On Wednesday, December 19, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari arrived the green chamber of the National Assembly to a chorus of boos, jeers and unkind chants from Nigeria’s ‘Distinguished’ and ‘Honorable’ lawmakers.
I was following most of the budget presentation session on television and it was such a show of shame. This piece is not about disrespect for the office of the president. It's much more than that.
Yes, I know it’s silly season in our nation’s politics. Yes, I’m aware that in an often heated bipartisan legislature, what happened last Wednesday should be excused. Yes, I know that boos and jeers come with the political territory and yes, I do know that the legislature and the executive arms of government should be encouraged to go on collision courses every so often for the good of our democracy, because dissent sometimes breeds the kind of bipartisan compromise that will benefit the lot of the people.
What I do not get is why the boos and jeers weren’t dished out to Buhari when he presented the 2016, 2017 and 2018 budgets. Why was Buhari not called a “liar” and “thief” when he presented all of the budgets preceding the 2019 one?
I’d tell you why, since you asked. Those catcalls, name calling, mud throwing, boos, heckling and jeers weren’t Buhari’s lot in previous budget presentations because the national assembly was still being led by APC lawmakers in name.
Once the pair of Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Senate President Bukola Saraki switched camps to the PDP last summer; and seeing as there's another election season on the horizon in which these two are major players, the opposition PDP side of the aisle found its voice and unruliness.
This therefore was not about whether the Buhari led federal government recorded appreciable levels of budget performance in 2018 or whether bridges and roads were constructed or not.
This was not about whether Nigeria has become the poorest nation in the world on Buhari’s watch or whether maternal mortality rates or illiteracy levels have reached record highs. The lawmakers weren’t booing and jeering because more Nigerians are now unemployed than there were when Buhari assumed the reins in 2015.
These lawmakers were booing because it’s politics season and because in politics season, everything goes. They were heckling to score cheap political points.
This was therefore a self-serving boo-fest from a bunch of overpaid, over-pampered and unruly lawmakers, some of whom are still hurt that they were denied automatic tickets to return in 2019 on the APC platform.
This was a revolt from lawmakers who have now defected to the opposing camp and thought it politically expedient to rain on Buhari’s parade in order to stop him from reeling out the APC’s perceived achievements, because doing so could harm the PDP’s chances of seizing power in 2019.
This was essentially about politics, not about the average Nigerian. And that, right there, is why this disgusts so much. Because what you saw on Wednesday was a budget presentation session—an exercise that should have been taken seriously by lawmakers who are adept at padding fiscal estimates—being turned into a political theater.
This was no State of the Union kind of address where some heckling is permissible and understandable. This was a speech about how money will be spent across the health, education and the economic sectors in the next fiscal year. This was a speech about the man on the streets—the so called 'average Nigeria'.
Lawmakers should have been listening attentively and taking notes, with a determination to rigorously debate the president’s estimates in heated closed door sessions. Instead, they cussed and booed because they know no better. If you were one of the booing lawmakers reading this, here's for you: You let your constituents and yourself down. You should be so, so ashamed of yourself.