Every society is governed by laws and law making is a higher calling and not a business for derelicts, and economic opportunists. Many years ago, George Santayana asserted “those who despise history are condemned to repeat it”. Again there is no judge as upright and crude as Mr. History. 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 a hallowed chambers of unending scandals and chimney emitting toxic vapours of corruption.
Looking back in time, 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. His tenure of his successor Rt. Hon. Senator Wagbara was also cut short by allegations of corruption. The volcano of corruption has made the wise men susceptible to cheap blackmail and corruption. 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.
The 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. In what is referred to as “fake contract bazaar” it is alleged that Bankole and his father, Alani Bankole, benefited massively from contracts. The criminal aspect of the scam is that contracts were awarded to unregistered companies – some of them purportedly referred to them by the immediate 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?
In other progressive nations where laws are respected , lawmakers legislate to protect the interest of the people. They do this through regular and periodic consultation with the people. Law makers do not contemplate embezzlement of public funds. On the contrary they get involved in issues like tax cut, increase in tariffs, pursue trade liberalization, tackling unemployment; and other crucial domestic policies issues. It is devotion to legislative duties based on integrity and ability of law makers to protect the interest of the masses that distinguish law makers from others. The NASS is a direct antithesis of what obtains in other countries. It is a Legislature that has lost its core values of representation, honesty and transparency
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.
In Nigeria, there are many knotty issues to address as a nation. The level of insecurity is frightening. The monster of insecurity of lives and property metaphorically walks the streets of major towns and cities. Most of our roads are shorthand for death traps, while the educational system is in dire jeopardy, as standards are fast fading with no one to the rescue. There is need to re-position of Nigerian Police Force; the electoral reforms are have not made a head way; critical sections of the constitution need to be reviewed. There are power sector reforms, which have been on the front-burners. Why are National Assembly members active only when it comes to matters affecting their welfare such as upward review of their allowances?
The former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory 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 Nwagbara 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 Reps. spent a whopping N51 billion on overseas travels. There was the N2.3 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. The behaviour of law makers in matters concerning State interest is far below the expectation of the Nigerian masses. There exists a very wide gap between lawmakers and their constituencies, as most members seldom visit their constituencies.
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.
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 of 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.
Idumange John, wrote from Yenagoa