A VERY BIG GRAVEYARD
Let the records show that Patricia Olubunmi Etteh has a curious history. According to her resume at the National Assembly website, Mrs. Etteh served as Minority Chief Whip in the House of Representatives between 1994 and 2002.
Actually, that is impossible; in 1994, our nation was in the rigid hands of General Sani Abacha. The history books remind us Abacha died in June 1998 and was succeeded by another soldier. In other words, Mrs. Etteh's may have been Minority Chief Whip somewhere for five years before 1999, but it was not in Nigeria.
If she actually served five years there, it is out of character. Mrs. Etteh's first job was as a Data Processor in the Oyo State Ministry of Finance in 1973, for one year. (I wonder why). She then worked for Etteh Aro and Partners, again for about one year (I wonder why!)
By then, it seemed she had had enough of the tough life. In 1976, at the age of 23, she declared the Diploma era open. That year, she took a "Diploma in Modelling" in London. In 1977, she took a "Diploma in Beauty Culture." It would be another 25 years before she would touch another Diploma.
That year, 1977, fresh from the famous Morris School of Beauty, location un-named, she became Managing Director of "Foloons Beauty Centre in Ibadan, a position she would hold until 1999. Apparently, while she was Minority Chief Whip (Somewhere), she was also MD at Foloons.
Around that same time, the Diploma bug returned. To placate it, she rushed to the University of Abuja and took the Diploma in Law (2002). That set the stage for an important transition, because in 2003, she became Deputy Chief Whip, a position she would hold until this year. That does not mean she was lazy: in 2006, she headed for the famous Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, and received a Certificate in Leadership Development.
Mrs. Etteh was then set to introduce herself in bigger and brighter lights. By the time you read this, she would have fulfilled her destiny as a socio-political scandal. In one of the more bizarre chapters of our national life last June, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), unleashed Mrs. Etteh on Nigeria as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Very little has been accomplished in the House since then, as Mrs. Etteh led the House into its darkest hours. Although her greed and duplicity had been firmly established by a panel of the House that indicted her for corruption, the hairdresser clung to the job of Speaker.
Her name certain to be emblazoned in large letters of thunder and lightning in the hallways of infamy, she returned to the House last Tuesday, determined to remain Speaker. After all, the House has a PDP majority.
Her return and insistence on presiding over her own fate was a tumultuous disgrace that could only have been topped by what followed: tragedy. In the midst of the fighting, someone dropped to the floor, dying. It was not Patricia Etteh; she was too busy welding herself to the title of Speaker.
Aminu Shuaibu Safana (PDP, Katsina) was soon pronounced dead, a midday sacrifice at the altar of hypocrisy and greed. Unimpressed by the symbolism, Mrs. Etteh fled the scene, having made certain that she was still Madam Speaker.
Now, we can blame Mrs. Etteh for her corruption, and for her greed, and even for the death of Representative Safana. But wait.
Let us remember that Mrs. Etteh - a beautician with little education and even less political and legislative savvy - was minding her own business when The Snake came along.
And The Snake said: "Madam, you are so beautiful. Your skin is lovelier than Ambi cream and your face fairer than the rainbow. You have been making others beautiful year after year after year. How would you like to be feted and spoilt and worshipped?"
And Mrs. Etteh said, "Who, me?"
And The Snake said, "Yes, lovely one. The position of Speaker of the House of Representatives is vacant. You could Speak."
Mrs. Etteh, her large eyes rolling behind heavily-painted lids, laughed. "Stop kidding," she said to The Snake. "What is a Speaker? Is it that thing they use for music?"
The Snake slithered closer. "Aha!" it said. "There is nothing to it. You will be the boss. You will have legions of servants of all categories. Whatever there is to be done or said, they will tell you and write it down for you."
Mrs. Etteh's heart began pound her ribs. It seemed The Snake was offering her a new life. "They will take care of h-everything?"
"Of course they will. But that is not the best part. You will run a budget of billions of Naira."
The beautician could barely breathe. "Billions?" It was a whisper.
It was the turn of The Snake's eyelids to flutter. "Billions," it repeated, casually. "You can vacation in Canada, celebrate your birthday in Washington, D.C. You can travel in executive jets and stay in the finest hotels. Only the best will be good enough for you. All you have to do is say "YES.'"
"Just ÔÇśYES'? Are you joking? Give me a hug!"
And with that, Mrs. Etteh dashed into the slithering, treacherous arms of the PDP. But The Snake proved to be true to its word. In days, she was traveling in style: LagosÔÇŽLondonÔÇŽWashington D.C. People were waiting on her. They provided every hotel suite and every adjective she needed. They even showed her the numbers: columns of Naira so massive she could not believe them. The estate was hers, The Snake said.
And that explains why, in the past month, the hairdresser stuck to the mace like 419 to a Nigerian. The party brass told her the Speaker-ship would remain hers. Party leader Obasanjo headed for Abuja in her support. Some chose not to speak, such as President Umaru Yar'Adua, but their silence alone was support. Their allegiance was to their party, not their country. They were telling Mrs. Etteh to touch up her make-up; she was going to "win."
Now, this has taken me nine years, but I have finally figured out the menace of the PDP. Minutes before Representative Safana lost his life in the shameful physical confrontation on the floor of the house, Mrs Etteh's "supporters" were singing a song in which they repeatedly praised her as "winner."
Winner? This woman, remember, was indicted for several ugly offences, and ought to have vacated her position as a question of principle. Elsewhere, that would be the province of right and wrong, otherwise known as morality and ethics.
Apparently, this is not the case in the PDP, where they measure only by the letter ÔÇśW.' That confirms the party's behavior in elections, where no measure is too ugly to be rejected in the bid to win at all cost. We have seen them cheat, condone, cover-up, confuse, and carve-up.
Winner? Etteh? This is about party victory, PDP?
What about responsibility and leadership; Nigeria and her best interests; electoral promises and the betrayed voter? What about our corporate interest?
Mrs. Etteh will remain the face of this international embarrassment, and I am sure the government will soon vote billions of Naira to "repair" our damaged image. But it is the PDP that provides the philosophical milieu for night to become day, and wrong to be celebrated as right.
Just as Mrs. Etteh took the House hostage, what the PDP has achieved is to justify Nigeria being kidnapped by their "winners". This clarifies the difficulty of trying to prosecute them. Under the PDP, the looting of Nigeria is not really a crime; it is a privilege. It is a game that is neither right nor wrong. You can "win" or lose.
When you think about it, that is exactly the philosophy behind Advance Fee Fraud. Remember the famous lyrics of Nkem Owoh from the song, "I Go Chop Your Dollar"? In the PDP, those lyrics emerge as follows:
"Nigerian man I go chop your Naira,
I go take your money and disappear
Government is just a game,
You are the loser I am the winnerÔÇŽ"
Translation: If there is any Nigerian truly concerned about Nigeria, there is only one thing to do: join the PDP, or be prepared to fight. Up ahead, there is a real war. This is a seriously damaged country, and a big graveyard will be required.