Mr. Atedo Peterside recently caught the letter-writing bug, which has suddenly become the in-thing in Nigerian politics. Like most of such letters, Atedo’s epistle, which he has splashed as full colour pages of advertorial in national dailies in an uncommon media razzmatazz, does not lack in venom and bile.
Atedo’s mission in the diatribe entitled “Letter to My Countrymen: This Conference Must Succeed” is clear, namely, to disparage the Office and person of the Deputy President of the Senate; to portray the whole constitution amendment effort as a worthless venture; to impugn the institutional integrity of the National Assembly (NASS); and to totally defame and bring its members to public odium.
Meanwhile, for those who did not know, Peterside Atedo is the founder and Chairman of the Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Chairman of Cadbury Nigeria Plc, a Member of the National Economic Management Team, and, above all, a delegate to the ongoing National Conference. Ordinarily, when such a person speaks, wisdom, sense of responsibility, intellect, and patriotism should flow. Unfortunately, in a nation where some elders have refused to behave their age, such level of maturity has become a tall order.
Therefore, whereas Atedo’s rather poorly written letter makes one weep for Nigeria, it ordinarily is not worth dignifying with a rejoinder, except in national interest. His missive reminds one of the saying that “My son has grown tall does not necessarily mean he has grown up”. A child’s height might deceive everyone, but his/her words and actions would always give him/her away. Thus, in the Nigerian parlance, when a man’s words mismatch his height, we say he is “taller than his senses”. And the challenge in joining issues with little minds is the risk of stooping to their level.
While I would not like to join issues with him on his deliberate insults on the person of the Deputy President of the Senate, it is just right to state that what Senator Ekweremadu has achieved or is working towards achieving with his colleagues as Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution are all facts of history, which no amount of distortion, insult, and “bad belle” would ever change.
It is a fact of history that all efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution concocted and handed over to Nigerians by Atedo Peterside’s military friends and benefactors had suffered two consecutive failures in the 4th and 5th National Assembly before the jinx-breaking Senator Ekweremadu took over the driver’s seat in the whole quest. Under Ekweremadu’s Chairmanship, the challenge of what happens when a President/Governor is absent from office for a long time without transmitting a letter to the Assembly that would enable his/her Deputy to serve as Acting Governor/President was laid to rest. The same goes for cases where a sitting Governor or President wins a rerun election. The nation also got far-reaching electoral reforms such as political, administrative, and financial autonomy for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); fixed timeline for the determination of election petitions; reduction in the number of judges on Election Petition Tribunals; wider timeline for the conduct of elections; and deletion of Sections 66(h), 137(i), and 182(i) to prevent incumbents from ruining the political careers of their opponents and hitting up the polity with Administrative Panels as we saw in 2007. These are just a few.
The 7th NASS is not relenting either. Major amendments are underway as have been widely acknowledged even by the media and public analysts. However, I guess Atedo may not know this because he has been preoccupied with the juicy business of selling Federal Government assets. Seeing him gallivant gleefully on live television during bids opening, you would easily mistake him for a man winning back his patrimony, rather than one selling it.
Atedo claims that “Our National Assembly is almost solely pre-occupied with annual budgetary matters – fighting over how to slice a cake today.” But did he need to go that far in a strenuous effort to justify the N7 Billion earmarked for the National Conference where he is a member?
He further claims that “Polarisation (in the NASS) disappears mysteriously and is replaced by perfect bipartisan harmony on matters where their collective personal and/or pecuniary interests are affected.” Well, I recall that the first South-South presidency, which Atedo is benefitting abundantly from in every sense, came courtesy of the courage of the NASS Members (including the Ekweremadus of this world, who came up with a Doctrine of Necessity) to salvage the country from plunging headlong into deeper political crisis.
I would not claim that every NASS Member at the time was very happy with that decision. But, I remember vividly that there was UNANIMITY and PERFECT BI-PARTISAN HARMONY on that Tuesday, February 9, 2010 when the Senate adopted a motion declaring that “The Vice President should henceforth discharge the functions of the Office of the President”. It was the same in the House of Representatives, which followed suit about two hours later.
Recalling the events of those tumultuous days is inevitable because it is puzzling how some big beneficiaries of that decision would suddenly turn round to assault the sensibilities of the lead actors. When the talking drum begins to rain insults on its maker, it is only natural to remind it the animal skin it was made from.
Worst still, Peterside dubs NASS Members “a coalition of kleptomaniacs”. His words: “…another bipartisan deal appears to have been struck in order to prevent the Executive from scrapping numerous “dead”, irrelevant or duplicitous Federal Government agencies which were established under various statutes that were clearly designed for a different era. There are perverse incentives at work here – the more irrelevant an agency is today, the larger the percentage of their undeserved budget allocation that they can earmark to “incentivise” national assembly members to block the repeal of a law that will constitute a death knell for that agency.
“According to the Oronsaye Report, close to N123bn (in the most optimistic scenario) can be saved annually by scrapping and/or merging some of these parasitic agencies, but it will not happen because these agencies have their “protectors” in the National Assembly, who hail from our two largest political parties. Who will save the nation from this unholy coalition of kleptomaniacs? Notice that there are no religious and/or ethnic differences when working together to “loot” the National Treasury”. These claims are fallacious too. I do not know about any executive bill to merge/scrap any parasitic agencies, which are being “blocked” by the NASS. If there is foot-dragging in implementation the Orasanye Report, Atedo knows those to hold responsible. As for irresponsibly calling the NASS an “unholy coalition of kleptomaniacs”, it is a matter of Parliamentary Privilege, which I don’t see how NASS Members are supposed to take lying low.
Back to the constitution amendment, the National Conference, and the future of Nigeria, let me admit that Mr. Peterisde Atedo has the right to expect much more from the National Assembly. As a Niger Deltan, Atedo would obviously want to see fiscal federalism in Nigeria. I too, am unhappy that efforts by the Constitution Review Committees of the NASS to address the absence of fiscal federalism (once captured as “feeding bottle federalism”), structural imbalances, and other critical defects of are always resisted. This is where the National Conference comes handy as a veritable platform for consensus building, hence Senator Ekweremadu’s recent assertion that the Conference could help reposition Nigeria if well handled.
However, Atedo needs to be reminded, as he would soon find out at the Conference, that there is a world of difference between a critical political programme like constitution amendment or national conference and setting unrealistic and scandalous financial targets in the banking industry and compelling our young men and ladies to pursue same with all “assets” at their disposal. Nor are such programmes the same as the lucrative business of “privitisation”. No, they are about articulating the interests, opinions, aspirations, and challenges, of over 160 million Nigerians and harmonising same through the democratic instruments of dialogue and compromise.
Instructively, the Senator Ekweremadu Committee and indeed the Senate had, even long before anyone knew this Conference would take place, been taking visionary steps to amend Section 9 of the Constitution to lay down procedures for enacting a new constitution. This includes a referendum. Incidentally, whether Atedo agrees or not, it is on the basis such amendment that the product of the National Conference stands the chance of seeing the light of the day. Otherwise, it could end up as one of our many talk shops.
In other words, it is still those Atedo derogatorily refers to as a “coalition of kleptomaniacs” that would give the child conceived at the National Conference the breathe of life. This is the more reason Atedo should find better ways to seek attention or justify the many patronages he is reaping from this Administration than abusing NASS Members and making things difficult for Mr. President. At present, he is helping Mr. President and the Conference the wrong way- like the island monkey that saw a fish in river, thought it was “drowning”, pulled it out from water and the fish died. A word is enough for the wise.
Law Mefor is Forensic Psychologist, author and Journalist, is National Coordinator, Transform Nigeria Movement, Abuja; Tel.: +234-803-787-2893; e-mail: email@example.com
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