Dimeji Bankole, speaker, House of Representatives, last week personally drove to City Royal College, Abuja. His mission was to apologise to the students of the school. The apology became necessary because right before the pupils, the lawmakers, under Bankole’s watch, recently engaged in a free-for-all fight over moves by a faction in the House to force the speaker out of office over allegations of graft.
The students had visited the lower chamber of the National Assembly to watch how legislative proceedings in the House are conducted but instead of witnessing robust debates on issues that are germane to Nigeria’s development, they were treated to a show of shame by the legislators, some of whom are old enough to be their grand-parents. Naturally, the students were horrified.
It is gratifying that Bankole went to the school to apologise to the students. It shows humility of a public officer. Not many people in his position would want to go before children to ask for forgiveness.
Beyond the speaker’s open apology to the students whose sensibilities were assaulted by the misbehavior of the lawmakers, it is heart-rending to note that the disagreement in the House of Representatives is not on the basis of ideology. The scuffle that led to the show of shame was not out of concern for the common good. It had nothing to do with the welfare of Nigerians. It was not about legislation that could leapfrog Nigeria from its present state of de-industrialisation to one of economic empowerment or progress. In a nutshell, Nigeria’s lawmakers exchanged blows and left with broken arms, bruises and torn clothes not because they were very concerned about the pitiable state of the Nigerian condition and wanted a redress.
Squabble in the legislature is not a novel thing. All across the world, legislators, in extreme situations, go physical on the floor of the House whenever they exhaust the option of verbal deliberation in resolving certain critical issues. But in all those other countries, whenever that happens, it is based disagreement on policy or legislative issues. Some legislators may have different perspectives or ideas about a national problem or issue and this, in a few cases, may lead to exchange of blows. In Nigeria’s case, the scuffle in the House of Representatives, for which Bankole had to apologise to school children, resulted from disagreement on how to share money. Put differently, the crisis is about self-interest of the legislators, both anti and pro-Bankole. It had nothing to do with the public good.
This sixth session of the National Assembly has under- performed. In the history of Nigeria’s democracy, it is probably ranks lowest in legislative performance but it is the one that has had the biggest vote in terms of funding and welfare of members. In the First Republic, legislators operated on part-time. It was only the principal officers that were full time. Any time they were to sit, accommodation was provided for the legislators at Legico Flats in Victoria Island, Lagos. After each session, they would vacate the flats.
In the Second Republic, legislators, though on full-time, stayed at 1004 Flats also in Victoria Island. They had little comfort compared to the stupendous package current lawmakers enjoy yet records show that legislators in the First and Second Republics were more productive than the present crop of legislators. In addition, there has been perennial low attendance of legislators during plenary sessions, some times plenary sessions do not record up to 30 percent attendance of members.
In a country that should be in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the civilized world, we believe that if Nigerian legislators don’t change their approach to legislative work and tune their minds to issues that promote common good, Nigeria will remain behind her peers.