ANALYSIS: President Buhari Anti-Corruption War And NASS’s DisdainFeatured, Latest News, News Features/Analysis, Tajudeen Balogun Friday, August 5th, 2016
By Tajudeen Balogun, Head, African Examiner, Nigeria Bureau
The ongoing alleged budget padding scandal which is tearing apart and rocking the Nigerian House of Representatives is not the first of its kind in the history of the National Assembly (NASS). Certainly, the seemingly irresistible immediate past Chairman House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. AbdulMumin Jibrin is not the first whistle blower (and might not be the last) of the sleazy acts by members of the House as well as the Senate.
In the 6th NASS (2007-2011), the House first Speaker Rt. Hon. Patricia Etteh was enmeshed in the alleged N238 million House refurbishment among other scandals. Fiery Kano-born Lawmaker Hon. Farouk Lawan just like Jibrin was to the election of the present Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara’s was also the arrowhead of Etteh’s ascension to the Speakership position. But the two, sooner than later fell apart as Etteh allegedly declined to appoint Lawan the Head of House Committee on Appropriation as it was said to be agreed. Etteh could not survive the heat and in the end, was impeached.
After, youthful Hon. Demeji Bankole was elected the new House Speaker. Apparently due to friction which later ensued between him and Bankole’s camp, then a member of the House, but now a Senator representing Kogi West – the conceited Dino Melaye caused a scene in the House. It is important to note that Melaye until the time of his whistle blowing, was a member of Speaker Bankole’s inner caucus. Melaye then laid accusation of bloated budget on purchase of workstation for the lower legislative House among others. Although, he failed to influence Bankole’s impeachment, but Nigerians will never forget the free-for-all spearheaded by him (Melaye), in which his clothes were torn, while another lawmaker collapsed and others who could not withstand the ‘tragicomedy’ drama stared clear and ran.
Ever since that shameful House rowdy session, Melaye has succeeded in launching himself into the Nigerian political limelight. Also since then, he has not failed to prove the points that he is a reckless and desperate character and politician.
Again, another whistle was blown in 2012 on the alleged $3 million bribery scandal by the Zenon Oil Boss Femi Otedola on alleged fraudulent oil subsidy collection investigations. The Lawmaker at the centre of the scandal was Hon. Lawan. The saga was obviously like a case of the hunter being hunted. Pitiably, the investigations on both sides in Nigerian parlance in the end, died a natural death.
Ever since the sack of Jibrin a very strong ally of Speaker Dogara, I have concluded that the strong Kano Legislator would not go down alone. And I also know that Speaker Dogara would go very far in avoiding his name to be dumped in disrepute. This accounted for his camp rather very weak counter since the padding allegation started. It is a simple logic. No living being will find it funny when attempt is made to bit the fingers that feed him/her. My position here is based on the fact that Jibrin rallied support last year for Dogara to be elected the Speaker, with less than 20 votes in difference to his closest rival, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
Still, my interest is not to extol Jibrin who from all indications appears to be winning the battle. Similarly, it is not to castigate the embattled Speaker and three other accused House Principal Officers in the padding scam. Instead, it is to give a critical look at the padding allegation; Jibrin-Dogara relationship before and now; the Senate and 2016 budget tussle as well as the entire NASS in one hand and President Muhammadu Buhari anti-corruption war on the other hand.
Personally, I am puzzled by some aspects of the saga. My worry bothers on questions such as: why did Jibrin condone or indulge Dogara and three other colleagues to the level of inflating the House budget to the tune of N40 billion, yet allow it to go? If indeed, he was shortchanged as he claimed, why did he wait till now before opening up on the budget padding rots? I am seriously concerned that why did Jibrin if indeed he was sincere; independent-minded; audacious as he claimed to be, wait till his former ally relieve him from his former position before he raised the alarm? It is very logical to conclude that there are more sides to the saga than what have been pushed to the public.
In other words, Jibrin’s whistle blowing can be likened to his colleagues – Lawan and Etteh and Melaye vs Bankole. Nigerians always get details of the lawmakers’ financial recklessness and misconduct only when the fraternity among them ceases and things fall apart, then everyone begins to answer his father’s name.
With respect to the Senate, could it be confirmed that the same act (budget padding) has not been perpetrated? Given the history of budget passage in Nigeria, the present Senate cannot be absolved from the shady conduct. If Jibrin’s Senate counterpart, Danjuma Goje (Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation) has for one reason or the other been served the similar nasty pie, then Nigerians would have heard Wen! But the damning revelations (the Senate version) might never come till thy kingdom come, as long as the Senators strive to avoid receiving more punches on lack of integrity and dignity.
To this end, Jibrin’s alarm on Dogara and others on padding was not done out of patriotism. The allegation painfully, is not in any way to support the corruption battle by President Buhari. Thus Nigerians must be wary – avoid being cajoled by the tricks of politicians to deceive and manipulate the public. Yet, the can of worms being opened by the latest whistle blower should not be handled with a pinch of salt. In other words, we can disregard the messenger, but hold the facts of his messages.
Nigerians must remember that before and after election of the present NASS Leaders last year, the sentiment being deployed then was that the legislative arm of the government wanted to resist imposition; that the institution must be totally independent; that some people were poised to pocket the entire NASS and many other sentiments targeted to serve the few privileged.
So, if for instance, the forgery allegation against the Senate President and his Deputy is eventually proved to be real, we could as well conclude that Senator Bukola Saraki, Dogara and others’ interpretation of imposition and independence is to ensure that the candidates who would not allow “business as usual” or the Leaders who will be answerable to the executive – support Mr. President in all ways possible, to ensure that corruption is battled and conquered will not be elected. I make bold to say that there is nothing fundamentally wrong in the Legislative arm of Government being responsive to its executive’s counterpart, provided that the ultimate interest and goal is to serve the general public and nothing else.
In the present context and previous instances, the law makers’ aspirations come first while the public is secondary. What we have witnessed so far from the law makers are mere games – in which the suffering public is being used to gain and achieve personal goals, after which it is abandoned to fend for its survival. Nigerians must wake up now and chose between the government of the “moment or future”; between the government which chooses to make its populace live with the reality or the one which deceives with fraudulent economy rebase to gain popularity.
In all of these, the worry by the discerning minds is the success of anti-corruption drive by President Buhari’s administration. The concern here is that victory, regardless of the zeal, resolve and determination of Mr. President to fight corruption is feasible, if only all other arms of government (legislative and judiciary) flow along?
The questions again are: can the anti-corruption war be won without adequate and persistent inputs of the remaining two arms? With the Executive, legislative in particular, and judiciary arms working apart (without common goals), can corruption be largely wiped out of the Nigerian public service and political system?
One thing that is very clear is that, there is no President Buhari’s political appointee, especially the Ministers will attempt any prank. But if anyone of them did, the consequences are as predicted as the answer to question on what favorite and common food to find in a monkey jungle? I recall I was at a forum early this year, addressed by one of the Buhari’s Ministers – who revealed to us that the President was looking for a Minister that would misbehave and subsequently be treated as a scapegoat. I was not surprised to hear this from the daring Minister, given the pedigree of Mr. President.
However, fighting and winning anti-corruption war go beyond the commitment, dedication and discipline on the part of President Buhari, his Ministers and aides alone. With the lacunas in our laws (as related to corrupt practices and justice administrative system); the conflicting roles of members of the bench and bar and the NASS disdain, the outcome and success of the ongoing war against corruption by the present administration will be difficult to evaluate and determine.
Many Nigerians support the anti-corruption crusade, but they are also aware and disturbed that the major impediments are the questionable attitude of NASS leaders and by extension, the judiciary. Of course, I know the judges are not Father Christmas – judgments fundamentally are not based on what actually happened or how it happened; rather, they are with reference to the facts presented before the courts by the parties involved, using the interpretation of the Laws made by the second arm of the government.
Regrettably, if the executive wishes to amend the laws to block certain loopholes and ensure speedy justice administration on alleged corrupt cases, this is going to remain as a mere dream with the present NASS leaders. This is the crux of the matter.
Finally, while I feel that the President must not succumb to blackmailing and rascal resentment, Nigerians must begin to rehearse; to be resolute in ensuring that all political appointees really serve the public as sworn to the oath office, and not the other way round. One of such approaches is for the public to demand for a regular interaction between them and their constituencies’ political figures. Regular town hall meetings are good example. Happily, very few of them are already doing this. Another approach which has legal backing is to advance to the level of recalling of erring political representatives. This should go to the extent of filing suit against the alleged guilty political figures. I feel with such laws in place; the public and judiciary being active to make them work, Nigeria will be on the track to properly and adequately wage common and strong war against the evil called corruption, thus rise to the glory.
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