. What would matter is not what we have as money but the amount of good we have done to impact others. God would not ask how much we have.
Eguabor: Still on the media, do the editors set good examples for reporters? I raised this issue at the Guild of Editors Conference in Port Harcourt and they shied away. I can live comfortably, but I cannot be wealthy. It is not for nothing that we are the Fourth Estate of the Realm. We must make governments accountable. We must come to equity with clean hands.
I banned beat unions from my newspaper. The National Assembly or State House union of journalists are more powerful than the Guild of Editors. We have encouraged a degradation of values in the profession.
Larry Kings was calling it a day, what does he not know? Editors that brought us up are suffering. Society has no regards for the profession.
Nnanna: The role of the media is not in doubt. Many people are not willing to live like their former editors. If we are to make more impact, other stakeholders such as labour and other civil society groups have to add their efforts using the information that the media publish.
Arogundade: The media need to give a voice to the ordinary people. We do not do that enough. We should talk to ordinary people. We should bring in the human elements into those stories. What can N2 billion do for the people? We need that type of approach to get people to appreciate what we are saying.
Ikhariale: The Nigerian press as an institution has done well although there are bad eggs. We cannot degrade the role the press must play in the democracy. For our democracy to survive, the press must maintain the supermarket of ideas, at a price that all can afford. We have to see democracy run properly, it isÂ the role of the press.
Chief Goddy UWAZURIKE, Vice President Aka Ikenga, legal practitioner
Omobolanle O. ONAJIDE, Veteran journalist
Willy OGBIDI, Public Relations Consultant, Lecturer, NIPR School, Lagos
Ide EGUABOR, Publisher, National Interest Newspapers, Media Consultant
Ochereome NNANNA, Deputy Chairman, Vanguard Editorial Board, Columnist
Mike IKHARIALE, Professor of Law, Executive Consultant, LRDC, Lagos
Alero EDU, Head Consultant, PR Distinction, Presenter Channels TV
Lanre AROGUNDADE, Director, International Press Centre, Lagos
Dayo BENSON, Group Political Editor, Vanguard
Moderator: Ikeddy ISIGUZO, Chairman, Vanguard Editorial Board