Yes, good things are happening in Nigeria. True, both
the momentum and quantum of change are hardly where
most Nigerians would want them to be. Given the
nation’s decades of disappointment and waste,
Nigerians understandably desire—and deserve—dramatic
leaps, not jaunts. But it’s time to take an inventory
of national gains. And while we must work to sustain
as well as extend the gains, it makes sense to thank
God for small mercies.

Reflecting on recent positive events, my mind returned
again and again to a play by a young American
playwright and thespian. Dan Hoyle, who spent an
enlightening year in the Niger Delta as a Fulbright
scholar, has written a captivating play titled tings
dey happen. The one-man play, a brilliant mélange of
voices and perspectives that captures both the
resilience and distress of the Niger Delta, has been a
hit since its debut. It is currently enjoying a
terrific off-Broadway production.

Like Karl Maier’s This House has Fallen, a compendious
and insightful book on contemporary Nigerian politics,
Hoyle’s play is infused with the energy, sheer drama
and undying spirit that are Nigerian hallmarks. It is
at once a portrait of a nation’s desultory journey and
a testament to hope and tenacity.

For Hoyle, the Nigerian landscape is without any dull
moments. In the midst of all the chaos and upheavals,
Nigerians find a way to survive, a way to extend their
lease on hope even when life seems unremittingly
bleak. For Nigerians, tings dey always happen. Bad
things mostly, but also the occasional morale
boosting, spirit-lifting good thing.

Nigerians have been strafed and buffeted by too many
disasters. Often by man-made disasters called leaders.
They’ve been stomped, deceived and sold out by knaves
posing as men and women of integrity. They have
suffered through many seasons of disillusionment, many
locust years. Through it all, they struggled sometimes
quietly, sometimes mightily, but they always clung to
hope. Their investment is bearing (some) fruit.

After weeks of defying the nation, Speaker Patricia
Etteh was last week forced to surrender. It should not
have come this far. To begin with, any Nigerian
entrusted with the office of speaker ought to have
recognized it was obscene to devote more than six
hundred million naira to spruce up two residences and
buy cars. Considering the depth of social misery in
Nigeria, Etteh ought to have recoiled in horror the
moment she peeked at the renovation’s price tag. She
should not have squandered such an Olympian amount on
her comfort. Not in a country that is, for most
practical purposes, roadless, hospitalless, waterless,
electricityless.

Etteh has blamed journalists for her fall. It’s a
familiar cop-out. Did journalists push her to expend a
vulgar sum on self-aggrandizing luxuries in a country
whose citizenry is trapped in squalor? Did some
reporter advise her to ignore proper procedure for the
award of contracts?

Etteh erred gravely. Then she compounded the error of
financial recklessness with political arrogance. She
disdained widespread calls to step down. Emboldened by
her sponsors, she fastened on tedious and unconvincing
semantic hair-splitting. She insisted that the panel
that probed the renovation contract had not conflated
her name and the word “indicted” in its report. Her
obstinacy grounded the business of the house, and on
two occasions triggered free-for-all fisticuffs that
might have served as excellent advertisement for the
World Wrestling Entertainment. Not even after one of
her stoutest cheerleaders slumped and died was she
moved to reconsider her untenable position.

In the end, it took the real threat of impeachment to
bring her back down to earth. And to a resignation
that should have happened several weeks ago.

Etteh’s intransigence, while ill advised, has produced
a collateral dividend. When the members sat down to
the business of electing Etteh’s successor, they
resoundingly rejected the candidate who bore the
ruling party’s imprimatur. Instead, they settled for
Oladimeji Bankole, a highly educated member, the kind
of man in whose company Etteh’s chief sponsor, former
President Olusegun Obasanjo, takes little delight. In
demurring from the party line, the members served
notice, one hopes, of a house awakening to a new sense
of its independence. Good things dey happen.

Speaker Bankole would do well to avoid the pitfalls
that an insouciant Etteh fell into. Nigerians deserve
a speaker who owes his elevation not to chumminess to
Obasanjo but to the possession of sound legislative
acumen. They deserve a speaker who is seized by a
vision of how to deploy law-making to solve real
problems. Though presiding over an undistinguished
chamber, most of whose members have questionable
mandate, Mr. Bankole must set clear legislative
agenda.

If the new speaker must approve any contracts, he had
better ensure that the letter and spirit of due
process are met. In fact, the speaker ought to
champion the full establishment and empowerment of the
Bureau for Public Procurement. This bureau, when fully
functional, should assume the role of overseeing all
aspects of government contracts. Acting as a clearing
house, the bureau would ensure that all public sector
contracts are properly advertised, that the bidding
process is transparent, that contracts are not unduly
inflated but stay within justifiable limits, and that
bids are evaluated with professionally sound criteria.

In a sense, the absence of such an effective oversight
bureau made it possible for Etteh to bungle her way
into a scandalous contract. The fiasco of her
renovation contract was far from an isolated case. A
study commissioned by Obasanjo in 2001 concluded that
Nigeria has lost several hundred billions of naira
owing to lax or non-existent public procurement
practices. It is time to stop the bleeding of scarce
resources, and adopt adept contractual monitoring. By
making this one of his legislative priorities, Mr.
Bankole would spare himself the kind of embarrassment
that swept Etteh from her perch. And he would help
Nigeria to save a ton of money. And the nation needs
every naira it can save.

In terms of positive developments in the country,
there is no question that the judiciary deserves
special commendation. It is hard to explain the
resurgence of judicial courage, but more and more
Nigerians are now reposing faith in judges to right
wrongs and set a redemptive tone to the nation’s
business. Led by the superb example of the justices of
the Supreme Court, a growing number of Nigerian judges
seem to have risen to the challenge of checking
egregious illegalities in the body politic. In the
run-up to April’s marred elections, the courts stepped
in on occasion after occasion to rein in Obasanjo’s
bid to frustrate rival candidates he wished to
exclude.

Going by judicial reversals of some of the more
bizarre outcomes of the April polls, some members of
the judiciary remain alert to their duty. In ruling on
electoral challenges with relative dispatch, and also
in torpedoing some controversial verdicts, the
judiciary has given Nigerians cause to hope. It is
true that many judges continue to deliver baffling
judgments, and that some still seem wedded to
timidity, inspiring suspicion of their susceptibility
to bribes. Even so, Nigerians daily encounter
judgments that make them proud in the caliber of the
men and women on the bench. The streak of electoral
reversals is a departure from the trend that followed
the 2003 elections. Then, the judges seemed united in
a frenzy to validate a mindlessly rigged election.

Thanks to the fierce courage of many judges, Nigerians
can now dare to hope that many usurper governors,
senators, representatives and state assembly members
are going to be sent parking. It is to the credit of
the judiciary that some Nigerians even contemplate the
prospect of a verdict invalidating the presidential
election.

Good things dey happen. When Nigerians stood up as one
and fought to abort Obasanjo’s illegitimate third term
dreams, it was a beautiful moment. When then Senate
President Ken Nnamani rejected the former president’s
orders to sack T.V. cameras from the chambers of the
upper house, the better to facilitate surreptitious
approval of tenure elongation, Nigerians enjoyed a
buoyant moment. When former immunity-fortified public
officials who stole the public trust blind are
compelled to face prosecution, to live as execrated
exiles, or to walk about in anxiety and have sleepless
nights, then it’s a good dawn in Nigeria. Tings dey
happen for Nigeria. And we can add: a few good things
dey happen.

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