OrderPaperToday – The ‘off your mic’ saga stands out among four other ugly moments in the House of Representatives during the year 2020.
Good, bad and ugly…
The year 2020 was a difficult year for the entire would, and the National Assembly was not shielded from the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak. The country had to cope with the #EndSARS protest, general insecurity and a second recession in less than five years.
The House of Representatives had its moments of the good, bad and the ugly. On the good side would be the digitalization of the House of Representatives chamber and intervention into the planned strike by resident doctors over hazard allowance.
However, despite these positive flickers, the lawmakers had some ugly and controversial moments such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) investigative hearing and the unforgettable scandal of “off your mic’ and the incidence of wry laughter at the plight of Nigerians stranded in Wuhan China.
Here is a recap of those moments:
- Trivializing travails of Nigerians stranded in Wuhan China
At the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan China, 65 Nigerians in China called for help to return to Nigeria due to the deadly disease. In February, Mr. Ben Kalu (APC, Abia) attempted to move a motion on the floor of the House for Nigeria to evacuate the stranded Nigerians but surprisingly members did not allow Kalu to move the motion. Aside from opposing the motion, several members of the House turned it to a trivial issue by laughing over it.
- Covid-19 shutdowns
At the outbreak of COVID-19, the National Assembly initially went missing in action at a time other countries adopted technology to continue to offer solutions to the impacts of the pandemic on the economy. Initially, the House of Representatives adjourned for 2 weeks, only to extend the break for another 3 weeks to make it 5 weeks in total. And upon resumption, sitting days were reduced from 3 days per week to 1 day for a couple of weeks. These breaks attracted huge criticisms from a cross section of the public. Although the House passed a pandemic stimulus bill, the senate did not consider the bill before the National Assembly adjourned in March and nothing was heard of the matter again.
- Plagiarized quarantine bill
In a bid to repeal the archaic quarantine law of 1929, the House of Representatives plagiarized a legislation from Singapore. The bill drew the ire of Nigerians with condemnations of the provisions considered draconia. The controversy was further exacerbated by the attempt by the House to rush through the bill without public hearing until it was forced to beat a retreat. Furthermore, the provision in the bill on mandatory vaccination also generated lots of controversy with accusation of bribery by the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP).
- N37billion NASS renovation bill
Following the passage of the 2020 budget, reports emerged that the National Assembly budgeted N37billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex. The development generated uproar on social media as several members denied and denounced the allocation. Akin Alabi, the lawmaker representing Egbeda/Ono-Ara federal constituency, alleged that the item was not debated on the floor of the House. Other members such Bamidele Salami (PDP, Osun) and Legor Idagbo (PDP, Cross River) both called for downward review of the allocation. The 2020 appropriation was later amended with reports of reduction of the allocation to N9billion.
- NDDC and “off your mic” scandal
Nigeria has a history of people slumping under interrogation, especially in the courts. But the ‘slumping’ of the then acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Kemebradikumo Pondei, during public hearing by a House Committee televised live on major television stations, introduced the antic in another dimension. The ‘slumping’ of Mr. Pondi was just a small part of the drama that happened during the investigation. Earlier, the Chairman of the Committee had to recuse himself from chairing the exercise due to accusations of conflict of interest.
Later on the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Goodswill Akpabio at the hearing dropped a bombshell by alleging that 60% of the contracts in the NDDC were given to some members of the National Assembly. This triggered a drama by the acting Chairman of the Committee, Thomas Ereyitomi, who tried to shut Akpabio by shouting ‘Honourable Minister! It’s okay, off your mic!” However, Akpabio later recanted his statement following threat of legal action by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, who gave him 48 hours to reveal the names of the beneficiaries of the NDDC contracts. Akpabio however later released some names of lawmakers who he claimed benefitted from contracts from the commission. The NDDC corruption saga, highlighted by the ‘off your mic’ statement that turned into memes in social media, has remained under the carpet till date.