Only those unfamiliar with the history of the National Assembly since the return of democracy in 1999, would marvel, or be surprised to see its members literally fighting to the death over their attempt to insinuate themselves into how the Executive branch goes about executing a programme that was captured in the national budget.
The way they are going about it, the ‘seriousness’ they are demonstrating, you would not believe they are the recipients of billions of naira for constituency projects which the President recently dismissed as being more of a sink hole.I should have been thanking former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the robust manner he handled the National Assembly of his time had he not, unfortunately, turned out the architect of how its members soon became unrestrainable in their gluttony after he had single- handedly inflicted on the country, two weak successors who, for their selfish reasons, romanced the National Assembly to no end.
While it is, however, possible to forgive President Umaru Yar Adua, not so President Goodluck Jonathan who, though a minority himself, so feared the National Assembly he couldn’t even remit the recommendations of his own 2014 national confab to it for necessary action.
He would come back many years later, at the launch of Senator Femi Okunrounmu’s book in July, 2019 to declare that: “I believe that the solutions to most of the problems we face today lie in our honest assessment of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference.
If we take politics out of our consideration, there is every likelihood that a diligent implementation of the key recommendations of the conference will lead the nation out of the woods”.
He was, unfortunately, too consumed by his re-election matters to confront a National Assembly that had since become an ‘enfant terrible’ as a result of excessive executive pandering to it.
I shall proceed presently to justify this heavy charge of the National Assembly becoming something of an elephant in a china shop, but first, a look at the abracadabra currently playing out at the National Assembly over the appointment of 774,000 Nigerians which the President conceived as an elixir for the most – at- need Nigerians at 1000 per each LGA.
Of course, knowing how unflappable minister of state, Festus Keyamo is, it is a no brainer that they must first do everything to browbeat him and render him hors de combat on an assignment the President assigned to him.
But he raised hell and would not agree to be rail roaded into any executive session where anything goes . Unfortunately, his senior minister, who is currently about being guillotined by another committee of the National
Assembly for his curious handling of some issues at the NSITF, has hurriedly gone ahead, begging, throwing his minister of state under the bus.
Nigerians have seen how, in their desperation to hijack and control the programme, members of arguably the highest paid legislative house on the face of the earth, would not mind killing a tokenist programme that was to fetch its beneficiaries a measly N20,000 monthly stipend.
How ungodly can some Nigerian politicians be? And where in the constitution did the Senate President derive his authority to assume he can stop a project of the executive branch?
He needs to know that all they can do now is wait until they can conduct oversight functions on the project and that will be after its execution has commenced, And by the way what are they agitated about since these appointments are targetted at the Local Government Areas where they come from.
It is heartwarming that Keyamo will be taking the matter back to the President and Nigerians would be waiting to see if a strong President (Buhari, hopefully) would take Nigerians out of the legislative peonage to which another strong President (Obasanjo) took us in the first place by siding with the minister of state Keyamo in conformity with the principles of separation of powers or, wrongly kowtow to the National Assembly.
Nor is this the first by the National Assembly, always wanting to have its way or, in the alternative, kill an entire project, no matter how beneficial to the country. This brings to mind their dog fight with the ministry of Solid minerals over Ajaokuta.
It was an absolutely straight forward matter until legislatve ego intruded, ahead a fast approaching general election that required tonnes of money to fund.
Nigeria had spent a colossal $8B on the Ajaokuta steel plant with nothing to show for it. To change the narrative, the Federal Government took the principled decision that it will no longer spend a dime on a project on which it has been spending huge amounts of money since 1979, all to no avail.
Before their own exigencies cropped up, the same House had shown its support for the new plan to concession the facility, appropriating N2 billion for the process in the 2017 Appropriation Act.
Curiously, not withstanding this, the National Assembly, in its usual manner of always wanting to browbeat, aggressively went after the minister of solid minerals with all manner of innuendos but they met more than their match in Dr Kayode Fayemi, who calmly told them that the ministry did no more than implement what was passed by the National Assembly.
He, of course, further told Nigerians that the plant needed, not only $500M which the House was enthusiastically urging the President to borrow, but that the House had actually seen an audit report which put the amount needed at $1.049B but which it has now, in its collective wisdom, decided to ignore.
All that concerned the House was the $500M which it wanted the Presidengt to borrow immediately and God, in his infinite mercy, would help him source the remaining $549 million needed for the auxiliary facilities to make it functional, at an indeterminable future.
Quite expectedly, and just like the Senate President is now doing, Speaker Dogara was all threat, saying the project must be stopped if the position of the House was rejected.
Such love of country by its elected officials!
And that too, had a precedent when rather than the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission determining its allowances, the duo of Speaker Dimeji Bankole and his then Deputy, Aminu Tambuwal, led the House into an executive session to jack up menbers’ allowances so as to, in Tambuwal’s words, ” make the them happy”.
This practice would underpin The Champion’s following editorial, of 17th June , 2011: “Revelations concerning how federal legislators have been awarding themselves scandalous allowances have confirmed what Nigerians always suspected, that there is a grand conspiracy among the nation’s lawmakers to continue to loot the nation’s treasury.
It is, indeed, coming to light that much of what they discuss, when they clear the gallery and shut themselves away from public view, dissolving into what they aptly call closed-door-sessions, is how to fleece the country and feather their nests with millions of Naira under the amorphous sub-head, “running costs.”
They will subsequently borrow N10B which they shared, but to show how determined they can be when it comes to feathering their own nests, let me capture some of the details of that loathsome loan.
At the meeting of Tuesday, March 30, 2010 the following new running cost was approved: Speaker, N100m, Deputy Speaker, N80m, House Leader, N60m, in descending order like that to the deputy minority whip who would earn N50M.
I laugh when Nigerians continue to hope that banditry, kidnapping etc would ever stop in this doubly beleaguered country .
To meet these payments , they first borrowed N2.5billion from the management of the National Assembly concerning which, on September 29, 2010, the Director of Finance wrote to complain that the provision of N2.5billion to the House, which was not in “the contemplation of the 2010 budget”, had led to a situation whereby “funds were no longer sufficiently available to accommodate the budgeted running expenses…”.
Not even that could stop them as they went on to borrow an additional N7.5B totalling N10B, just to satisfy their greed.
The Clerk of the House, Omolori, would later warn about what opprobrium all these could bring on them. Worst of all, however, was their illegal decision to ensure that the entire loan was factored into the following year’s budget, with provisions made for its payment.
These allowances must have since doubled, if not tripled by now, so one can safely conclude that for the National Assembly, the operating manual is: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.That is, until Nigerians wake up one day , like one man, to decide what is good for them.