As the dust raised by the mid-term report of the President Goodluck Jonathan-led federal executive council settles, the case for a similar report by the National Assembly has become imperative.
The case is made all the more urgent and compelling by the fact that the legislative arm of government lays a claim to being the embodiment of the sovereign will of the Nigerian people. In particular, the South-East geo-political zone of the country is in dire need of periodic assessment of its representatives at the National Assembly, given the peculiar marginalization of the zone in numerical terms in both chambers.
It is no secret that while the other five geo-political zones of the country are each represented by at least 18 senators respectively (with the North West zone fielding 21 senators) in the upper chamber of the National Assembly; the South-East fields the least number of 15 senators. The situation is replicated in the House of Representatives where the South-East’s total of 43 members compares unfavourably to the South-South’s 55, South West’s 61, North Central’s 50, North East’s 48, and more graphically North West’s 97.
If the foregoing is anything to go by, then, it is a fair summation that the South East zone is equal to less than half of the North West zone, for all practical political purposes.
Although this unwholesome lopsidedness in the structure of the federation can only be fully and satisfactorily redressed through constitutional engineering, until we arrive at that juncture and in the interim the adverse ravages of the situation can actually be mitigated through effective representation by elected representatives from the South East. From this standpoint therefore, periodic assessment of South East’s representatives in the National Assembly makes ample sense, failing which a zone already relegated to the margins of political power runs the risk of a double jeopardy of near total exclusion.
To all intents and purposes, Enugu still remains the capital of the South East zone, and I would elect to start this crucial assignment with the state.
What is more to the point, it was Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President, who represents Enugu West at the red chamber that first drew the attention of the zone to this debilitating dilemma of a race literally submitting itself to the leadership of the ignorant. He is the first to admit that the team he leads is reeling from intrinsic limitations.
Delivering the 2012 Annual Zik Lecture organized by the Anambra State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) at Awka on October 15, 2012, he bemoaned the intellectual quality of contemporary political leadership in the country, observing that: “We now have leaders who cannot think beyond their immediate environment”, pointing out that “such leaders have nothing new to offer their people”.
Narrowing his focus down to the South East geo-political zone, he said: “It is still a surprise to me that as educationally advanced as the South East is, we still send to the National Assembly some people who can barely write their names!”
The latter part of the speech, coming from the deputy senate president qualifies as a veritable bombshell, since he cannot but be presumed to be in possession of certain salient facts that must have informed his comments.
Fact is, Senator Ekweremadu might as well have been referring pointedly to elements within the larger Enugu state contingent in the National Assembly. For they are conspicuous within the ranks of a failed generation of representatives of South Eastern origin “who can barely write their names;” or in fact spell correctly the names of the various committees of their oversight functions.
Their intellectual impairment has somewhat reduced them to perpetual bench warmers who blushingly laugh away as others effectively state the agenda of their various constituencies.
This category of representatives are keen to savour the glitz, the glamour and slush benefits associated with the position, but are hopelessly incapable of rising up to the challenges and weight of expectations heaped on such high positions.
For Ekweremadu and Senator Ayogu Eze, chair of the senate committee on Works, it may be said that, on the strength of their individual visibility in the senate alone, they have already laid down a marker by which their colleagues and team mates will ultimately be judged.
Invariably, however, a team, any team is as good as its entire make up and not just a part thereof.
Thus, when recently Governor Sullivan Chime faced off against the state’s representatives in the National Assembly where he pronounced that the state would be sending new faces to Abuja to replace those of them who would have spent two terms or more by the 2015 general elections, the open sore of a baleful absence of even minimum representation must have weighed heavily on his mind. From plenary to plenary, from one parliamentary year to another, the majority of the state’s representatives, including Distinguished (?) Senator Gilbert Nnaji, Honourables Ofor Chwukuegbo, Peace Nnaji, Kingsley Ebenyi, Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi, Toby Okechukwu, Pat Asadu and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi … are notable by their absence from the floor – asleep literally – as heated debates and pitched contributions rage and positions are articulated and further amplified among the disparate tribes of Nigeria on burning national issues and the future of the country itself.
Reduced to rank spectators at plenary proceedings and in oversight functions, their continued presence in the chambers could be defined appropriately as an ‘economic mission’, perhaps no different from the petulant appetite that propels the floodgates of young Nigerian immigrants who besiege the shores of Europe, the Americas and Asia often in desperate search for better economic opportunities. Characteristically, they channel all their energies into cornering privileges and patronages for their families and cronies, usually without remorse or consideration for the rest of us. They throw up schemes that confer undue advantages on their closed circle of kith and kin, at the expense of the masses who are left with mere crumbs.
The preponderance of sit-tight benchwarmers from Enugu is, no doubt, a huge disservice to the people of the state in particular and the South East geo-political zone in general, more so in the light of the grim picture we painted before now.
It is this sense of vicarious complicity of our own so-called ‘elected representatives’ in the political marginalization of their own people that this writer finds reprehensible to say the least.
Of this category of characters who have left the politics of the state abysmally poorer than they met it, perhaps no one else typifies a unique genie of leadership of the ignorant that masquerades as Abuja ‘lawmakers’ from these parts as Senator Gilbert Nnaji, representing Enugu East senatorial zone. By the way, this is the same senate seat that has, at various times since the inception of the fourth republic, been occupied by Chief Jim Nwobodo, Chief Ken Nnamani and, lately Dr Chimaroke Nnamani. On a scale any day, Senator Nnaji comes away as a featherweight against any of his predecessors in office. But the nature of his emergence and longevity thus far is, in itself, a hugely debilitating paradox of sorts which he owes to a combination of an extra-ordinary sleight of hand and the perfidy of the political class in the state.
Having held one political position or another since 1997 to date, Senator Nnaji stands out as one of the greatest beneficiaries of the current political dispensation in the state, even as he fancies his run of luck to endure interminably. Crucially, at every level of office that he has found himself in the past sixteen years, he has virtually been boxing above his weight, either as council chairman for three terms or as a two-term member of the House of Representatives and now as a first term senator and Chair, Senate committee on Communications. At the House of Representatives where he succeeded the inimitable Mao Ohuabunwa as Deputy Leader of the House during his first term (2003-2007), it is an understatement to say that he dragged the position from the elevated heights of Ohuabunwa’s era to his own pathetic crass level. Unable to add any value to the post, he besmeared it with mud instead and left it unrecognizable afterwards!
Even so, he moved on with his political career and was yet able to advance himself to the acoustic trappings of the Senate chambers with basically nothing to offer than a salacious diet of politics-as-usual.
Come to think of it, if politics-as-usual brought him this far, there is nothing to suggest that it may not take him even much farther in a political age in which the best of men are seemingly without conviction and the worst are filled with passionate intensity.
As the Upper Chamber screened ministerial nominees in July 2011, he could barely manage to exercise his mandatory chance to audibly pose a question to one of the nominees, notwithstanding that he read from a prepared script, something, I am told, goes against parliamentary etiquette.
In politics as in everyday life, the morning surely tells the day.
The laborious exercise of having to read from a script to be able to ask a question over and done with, the voice of Enugu East Senatorial zone has stayed muffled at best, so much so that on the highly contentious issue of Constitutional Review, the zone was alone out of 109 senatorial districts in the country in not holding a public hearing on the proposed amendments, thereby denying the people of the zone a chance to participate in this all-important process. Curiously, Senator Nnaji finds it politically expedient to blame this profound act of negligence and incompetence on others, but any discerning mind knows better than to repose much faith in a serial bungler.
That singular incident has not only returned to haunt him, it has in a concrete sense defined his adventure in the Senate, nay politics.
The palpable extent of his alienation from prevailing reality and from the sound bite of his long suffering constituents is betrayed by his animated billboards that adorn the major streets of the Enugu metropolis with hardly any discernible message beyond a desire to massage his hedonistic instincts. Wearing a baby face, he oddly beckons a bewildered public: ‘Arise and Shine.” Specifically in what ways the people are expected to follow his bidding, the message does not say.
Understandably, these are the reflexes of a representative in denial, a senator whose imagination and horizons are not big enough for the job the times have thrust upon him. As things stand now, the mid-term report of Senator Nnaji is in itself a mirror of the performance of the remaining half of National Assembly members from the state.
–– Udeh writes from Enugu