The hollow chambers

The heckling of President Buhari by opposition legislators during the presentation of the 2019 Budget last week demonstrated a new low in the lawmakers’ slide into buffoonery. I think such ‘jankara tactics belong in the motor parks. I would still consider it wrong if the president was Atiku or Moghalu or Sowore. I find it amusing that defenders of the action of the legislators are quick to say that heckling is as old as democracy and that it is a regular feature of both the South African and British Parliaments.  Okay, you’re imitating legislators elsewhere? Great! Why not go the whole hog then?

Our legislators pick and choose which grimy features of other parliaments to imitate but would never agree to earn the same decent wages paid to parliamentarians in those climes.

The so-called hallowed chambers have become hollow covens of blackmail, institutionalised graft and infantile display as are often witnessed during budget defence sessions of MDAs, an exercise allegedly characterised by shakedowns and outright demand for bribes from government agencies before their budgets could be passed.

In her book, “Fighting Corruption is Dangerous:The Story Behind the Headlines”, former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala revealed the blackmail and arm twisting that characterised budget passing by the National Assembly during the Goodluck Jonathan Administration. For example, in 2015, the National Assembly leadership forced the executive arm to part with N17 billion in addition to the ‘standard’ N150 billion assembly provision, before the federal lawmakers would pass the budget.

The rot cuts across all political parties represented in the hollow chambers. Whereas, members toe the party line on most issues, they are unanimous in protecting their insane salaries and allowances.

Thank God for Senator Shehu Sani who broke lines with his colleagues and revealed that Nigerian senators were paid N13.5 million monthly as running cost in addition to about N750,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances. Add that to the N200 million for ‘constituency projects’ and you will see that the Nigerian legislature is contributing its quota towards the legalised looting of the treasury.

The minimum total of N371 million (about $1million) per Nigerian senator contrasts sharply with that of South Africa for example. In South Africa, leaders of minority parties, such as Julius Malema and Bantu Holomisa from the UDM, earn R1,222,606 (about $85,000) a year or R101,885 (about $7,000) a month. The lowest salary an MP in the national assembly or NCOP earns isR1,033,438 (about $71,820) a year, or R86,120 (about $5,985) a month.

If Nigerian legislators insist on copying the heckling that characterises legislatures elsewhere, why can’t they also copy the emoluments of their counterparts in those countries?

The students’ union parliament of old University of Ife in the 70s must rank among the most boisterous of its time. But it was a parliament characterised by lucid and well-researched presentations and protestations, all governed by parliamentary decorum. Many of the adult clowns in today’s national assembly would not have made it into that youthful Unife parliament and, if they did, would have been expelled for bad behaviour.

It is difficult sustaining sensible conversation with wilfully blinkered political gladiators on both sides of the political divide in Nigeria. While APC partisans say the president is the best thing that has ever happened to Nigeria, the ‘Atikulated’ opposition say Buhari is an unmitigated disaster. Non-aligned analysts perched at the spectators’ gallery think the truth must be somewhere in-between.

While the jeers went on, President Buhari was calm. He even chastised them on the need to be mindful that the whole world was watching their misbehaviour on live television. They were lucky. I wonder who would have contained the ‘explosion’ if the budget presenter had been ex-president Obasanjo!

The heckling incident reminded me immediately of a similar happening in London 86 years ago. Those were the days of active intimidation of politicians for any perceived ideological difference. Was President Buhari aware of the story, and did he take advantage of the wisdom embedded in Winston Churchill’s barb at Finsbury?

The report, as filed by The Advocate newspaper on Wednesday, December 5, 1923, was quite riveting.

“There were remarkable scenes at a meeting addressed by Winston Churchill at Finsbury Park this afternoon. A crowd of rowdies tried to prevent him from speaking. Their boos competed with the cheers of his supporters for several minutes. Eventually Mr. Churchill obtained a hearing, but was constantly interrupted. Mr. Churchill rebuked his interrupters, declaring that they were striking at the foundation of democracy. A reference Mr. Churchill made to ¡the Leader of the Labor Party (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) evoked opposition cheers and cries of “Good old Mac!” and “Up rebels!”.

“Mr. Churchill’s London tour is characterised by lively heckling, especially on the subject of the Dardanelles, but the speaker’s neat sallies triumphed at Shepherd’s Bush and Walthanistow, notably the latter, where his audience threatened to eject the interrupters. Organised rowdyism continues to be an unfortunate feature of the election.

“When Mr. Churchill reached Walthanistow to-night, 3,000 ticket-holders were within the hall, but thousands outside received Mr. Churchill as he arrived in his car, with hooting and wild cat cries, some actually spitting on the car. One man broke the police cordon and smashed the window of the car. Mounted police escorted Mr. Churchill to the hall.

“Earlier in the day Mr. Churchill at Finsbury retorted to interruptions from the gallery saying, ‘No one would end a journey if he stopped to throw a stone at every barking dog!’”




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