The Nigerian senate recently produced two widely reported back-to-back stream of consciousness remarks that are more becoming of a pub than the highest lawmaking body of a real country. The two utterances share an easily recognizable misogynistic kernel. They emanated from ‘distinguished senators’ Ali Ndume and Dino Melaye.
The similarity and sequence of their quotes suggest either a conspiracy or plagiarism. Ndume’s abominable comment was a follow-up to Melaye’s; the remix of the forerunner’s words. Taken together, though, the disparaging insults, an utterly mendacious catechism, represent an attack on the inviolable truth of the personhood of the human female gender!
The latter issued forth on Tuesday, 2016 International Women’s Day. Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu (APC, Lagos Central) sponsored a motion to mark the day. Now, that’s an alligned time-and-chance opportunity for the male-dominated senate to salute the Nigerian woman and expose the societal strictures that restrict the expression of her genius. It was an apt moment to focalize the nation on a violence-prone Darwinian politics that forecloses meaningful women participation and its narrow paternalistic gateway that grudgingly opens as tokenistic IOU towards affirmative action.
Nigerian women have a broad spectrum of challenges: Institutionalized sexist discrimination. The rape epidemic. Punitive widowhood practices. Maternal mortality. Domestic violence. Breast cancer.
Raising one of these germane talking points and fleshing it out in simple prose would have sufficed. The Nigerian senator doesn’t have to hit the sweet spot between brilliance and oratory. We understand that the senators are not the cream of Nigeria’s most talented brainpower. We know that they are former governors, wives of former governors, sons of former governors, ex- ministers, and valets of former presidents, fugitive drug barons and many shades of thieves.
The senate is their retirement home, shelter from their criminal past, and an antidote to elitist boredom. Their seats are mere sinecures, positions that fetch them one of the highest parliamentary remunerations in the world…for the work of actively vegetating!
And so the bar is low. We don’t expect them to shock us with coruscating wit. We only expect that when they pull themselves up to full height, introduce themselves and their ‘constituency’, they would manage to stay on point and say something that will sound minimally commonsensical to an average primary school child!
But the Senate Leader Ndume (APC, Borno South) stood up to ‘contribute’ to Tinubu’s motion and peddled a phallocentric tale that belongs to the cave of dark centuries. He claimed that ‘’the first care of women is marriage’’ and implored Nigerian men to go beyond dating Nigerian women to acquiring them.
Ndume, for dramatic effect, directly addressed the chair. He asked Senate President Saraki to ‘’consider marrying more than one wife.’’
And Ndume did more: He vented his wish to see the Nigerian senate enact a piece of legislation criminalizing monogamy and mandating compulsory, by-fire-by-force polygamy!
Ndume – the third in senate order of protocol – it must be emphasized, uttered this rubbish with a look of resolute seriousness. He wasn’t jesting. He meant every of bit of what he said. And he retailed this bankrupt worldview, in his words, ‘’as a mark of respect to Nigerian women.’’
Ndume’s comment portrays him as a crude, uncouth illiterate. His profile looks better than that. He is relatively well read and exposed. Former polytechnic lecturer. A two term member of the House of Representatives; and Minority Leader (2007-2011).
This means that he should have known better than to purport to reduce Nigerian women to goods and chattel. He should have known better than to insinuate that state-enforced polygamy explosion is the cure-all solution to all the problems of the Nigerian women. He should have known better than to turn his speaking lot into an interloper’s license to critique the configuration of another man’s family.
The transparent stupidity of Ndume’s prayer, notwithstanding, he had an eager seconder. ‘Senator’ Suleiman Nazif (APC, Bauchi North) backed the call to make Nigeria a polygamy state. Nazif obviously wanted a place in the history books… as the second champion of the polygamy-for-all revolution!
The implication of Ndume’s proposition was lost on him. As at 2009, 10 million street children were roaming the streets of Northern Nigeria. They begged to live and lived to beg. They are products of the overlap of culture-sanctioned polygamy, birth control illiteracy and endemic poverty. Ndume’s idea will multiply their number.
Last week, it was Dino Melaye, the vanity-obsessed, compulsive car collector, who objectified womenfolk.
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South) sponsored a motion on the ‘’Need for patronization of made-in-Nigeria goods in Nigeria’’. Necessity birthed that motion. In the light of the fall of crude price and the correlated fall of the naira, the question of how to curtail capital flight has become a matter of national emergency. And Nigerians, on their own, have been using the platforms of the social media to promote abstinence from foreign goods and patronization of locally made products.
Five senators, including Ben Murray Bruce (PDP, Bayelsa East), a paid-up enthusiast of the virtual campaign, spoke in support of the motion. Saraki recognized Melaye to cap the discussion. Melaye, in no time, destroyed the atmosphere of sobriety he had inherited.
Melaye focused on the non sequitur of ‘’patronizing made-in-Nigeria women’’… as if to illuminate a facet of the made-in-Nigeria goods discussion that other less perceptive had not discovered!
Melaye did worse than commodify Nigeria women. He picked on Governor Adams Oshiomole and reproached him for marrying a non-Nigerian.
The imagination that connected interracial marriage to Nigeria’s economic meltdown in Melaye’s head is capable of churning out much more toxic nonsense. It’s never ever been said that any country’s economy sank into depression because its men were permitted to fall in love with foreigners. Only Melaye can defend the premise of his illogic. Only he could have thought that the Nigerian economy would have been significantly better off if Oshiomole had ‘’patronized a made-in-Nigeria woman.’’
The big deal, however, was that Melaye’s colleagues enjoyed his punchline. They laughed and laughed!
Saraki, the presiding officer, did not hush Melaye. Saraki indulged Melaye as he violated decorum, civility and propriety. Even when Melaye’s mic ceased to function, Saraki interrupted him …to remind Melaye to push some button to amplify his voice!
But, for a moment, forget that Melaye’s mind works against the grain of reason. Consider whether he was qualified to comment on the buy made-in-Nigeria campaign or to pronounce on anybody’s marital life.
Melaye imports made-in-Elsewhere cars, parades them on the streets of Abuja, and boasts of the price of his toys in hard currency!
On marriage: Oshiomole, the man Melaye essayed to ridicule, had a stable marriage before he lost his wife to cancer. He married Lara, the Cape Verdean- born lawyer, two years after: And the marriage still subsists.
Melaye, on the hand other hand, has a high relationship turnover. His marriage with Tokunbo ended in a messy divorce. Melaye has gone on to contract relationships with other women that ended abruptly and supplied tabloids the grist of scandals.
Yet, Melaye was not checkmated by the record of his own marital failure. He appointed himself a marriage counselor. A do-gooder with a log in his eyes shaming someone else for what he presumed to be a speck in their eye.
A frequent factor Melaye’s failed relationships is said to be his macho abuse of his fist. And all of his women are ‘’made-in-Nigeria’’ spec. And he is a common denominator in all the crashed affairs. Which goes to affirm that the market is not hostile to the man who fought in all the markets he has ever traded at: The fault lies with the belligerent man himself!
A lasting image of Melaye that is burned into national memory is the punch-drunk ‘honorable member’ of the House of Representatives clutching rags. He was beaten and stripped naked while fighting on behalf of an integrity-challenged Speaker. He couldn’t hold his own on a level playing ground –with his ‘made-in-Nigeria’ male mates!
The intertexuality of Ndume and Melaye’s speeches emboldens a singular problem. And the problem is not that Nigeria abides a high-maintenance, redundant senate. Nigeria is a resilient nation: Nigeria has survived cycles of abuse of clueless legislators. And Nigerians have a preternatural sense of humor that enables them to re-imagine the height of their leaders’ stupidity as comic punctuations to a tortured existence.
And the problem is not unreconstructed male chauvinism speaking the language of power; though, it is very visible in this twin verbal assaults.
The problem is that the warped thought process that Ndume and Melaye vocalize belongs to an expired era. The inanities they peddle, which you can be sure interpenetrate senate closed door sessions and sway votes when the most sensitive state matters are determined, flow from a fossilized mindset that is antithetical to modern civilization.
The problem is that Ndume, Melaye and their ilk perpetuate national retrogression by perfunctorily corrupting promising national conversations. They wrench crucial discourses from this twenty first century context and debase it to something that matches the primitive age of their backward mental constructs!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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