Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has again alleged corruption in the National Assembly, stressing the need for lawmakers in both chambers to make accountability and transparency their watchword, OLUGBENGA SALAMI writes.
Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, IMF, Christine Lagarde, had during her recent visit to Nigeria, warned that oil prices would not bounce back as the country would hope, rather it would continue to drop due to increased oil production by more countries; drop in demand for oil, China’s new growth model, prospect for longer and lower commodity prices; increasing divergence in monetary policies in major economies, like the impending rise in United States interest rates.
The forecast of a gloomy future for the Nigerian economy in 2016 by the IMF boss may not be unconnected to the Middle-East crisis and possible excess supply of crude from the United States to the international market.
Perhaps, these and some other reasons may have prompted former President Olusegun Obasanjo to write both chambers of the National Assembly, that is, the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the letter addressed to the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Obasanjo accused the National Assembly of corrupt practices.
He specifically accused the federal lawmakers of fixing and earning salaries and allowances far above what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, approved for them. He also alleged that most of the 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives were receiving constituency allowances without maintaining constituency offices as the laws required of them.
The former president, in the letter dated January 13, 2016, and received at the Senate Registry on the 18th, challenged the lawmakers to be transparent in their finances by publishing their recurrent expenditure and opening their books to an external auditor from 1999 till date. He described the National Assembly as the cesspool of corruption in the country over the years.
Using the controversial car purchase project as an example, Obasanjo said: “The recent issue of cars for legislators would fall into the same category. Whatever name it is disguised as, it is unnecessary and insensitive. A pool of a few cars for each chamber will suffice for any committee chairman or members for any specific duty.
“The waste that has gone into cars, furniture, housing renovation in the past was mind-boggling and these were veritable sources of waste and corruption. That was why they were abolished. Bringing them back is inimical to the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians,” he added.
The former president therefore challenged the lawmakers to be transparent in their finances by publishing their recurrent expenditure and opening their books to an external auditor from 1999 till date.
“The National Assembly should have the courage to publish its recurrent budget for the years 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015. That is what transparency demands. With the number of legislators not changing, comparison can be made. Comparisons in emoluments can also be made with countries like Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and even Malaysia and Indonesia who are richer and more developed than we are”, he said.
With the change mantra of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and the fact that the economy grapples with anticipated outcome of the standoff in the Middle East, the threat of United States crude game and the meltdown in international financial support, there is no doubt that the days of throwing money away by lawmakers should be over.
Conscious of these and the previous economic troubles in Nigeria, Obasanjo stated: “The present economic situation that the country has found itself in is the climax of the steady erosion of good financial and economic management which grew from bad to worse in the last six years or so. The executive and the legislative arms of government must accept and share responsibility in this regard. And if there will be a redress of the situation as early as possible, the two arms must also bear the responsibility proportionally”.
He added: “By our constitution, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission is charged with the responsibility of fixing emoluments of the three arms of government: executive, legislature and judiciary. The commission did its job but by different disingenuous ways and devices, the legislature had overturned the recommendation of the commission and hiked up for themselves that which they are unwilling to spell out in detail, though they would want to defend it by force of arm if necessary. What is that?
“Mr. President of the Senate and Hon. Speaker of the House, you know that your emolument which the commission had recommended for you takes care of all your legitimate requirements: basic salary, car, housing, staff, constituency allowance. Although the constituency allowance is paid to all members of the National Assembly, many of them have no constituency offices which the allowance is partly meant to cater for. And yet other allowances and payments have been added by the National Assembly for the National Assembly members’ emoluments. Surely, strictly speaking, it is unconstitutional. There is no valid argument for this except to see it for what it is – law-breaking and impunity by lawmakers. The lawmakers can return to the path of honour, distinguishness, sensitivity and responsibility.
“The purpose of election into the legislative assembly particularly at the national level is to give service to the nation and not for personal service and interest of members at the expense of the nation which seemed to have been the mentality, psychology, mindset and practice within the National Assembly since the beginning of this present democratic dispensation. Where is patriotism? Where is commitment? Where is service?” he reminded the legislature.
In a reply to the letter, the Senate president assured that the Upper House under his leadership was committed to good governance, transparency, accountability, due process and responsiveness to the economic reality of our nation. “It is for this reason that the legislative chamber has introduced bold and progressive reforms in the management of the finances of the National Assembly,” he said.
According to Saraki, “This is of even greater importance during a tough fiscal period for our country. Like I said during my closing address at the plenary after our debate on the 2016 budget, the Senate must lead by example in terms of our own funding, budgets and accountability – showing, beyond doubt, value for money. I have canvassed that we must lay bare the budget of the Senate, nay the National Assembly and its affiliated institutions.
“I equally canvassed the need to strengthen the capacity of the legislative institution to carry out effective oversight of the executive arm so that we can ensure the budget leads to the realisation of the policy objectives of the Buhari administration.
“Again, let me reiterate my position in the speech I made this morning on the need for us to work towards blocking all areas of revenue leakages while also strengthening the anti-corruption agencies so that the little resources that are now available will serve the interest of the overwhelming majority”, he stressed.
But the House of Representatives described Obasanjo’s letter to the leadership of the National Assembly as a distraction. Spokesman of the lower chamber, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, while addressing journalists in Abuja, reiterated that the eighth Assembly was committed to the vision of President Buhari as was captured in the House legislative agenda.
“As a House, we respect the former president, but I must say that the letter is a distraction. The letter is for the fourth and fifth Assembly. We are committed to the vision of the president on corruption. We have our legislative agenda and we are working towards that. I think the president said we should be upright and I think we are working towards that,” Namdas asserted.
Also reacting to the letter, Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West) dismissed the issues raised by the former president, saying Obasanjo should not mistake the present National Assembly to that during his administration which he noted, the ex-president corrupted with bribery to get the failed unconstitutional third term bid.
The lawmaker also alleged that his letter was a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the Halliburton and Siemens scandals involving him. He told the former president to direct his anger to members of the National Assembly during his tenure, who he alleged collected his money but refused to do his bidding by approving his desired third term.
The letter read: “I went through the letter written to all senators and members of the House of Representatives. The letter I can see is a misplacement of anger. Our leader is mistaken the eighth National Assembly as the same Senate Assembly that defrauded him in 2007, those who collected his money and refused to implement the third term agenda. I appeal to baba that we are not the ones please. After nine years of that bribery saga, the first of its kind, I expect forgiveness to have taken place.
“There was the case of bribery introduced by the Obasanjo regime in the desperate attempt to remove Speaker Ghali Umar Na’Abba from office then. In fact, there was open display of that bribery money on the floor of the House. That government exposed the National Assembly to corruption and easy money.
“I hope this is not in an attempt to cover up and distract attention from the Halliburton and Siemens corruption allegations. While I am against corruption anywhere in Nigeria, I will not support accusations based on anger and vindictiveness”.
Also reacting on the letter, Minority Leader of the House, Leo Ogor, said he was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the vehicles meant for their oversight functions were not luxury vehicles.
He stressed: “If he (Obasanjo) believes we should not carry out oversight functions or probably we should rely on ministries and agencies of government even when travelling outside the states to carry out these responsibilities; he is at will to say whatever he wants to say, but I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that these vehicles are not luxury vehicles, they are utility vehicles at the National Assembly we use in carrying out our responsibilities”.