Some would call it a show of audacity to confront one’s greatest challenge, while others will describe it as a display of political nous scarcely seen in this part of the world. The occasion was when theSpeaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara invited former presidential spokesman, Segun Adeniyi as guest speaker at the special session to mark the second year anniversary of the 8th House. If the erudite scholar who delivered the main paper of the day, an assessment of the Legislative Agenda of the House, Prof. Joash Amupitan, chose to be nice to the not so impressive number of members who were on ground to celebrate 730 days of the 8th House, Adeniyi simply told lawmakers the truth as many folks see it. The chairman of ThisDay editorial board presented a paper entitled “Image Perception of the Legislature: Causes and Possible Solution”.
The man whose books on three Nigerian heads of state has earned him the estimation of a political historian traced the poor perception of members of the National Assembly by the public to certain actions and decisions taken by parliament since the return of democracy in 1999. “Last week, a bill proposing a six-month imprisonment for persons who jump queues in public places scaled second reading in this august assembly. It was sponsored by my brother from Kwara State, Hon Abubakar Amuda-Kannike to whom I have a poser this morning: If someone who jumps queue needs to spend six months in jail, how many months should those who jump fence with their babariga and designer suits, in the full glare of television camera, spend behind bars?”, Adeniyi asked, reminding lawmakers of the disgraceful episode of November 2014, when All Progressives Congress House members locked out from the Assembly scaled the gates to gain entrance to the premises.
Sure we’ve had well behaved, respectable lawmakers in the past and the present, but no thanks to a list of embarrassing happenings. Adeniyi didn’t mince words as he told members that the poor reputation of the National Assembly is self inflicted. The man from ThisDay added that the dismissive posture of the public to lawmakers isn’t new or peculiar to Nigeria. But he stressed that the level of mistrust shown the way of Nigerian lawmakers wouldn’t be high, if the National Assembly didn’t have a history of bribery and budget padding scandals even as allegations of ministers, Parastatals’ heads being preyed on by lawmakers for contracts and other perks of office, refuse to fade away. Suffice to say that a couple of National Assembly members, who are ex-this or ex-that go in and out of the court, over corruption charges with huge sums involved, portraying them as grand acquisitors, who hardly care that corruption has devastating effects on the country they lead. Adeniyi went further to say: “ From certificate and bribery scandals to allegations of budget padding and rowdy sessions that sometimes degenerate into fisticuff, every negative episode involving members only serves to erode the credibility of the legislature. And the situation is not helped by the manner in which issues that are clearly personal are given primacy in the National Assembly.
“While committee investigations and hearings are normal parliamentary practices, turning such powers to instruments of oppression is unacceptable. Let me cite one quick example. In the course of THISDAY editorial meeting on Wednesday, our senior editors in Abuja had to leave for the Senate to respond to a summon by a committee investigating a story about whether or not the Senate Majority Leader was prevented from entering his town by some mob as reported by our newspaper. If the Senate Majority Leader, or any lawmaker for that matter, felt aggrieved by a publication, it is not for the whole Senate to set up a committee to be investigating such story and be summoning editors. That is a clear abuse of power and a demonstration of lack of seriousness”.
It however was ironic that the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan who has debunked the story of his being stopped by his people, saying the incident never occurred, walked into the Green Chamber after Adeniyi completed his presentation. It was equally ironical that Senate President Bukola Saraki sent one of the most controversial figures in the history of the National Assembly, Dino Melaye to represent him at the event in the Green Chambers. Perhaps, the unenthusiastic response to the introduction of the ‘Aje kun iya ni’oje’ crooner, who the average Nigerian voter wouldn’t tick his name as the poster boy for good behaviour is a signal to lawmakers leaning towards admirable conduct.
Of course, lawmakers weren’t badly scored-all round, with Adeniyi commending the National Assembly for boldly making interventions that have deepened democracy and pulled the country back from the brink.
According to him, the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity by the Senate in 2010 to make the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, Acting President , the passage of the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Bill and the rejection of the alleged third term bid by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, are some of the high points of the legislature the past 18 years. This is as he opined that the 8th House deserved a thumps-up for the number of bills considered and passed as well as the harmonious relationship between the Green Chamber and the presidency. My takeaway from Adeniyi’s presentation was when he advised that Nigerians begin to rate the National Assembly based on the functions of the legislative arm as contained in Part II of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and not to look to members for interventions that should come from the Executive.
It didn’t come up in Adeniyi’s speech, nevertheless, the flawed leadership recruitment process in Nigeria is largely the reason there have been more scandalous than epochal moments in the National Assembly. In the 8th House, there are three former National Association of Nigerian Students (NANs) presidents. But members of the association, some who looked old enough to be members of the House desecrated the Green Chamber when they fought over who was the right representative of NANs last Friday.
The best behaved of the ex-NANs presidents in the House, the lawmaker representing Kabba/Bunnu Federal Constituency, T.J Yusuf took it upon himself to stop the argument between the waring students. While another ex-NANs president, the member representing Konshisha/Vandekiya Federal Constituency, Herman Hembe, who one of the NANs factions accused of making Dogara recognise the wrong person as it’s president, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reporter who called to speak with him on the disgraceful incident to write whatever he wanted. The electorate must begin to scrutinise the pedigree of those they send to the National Assembly. Ultimately, lawmakers’ celebration ended on a good note with House Committee chairperson on Foreign Relations, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje who also delivered a speech, choosing to ride in the boat with Adeniyi, when she said the National Assembly must show leadership by stemming the voices of discord across the country. Ukeje insisted that as representatives of the people, members must boldly intervene to rein-in their constituents and stop the reign of hate speeches with Ndigbo getting a quit notice from Arewa youths, who probably chose a knee-jerk response to the resounding success of the sit-at-home call by IPOB.
Indeed, lawmakers have a major role to play in ensuring that the growing sense of hopelessness over the savagery of gangs alleged to be Fulani herdsmen and the sadism of kidnappers is replaced by renewed faith in the country.
I’ll cut the House some slack by reminding readers that 24 hours before members were reminded that they are better positioned to bring an end to the harmful verbal war between different groups and preventable violent clashes in different parts of the country, the House rose against kidnapping.
And subsequent to the resolution of the House last Thursday, on Tuesday the House held a closed-door session with the minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau (retd), the minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, the Chief of Defence Staff, Maj Gen Abayomi Olonisakin and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris and other security chiefs over the marked increase in kidnap cases across the country.
Awo: 30 years after: Day the colossus passed on
By Folu Olamiti (FNGE)
Saturday, May 9, 1987. The day broke, like any other day on. There was no premonition of anything earth-shaking. No foreboding. All seemed at peace. As Editor of Sunday Tribune, I had kept vigil, the previous night, in the office putting finishing touches to a bumper package for that week’s edition. In the wee hours, nature came calling and I went home to catch some sleep. Just for a few hours.
At about 10a.m., I remember vividly now, I sauntered out of bed and started preparing for work. I had to get to the office before noon. Normal routine. Still, there was no fearful apprehension. However, I got curious about the cloudy weather as I peeped out of the window. Yet, I muttered involuntarily: “What a cool day.” Unknown to me, the ‘cool weather’ was an ominous sign of an impending tragedy; one that would reverberate throughout the length and breadth of our great nation; Nigeria. It was the day, Pa Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo, went the way of all flesh. Erin wo. The mighty iroko fell that day.
I got to the office, excited about the bumper edition we wanted to bombard our loyal readers with. With a deep sense of satisfaction, I leafed through the first edition of the paper that would be circulated in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country. At 2p.m., I summoned my crew, made up of crack reporters, writers and erudite scholars, for our usual review of the first edition. The essence of that was to see what to add or subtract for the second edition usually circulate in the South West and mid-western states.
Among my team members were: Ayo Akinyemi, my Assistant Editor; Yinka Adelani, Gboyega Oguntuwase, Lanre Ogundipe and Kanmi Adegbite. We also had three erudite scholars on part time, including: Segun Olatunji, Wale Adebanwi and Adeolu Akande. We bonded strongly, and were so committed to the job that Nigeria Audit Bureau of Circulation adjudged our paper, Sunday Tribune, as the second best-selling newspaper after Daily Times. This was in the glorious days of Daily Times. This rating was a tonic for us to work harder. After review of the first edition we celebrated that we had done a good job. The major reason for our celebration was that our big boss, Mr.Felix Adenaike, a.k.a General Officer Commanding (GOC), who would have made a last vetting of the package, was in far away Argentina, attending that year’s edition of the annual International Press Institute (IPI) conference with his bosom friend, the late Mr.Peter Ajayi.
Please, permit me to digress a little. A week before, I had travelled to Warri, in present day Delta State, as head of the Tribune’s team covering the coronation of Ogiame Atuwatse II as the 19th Olu of Warri. Papa Obafemi Awolowo and his jewel, Mama Hannah, were at the occasion. Papa sighted me first, and he asked one of his security men to bring me to where he was. Papa was a stickler for detailed and accurate reportage of events, especially the one he attended. A quintessential journalist that he was, he gave me some useful tips on what he had observed before and during the event. His intervention indeed enriched the reportage in the Sunday Tribune the next day. In any case, such briefing from Papa Awo wasn’t new to me. I had discovered the treasure trove of news in him when I was assigned to cover his activities, especially his electioneering campaigns in 1979 and 1983 respectively. That was when I cultivated the habit of staying close to Papa’s seat at events for his usual on the spur-of-the-moment ‘briefing’.
But the Awo I saw at the coronation of Ogiame Atuwatse II was a shadow of the Papa that we had all grown to know at Tribune. Papa was not his usual ebullient self on that day. He looked frail and tired His eyes were heavy, and had bags. He dozed off and on. Given how Papa Awo had flogged his body during those years that he traversed the nooks and crannies of this country campaigning, canvassing votes, struggling to bring better life to the people(his major pre-occupation since 1952), it wasn’t totally surprising to find the 78-year-old weak and frail. In fact, you wouldn’t blame him for taking a nap to refresh his aging body. That day, Papa Awo managed to give me a total of 12 minutes briefing.
The occasion itself didn’t last more than two and half hours. At a stage, Papa looked at his watch and told Mama: “We can make it to Ikenne today.” Mama nodded in affirmation. Photographers captured that moment and it became so symbolic and very conspicuous on newspapers’ front pages after Papa’s exit. The picture of him looking at his watch in Warri became a perfect depiction of a premonition that his time was up on Mother Earth.
The weather in Warri that day suddenly became inclement, and the heavens began to pour. It rained cats and dogs. Still, Papa and Mama left. Mama would later tell me in an interview that Papa slept all through to Ikenne. Back to the D-Day, Saturday, May 9, 1987. After our editorial meeting, it became imperative for us to upgrade the package to accommodate breaking news. We began the process in earnest, aiming to close the pages to enable us get some rest or revel at some rendezvous. Unknown to us, the biggest story in Nigeria and the rest of the world had broken silently at Ikenne, that morning. Till date, I still marvel at how the family managed to keep some of us, editors, in the dark. The news had filtered to some editors in Lagos. Meanwhile, I had dismissed my editorial team little after 9 p.m. after watching NTA’s network news and no breaking news had surfaced. Indeed, I had gone to my office to pack my things ready to go home. Since no breaking news came after the news, I had no choice but to swing into action with my production crew.
While I was packing my bags, Banji Kuroloja, my colleague and elder brother who was the Editor of Nigerian Tribune walked in. At first I did not look up. When I eventually did, I saw a man with red eyes, apparently deep in mourning. I thought maybe he had lost one of his relations. We hailed from the same town, Idanre, in Ondo State. So, I asked in our dialect: “Are you OK?” He crashed into my visitor’s chair and held his head as he intoned: “Papa Awo is gone”. “Gone where?” I asked. He looked up, and burst into tears and said: “Papa Awo is dead!” “Is that a joke?” I asked again. “Nooo…!” he fired back with his voice quivering: “Go outside and see the ambulance that took the body of Papa to the University of Ibadan Pathology Department for embalmment.
At that point, my heart popped and I went blank for about five minutes. Kuroloja then asked me to order our machinists to stop work. We looked at each other, holding my hands at the back of my head, and both of us broke down. We wept like babies. Papa, to both of us, meant a lot in different ways. Apart from my closeness to Papa as his unofficial reporter, Kuroloja briefly worked with Papa as his Private Secretary. Papa was humane, loving and deeply interested in our private affairs, especially our families. Very few employers have that virtue.
Like I said, at this stage, all my editorial crew had gone home. In our moment of grief, we forgot that we were duty bound to publish the obituary of the Founder of Tribune titles, and a political colossus of our time. We swung into action but I must confess, we missed the expert contribution of our Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Felix Adenaike . Had he been home, he would have heard the news ahead of us. Kuroloja and I decided to print our masthead in black, and covered the whole of the front page with Papa’s picture, with a banner headline: AWO IS DEAD.
Hard as we tried, we did poorly that Sunday compared with other newspapers in Lagos,whose editors had earlier got wind of Awo’s death. We, senior editors, quickly rallied round, wiped our tears momentarily to enable us come out with a special edition that afternoon. We served our readers what Papa told Mama to do at his transition. Mama had told us that Papa did not want people to mourn him but be happy anytime he passed on. So, in that Sunday edition, we came out with Papa in white Agbada, and with broad smiles waving, we cast the headline: “DON’T MOURN ME- Awo”.
That set the tone for all activities at his funeral that spanned over a month. The activities were laced with superlative carnivals, the kinds never seen before in Nigeria, and which I think richly qualified to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In life and in death, Papa Awo was great.
Folu Olamiti, Media Consultant wrote from Abuja.