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Bankole’s House of Corruption—Nigeria’s Portuguese Parliament

By: Franklin Otorofani

 Published June 30th, 2010


When I read the newspaper reports about the show of shame in the Nigerian House of Representatives, I felt three distinct mixed emotions of anger, amusement and embarrassment surging through my being at the same time—anger at the criminal insensitivity to the prevailing socio-economic conditions in Nigeria; amusement at the clearly orchestrated crude attempts to intimidate and silence the whistle blowers in the House to cover up the alleged scams and; embarrassment at the utter desecration of the hallowed chambers of the nation’s parliament by rascals and political misfits, who have demonstrated their utter disregard for the nation’s image by throwing elementary decency and decorum to the dogs in resolving their internal disputes.

It’s Nigeria’s season of corruption and here we go again with the nation’s House of Corruption. The House of Representatives should be renamed the House of Corruption, because it has earned that appellation. There is no more fitting description of the House than that. The EFCC boss, Mrs. Farida Waziri, was therefore, spot on when she recently described the House in similar unflattering terms during the presentation of the scam petition to her by the “Progressives.” 

Bankole’s House stinks to high heavens and in dire need of fumigation services by the nation’s fumigation agencies comprised in the EFCC and the ICPC.  It has been reduced to a veritable engine of corruption, generating one corruption scandal after another right from its inception to date with no let up. The nation deserves a break from this steady stream of scams and corruption scandals emanating from its lawmakers, who are supposed to be above board in order to effectively and credibly carry out their oversight functions over the executive branch. It is now clear that the House of Representatives itself is in dire need of oversight functions by outside agencies to keep its corruption-prone leadership from dipping its sticky fingers into the nation’s honey pot at will.  

And to think that this chamber is mostly populated by the cream of the up and coming Nigerian youths equally led by a youth should be of great concern to the nation, because it unmistakably sends the troubling signals that those who are taking over the reins of power from the older generation, which has candidly and forthrightly declared itself a “wasted generation,” could be a whole lot worse than the old guards themselves. Where then lies the nation’s hope of salvation and redemption if the younger generation has so enthusiastically imbibed and internalized the sick ways of the discredited older generation? I see no hope in the horizon if this trend is not checkmated and nipped in the bud. This is bad news for the nation that must be addressed squarely before our nation is again condemned to relive the deleterious ways of the old guards over and over again. 

It is increasing becoming crystal clear that lawmakers of both chambers have deliberately turned our democracy into fishing expeditions and an opportunity to feather their own nests at the nation’s expense and to the detriment of our national aspirations. Other than purely out of habit, therefore, I couldn’t understand why we still refer to them as reps since no Nigerian would come forward to vouch for his or her representation by any of the House members. They have been busy representing their wallets than to remember their constituents who put them in power to represent them in the first place.

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They could stage a fight to protect their personal interests, but would not lift a finger to fight for their constituents. They have stuffed their ears with cotton wool to prevent them from hearing and answering the groans and shrieks of their constituents, who are reeling from economic deprivations and hopelessness. They have turned their backs on their people who look up to them for succor and alleviate their sufferings. Though they profess Christianity and Islam, they’re far from God and Godliness. Their hearts are made of stones and their minds attuned to greed and self-centeredness and consumed by inordinate materialism at the expense of their own people. 

How many people have read a single story about a House member or senator for that matter, raising his or her voice in the House or in the Senate let alone fighting and spilling blood over the interests of his constituency or the public in general? How many people have heard or read of any legislative measures in the House that are designed to put Nigerians back to work? How many times has anyone read about our lawmakers having a showdown with officials of the Ministry of Works over the poor conditions of Nigerian roads or the officials of the Ministry of Health over the appalling conditions in the nation’s healthcare facilities, or for that matter, officials of the Ministry of Education over dilapidated educational infrastructures? Not in Nigeria and certainly not in Nigeria’s House of Corruption. Their orchestrated oversight sessions are anything but oversight and are designed essentially to extract financial gratifications from the executive in secret sessions after the public shows. This is nothing but cash and carry, bazaar democracy we’re practicing in Nigeria and the president has got to put a stop to it regardless of the separation of powers, because it is his administration and his legacy that is at stake here.

With half of the nation’s budgets going for the salaries of public office holders as recently disclosed by the Accountant General of the Federation, the nation is clearly being shortchanged by its lawmakers because it is not getting value for its money. This is a bad trade. One could count on his fingers the number of bills passed by this House since it was inaugurated almost four years ago, excluding budgets even though it’s a full time job with jumbo, full time pay. Going to the nation’s parliament is like winning a Power Ball Lotto ticket. We’re using half of our entire budget to service less than 1% of our population and perhaps the other half of the budgets is lost to corruption schemes hatched and executed by the same people, leaving the remaining 99% of the population with next to nothing to wallow in poverty. It’s, therefore, not a surprise that majority of Nigerians are eking out miserable existence in an otherwise oil rich nation, with less than a dollar a day!

Having managed to pass a harmonized constitutional amendment bill, which the rascally House is now impetuously and piously accusing the Senate of “doctoring,” calculated to divert the nation’s attention from the corruption scandal without as much as crosschecking its facts or even finding out from the senate before rushing to the press, the House had nothing else on its plate than to stage a fight to cover its crooked tracks.

That wolf cry by the House alleging the Senate’s submission of a doctored version of the harmonized constitutional amendment bill to the State Houses of Assembly was clearly calculated to divert the nation’s attention from the broiling corruption scandal in the House. But it wouldn’t stick because it was all a lie as the Senate president had submitted to the chairman of the Speakers of the State Houses all three versions of the bills comprised of the Senate bill, the House bill and the harmonized bill to make a complete record for the guidance of the State Houses. And rather than seeking audience with the Senate leadership to seek clarification of any misgivings he might have had regarding the authenticity of the bill submitted to State Houses, Bankole rushed to the press to cry wolf where there was none all in a desperate bid to change the subject. 

Thus for the second time in less than three years, the first time under disgraced ex-Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, Nigeria’s House of Representatives, led by King Kong, Dimeji Bankole, brought shame and disgrace to the nation. But more than that, it dragged its own reputation, if it ever had one, into the mud, which is the natural playground of pigs rather than humans.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling our Honorable (?) members of the House “pigs” because Nigerians have a better appellation for them—“Area Boys,” since they have turned their hallowed legislative chamber into New York’s Madison Square Garden and Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace rolled into one where opposing sides contest their supremacy in turf wars in a Muhammad Ali/George Foreman’s “Rumble in the Jungle” style smack down in the Congo. Nigerian parliament turned into a boxing and wrestling arena in this day and age—fighting over loot!

I remember writing similar lines during the Etteh saga about three years ago, and here we are again with repeat performance. At the end of the combined boxing/wrestling tournament, the victorious gang side led by the King Kong himself succeeded in not only reducing its challengers, led by hard charging Dino Melaye, to pulp and taken away in stretchers, but summarily expelled them from their fiercely contested territory to claim the hefty prizes at stake. 

What prizes, you asked? You want to know the prizes? Let’s see how much are we talking about here. Gosh! It’s not peanuts, folks, it’s in billions of naira, and that’s your money. And here is the run down: N5.2bn Rural Electrification Project, N2.3bn for special cars for Bankole and his buddies in the House, and the latest N9bn capital projects. 

As reported in the papers, the House leadership under Bankole has been pointedly accused of giving  approval for the purchase of four units of Range Rover Jeeps; three units of Mercedes Benz S-600 cars for the use of the speaker and his deputy to the tune of N335,500,000.  And, as if that was not enough outrage, the House leadership has also been accused of purchasing LCD 40 Samsung LNS 341 for members at the cost of N525, 000 per unit, alleged to be well above the market price of N180, 000 per unit of the product.

 Speaker Bankole is at the heart of all of the above scams and seems to have his finger in every pie. Isn’t that something? However, many of these allegations are not new but have not been addressed in the past before now simply because late President Yar’Adua literarily went to sleep on corruption.

Now, discounting the Mercedes and the television sets, that’s some hefty N16.5bn of our money poured down the drain or, if you like, poured down the pipeline of corruption into someone else’s private accounts. Yes, our money going into someone else’s private accounts, no questions asked! That is our Nigeria under Yar’Adua, the chief exponent of zero tolerance for corruption!

To give the reader an idea of the scale of what is involved, that sum is enough to equip all our higher educational institutions with computer labs or to equip our teaching hospitals with state of the arts diagnostic medical equipments like those available abroad and stock them fully with badly needed drugs or enough to equip all of our hospitals’ operating theatres with power generators in the absence of stable electricity to avoid carrying out critical surgical operations under candle and torch lights as has been reported. That’s what Bankole and his men have been accused of frittering away without batting an eye in a nation in dire need of social services and beset with huge unemployment numbers.  

If these allegations are in fact true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, it means these guys and gals just sit there pocketing our money through the award of fraudulent contracts in the name of lawmaking for which they’re already receiving outrageous salaries and perks to be begin with, in a nation where the vast majority of citizens is forced to live with less than a dollar a day.

 Contracts are the conduit pipes used to siphon our money into private pockets and that’s why the president has bemoaned the unusually high costs of projects in Nigeria compared to similar projects in other African countries. But it’s not enough to bemoan the situation and the president must not deal with the cankerworm squarely by bringing the culprits to book to serve as deterrence. 

I don’t know whether Bankole is guilty as charged or not and I don’t want to pre-judge the outcome of the investigation because we don’t yet have the facts before us. But this much I would say for now—his conduct is consistent with that of a man labouring under the burden of a guilty conscience. And that perhaps explains the shameless resort to violence to cover up his tracks while leaving the substance of the allegations totally unaddressed. As of today, not a single committee has been raised by the House leadership to probe these allegations. What does that say about the guilt or innocence of the House leadership?

Why, it might be asked, was it more important to the House to expel members of the Progressives than to investigate the allegations of corruption against the House leadership? That is not a conduct that is compatible with an innocent state of mind. Such desperation bespeaks a guilty conscience and I won’t be surprised if a verdict of guilty as charged is returned against the accused House leadership.    

When we total the sum, including the costs for the Mercedes cars and the television sets that is some serious dough that’s worth fighting and perhaps spilling someone’s blood for, because not even the famed Mike Tyson earned so much in his long career in less than one hour of action packed pugilism.  And that would explain why the Speaker staged that fight in the House that would make those staged in the legendary Portuguese parliament pale into insignificance. The Portuguese would indeed be proud to watch the video footage of how much improvements Nigeria has made to their imported shows under “Tyson” Bankole.

It may well be that one of the unwritten qualifications for election into the Nigerian House of Representatives, which, by the way, might have been included in the constitutional amendments proposed by the House, is to be a trained boxer, wrestler, judo, taekwondo or karate fighter.  And a combination of two or more of the above qualifications might put one on the road to becoming a chair of an important committee of the House. To ascend the position of a Speaker of the House, however, one might need to be a heavy weight boxing or wrestling champion or, at least, a black belt holder in martial arts. In addition, he or she might be required to have demonstrated his or her proficiency to the satisfaction of the whole House in staged shows in the House carefully shielded from public glare. And perhaps the inability of ex-Speaker Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, to demonstrate her proficiency in martial arts might have led to her early exit as Madam Speaker thus aborting her precedent setting tenure. Etteh was a rookie and so was easily felled and pushed aside even though her alleged offense pales into insignificance and unremarkable compared to what is happening now under her successor.

And here is an important notice to you guys and gals out there nursing political ambitions. Anyone out there wishing to contest election for the House of Reps had better go get some hard training in boxing, wrestling or some other forms of martial arts. Forget about academic degrees and work experiences, because only boxers, wrestlers, judo cats and taekwondoists can make it to House, and if you’re none of the above, then forget it, unless of course, Bankole doesn’t make it back. 

Seriously, Nigeria must now begin to do away with the practice of rookie legislators becoming House Speakers and Senate presidents. It is never done in other democracies where experience and member rankings matter in leadership positions. The nation cannot afford to pull people literarily from the streets and make them Speakers and Senate presidents as heads of her lawmaking bodies in the name of zoning. This is another reason why zoning must be jettisoned now to save our democracy and give the nation the qualitative leadership she deserves.

Bankole has proven himself smarter than Etteh and has learnt his lessons from the previous Etteh episode. He is ready to prove that he is not rookie Madam Speaker, but King Kong himself, who could take down his challengers with lighting combination of upper cuts and dazzling swings to leave them sprawling on the floor in a state of stupor and taken out on stretchers by paramedics with their bloodied faces contorted in excruciating agony suffered from the brutal encounters with the Lords of the House. Only Bankole could successfully execute such a fight. Ex-Speakers Etteh and Buhari could not and they lost out big time.

And the same fate has befallen Bankole’s determined challengers in the House. They lost not only the tournament prizes like our flat-footed Super Eagles, but their salaries as well with their expulsion or, was it suspension? Never mind, it doesn’t matter which since, by the extant rules, they may not even come back to the House before the House ends its tenure, with Bankole still in the saddle, as their suspension could be extended by the House leadership under the House rules.   

Yes, Bankole put up quite a show and the leadership made good its threat to deal with the “Progressives” for spilling the beans rather than allowing themselves to be bought up and shut up as many in their positions might have done. However, Bankole’s victory might prove temporary and short lived in the end.

No one knows how many more episodes of these shows are lined up for their morbid entertainment. But this one had all the trappings of a block buster had it been televised live. It was a show that would have dwarfed the World Cup in terms of viewership. And if it was syndicated by the NTA with foreign broadcast media and pay per view outlets, it could easily have become block-buster shows of the year. Who says our House members don’t know anything better than writing laws that would benefit themselves alone? Who says scheming for corruption is their only forte? And who says they only know about constituency projects and furniture allowances? Not true, as they have proved time and time again that they’re prized fighters as well who could hold their own against the Mike Tysons and Mighty Igors of the world. Only those who missed the action in the House would doubt it.  

It’s unfortunate though Nigerians were not allowed to buy tickets to watch the fights in the House from the public gallery as the shows were not beamed live on television. Goodness! How could they have left that out? That was a terrible miscalculation by the House that seems not to be as business savvy as it is in hatching corruption schemes to fleece the nation. Had tickets been sold for the show, the House members might have raked in billions of naira for themselves enough for them to keep their sticky fingers from our national treasury, at least for a while.

It was a missed business opportunity. Hopefully though some business savvy Nigerians might cash in and make the full video of the Bankole House fights commercially available to that those of us who missed the action live.

While hoping for a chance to watch the digital reproduction of the fights, however, we can’t wait for Bankole and his “victorious” gang members parading themselves as “House Leadership” to tell the nation what happened to our money in their custody and the place to make that explanation is the Economic and Financial Crime Commission otherwise known as EFCC and the ICPC. That should be the beginning point but the end point must be Kirikiri or Wuse Prisons. Period. No mid points. No political settlements. No PDP family matter bullshit this time around. It’s our money that was allegedly stolen and someone deserves to cool his or her heels behind bars, whether or not we’re serious with corruption, bottom line.  

Reports had it that the PDP Chairman, Chief Nwodo, had summoned Bankole to Wadata House for a thorough dressing down for the disgraceful conduct of the House under his watch. Now Nwodo must not limit himself to the disgraceful conduct, but must address the real question of corruption at the heart of it. Nwodo must prove himself in this more so as his predecessor was thrown out of office on corruption charges. Bankole and his clique must, therefore, be forced to answer more summon from EFCC and the ICPC, and of course, the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

This is a litmus test for the Jonathan’s administration’s oft repeated total commitment to the anti-graft war. If truly there are no sacred cows in the anti-graft war, this is the test of it. Nigeria, nay the world, will know from this festering sore case, whether Speaker Bankole is a sacred cow or an ordinary cud-chewing cow like the others. It’s also a chance for the PDP to redeem its tattered image.   

Did Bankole say he’s a graduate of Harvard University? One has got to ask whether it is Mike Tyson’s or Barack Obama’s Harvard?  It’s got to be the former rather than the latter, because a true product of Obama’s Harvard would not resort to a show of shame in order to cover up charges of corruption. Rather, he would welcome, even encourage transparency and accountability in the disbursement and utilization of public funds entrusted to his husbandry.  And where allegations of financial improprieties are made against his person, whether maliciously or not, would promptly step aside to ensure proper investigation to establish his innocence or, at the very least, readily submit himself to investigation by the House Committee on Ethics, rather than resorting to the rule of the jungle. Allegations are not proofs and only a guilty conscience resorts to violence to cover up and prevent investigations into mere allegations to establish their veracity.

Leadership uncompromisingly demands transparency and accountability in public affairs and it is up to leaders to live by this credo and establish precedent-setting best practices to guide the nation in all such matters in future. If a supposed Harvard graduate cannot demonstrate these elementary leadership qualities in public service, we don’t want another Harvard graduate in leadership position in the nation anymore! Bankole is not only a disgrace to Nigerian youths, but a disgrace to Harvard University and all proud Harvard alumni in Nigeria and abroad in that he has demonstrated conclusively that the nation, long betrayed by her older generation, has no hope in her youths as represented by Bankole.

Here is a word of advice for the distinguished Harvard University though: It bears notice that the famed institution has become the university-of-choice for discredited ex-Nigerian public officials. While that might be good news and music to the ears of its financial officers who are struggling to balance its budgets, it is bad news for its hard earned reputation. It should not allow this category of Nigerian fat cats with obviously questionable sources of sudden wealth to rubbish its hard earned reputation. The university must, therefore, begin to look at the caliber of ex-Nigerian public officials flocking to it to boost their egos with its credentials before greater damaging is done to its reputation. Its association and romance with Nigeria’s political class will diminish rather than enhance its status. 

Harvard should be concerned with the source of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they’re bringing to its coffers without batting an eye, because it is blood money that deprived Nigerian children education and Nigerian patients basic healthcare. Yes it is blood money that denied our nation good roads and responsible for the untimely deaths of hundreds of thousands in road accidents.

Harvard must be sensitized to this Nigerian reality. Harvard should care about the source of the funding by its Nigerian candidates particularly ex-public officials, because it is blood money and must not turn a blind eye to its source.  

This whole series of scandals feed into the question about the direction of the anti-graft war. These allegations must keep the anti-graft agencies busy 24/7 to get the bottom of it. The nation is sick and tired of our so-called representatives turning the business of legislation into a commercial venture to line their pockets. The nation is sick and tired of those vested with the constitutional responsibility of oversight of governmental ministries and extra ministerial bodies turning around to rob the nation’s treasury blind through fraudulent procurement contractual schemes in flagrant violation of Public Procurement Act and due process. The nation is sick and tired of her lawmakers buying one unit of television at such astronomical costs to her coffers seeing lawmakers ridding in limousines, while the rest of the population rides in Molues and Danfos and Okadas.       

Yet we must ask why is this matter only just surfacing now? Didn’t we hear of a Lagos Lawyer, Mr. Keyamo accusing Bankole and the House leadership of ripping off the nation to the tune of billions of dollars in a petition submitted to the EFCC long ago? What happened to its report that was supposedly sent to the Yar’Adua presidency for action? Did late President Yar’Adua sit on the report to protect Bankole while busy chanting zero tolerance on corruption? And if Yar’Adua sat on the report, why has it taken President Jonathan so long to move against Bankole as he did to Vincent Ogbulafor, his own party chairman? Is Bankole a sacred cow or is it because he didn’t want to be seen as fighting another arm of government and be accused of witch hunting his perceived enemies in the House as they did to OBJ? He should not be deterred by the cries of political victimization during the OBJ era each time a lootocrat was nabbed by the Nuhu Ribadu EFCC.

When Governor Alami Alamieyeseghai of Bayelsa state was nabbed by the EFCC after he fled from Britain in disguise, it was because of OBJ’s third term plot; when Governor Fayose of Ekiti state was impeached, it was because of OBJ’s third term plot; when his counterpart in Plateau state, the sleekly Joshua Dariye, was nabbed after he escaped from Britain, it was because of OBJ third term; when VP Abubakar Atiku was investigated and found guilty, not only by the Special Investigation Panel set up by the government, but twice by the Senate itself headed by Nnamani, no fried of OBJ, it was because of OBJ’s third term plot. And when Governor Ibori was being hunted on charges of corruption, it was because of OBJ’s third term plot and resource control. Third term bogey was turned into an omnibus defense as if it is somehow an acceptable defense or exculpating factor to corruption charges in Nigeria. It is not, period! We’re sick and tired of these lame excuses.

Henceforth, whoever is accused of corruption must have his day in court and establish his or her innocence. That is the irreducible minimum. The nation is no longer prepared to countenance these lame excuses and charges of political victimization, because that does not address the underlying issue of corruption.

That Atiku, Dariye, Ibori, Fayose and Alami template is still there for looters and would be looters to use against him as they did against OBJ and got away with. Jonathan should, therefore, prepare himself for similar lame excuses designed to pool wool over the nation’s eyes and obfuscate the real issues of corruption with politics. They will accuse him of going after his perceived political enemies because he wants to contest the 2011 presidential election. We’ve heard similar things in the past during OBJ tenure and we will hear them again and again. They’re all smokescreens. He shouldn’t be deterred or lily livered and must charge on.

Nigerians are not interested in paying lip service to the war on corruption or doing selective prosecution. President Jonathan should not give the slightest appearance of indulging in selective justice no matter the personality involved whether he is a friend or benefactor, because as he himself has said times without number, perception is just as important as reality. Whether or not Bankole is the head of a different branch of the government is totally immaterial and has nothing to do with his investigation and possible prosecution, because the Speaker and House members enjoy no immunity whatsoever from prosecution, unlike the governors. That is not to say that governors should be treated as sacred cows, for no one is above the laws. 

To demonstrate his unwavering commitment to the anti-graft war, therefore, it’s time to haul Bankole and the entire House leadership before the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Tribunal or Federal High Court to face prosecution without further delay, otherwise Jonathan’s credibility is at stake.

Good a thing though, both the EFCC and the ICPC are now on top of the matter as it should be. And given the unprecedented quick reactions of the both bodies to the petition against the suspects, there might be hope yet that justice will not only be done in this case, but seen to be done. Nigerians are watching with bathed breath in anticipation of what will come out of this case. We will just keep our fingers crossed to see where the various investigations will lead eventually—whether to Kirikiri or Wuse Prisons. That should be the abode of our treasury robbers.

It is reassuring to note, however, that the president has reportedly said that Bankole and the House are on their own, and therefore, would not interfere with what’s going on there. That is as it should be and allow the anti-graft agencies do their job as best they can without any form of political or executive interference whatsoever that could amount to obstruction of justice. To that extent, therefore, I would give the president some credit for issuing that statement to make that position absolutely clear to all. The anti-graft agencies must be given a free hand to operate under the laws and let the courts do their jobs administering justice with no outside interferences whatsoever.

In conclusion, if anyone is looking for the next shoe to drop after Ogbulafor, he or she might not be altogether mistaken for looking in the direction of the Speaker Bankole, King Kong of Nigeria’s House of Corruption. Where else should we be looking, anyway? All things being equal the shoe might drop before long in the ongoing efforts to cleanse the Augean stable and give the nation a new lease of life devoid of scams, schemes and corruption scandals in high places. It’s time to say to them: Enough is enough, straighten out your acts or get the hell out!

 

Franklin Otorofani, Esq. contact: mudiagaone@yahoo.com

 



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