By Rotimi Fasan
PRESIDENT Olusegun Obasanjo, himself not a saint, calls them a bunch of unarmed robbers. These are members of the National Assembly. Considering what many Nigerians think of Obasanjo’s own morality, it is remarkable that he has consistently questioned the moral credentials of members of Nigeria’s highest law making organ. Yet Obasanjo should know. He has not only been in and around government longer than any other practicing politician today, he knows better than most the workings of government. The governments he led, both as a soldier and a civilian, laid the foundations of some of our most important governmental policies and not a few of our national landmarks. It is also true that Obasanjo has had a long and tempestuous relationship with Nigeria’s law makers, beginning from his first term as president and what many considered his own contribution to the corruption in the National Assembly with his failed attempt to coax the law makers into supporting him for a third term as president.
For this reason many tend to focus on Obasanjo the messenger in total disregard of his message. Yet Obasanjo knows a lot and has the experience to speak on many issues that our so-called legislators would rather mystify. What makes Obasanjo worth listening to is that he has the voice and clout to call out the thieves masquerading as policy makers and even when we very often disagree with him, we should be careful not to ignore the merit of the message he brings about those who govern in whatever capacity in our name. What the former president had to say about the country’s legislators, calling them a bunch of unarmed robbers, is definitely on point. There can be no other way to describe a body of law makers who have turned into an art the practice of using the law for personal gain and aggrandisement. In order to put a veneer of legality on manifestly corrupt conduct, these law makers subvert the very essence of law making.
In this wise unethical conduct is provided the cover of legality. And so it is that the 360 members of the House of Representatives would want Nigerians to see their appropriation of more than N6.1 Billion for the acquisition of so-called utility vehicles, valued each at N17 Million, as some kind of favour to Nigerians. The National Assembly continues to abuse its privileged position to make laws, appropriating huge sums of money intended to cater to their greed rather than provide services to Nigerians. At a time the country is deep in the throes of recession, a responsible body that claims to be working for the good of Nigerians would not make the acquisition of state of the art cars its priority. When virtually all states in the country are owing workers many months of salaries and are struggling through loans to pay fractions of their debt; at a time pensioners are falling to their death standing on queues as they wait to be paid their entitlements, our legislators could think of nothing better than to take delivery of hundreds of brand new cars that they would sooner than later sell to themselves at give-away prices.
Hear what Abdulrazak Namdas, Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, has to say in an interview with Sunday Punch’s John Ameh: ‘There is need for us to educate our people very well. Every House is different from the last one. That is why we have first, second, third and now the eighth Assembly. The next House, the ninth House, will be an entirely new one. The National Assembly is dissolved every four years and re-inaugurated. So, you cannot say because somebody was here last year, he should not use another car. What is important is that every House is a new House and all the members have to use utility vehicles.’ He goes on to challenge his interviewer to make his findings and he would discover that ‘Peugeot is one of the cheapest cars we can get in Nigeria. Outside this country, you will realise that what we have paid here is cheaper. Besides, our real aim was to patronise a car made in Nigeria, so that it would have some impact on the economy. It means that the manufacturer will employ more workers and produce more cars. Considering the economic recession that you talked about, it means that the money will circulate within the country (my emphasis).’
I have quoted Mr. Namdas at considerable length in order to give Nigerians a glimpse of the mind and quality of thought of our law makers. This man feels a car is mandatory for every lawmaker including those who had been beneficiaries of the facility in recent but different dispensations. This is the same thinking, for example, that makes former governors claim pension even when they equally lay claims to and take home all kinds of allowances as senators. Namdas admits that Nigeria is in recession but his own way of ameliorating the adverse effect of an economy in recession on the populace is to buy luxury cars from local manufacturers that will, in his opinion, employ Nigerians as a consequence of being able to sell vehicles to legislators. These are very considerate people who think it’s both cheap and in the national interest to acquire cars valued at N17 Million each among a people for whom second hand vehicles is a way of life.
I didn’t know that Peugeot is now a made in Nigeria product. It’s only in the imagination of a Nigerian law maker that a French manufacturer of vehicles that are assembled in Nigeria becomes a locally-owned company. The man talks so boldly and freely you wonder from what source he derives the nerve to speak in the manner he does. There are words out there that these House members actually preferred Toyota Land Cruiser Prado SUVs to the Peugeot cars purchased for them, and they even mooted the idea of sacking their colleague, the Chair of the House Committee on Services, who had recommended Peugeot as utility vehicles as a cost-saving measure.
Whereas, it is well known that many of these Reps members often reserve the brand new vehicles purchased for them as utility vehicles for personal use, preferring to coerce the ministries over which they have oversight functions to provide them vehicles for their official duties, Namdas wants Nigerians to disbelieve such claims as the ministries don’t have enough vehicles in good shape for such duties. But rather than seeing this as a good reason why the House’s demand for brand new vehicles is a thoughtless and insensitive proposition, Namdas chooses to yap about Nigerians giving them a bad name in order to hang them. Nigeria’s federalism sure needs remaking.