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Dealing with the budget rats

By Rotimi Fasan
There is something truly rotten about the state of our National Assembly. Like many aspects of Nigerian public life the National Assembly represents a moral blackhole in the firmament of the country’s existence.   The whole place needs to be overhauled if our country is to regain its moral health.

There is hardly anything that goes on in that place that is done in the interest of the very people our so-called law makers who are in fact law breakers claim they represent.

The whole place reeks of intrigues and unseemly struggle for personal and group gains. Just when you thought you’d heard it all about the shameless self-interest that inhabitants of that place continue to demonstrate in their ostensible line of duty for the Nigerian people, then something more damning emerges to trump all previous displays. While the actual business of law making is held in abeyance the National Assembly continues to roll from one controversy to another. When you expect all is set for a bit of legislative activity that could move the country forward, that’s when the legislators remember they have to go on recess.

There was the controversy over a missing budget document that went on for a couple of weeks and pitched the National Assembly against the presidency. This was soon to be succeeded by another matter. For many weeks the National Assembly was embroiled in a crisis of leadership in which the Senate President was standing trial for false declaration of assets. During these weeks of shame members of the so-called red chamber came together as one in an open but shameless display of solidarity with their leader.

Each time Mr. Saraki appeared at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, he did so with bus loads of senators who openly boasted of their confidence in the Senate leadership. The shameful irony of a Senate President that is docked one moment and is the next moment presiding over issues of grave national concern made no impression on them. When the heat got too much for Saraki at the CCT the number of senators that joined his train to the tribunal dramatically went down.

Even when the crisis from the CCT is yet to blow over, the Senate was soon to be overtaken by the arraignment of both the Senate President, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and at least four other key officers of the Senate for forgery, this time of standing rules of the upper legislative chamber. Again many of our senators came together as one in what they characterised as an open show of independence and rejection of executive interference in their activities. The Senate leadership itself couched the matter as a wake-up call for Nigerians to fight executive tyranny. They appealed to the international community, a community obviously more abreast of the corrupt tendencies of the senators than the Nigerian state, for support.

While that trial is still on, it was in the heat of it that Mr. Dino Melaye, a self-declared stalwart and attack dog of Saraki, threatened physical violence against Oluremi Tinubu, his female colleague who had dared to question his position on the forgery trial of Saraki and Ekweremadu. Melaye threatened to beat up, rape and impregnate the female senator.

The heat from that is gradually blowing over with the recent appointment of opponents of the Senate leaders into key offices, mere sops meant to facilitate corrupt enrichment for the new appointees. Before one knew what was on the National Assembly had gone on recess with hundreds of millions of naira. These are paid allowances collected by NASS members after a legislative year that was as good as wasted on unproductive controversies.

All the while the crises in the upper arm of the National Assembly raged, the House of Representatives pretended to be an oasis of peace. It looked from the side and away from the Senate, assuming a detached posture from its next room neighbour. But all the while it sat on a time bomb that has now exploded in its face with the accusation that the House leadership padded the 2016 budget. The accusation of padding came from Abdulmumin Jibrin, recently sacked Appropriation Committee chair. He accused Yakubu Dogara and other principal officers of the House of padding the budget. This in plain language means unauthorised tinkering and even criminal re-writing and introduction of their personal projects into an executive arm document to the tune of hundreds of billions of Naira. Jibrin who had defended the House leaders during the controversy on budget padding earlier in the year conveniently waited until he was booted out of his Appropriation Chair office before shamelessly blowing the whistle.

If nothing else comes out of this latest crisis, at least there is now some confirmation that the 2016 budget was indeed padded. That had led to arguments earlier in the year about the loss of the budget document, or the existence of several versions of the same document. The National Assembly leadership, both in the upper and lower chambers, had then pretended it knew nothing of the accusation and the controversy that trailed it. It led Nigerians to put the blame for the inconsistencies in the budget solely on civil servants in the Budget Office and the incompetence of the presidency. And since civil servants are only to be seen and not heard, Nigerians didn’t have the opportunity to know the truth.

Now the missing links are falling into place and we are getting to know who the real budget rats are. They populate both houses of the National Assembly and other areas of the civil service. These are the men and women troubling this country. The budget rats in the ongoing controversy are Yakubu Dogara, Yussuff Lasun, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, Leo Ogor, Abdulmumin Jibrin himself and a host of their supporters and opponents in the National Assembly.     The police now have its job cut out for it. It must commence the investigation of this case and must zero in on the afore-mentioned people as primary suspects.

After a whole year during which they achieved next to nothing, year during which they plunged the country into needless and avoidable controversies, members of the National Assembly have gone on recess. While they are spending their unearned allowances at a time when just two or three states in the country are able to pay salaries of workers, they’ve already contrived to find another topic of controversy that will divert people’s attention from their criminal activities while the next legislative year is again wasted. Given the nature of controversies that periodically rock the National Assembly there is no doubt that the country is under the reign of law breakers, all masquerading as law makers. It’s time to out them.

 


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