Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila created an unnecessary furore inflammating his refresher course at Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, United States. He should blame himself for the controversy. It was avoidable, not necessarily by not attending the course, assuming it is of any value. After all, a Speaker is presumed to be fully knowledgeable with and well educated for his duties before assuming office. Revelation of his attendance at the school was, therefore, no more than showing off.
Having said that, Gbajabiamila’s action in taking studies while holding public office is not unprecedented. Way back in the First Republic, the first known case of exploiting public office position was the matter of Matthew Mbu, who was appointed Nigeria’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdom by Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, a bargain from the then NPC/NCNC coalition. It was an ordinary appointment but it soon generated an international controversy when news leaked that the High Commissioner had enrolled at an evening class to read law. Enrolling at evening classes to pursue any career later in life was common among Nigerians in those days but such students were not holding public office like Mbu. That was not the only major difference from Gbajabiamila’s. Nigerians were mostly private students on part-time studies but the fact of Mbu’s post as Nigeria’s High Commissioner made a difference. Even then, as his country’s High Commissioner, Mbu was at liberty to spend his evenings for private purposes.
Unfortunately for him, Mbu’s critics, mainly political rivals, especially back home in Nigeria, pounced on the issue to score a point. Despite the possible embarrassment, the fact was also that neither Nigerian government nor the British counterpart really financed Mbu’s education. Indeed, evening courses were mostly free. This went some way to reduce the row to mere tantrums between two rival political groups. Of course, there were convenient criticisms on whether a not a fully educated man should have been appointed Nigeria’s High Commissioner in the UK. The difference between M.T. Mbu and (current) House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila. There was the question of maturity. Mr. Mbu was a humble part-time student at an evening school and might not have attracted attention or controversy but for his sniffing political rivals in Nigeria and Britain.
What can be said of Gbajabiamila? The first was he exposed himself with the unnecessary noise about himself, a sort of self-flaunting of his time at Harvard University. That was all. Most disastrously for him, the whole thing boomeranged. Otherwise, depending on his time at Harvard University, Gbajabiamila would have completed his time at the institution without the average Nigerian bothering himself. Gbajabiamila would have returned to his duties as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Furthermore, Gbajabiamila made the noise about himself “studying” abroad at a time less fortunate young ones were in total frustration, staying at home or walking the streets because their lecturers at various institutions were into the sixth month of their strike against unpaid or inadequate salaries or both. Nobody knows when Nigerian lecturers will be back in classes. Gbajabiamila, therefore, chose a wrong time and a wrong place to go for his course. Why did the man not choose University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Lagos or Ahmadu Bello University for his refresher course? For various reasons, Gbajabiamila could not have opted for any of the above. For a start, Nigerian universities have been shut down by the same Federal Government of which Gbajabiamila is fourth in rank. Second, none of the universities would have been worth being flaunted as “Harvard University”. That personality complex.
Gbajabiamila must be regretting whatever propelled him to tweet his time at Harvard. Was he not educated enough to be elected the Speaker of House of Representatives? Even if so inadequately educated, the more reason he should have gone to Harvard and (should have) returned unannounced. After all, were Nigerians ever aware he went to Harvard until he announced himself? But for complex, what could have warranted a refresher course at Harvard after almost four years on the seat of the Speaker of House of Representatives? Did any Speaker of the British House of Commons or the American House of Representatives in Washington ever go to Harvard? If not, it could only have been condescending for Harvard or the American government to have offered a refresher course for the Speaker of Nigerian House of Representatives. Therefore, before taking up such an offer, questions should have been asked about any precedent.
Without such, Gbajabiamila is even in more trouble if his course at Harvard University was financed by Nigerian government at a time Nigerians are being taxed almost for the free air we breathe. If Nigerians are now to be taxed for minor two minutes chat on mobile telephones, why should public office holders be pampered with such taxes? It should be noted that this concern is being expressed if and only if Nigerian government sponsored Gbajabiamila’s course at Harvard University. How much was paid for the course? Any estacode? How much did the flight cost? First class or business class? President Muhammadu Buhari is on record as directing public office holders not to travel on first class tickets. For a long time, Buhari’s silence on governance has been very disturbing. It is even more so now.
There is the consolation that Gbajabiamila has fully apologised to Nigerians for his indiscretion and the row should be allowed to die. That is provided he financed himself or was sponsored by Harvard University. Otherwise, he must be surcharged for total refund of the expenses.
Trial is fair or not in Britain
Former deputy president of the Senate, Ike Ekwerenmadu, was due to appear at the Old Bailey, London, yesterday in continuation of the criminal charges against him for alleged harvesting of human organs. The charges almost drowned the circumstances of his misfortune, which was compelled by the need to cater for his ailing daughter. While the trial lasts, Ekweremadu needs prayers for the daughter’s total recovery.
However, other aspects of the trial should be of interest to Nigerians. First, Ekweremadu, after the opening trial at a magistrate’s court, was refused bail because of the seriousness of the charges and held in custody. That was about a month ago. Second, the trial was transferred from a magistrate’s court to the Old Bailey, the only circuit of British judiciary with jurisdiction of handling such matters. The process of Ekweremadu’s alleged crime so far only made nonsense of the reaction of his colleagues in the Nigerian Senate when the matter initially erupted. That was the their rush to send fellow senators to observe the trial, all purportedly in a so-called solidarity with the accused.
Surely, the Nigerian Senate, rather foolishly or in total ignorance of the standard of justice in Britain, decided on the trip because the money was available to waste. Despite the warning in this column against the trip, the senators still proceeded on a jamboree at summer time, the traditional holiday period for Britons. The London trip was, therefore, more of a fancy for the senators at public expense, despite all other allowances these guys are paid. The senators went on the trip, turned up at the court, only to see the case adjourned for at least a month and transferred to a higher court. Have the senators returned to Nigeria? Perhaps. What did their trip achieve? Nothing, as they had been warned in this column on the futility of their venture. Senators who are now back in Nigeria should take the trouble to seek the opinion of senior lawyers on the level of Old Bailey in British dispensation of justice and what type of cases are transferable from magistrate courts to the Old Bailey, the only court of that status and reputation in Britain.
If these guys (the senators) were really serious on their mission, they should have stayed behind to complete their idea of solidarity with Senator Ekweremadu. Britain is not Nigeria where, even in the process of arriving at a verdict of not guilty, the decision would have been predictably adulterated to deliver an arranged or purchased verdict. The lawyer files a motion for bail, the judge predictably adjourns for three or four days, newspapers would scream headline indicating that the accused (a V.I.P.) had been clamped in jail for months while on the resumption day (about the next 96 hours), the judge would routinely grant the application for bail, by releasing the accused. The case might then drag on for months or even years. They just don’t have qualms, no matter how straightforward is the prosecution’s case. See all the cases of theft of public funds or kidnapping spreading from 2003, 2007, 2011 and, of course, 2015.
On the contrary, it is not Britain if the trial is not fair. Otherwise, jail or acquittal has nothing to do with long leg. Our friends on solidarity now know better.
English soccer tonight
The worldwide sporting entertainment, English football, opens the new season tonight when Arsenal plays an away match against Crystal Palace in an encounter, which is more to mark the kick-off for the season. The full scale comes up tomorrow with six matches featuring top sides like Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton. Early stages of the duel always offer top sides to pile up points towards the closing stages of the season when the race to emerge among the top four European Champions League becomes stiffer. That is the importance of tonight’s match for Arsenal.
Traditionally, Arsenal had always ranked among the top four, a grip the club lost for the past four years, especially so narrowly at the close of last season. The club lately recruited players from Europe and may spark this season. However, strong opposition is still expected from the old favourites who are playing tomorrow against different sides, although both of them playing away. Liverpool travels to London for the opening match against Fulham, one of the teams newly promoted to the Premier League, the others being Nottingham Forest. Liverpool already bared its fangs by beating defending League champions, Manchester City, to win the Charity Shield last week in the annual non-league encounter.
Chelsea, normally one of the usual top four teams and indeed one of the contenders for the Premier League and the European League championships, may be facing an uncertain future, something the club is not used to. This followed the exit of the brain behind the club’s meteoric rise in England and Europe, Russian money power, Mr. Abramovic. He was divested of the ownership of the club by the sanctions British government imposed on Russia in its war against Ukraine. Since then, Chelsea fell from the radar, which in the past attracted the attention of world class players. These days, not even the efforts of the America billionaire so far, who replaced Abramovic, has done any magic. Not less than four players touted to be joining Chelsea fell through. But the club succeeded in recruiting Senegal captain, Kholuabi. He is reported to be versatile, it is not clear yet if he can fully substitute for Antony Rudiger, who left the club to join Real Madrid. Chelsea also plays away to Everton tomorrrow evening.