By Martins Oloja
Our 469 National Assembly members don’t care a hoot about their image. They would like to be addressed as Honourable Members and Distinguished Senators. But they don’t know about what it means to be prominent without being honourable and significant. They don’t know about the weight of their responsibility to the 206 million people they represent. From the way they carry on and speak, they hardly know about their constituents who perceive and call them ‘legislooters’. Most of the members of our bicameral legislature appear to be very educated but they don’t recognise that people regard them as prominent public officers who are not knowledgeable about Nigeria they serve. They don’t care about their reputation, which they should manage carefully in public interest. They appear unaware that people see them as lap dogs to the executive arm of government. They don’t know the implications of their tag as the First Estate of the Realm. They don’t appear to be aware that the country they serve is the most populous black nation on earth. They don’t believe that members of the public they serve have the right to know how much they earn. They have worked out a remuneration package that the economy of the country can’t cope with. The more you ask about and a look at their reward system, the less you can see.
They are the most comfortable but reports have confirmed that they also receive ‘hardship allowances’ even at a time of recession. What is worse, in their cocoon, the representatives of the people in Abuja hardly know that the people they represent know that they are not serious about the state of the nation at any time. Do the representatives of the people know enough to know that the people they pretend to be representing know that they don’t care about the parlous state of the economy? They are at the moment padding the 2021 budget details with the collaboration of the complicit ministers, permanent secretaries and chief executives of most agencies of governments who are defending their 2021 appropriation details? We the people know that most of the legislative reporters have become legislator-reporters and so they have opted to cover up instead of covering dirty details of the unprecedented padding of budgets on the watch of the presiding officers of the appropriation committees at the Nigeria’s federal legislature. The National Assembly ‘padding operatives’ keep telling the ministers and permanent secretaries that they need money for 2023 elections and so permanent secretaries who care to ask questions about impropriety of padding at this time should think about a recent curiosity at the Foreign Affairs Ministry where a ‘stubborn’ female Permanent Secretary who began to do the right thing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was transferred to a dry pool in the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation after just five weeks of posting. The new Permanent Secretary who holds a doctorate degree is still smarting from the trauma of tissues of lies the conspirators in high places told the presidency about her. Here is the thing, our National Assembly members don’t care a hoot about the consequences of their secret deals at budget defence sessions going on at the National Assembly now. They don’t know that the digital Big Brother is watching and they will pay dearly for their actions against the nation they are elected to serve.
Let’s leave our representatives to their conscience and come to the brass tacks. We need to tell the National Assembly’s presiding officers and members that they cannot continue to carry on the way they are doing as if tomorrow would not come. The way they have mismanaged a recent House of Representatives’ invitation to President Muhammadu Buhari has become an emblem of shame. It is a product of mediocrity and disservice that we now associate with the country with weak institutions that have become a failure that keeps failing because of the quality of people the two major parties have been foisting on the nation. It is a celebration of mediocrity nurtured by rampaging corruption everywhere we go. I have drawn attention to a chaotic presidency here before. But this time, we need to deconstruct a chaotic National Assembly. And so if any evil befalls our accident-prone democracy, the representatives of the people in both chambers of the National Assembly should be held responsible. And here is why: what happened to Nigeria’s legislature where the Deputy President of the Senate would issue a statement blaming the House of representatives for inviting the President to the Assembly? Where was the Deputy President of the Senate, a lawyer when the presiding officer of the House of Representatives issued a statement that the President had agreed to honour the House invitation? Where was the ruling party’s leadership when the deal was struck? Is it true that the House of Representatives or the Senate has no power to invite Nigeria’s leader for an interaction on the worsening insecurity in the country? Is the issue more about who is right between the Attorney General and the National Assembly or what is right? Is the Attorney General bigger than the National Assembly? Where is the Chairman of the Joint Session of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate in all this chaos? Why are the Assembly’s presiding officers so lily-livered when it comes to dealing with the President and indeed the executive arm? Why are they afraid of the presidency? Is the recent invitation to the President to the House of Representatives an unusual development in a representative democracy? When there was a PTF controversy during the Obasanjo administration (1999-2007) didn’t the president quietly respond to an invitation by a Committee of the House? Where was this our Deputy Senate President when the House of Representatives under Speaker Ghali Umar Na’Abba began impeachment proceedings against President Olusegun Obasanjo? Did the Senate then under Senator Anyim Pius Anyim issue a statement to berate the House of Representatives? Come to think of it, why didn’t the governing party’s leaders and National Assembly’s ruling party’s caucus leaders advise the President to request for a Joint Session of the National Assembly where there would be no room for questions? That would have been a remarkable forum for the president to address the already disoriented people of this nation that insurgency, banditry, kidnapping have overwhelmed? Is the current state of anomie nurtured by insecurity not enough to invite the president for interaction on why he hasn’t removed his incompetent defence minister and service chiefs? Is there no sense in which we can state at the moment that the current state of insecurity and indeed helplessness and mediocrity of economic managers and embarrassing corruption index are enough reason to begin an impeachment proceeding against the president? Why can’t Nigeria’s federal legislature tell the Attorney General that his statement on the House of Representatives’ invitation to the President was rude and he could pay dearly for it? In 2003, following an altercation resulting from what the Senate termed an insult between the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai and the Senate, the Senate then sat and revoked the clearance given to the Minister and conveyed the decision to President Olusegun Obasanjo. The President who considered the minister’s sound bite to the Senate that, ‘silence is the best answer to a fool’ serious, publicly apologised to the Senate through Vice President Atiku Abubakar who conveyed the President’s apology to the Upper House. Before then, some of the president’s men were dispatched as lobbyists to the Apo Legislators’ Quarters where they set the tone for accepting the executive apology. It should be noted that Obasanjo always disagreed with the same Assembly but he respected them. In the beginning, the same Senate had twice rejected two key nominees of Obasanjo, (Chief Onyema Ugochukwu as NDDC first Chairman and Elder Joseph Oloyede Ajiboye as Auditor General of the Federation in July 2003). President Obasanjo’s lobby came through in the end a third time when the nominees were confirmed at different times – at the Senate. This happened in this same country. The deliverable from this memory pad is that the current National Assembly leaders should come of age and deliver themselves from the emblem of shame called fear of the executive. The starting point is for our leaders in both chambers to depart from iniquity that has always befallen them. First is the way they emerged. The 8thAssembly led by Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara appeared more independent and assertive. It is beginning to emerge that unless the current leadership of the National Assembly reforms the bureaucracy of the federal legislature, the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) to produce technically competent Clerks at all levels, the tenure of the current leaders and members will be a disaster. Most of the Clerks of the National Assembly behave like glorified legislative assistants. They don’t appear technically qualified to guide the leaders to be efficient. The spirit of errors there has been quite strong and that will certainly affect quality of service delivery. The 9th Assembly Under Senator Ahmed Lawan and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila appears dysfunctional and chaotic. They need to reform their processes, renew their minds about their independence so that they can be properly placed when the history of the National Assembly is written.
In reviewing the journey so far and contrasting it with what Bill Gates called, “the road ahead”, we need to ask some basic questions about the value of this representative democracy.
We should tell our leaders that we the people are quite desperate to see development in our country. In our milieu, where we still grapple with basic needs, we continue to celebrate mediocrity and frivolities of our leaders. 60 years after independence, our elected leaders are still building classrooms, providing school chairs, bore holes, school uniforms and commission them with fanfare in the 21st century. And they want the story and photograph on the front page.
History shows us that tumultuous times bring change, but we have heard for too long that our change variant is a gradual process. Even as we wait for the dividends, we can interrogate some of the institutions that are designed by law to help the change process. Certainly, one institution that actually symbolises functional democracy is the legislature. It is the most significant arm of government, though the executive arm is more prominent.
That is the institution that epitomises the concept of representation in a democracy. That is why that institution should be strong enough to protect its power, independence and relevance.
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