In the words of Leopold Von Ranke “…history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future.” In Nigeria, history repeats itself at a supersonic speed than many would have imagined. Since democracy resurfaced in 1999, the National Assembly has been transformed into hallowed chambers of unending scandals and chimney emitting toxic vapours of corruption.
In 1999, the first symptom of legislative high handedness at the National Assembly was manifested in the demand for the outrageous “Furniture Allowance” when legislators boasted that they were not in Abuja to spread poverty.
The legislators displayed affluence without regard to the prevailing poverty in the land. The furniture allowance debate was their most profound achievement in their first 100 days in the office.
The same group of self-aggrandizing legislators supported the tenure elongation project of the Obasanjo administration and unashamedly sought re-election to the National Assembly. This dishonourable tendency permeated the hallowed chambers.
The Senate was also enmeshed in profound scandals. Late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo –the hard smoking Senate President raced to Ogbunike to hide the mace of the Senate, ostensibly to stall his impeachment. He was eventually impeached, even though he asserted that he never came to Abuja to spread poverty.
The tenure of his successor Rt. Hon. Senator Wabara was also cut short by allegations of corruption. The volcano of corruption has made the wise men susceptible to cheap blackmail and treachery. Because of this trend, the NASS has diminished the respect hitherto accorded it.
The general perception is that members desecrate every known ounce of civilized principles, as they are self-serving. A National Assembly that is insensitive to the plight of the masses has inadvertently deleted legacy and stewardship from their perverted lexicon. They have demonstrated that the NASS is inundated by overzealous legislative proselytes who put their parochial pocket interest before that of the Nigerian State.
An ex-Speaker, Patricia Etteh epitomizes the meanness with which an average Nigerian law maker can desecrate the temple of law making, and the rapacity with which an average Nigerian can loot the commonwealth and still display superlative bravado. Nasty as it may seem, some people are beginning to embrace the idea that psychiatric test should be used as a pre-condition for electing representatives at least to avoid the supplanting of pugilism for law making.
What happens at the National Assembly demonstrates that the concept of representation in the country is bereft of its meaning.
The Speaker, House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, is alleged to be at the centre of the N5.2 billion Rural Electrification Agency scam. Revelations emanating from impeccable sources seem to have indicted the Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Nicholas Ugbane and his House of Representatives counterpart, Ndudi Elumelu in the lucre.
The criminal aspect of the scam is that contracts were awarded to unregistered companies – some of them purportedly referred to them by a past chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Vincent Ogbulafor. The question is: if members of the Lower House knew all these irregularities, why was the House persecuting Barr. Festus Keyamo when he raised the issue of corruption sometime last year? Why is the NASS so vulnerable to the sin of stepping on banana peels?
The behaviour of members of the National Assembly suggests that Nigerians are yet to imbibe civilized values in the art and science of law making. The general impression is that if the NASS can be bribed to mutilate the constitution. Since democracy is majority rule, majority of the NASS members can be patronized to turn the constitution up-side-down.
The attitude of law makers in matters concerning State interest is far below the expectation of the Nigerian masses. Taking the oath to make laws is more like a spiritual testament to serve the people because the soul of a nation is inextricably linked to the soul of a nation.
The former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Mallam Nasir El-rufai alleged that Senators Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu and Dr. Jonathan Zwingina demanded a bribe of 54 million Naira in order to confirm him. The Senate President Adolphus Wabara and members of the lawmaking body quickly cleared the accused persons.
The health-care corruption scandal brought down former Heath Minister, Prof. Adenike Grange, and led to the temporary disappearance of Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello. She later appeared and resumed her duties in the National Assembly and was left of the hook because of the ‘rare blood’ flowing in her veins.
In a separate incident, a bribery scandal in the Federal Ministry of Education led some Senators to tender their resignation as either committees Chairmen or members on the floor of the Senate. Those who resigned include Senators John Azuta Mbata (Chairman Appropriation and Finance), Abdulazeez Ibrahim chairman, Education Committee), Emmanuel Okpede (Vice Chairman, Upstream Petroleum Resources) and Badamosi Maccido, a member of the Education Committee. The hurricane also swept off the then Minister of Education Prof. Fabian Osuji and the youths wondered aloud as to who they should look up to for leadership and succour.
There were allegations of the MTN bribery. Prior to the alleged scam, MTN gave N4.4 million worth of free recharge cards to members of the National Assembly. However the three lawmakers were given a clean bill of health by the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges. The matter was not given serious attention on the ground that there was no convincing evidence of culpability in the alleged scam by the accused NASS members. In other climes, the mere fact that allegations have been made against people of such a high calling would evoke a gale of resignation.
Last year, there were allegations that the House of Representatives spent a whopping N51 billion on overseas travels. There was the N2.3 billion car scam in the Lower House. That was before the Rural Electrification scandal that is threatening to swallow Hon. Dimeji Bankole. The level of budgetary indiscipline exhibited by the National Assembly is alarming, and no amount of leadership induced free-for-all fight or intimidation would satisfy Nigerians.
Quite unfortunately, the National Assembly is fast becoming a discredited House of people who desecrate every known atom of civilized principle because of the mad pursuit of primitive accumulation. What the younger generation of Nigerians and the masses have learnt from them is that the business of law making is no longer the remit of mature, intelligent and honourable men, but one of the designed for those who engage in criminality.
If the watchmen of society are corrupt, then who will watch the watchmen?
Three cardinal lessons can be derived from the unending scandals rocking the NASS. Firstly, the NASS has created the impression that Nigeria does not have people who are above board in public offices, and this is a disaster for the countries rebranding efforts.
The up coming Nigerian youths have nothing positive to learn from the so called law makers at the chambers of corruption. If the NASS were the American Congress, then all members would have resigned. Secondly, members of the NASS are a negative influence on the State Legislatures to the extent that the State Assemblies derive inspiration from the NASS to loot with impunity. Thirdly, by failing to investigate glaring cases of corruption, the Federal Government has inadvertently entrenched the vice at the highest level of government.
In a nation where deceit is acceptable as the norm, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act and that seems to be the lot of change agents in Nigeria, even the few who dare to speak the truth at the NASS. That is why of the 360 members of the Lower House only ten could smell the rot in Bankole’s leadership.
When the House of Representatives mentioned the term impeahment of President Goodluck Jonathan, I was persuaded to believe that the House has started to behave like the law making arm of Boko Haram. For the past couple of years, the House is replete with unending tales of corruption and legislative brigandage.
The banana peel syndrome has continued to bedevil Nigeria’s lower Chambers. Mr. Elumelu who headed the power probe was found to be corrupt hence the hunter became the hunted. We are all too familiar with the abracadabra between Hon. Hembe and Aruma Otteh. Now Otteh has come out clean but the same thing cannot be said about Hon. Hembe – whose hands have been sullied by dirty money. I am still baffled at the Faroukgate because I had thought Lawan Farouk was an excellent spirit who would have resisted the alluring temptation of corruption. In the case of Farouk, the bribe money was said to have been paid in dollars.
We agree that the full implementation of the budget is on the shoulders of the Executive organ of government, but with the winds of economic change buffeting the various economies in America, Europe and Asia are all too obvious. While I encourage the NASS to push for a more transparent regime especially of budget implementation, but my worry is that a House as corrupt as the Lower House of the NASS has no ounce of moral to mention impeachment on the ground that the Presidency has not fully implemented the budget. I am persuaded to believe that most of the unending corruption probes headed by members of the Lower House are deliberately contrived to truncate budget implementation.
It was Mahatma Ghandi who said ‘Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today’. No corrupt nation can attract Foreign Direct Investment, which would have formed a basis for our partnership for development. With the present crop of people in the apex Law Making Body, it would take any leader the Wisdom of Solomon and the bravura of Napoleon Bonaparte to keep the ship of state above the rough seas of national disaster. With the characters in the NASS, it is difficult for Nigeria to break the jinx of poverty and achieve the lofty objectives of vision 20:2020.
For now, the public perception is that the National Assembly is not only a theatre of the absurd but a huge national embarrassment, and the last thing the Nigerian Public expects from the NASS is to call for the impeachment of the President. The NASS should be concerned more with cleansing the hallowed chambers of corruption and to make laws for the good governance of Nigeria.