On Wednesday, November 29, when President Bola Tinubu appeared before the joint session of the National Assembly to present the 2024 budget, Nigerians watched in utter amazement as the lawmakers rendered an allegiance song to the President.
Their action is generating diverse reactions, with many lamenting that it was only aimed at impressing and massaging the ego of President Tinubu, a development that has been described as the height of sycophancy on the part of the lawmakers
Tinubu met with the joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, in company with his vice president, Kashim Shettima; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume; Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila; and other top government officials, to present the 2024 budget.
But, Nigerians were taken aback when the lawmakers, rather than concentrate on the important business of the day, turned the whole exercise to what some people have referred to as comic relief of a sort.
Soon after the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, finished presenting his speech, and said: “Distinguished colleagues, at this point, let us welcome the president; a man with track records and an alumnus of the National Assembly, to present his budget estimate,” members of the Red and Green legislative chambers relapsed into a singing mode.
They all stood up, sang and chorused: “On your mandate we shall stand; on your mandate we shall stand; on your mandate Bola, on your mandate Bola, on your mandate, we shall stand,” to the amazement and consternation of many, but also to the admiration of Mr. President and his supporters.
The president’s gladness over the development was immediately made known when he thanked Akpabio for his outstanding speech and admitted that he felt at home receiving the applause and praises.
Prior to the orchestra, the Senate President had, in a manner many have also described as an attempt to trivialise the serious business of the day, made reference to the fact that in 24 years of democracy, Nigeria was able to achieve what the United States of America, with its 247 years of democracy achieved in 185 years.
Expounding the puzzle, he noted that it was in the 185th year of democratic practice in America that the country was able to produce two former senators as president and vice president, in the persons of John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, a feat Nigeria achieved in 24 years of its democratic experience by producing two former senators, Tinubu and Shettima as president and vice president, respectively.
This analogy, many argued, was not necessary, considering the fact that Nigeria’s brand of democracy cannot be found anywhere in the world.
Those who hold this view stressed that by that analogy, Akpabio only embarked on a fruitless voyage of entertainment, because American democracy cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be compared with what obtains in Nigeria as democracy.
However, after the euphoria and drama that greeted the announcement of the presence of President Tinubu and his team, the president mounted the podium to present the budget he christened, “Budget of Renewed Hope.”
The President promised that the budget would ensure micro-economic stability, poverty reduction, and greater access to social security, among others. He went ahead to highlight the priority areas to include security, local job creation, macro-economic stability, investment environment optimization, human capital development, poverty reduction, and social security.
He equally announced plans for a comprehensive overhaul of the internal security architecture, stressing that the objective is to strengthen law enforcement capabilities, fostering the protection of lives, property, and investments across the country. He also noted that the proposed budget places significant importance on human capital development, with a specific emphasis on school children.
“We expect the economy to grow by a minimum of 3.76 percent, above the forecasted world average. Inflation is expected to moderate at 21.4 percent in 2024. In preparing the 2024 budget, our primary objective has been to sustain our robust foundation for sustainable economic development. A critical focus of this budget and the medium-term expenditure framework is Nigeria’s commitment to a greener future.
“Emphasising public-private partnerships, we have strategically made provisions to leverage private capital for big-ticket infrastructure projects in energy, transportation, and other sectors. This marks a critical step towards diversifying our energy mix, enhancing efficiency, and fostering the development of renewable energy sources.
“By allocating resources to support innovative and environmentally conscious initiatives, we aim to position Nigeria as a regional leader in the global movement towards clean and sustainable energy.
“As we approach the COP28 climate summit, a pivotal moment for global climate action, I have directed relevant government agencies to diligently work towards securing substantial funding commitments that will bolster Nigeria’s energy transition.
“We must seize this opportunity to attract international partnerships and investments that align with our national goals. I call upon our representatives to engage proactively to showcase the strides we have made in the quest to create an enabling environment for sustainable energy projects.
“Together, we will strive for Nigeria to emerge from COP28 with tangible commitments, reinforcing our dedication to a future, where energy is not only a catalyst for development, but also, a driver of environmental stewardship,” he said.
However, as robust as the budget appears, Nigerians seem to have focused on the attitude of the lawmakers rather than on critical sectoral analysis of the budget.
The parliamentary orchestra overshadowed the budget presentation such that Nigerians have continued to talk about it instead of the budget.
Some people have argued that Akpabio is creating a strange development in the upper legislative chamber, and that his sycophancy is beyond the ordinary.
Those pushing this narrative are saying that the leadership of the Ninth Assembly led by Ahmed Lawan would be livid with envy watching what Akpabio and his group are doing.
One of those with this view is a public administrator, Mr. Innocent Mamah, who noted that when it comes to sycophancy, Akpabio is in a world of his own.
“When you talk about rubber-stampism, give it to Akpabio. Nobody can go into that contest with him.
“The National Assembly under his leadership is a complete lap dog; it has abandoned its watchdog role a long time ago. What happened on the floor of the national assembly on November 29 is a national embarrassment.
“For goodness’ sake, the song was not necessary. It was uncalled for because in the first instance, the programme wasn’t a party affair; it was a national assignment, budget presentation.
“The National Assembly under Akpabio, with all due respect, has become an extension of the executive arm of government.
“He dances to the whims and caprices of the presidency. I am sure that by the time he is done with his plans, Nigerians will no longer understand the national assembly,” he told DAILY POST.
Much as the criticisms keep pouring in, there are those who said that Akpabio was only building on what he inherited from his predecessors in the Ninth Assembly.
Leading this line of argument is a Lagos-based legal practitioner, Romanus Okoye, who made reference to a similar thing during former President Muhammadu’s Buhari’s first tenure.
He told DAILY POST that, “Similar thing happened when Buhari went to present a budget before the National Assembly in his first tenure.
“All the lawmakers stood up and raised the four fingers of their two hands amidst cheers and chants of four plus four. That was a subtle message to Nigerians that Buhari would go for a second term of four years.
“And that was during Buhari’s first budget presentation. It didn’t matter to them that Nigerians were passing through excruciating economic pains; they just wanted to impress him and massage his ego to be in his good books.
“That is just exactly the same thing that has happened. The lawmakers just wanted to be in Tinubu’s good books. But, it is a shame that the hallowed chamber of the national assembly has been so desecrated to a level where lawmakers behave like touts.”
Again, there are those who would want to believe that not all the lawmakers joined to chorus the song, as some maintained studied silence.
This was clearly demonstrated from the mien of many of the lawmakers, majority of whom are from the opposition. They wore very long faces as the song rented the air.
However, the fact remains that the voices of those who abstained were not heard.
They were beaten into line; at least, there was no protest about the drama.
For the former National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Maxi Okwu, he told DAILY POST that it was a show of shame and sheer tomfoolery.
He said: “I have stopped watching all these shows and skits from the National Assembly. But from the popular account of what happened, this Akpabio-led National Assembly will go down in history as the most sycophantic and irresponsible. This 10th National Assembly will outdo the Ninth National Assembly in sycophancy and court jesty.
“How could a credible National Assembly that is supposed to be the watchdog on the executive excesses, engage in tomfoolery? But, that is the lot that Nigerians have found themselves in, and we just have to hope for the best, although I have personally given up.”
Also writing on his social media X handle, a man identified as Bigwig Austin, condemned the lawmakers, saying, “National Assembly singing for Tinubu? We have witnessed a rubber-stamp senate under Ahmed Lawan, but this Godswill Akpabio’s senate is a collective hypemen.
“He has moved from wearing Tinubu’s cap to ‘On your mandate’ hype-lord right on the floor of the Senate.
“Every well meaning Nigerian must condemn this rendition of Tinubu’s campaign in the National Assembly chamber. God forbid this outright evidence of totalitarianism.”
Similarly, Dr. Reuben Abati of Arise Television, analysing the issue during the Arise TV Morning Show on Thursday, equally frowned at the development, saying it must be condemned.
He lamented that such action most often leads to dictatorship by the leaders in most African countries. “This is how parliaments in Africa turn their presidents into dictators,” he said.
He argued that a National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a collection of people from different political parties, including the Labour Party, LP, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, the New Nigerian Peoples Party, NNPP, and others.
“It is a place for lawmaking. This kind of open sycophancy is punitive. ‘On your mandate we shall stand’ is a song or slogan for the ruling All Progressives congress, APC. So, the APC cannot hijack a bipartisan National Assembly, where there are other political parties representing the interest of Nigeria.
“And if you look at the result of the elections, it is not every Nigerian that is standing on the mandate of President Tinubu. When the president arrives at an occasion, the appropriate song to play is the national anthem. And the budget presentation is a national occasion; so it is something to be condemned,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Senator Ali Ndume has defended the action of his colleagues, declaring that though it was not right, it was not a crime.
Ndume, while appearing on Channels Television, said, “It happens; it is not a crime, it is a right.”
When asked by the presenter when it makes them look good, he answered: “Not really, but in this country, we used to pick on trivial things. When your President walks in, there are times some people will even take the advantage to challenge the President directly.
“I remember when I was in the House, I was in the opposition then; there was one of our colleagues, we called him ‘Pia Pia’; when the President came and started making long presentation, Obasanjo was the President, he stood up and said in Hausa, that it is a lie. And the President was shocked, Obasanjo. Then he sat down and the President continued; it is normal.
“Buhari came sometime back, this same thing was done; ‘say Baba, say Baba’. So, why should Tinubu’s case be something different?
“Is it now because Tinubu is the President? I’m saying it is not right, but equally it is not a crime.”
He added that, “even in America, where we are copying from, they have issues like that; there was a time Donald Trump went to make a presentation, he presented a speech, which is the tradition, the Speaker tore the speech in front of the President.”