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Column No.6: The shock of Akpabio’s Twilight Zone tendencies

One of my favourite TV programmes is the ever-popular ‘The Twilight Zone’, a classic science fiction anthology series about ordinary people trapped in extraordinary situations…

One of my favourite TV programmes is the ever-popular ‘The Twilight Zone’, a classic science fiction anthology series about ordinary people trapped in extraordinary situations involving futuristic societies, space travel, alien invasions, telepathy, dreams, death and the afterlife, time travel, and cautionary tales of dystopian societies, etc. It has also jumped into popular English over the years to mean, or refer to, an ill-defined area between two distinct conditions and categories, usually comprising certain features of both. You know, an indefinite boundary: a twilight zone between fantasy and reality.

Now, this sounds very much like how living in Nigeria feels like right now, when one takes even a cursory look around. Even the news sounds like far-fetched fiction or fantasy. Examples are legion, so I will focus on two that have gotten my proverbial goat in the most violent way. Yesterday, in the news (that landscape eerily resembling The Twilight Zone most of the time), Senate President Godswill Akpabio was reported as having disclosed plans by the leadership of the National Assembly (read: himself) to build a state-of-the-art medical facility for senators, House of Representatives members, guests and staff of the legislative body, adding that the medical facility would be given top priority in the second legislative year.

After he said it is meant to “provide functional and effective healthcare for all” (even though ‘all’ doesn’t mean ‘National Assembly’ in any language known to man), he attempted to soften the blunt force of it all by adding “Last legislative year, we also completed and commissioned the National Assembly Library.” Wow, hooray. To cap it all up in a show of the most self-unaware irony I have ever witnessed, he addressed lawmakers, asking them to “be committed about the welfare of the people in their actions and decisions, adding that they shouldn’t forget the cardinal principle of service to the people”.

Now, if you are confused, you are certainly forgiven. I, on the other hand, am flabbergasted at the depth or shallowness of Akpabio’s double-speak. Like, his would be the epitome of saying one thing and meaning another by a politician. And can you believe it actually gets stranger? That’s because the very young 10th National Assembly, which clocked one year on June 13, 2024, already has a clinic. How much more Twilight Zone can things get? To say this very action shows that the National Assembly’s head is in the sand is an insult to ostriches.

Which leads us to the other recent ‘Twilight Zone’ incident involving Akpabio, with which this column was supposed to begin, but I could not wrap my head around a ‘lawmaker-only hospital or the elite’. So, he said elsewhere on Thursday, that the aptly-named Red Chamber will approve funds for the purchase of a new presidential jet if requested by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, even if he had not received any correspondence from the president requesting the Senate’s approval for a presidential jet.

What’s weird is he said this after a closed-door meeting of senators at the chambers, which was reported to have lasted for about an hour. The senators had cut short their recess, and returned for an emergency session to consider a bill for an act to amend the 2023 supplementary appropriation act, as requested by President Tinubu. So why offer such a fantastical anecdote? Experts on Nigerian politics (which includes at least two thirds of the Nigerian population on the internet) swear that it means that ridiculous action, especially given the state of our economy, is being considered.

Akpabio, I am told, said this with a straight face: “I read the president’s correspondence to us. Nothing was touching on a plane or no plane, but I can tell you that when you hear stories such as the death of the vice president of Malawi as a result of a defective plane, and then you hear the death of the president of Iran as a result of defective aircraft, we shouldn’t ever sit and allow such to be at the ocean.”

Honestly, I miss the senators of two decades ago. They would come up with some preposterous things, but never ‘Twilight Zone’-level ridiculousness.

What gave me cause for pause is that, again, Akpabio said something like ‘We will approve things that would improve the living standard of the people. At the same time, we will also take cognizance of the duties of the president’. “If his vehicle is bad, we will repair the vehicle. If his plane is bad, we will approve money for the repair of the plane. So that is not an issue. There is nothing before us. I don’t think you should worry about it.” But somehow, all I feel is worry, even if a bevy of senators insist there’s nothing like that before them. Trust between the lawmakers and the people, simply put, does not exist. And that is what Akpabio should strive for.

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