Archive for October 2009

Immunity for distinguished, honourable lawmakers

October 15, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Oct. 11, 2009 

In November 2008, our distinguished Senators had their second retreat in Kano. In his address at that retreat, President Umaru Yar’Adua appealed to the lawmakers to urgently review relevant laws to reform our electoral system. The President further urged the Senators to find constitutional solutions to the nation’s most intractable problems such as infrastructural decay, institutional corruption and the culture of impunity.

 Almost one year after this presidential exhortation, can we say that our legislators have lived up to expectation? I don’t think so. What we have seen over the years are supremacy battle between the Senate and the House of Representatives; arrest of some honourable members for corruption; bickering; intrigues and unnecessary shouting match in the hallowed legislative chambers.

 As if unperturbed by the prevalent sombre mood in the nation, the lawmakers have continued to exhibit symptoms of acute legislative catarrh. And since this phlegm is infectious, the majority of Nigerians have been coughing and hoping that it shall be well.

 The present perfidy came in the form of a bill. The bill aims at preventing the arrest and prosecution of members of the federal/state legislature. And it scaled through second reading at the House of Representatives last Wednesday. It is called “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses and Privileges Act, Cap L12 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and other Related Purposes, 2009.” Honourable Henry Dickson from Bayelsa State sponsored the bill.

 The major interest of Dickson is to protect the lawmakers and hence deepen democracy. According to him, since members of the legislative Houses are honourable men and women, there is need for extra measures to be taken in arresting them. In other words, no security agent should ever attempt to arrest any legislator unless they catch the lawmaker committing the crime or they have a warrant of arrest.

 This is laughable. Apparently, the lawmakers are jealous of the President, the Vice-President, the governors and their deputies who currently enjoy immunity as enshrined in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution. They want to protect their members who occasionally engage in a free-for-all and even seize the mace, the symbol of authority of the House. They want to protect legislators who slap security guards for the flimsiest of reasons.

 As the 2011 approaches, they probably want to lay the foundation for the constitutional protection of their inordinate desire to rig themselves into office. But they will not succeed because the moment one evil is allowed to sail through in a decent society, different other evils will manifest.

 To be fair to the lawmakers, they had done some things that could engender the sustainability of this democracy. They had instituted probes into the mismanagement of funds in the power sector. They had investigated Abuja land allocations and revocations. There was also an enquiry into the mismanagement of the N19.5bn aviation intervention fund.

 Now, the House of Representatives Committee on Works is reportedly ready to probe the non-remittance of the five per cent accrual from the pump price of petrol to the Federal Road Maintenance Agency. Besides, the committee members will soon move round the country to check the state of our roads.

 Without prejudice to whatever will be the outcome of their state-of-the-road tour, it is worthy to note that the good intentions of our legislators do not necessarily produce good fruits. We saw it in the power probe jamboree. We witnessed it in the Abuja land scam investigations and we observed it in every other probe that the lawmakers had instituted.

 How are we sure that the current probe will not end up like others? How do we guarantee that the merry-go-round to see the state of the roads will not gulp millions of taxpayers’ money for nothing? In this country, there are more questions than answers. But we will keep asking, believing that one day, we will find genuine answers to some of the questions.

 My scepticism about the genuine intentions of our legislators stems from the fact that they always give the impression that all they are after is to serve their selfish interests while in office. Early last year, for instance, these same members of the House of Representatives reportedly demanded that the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission should increase their pay to befit their status.

 It is this status, perhaps, that is pushing them to make laws that will place them above the laws of the land. If we don’t shout now to stop this nonsense, the next move may be to pass laws that will give immunity to their wives and concubines.

 Our lawmakers should rather occupy their minds with noble aspirations. They should be thinking of how to restore the sanctity of lives and property of Nigerians. They should be debating how to tackle unemployment problems in the country. They should legislate on what will be of benefit to the generality of the populace.

 The way things are going, I’m beginning to think that the psychiatric test the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, recommended for public office-holders should start from the legislators. Remember that some of them, especially in the state assemblies, have exhibited traits bordering on psychotic disorder.

 Or how else do we explain that members of the Rivers State House of Assembly went to Australia for a capacity-building retreat last year to create a scene? Some females among them reportedly fought a principal officer of the House for abandoning them for a younger and more beautiful lady.

 These are the type of people they want immunity for. With such people, we don’t need any soothsayer to tell us why passing the Freedom of Information Bill has remained jinxed.

 Note: This column is going on break for about four weeks.

Yar’Adua’s independence gift and Onovo’s movies

October 5, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Oct. 4, 2009 

President Umaru Yar’Adua is a man of few words. He is also a man whose outward appearance denotes humility. As a private person, these are virtues some people will likely admire and cherish. But as a public figure, these same qualities may present some problems for him.

 Last Thursday, for instance, the leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante Movement, Mr. Ateke Tom, was at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. His mission was to accept the amnesty offered Niger Delta militants by the Federal Government.

 As Tom put it in Pidgin English, “Immediately you announced the amnesty, I be the first person wey embrace the amnesty because I like the amnesty. But things wey we talk wey dey worry us make una try do am for us because we dey suffer for Niger Delta…”

 It was an elated President who said, “I would like to praise and thank God almighty for this afternoon visit. Chief Ateke Tom has just given me my 49th independence gift. This independence anniversary gift you have given me, I cherish it very much because, of all those things I cherish, one of them is peace and security in the Niger Delta.”

 The president had expressed similar sentiments some two months ago when another militant, Mr. Victor Ben Ebikabowei, a.k.a. General Boyloaf, visited the Villa to announce his own acceptance of the amnesty. Boyloaf was even reported then to have warned the Federal Government not to ever renege on its promises.

 No doubt, Mr. President’s pursuit of peace in the Niger Delta is quite commendable. Pardoning repentant militants and inviting them to Aso Rock to cement the new found relationship is also noble. Even the courage by the militants to surrender their weapons and embrace peace is praiseworthy. But with all due respect, the President should speak and carry himself with more dignity.

 True, Yar’Adua emulated the father of the Biblical prodigal son who threw a party to welcome his hitherto lost and forgotten son, but did he need to pour such eulogies on the militants, knowing the circumstances that led to the amnesty? How will the innocent victims of the activities of some of these militants perceive the statement of our President? Of all the things that happened on our independence day, the visit of Tom was the greatest gift Yar’Adua cherished most. And, perhaps, will cherish forever.

 This ‘humility’ also came to play against him when he visited the United States in December 2007. To the then President George Bush, he said, “I feel highly honoured and privileged to be here and have the opportunity to share these few moments with you. This is a moment I will never forget in my life…I thank you very much Mr. President, this is a rare opportunity.”

 Granted that everybody can’t be an orator, but every public officer is expected to think over what he says in public. From the way some of our government functionaries speak, the impression is created that they don’t really think about what they say.

 This brings us to the statement credited to the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, last Tuesday in Abuja. It was at a meeting with senior police officers. Speaking on the efforts of the police to apprehend the killers of the Assistant News Editor of The Guardian, Mr. Bayo Ohu, Onovo said Nigerians wrongly believed that assassination cases could be solved in a few days.

 Hear him: “Nigerians want everything quick, maybe because we watch so many movies. You know in the movies, everything will start and end in one hour…I think we are watching too many movies, forgetting that movies are acted and are not true stories.”

 Mr. IG sir, this is too simplistic. And it’s rather unfortunate that this came too soon after your recent statement that you didn’t believe Nuhu Ribadu visited Nigeria because you didn’t see photographs of the visit in the newspapers. Was it movies that stalled investigations into the murder of the former Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige? Could this love for movies have made it impossible to unravel the mystery surrounding the assassinations of Chief Aminasoari Dikibo, Chief Marshal Harry, Mr. Dele Giwa, Bagauda Kaltho and many others?

 Certainly, nobody is expecting the police to perform magic. But if the history of unresolved murders in this country is anything to go by, nobody should blame Nigerians if they want speedy solution to their nagging security problems.

 It is worthy to note that leadership goes beyond sitting down in the office to sign documents. What leaders say or do goes a long way to motivate or demotivate their subjects. Great speeches had engendered some popular revolutions in the world.

 Sometimes, what we say in public remains indelible. During the military era, incumbent Senate President, David Mark, said telephone was not meant for the poor. Up until today, people have not forgotten that statement. Also, people still remember some words of wisdom by such leaders as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, and Winston Churchill.

 What quotable quotes can we attribute to our current leaders? Independence Day is usually a day for great and memorable speeches. What did we hear on our last anniversary? Dour and uninspiring speeches! Somebody like the Governor of Ekiti State, Segun Oni, said, “We have not been stealing your money. It is not as a result of shortage of ideas and tricks to employ. It is because of the covenant we have with God, who gave us the grace to be where we are.”

 What nonsense! Was he elected to steal or to make the life of his people better? So, if not for the so-called covenant with God, he would have stolen his state dry.

 I think our public officers need to learn the art of public speaking. They should think about what they say; or better still, they should keep silent if they don’t know what to say.