Under a palliative Legislature

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By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE are going to impeach the President”.  This is one of the most abused phrases in the Nigerian legislative arena. It has been taken to mean that the President is being removed.

Essentially, impeachment means the bringing of formal charges of wrongdoing against an official. It is only when the impeachment succeeds that the official gets removed from office.

It is also possible that some of the people who talk so flowingly about impeachment have not taken a hard look at the provisions of Sections 143 and 188 of our 1999 Constitution to fully understand that impeachment is not really a tea party. Impeachment could be a good gossip topic at lunch tables but in actual practice, between the first sweet and the last bitter sips, the wine could turn vinegar.

In any case, because of the abuse of the impeachment threat, some could get the impression that our legislators invoke it whenever they are hungry or broke. Otherwise, how does the proposal to impeach the President become a public issue for discussion in the market place?If the President commits an impeachable offence, of course, he should be impeached. It is not a question of playing to the gallery. Truly, if the President commits an impeachable offence and he is not impeached, our legislators should be held liable for cover-up. It is like seeing a crime being committed and you refuse to call the police. It does not make for good citizenship. Actually, our legislators have a big burden to convince the citizenry that they are not being settled each time they come up with this impeachment wolf.

For how long are they going to keep running government as a personal estate or like a secret cult? Today, the annual salary of an American President is $400,000 (four hundred thousand dollars). This is known to American citizens, even those of pre-school age. The moment this salary is increased, even by one cent, Americans will be informed and told why.

But in Nigeria, what do we find? What public officials earn is purely a matter for conjecture. This also has a spiral effect: For as long as we are left to guess, no one should expect much accuracy from guess work. Our guess can only be a function of ‘x’, where ‘x’ represents your life style plus the amount of corruption in society plus the total atmospheric behaviour. At the end of it all, our guess will be that since the ordinary cashier at the pension office is able to steal N50 billion in one year without question, our President must be on a take-home pay of at least N150 billion per annum. This is what Nigerians are stuck with – government by speculation!

Undoubtedly, it will take more than a full battalion of the Nigerian Army to extract any information on what our legislators earn. For some time now, the battle for this seemingly innocuous information has been raging in the courtrooms. Apparently irked by the constant noise about the bogus allowances, which lawmakers are alleged to be prescribing for themselves, a civil society organisation, Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, proceeded to the Federal High Court, Abuja to ask the Clerk of the National Assembly, CNA, “to give detailed information of salary, emolument and allowances paid to all the federal lawmakers from June 2007 to May 2011”.

This was after all efforts to obtain the information from the CNA had failed. This was to provide a good test of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. The relief sought was quickly granted and it was widely celebrated but the celebration only lasted for as long as it took the CNA to get to the Appeal Court, where he is standing, among other things, on his plea that like any other law, the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 did not have retrospective effect and could not be used to obtain information on actions that predated it.

As the saying goes, the problem is not so much in procuring drugs for the mad man as it is in getting him to take the drugs. How do we get our government officials to act just a little above the noise level? Elementary economics or common sense would suggest that if year after year, our recurrent budgets are performing at near 100 percent level, while the capital budgets are limping around 30 percent, somebody is either lazy or sleeping on duty. Definitely, there is something wrong!

In the area of specific questions, do people realise that they are killing the citizens in their millions, by their acts of commission or omission? Whatever happened to the dredging of the River Niger, which was initially greeted with pomp and pageantry and accompanied with billions of Naira of budgetary outlays? We are told that a proper dredging of the River Niger would have provided a partial panacea to the flood menace that is currently ravaging our homes, farmlands and roads.

There is an undertone from the Executive to the Legislature: You can pass whatever budget you want; and we will implement how much of the budget we want. In the 2012 appropriations, there was an attempt to properly situate the constituency projects. Members found the needs of their constituents and,much to the chagrin of the President, they inserted them into the budget.

At the level of execution, the President has selectively side-tracked the projects for zero performance. This type of selective implementation is against the Constitution. It is clearly an impeachable offence. Once the Appropriation Bill is passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President, it becomes binding in its entirety.

The roads are bad. The basic infrastructures are virtually comatose. The floods are not receding.The winds are coming. There is big hunger ahead. A less palliative legislature would have quickly put on its thinking cap and get the executive to move, lest we all perish! Where do we go from here?

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