By Akpandem James
On Sunday July 12, 2020 it was announced that the Federal Government has officially handed over the National Arts Theatre Complex at Iganmu, Lagos, to the Central Bank of Nigeria and the banks under the aegis of the Banker’s Committee, for renovation. On Monday, July 20, 2020 the national troupe moved to the new national theatre in the Three Arms Zone in Abuja, a facility officially built for the National Assembly. Within three days of its arrival in Abuja the troupe acted three plays that produced three blockbuster movies and a hit music single, as at the time of writing this piece.
The presentations also heightened the call for the return of the “Kalo-Kalo” machine called Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to the Presidency where a Personal Identification Number (PIN) would be required to draw palliatives from the money dispenser. It is not surprising because it has always been in our character to look for the easy way out of challenges instead of striving to find lasting solutions to them.
Nonetheless, the scenarios issuing from the reckless cannibalising of the Commission in the recent past by some privileged persons are no longer funny. The spectacles couched in dramatic exposures smacks of absolute insensitivity and are no longer acceptable.
As if the mindless ransacking of the Commission’s treasury is not enough slap on the people’s face, the pretence of investigating the heist in the House of Representatives has been reduced to dramatic scenarios that have produced materials for stage plays. The first play titled the Fainting MD staged on Monday starred the Managing Director of NDDC’s Interim Management Committee, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei and members of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta.
Just as the euphoria and hysteria that greeted the act of Fainting MD was dying down, another drama titled Honourable Minister Isokay was on stage starring the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio; sitting Chairman House Committee on Niger Delta, Hon Thomas Ereyitomi (representing Warri Federal Constituency – Delta State); and a member of the Committee, Hon. Boma Goodhead (Akoku-Toru/Asari Toru Federal Constituency – Rivers State). The third drama was titled Lagos Boys, starring Labour and Productivity Minister, Dr Chris Nigige and Chairman House Committee on Labour, Hon Abiodun James Faleke. Within 24 hours of the second act, Yemi Shodimu, actor and comedian, had released a hit music single also entitled Honourable Minister Isokay.
It is no longer in doubt that Nigerians are talented actors; that is why Nollywood is highly rated in the global movie space. We act everywhere and are never short of producers, critics and fans. Even in the most unlikely places, we act and create humour to laugh off our worries. In climes where government business is serious business, the National Assembly is the fulcrum of the democratic process; it is the forum where a country’s government business is monitored; where laws are made for the good governance of the country. Sadly, in Nigeria, it has become the theatre of the absurd where anything goes; both circus clowns and technocrats do business on equal pedestal.
From the “hollow” chamber of the House of Representatives in the last one week, the nation has seen and heard enough to know that we are in a serious bind, a situation which requires more than just impotent anger to extricate ourselves. Issues that should have been given the utmost seriousness were reduced to theatrics. At the end of the day, matters would move from being Isokay to being Isorite! And everyone would go home, some happy and the rest angry and sulking.
On Monday the NDDC IMC was before the House Committee on Niger Delta to answer questions on the alleged misappropriation of N40 billion. While the chairman of the Committee was trying to find out from Pondei why some monies were spent in perceived inappropriate formats, the man in a slow motion leaned on the desk with his head and “fainted”. It caused a rush in the room – some trying to resuscitate, some trying to prevent clenched teeth, some fanning, some sprinkling water and of course some taking photographs. That was the end of the sitting.
Later in the day the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, indicated that the MD might not be asked to return for the probe. We were to hear later that Pondei had been indisposed before his appearance at the panel on the fateful day (which is the new normal with our accused executives), but he ignored his doctors instructions.
If the nation thought it was witnessing another version of the Dino Melaye specialty, it was to be visited by another bizarre spectacle with a tinge of absolute desperation and apprehension. Senator Akpabio had been drilled by members who acted as if they had personal scores to settle with him. The man known for his uncommon dispositions dropped a line which provoked a chain of “it is okay,” “it’s okay”, “Isokay” and eventually “off the mic”. The desperation to stop Akpabio from explaining the issue of contract awards to the National Assembly members was frenetic. The chairman started speaking in tongues. He became unstable on his seat and tried frantically to physically restrain both Akpabio and Goodhead when the gavel lost its potency. Behold the script of the drama Honorable Minister Isokay:
Akpabio: Who are even the greatest beneficiaries (of these contracts)? It’s you people now! Because if you look at your chairman… (interrupted)
Ereyitomi (banging the gavel): Honourable Minister, that’s okay,”
Goodhead: (tried to dismiss the claim made by the minister)
Akpabio: I just told you that we have records to show that most of the contracts in the NDDC are given out to members of the National Assembly, but you don’t know about it, but the two chairmen (of the Niger Delta Committees in both chambers) know.
Ereyitomi (banging the gavel repeatedly): Honourable Minister, it’s okay; it’s okay.”
Goodhead: Wait, wait, you were a member of the NDDC Committee in the 8th Assembly, are you telling me that lots of jobs were awarded to you?
Akpabio: That is the problem. May I inform my honourable sister that that is why we have to change the modus operandi… (interrupted again)
Ereyitomi (banging the gavel again and again): It’s okay; it’s okay! (Akpabio and Goodhead engaged in a heated debate) “Honourable member; Honourable Minister, it’s okay; I say isokay!
Akpabio: Let me explain (interrupted by Ereyitomi with isokay, isokay). Let me explain now! You must not allow the two chairmen to … (interrupted with more isokay…)
Ereyitomi: (now becoming hysterical and shifting on his seat towards Goodhead) … it is okay; it’s okay, isokay Honourable member, Hon Minister isokay!
Akpabio (to Goodhead) my sister, you are like me, I was a member like you I did not know what was going on.
Ereyitomi (becoming agitated) Honorable Minister Isokay; Isokay, off your mic!
Akpabio: Okay Chairman.
Within 12 hours after the act, Shodimu came out with a hit single that went viral on all the social media platforms. Almost every WhatsApp group had the video of the “album” the moment it was released into cyberspace. Shodimu would have sold millions of copies if he had put it out in the market on compact disc! The main issue was relegated to the background.
During that session Akpabio was roaring as if he was going to squeal. The acting chairman and some members became apprehensive. They thought he would spoil the show and rubbish some members if not restrained. That was why Ereyitomi became desperate almost to the extent of physically reaching across in an attempt to restrain Goodhead who took on Akpabio insisting he must substantiate his claim. They did not know that it was an escape route for the Uncommon Transformer.
The Akpabio jab sunk into the ribs of the lawmakers and Speaker Gbajabiamila, became agitated. He threatened legal action against Akpabio if he did not substantiate his claim with clear evidence within 24 to 48 hours. Akpabio recanted on Thursday claiming that what he said on Tuesday during the committee session did not mean exactly what the Speaker heard.
Even before the recant, a commentator who claims to understand the Akpabio phenomenon like the back of his hand had this to say: “During the hearing Akpabio threw a monkey wrench and the entire Committee was blindsided and never really recovered from the sucker punch … The Committee reeled, had no reply and was reduced to begging Akpabio to stop further punishment. Yet, the simple and fitting retort for Akpabio from the Committee would have been: let’s have your evidence. I bet you Akpabio didn’t have that evidence.”
But did the recant mean that what Akpabio said on that day was without substance? It would be difficult to admit so because Pondei had said something similar before and the Executive Director in charge of Projects in the IMC, Dr Cairo Ojougbo had been saying the same thing and naming names at every given opportunity. Akpabio may just have decided to take a second look at the issue with an elder’s eye; not necessarily that he was completely lying. He still carries the tile of a senator; so he is one of them and understands the meaning of esprit de corps. I suspect it couldn’t have been solely because of the Speaker’s threat.
Threat has become one of the tools of the National Assembly to harass, intimidate and browbeat those who stand on their way. At the slightest disagreement a threat will fly either from the committee or from plenary. Both chambers of the Assembly have used threats to get away with a number of unbecoming situations and are gradually using the same instrument to trespass into the jurisdictions of other arms of government. Resolutions have become orders similar to court verdicts; and separation of powers is only sacrosanct when the Legislature is affected. They now have the powers of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary combined. They rewrite budgets, they approve them, execute contracts, oversight projects, accuse perceived wrongdoers, prosecute the accused and hand down judgements.
It is quite worrisome that the National Assembly is perceived as being very notorious for the unexpected. They accuse and would not want to be accused. They have become very touchy and overly sensitive. The slightest perception of accusation is followed with a threat of arraignment. Once someone is dragged before them, they reduce the fellow to a punching bag with unbecoming haughtiness. Even the law courts do not exhibit such dispositions against accused persons. The language is often demeaning and it does not matter the status of the person before them. One of such situations provoked the staging of the third drama for the week – Lagos boys!
In Lagos Boys, Labour and Employment Minister, Dr Chris Nigige, squared up with Hon, Abiodun James Faleke, who represents Ikeja Federal Constituency –Lagos, in the House and was sitting as Chairman of the House Committee on Finance. Faleke is known to be an ally of the APC chieftain, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The APC National Leader’s name was dragged into the fray. Apparently uncomfortable with Faleke’s jabs during the session, an exchange ensued:
Ngige: As for Faleke, they say he is up to 60 years of age, I don’t know,”
Faleke: I am 60 plus.
Ngige: Aha! So, you are near my age, but I am at least 7 years older than you. I am the same age as your mentor in Lagos, Asiwaju. And I was governor with him at the same time, he was a senator, I was a senator. I am a two-time minister, he isn’t a two-time minister…”
Faleke (cuts in) But he (Asiwaju) won all his elections very well (apparently referring to Ngige’s several failed attempts at elections).
Ngige: No problem about that. Just like you won your own in Kogi State very well. And you are now the deputy governor and governor of Kogi State (He also taunted Faleke who was on a joint ticket as deputy governorship candidate to Abubakar Audu in Kogi in 2015).
Faleke: Yes, yes … (interrupted by another member of the House committee who asked the Minister to please respond to the questions put to him.
Ngige: I am responding, my friend,” (then referring to Faleke) “If you yab me, I yab you ten times. I am a Lagos boy. You are just a small boy in Lagos. Ah ah! Look at this boy o! Mushin boy is talking to a VI boy! I live in Victoria Island. Look at this Mushin boy from Kogi o! You are Ogborogbo (Ogbologbo). Just go. I no get time for you. Kilonshe?”
And this was at a session where a very serious issue of mismanagement of public funds was being investigated; where Ngige had accused the management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) of misappropriating N48 billion. At the end of it all, the news that went viral was the spat, not the issue at stake.
All over the world scenarios like these are commonplace in parliament, so the issue is not that these things happen; it is rather that in the Nigerian situation these scenarios often signal the end of the exercise. You hear the commotion when it starts, but nothing else thereafter. You hear the raging storm; then see clear skies. No rain, no flood, no consequences known to the public.
That is why the public is growing very weary of the noise often presented as probes because they fizzle out with the same frenzy that brought the issues. Senate wants NDDC IMC sacked and for them to refund N4.923 billion alleged illegal payments to staff, contractors, etc. We are watching. Let’s hope it is not hot air to clear the coast for another set of actors to appear on the scene for another season of carnivals.
- James is a communication consultant (email: [email protected])