By Muhammed Adamu
IN THE BEGINING

In 1999 after fortune shone on the ill-fated political ‘prisoner’ who was fated thereafter to be President, General Olusegun Obasanjo was as greenhorn as political rookies can get when he grappled with the task of shedding the regimentation of garrison life in order to fit into the messy affairs of the ‘democratic process’. And worse still when he faced his baptism of fire at an even messier turf, the ‘legislative arena’. This is the one arena in a democracy that fatalists describe as a mystery ‘machine’ through which members of the executive pass usually as ‘pigs’ but always come out as ‘sausages’.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo speaking with journalists after a closed door consultations with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo speaking with journalists after a closed door consultations with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

Nor were the fresh, mostly untutored, legislators of that nascent Assembly any less greener themselves, having just been inaugurated into the first parliament of Nigeria’s historic come-back to the comity of democratic nations; -and especially after a long rusty spell of military interregnums, which ironically Obasanjo himself was both a product and beneficiary of. In fact, many had warned that with rookies like those as our ‘lawmaking sovereigns’, and with an even rookier soldier-democrat as ‘political sovereign’, the entire democratic experiment was doomed already to be a ‘sausage’ only waiting to be made.

They said that the executive-legislature relations of that Republic, inescapably would be marked by the contest of two insanities: the cantankerousness of a soldier transmogrified into a democrat and the avaricious megalomania of political neophytes out more to grab ‘power’, ‘money’ and ‘influence’ than to provide ‘representation’ or to pursue the all-important tasks of ‘legislation’ and the ‘legislative process’.

And so with the President in firm control of ‘executive power’ and the public ‘till’, and with lawmakers fantasizing about the theoretical supremacy of ‘legislative power’ over ‘executive power, the contest was to begin almost immediately after inauguration of the National Assembly with senators and Rep members fighting ferociously to be both ‘makers of law’ and ‘executors of capital projects’. They insisted that the executive must award to them contracts to furnish their own official houses at the Apo Legislative Quarters, -a duty incontrovertibly the exclusive preserve of the Executive arm, usually through the MFCT. Obasanjo did not!

And although they came out of the ‘Furnishing Contract imbroglio’ with a bloodied nose, by 2001 members had reenergised like resurgent viruses, this time armed and ready to go for broke in their agitation to be both lawmakers and executors of capital projects. As proof of their seriousness they employed the services of some SANs who had in vain strained both law and logic to prove that such ‘right’ as sought by NASS was consistent with the spirit –if not the letter- of the Constitution. In fact, as this wild goose chase also became another conduit for corruption, Speaker Umar Ghali Na’Abba –the self anointed agent provocateur of that crises-ridden Assembly- claimed that the House had expended several millions in payment of legal fees to lawyers seeking constitutional interpretation on the matter.

OKADIGBO’S FALL

It was this barefaced insistence –for selfish motives- by both chambers of the NASS to execute capital projects side by side with the supposedly arduous task of lawmaking that prematurely sang the Nunc Dimittis of the Chuba Okadigbo Senate Presidency. He and several other senators and members of the House were indicted by the ‘Senator Idris Kuta Probe Report’ for fraud in the execution of several National Assembly Complex contract projects which they had awarded to themselves. An equally complicit Ghali who was also indicted by the Report was shielded by the House even in disregard of public opinion which had favoured his removal.

But the indication that removing Chuba was merely a tactical retreat -to assuage public opinion- and not a surrender, was that the Senate thereafter decided, after one of their usual conspiratorial executive session, to dump the Kuta Report by simply passing a mock-heroic kind of resolution, openly at Plenary, claiming that all indicted members had been reprieved and pardoned. What the ‘resolution’ did not say was whether they were to ‘go and sin no more’ or they were to ‘go and sin even more’! And the irony of it was that Senator Kuta himself was one of those who were vociferous in lauding the Senate gesture as –listen to them… ‘one of the best things that happened to our democracy’.

It can thus be seen that the claim recently by the Saraki Senate that all crimes and misdemeanors of a legislative kind are essentially the internal affairs of the Senate and not subject to the investigative powers of the police or the prosecutorial rights of the Attorney General of the Federation, is a mindset traceable to the permissive precedent already set by this very Senate on the Kuta Report.

But even as the legislators again came out of the ‘NASS Contract Scam’ bloodied, their dumping of the Kuta Report even at the risk of incurring the anger of the public was another clear sign of unrepentance and an indication that the skins of lawmakers were only getting all the more numb to the harangues of public opinion whenever the pursuit of their special privileges was concerned.

In fact, it was on record that Obasanjo publicly issued a riot act to his Ministers warning them against indulging members of the NASS beyond the constitutional duty of cooperating with them in their oversight functions. This was how low the Ghali Assembly had sunk; that Ministers had to be warned not to touch them with a ten feet pole; or that if they ever had to dine with them they must use long spoons.

But this again , rather than mitigate the corrupt excesses of our legislators only served to make them bolder and more daring. To hit back at Obasanjo for his directive, NASS announced an immediate embarkation on oversight function by all Senate and House Committees, claiming that it was on a mission to cleanse the Augean Stable of the Executive. The same who had just rebuffed the Auditor General of the Federation, arguing that his office had no constitutional power to look into their account books , were now on a mass-oversight asking executive agencies to come clean. Soon there were complaints by ministries alleging that lawmakers on so- called oversight were using blackmail to demand for contracts or instant monetary gratification.

And now that the gloves were finally taken off in the relationship between Obasanjo and his avaricious check mates, the NASS soon again announced that it was placing the entire Executive arm of Government under probe; making the hunter himself becoming the hunted. But to all discerning observers, the goal of the Ghali Assembly was Obasanjo’s executive wind-pipe. If they could not tame him to meet their ‘special interests’, they might as well strangulate him. Which was what they almost did when they slammed him with the allegation of ‘gross misconduct’ –the chief requirement of the Constitution for the impeachment of a President.

And Obasanjo being in a way like Buhari –stubborn like the ‘honey berger’- refused to ‘buy’ his neck out of the loop of this impeachment blackmail. And since he also hadn’t the immunities of popular support –which Buhari especially enjoys today- Obasanjo was left alone to fight his battle. And you bet this cantankerous   ‘executive pig’ fought his way through their roguish ‘legislative machine’, but did not become a ‘sausage’   When he tells you a thing about NASS, -believe it! He has been to their hottest hell, and back!

Postscript

The first budget padding

During his first term in office as President, Obasanjo, in response to an exigency over Presidential Air Movements, resolved to put an additional jet plane into what many Presidency staff said was a moribund Presidential Air Fleet. The proposed new addition they said was to service the Vice President, then Atiku Abubakar. And as is the rule –constitutionally- that whenever spending needs arise amid the operations of a subsisting budget, a supplementary budget has to be raised, the Executive presented to the Ghali NASS a one-item supplementary request. And quite unlike in virtually all previous Obasanjo requests which had elicited fierce executive-legislature brickbats, the NASS this time had quietly and even expeditiously passed a whole jet-plane-request without its signature ‘hue and cry’ about a profligate Executive bent on bankrupting the nation.

In fact, a pleasantly surprised Atiku, whose offshore official engagements seriously needed this jet-boost, could hardly wait for the President’s green pen to okay the Order. But that excitement was short-lived. Because when the approved bill eventually arrived at the President’s desk, it came with what lawyers call a ‘caveat subscriptor’, -attached as a warning to the President by his Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Aminu Bashir Wali.

A ‘caveat emptor’ operates to warn the person ‘buying’ to ‘beware’ what he buys; but a ‘caveat subscriptor’ warns the person ‘signing’ a document to beware what he signs. Aminu Wali was alerting his Principal to something insidiously sordid buried in the budget document he was about to sign. The Ghali Assembly had carefully incorporated more than a couple of billions as ‘Supplementary request’ too for themselves in the very ‘Supplementary request’ of the Executive. It was some kind of ‘supplementary within a supplementary’. In fact, it was joked about in legislative parlance then as ‘supplementing the supplement’. But in actual fact it should have been termed ‘padding a budget’.

This was the genesis of ‘budget padding’ at the National Assembly. But it operated also as an ‘indecent proposal’ to the President; some kind of whisper into the ear of the President, suggesting: ‘whenever you want to buy your Vice a jet outside the operations of a subsisting budget, all you need do sir is to allow us a few coins in the legislative request, so we can buy ourselves a helicopter each, too!’ Needless to say that not only did Obasanjo not sign that ‘n-a-n-s-e-n-s’, he also fought the NASS to the mud to buy Atiku a jet.

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