Many Nigerians may easily be fooled by the cat and mouse game between President Olusegun Obasanjo and the National Assembly. The former president continues to be a thorn in the flesh of the legislature with unrelenting attacks on the institution as a bastion of corruption. This week alone, Obasanjo has used two different platforms to hit the National Assembly as a cesspool of corruption.
Pushed to the point of embarrassment, the legislators have been forced to name the respected former president and international statesman as the ‘grandfather of corruption.’
Obasanjo has focused on what he describes as the humongous salaries and allowances pocketed by the legislators which he claims to be among the highest in the world. He has also condemned the constituency projects approved for lawmakers in the federal budget as an act of corruption. That is despite the fact that the concept of constituency projects started from his time as president.
However, beyond the claims and counter claims is the fact that both sides continue to cover the real reasons behind the bellyaching.
When the former president describes the legislators as corrupt, many of the legislators are often heard to reply tongue-in-cheek that he, Obasanjo, introduced them to it.
The president, of course, will also not tell us that he almost came out worse in all the alleged corrupt transactions between the two parties.
Just days before the 1999 Senate was to be inaugurated, Senator Chuba Okadigbo had emerged as the consensus candidate for the office of Senate President at a meeting of PDP senators-elect held at Agura Hotel, Abuja. Okadigbo undeniably worked for it, having visited practically all the senators-elect in their constituencies before the inauguration.
However, days before the inauguration, a sizeable number of senators-elect, mostly of the then All Peoples Party, APP; Alliance for Democracy, AD; and a few from the PDP were ferried to the Presidential Villa where Obasanjo had just taken possession of. They were chaperoned by the late Dr. Segun Agagu at a meeting where they were prevailed upon to cast their votes for Senator Evan Enwerem, who was believed to be Obasanjo’s candidate. As they left the Presidential Villa that day they were handed bundles of cash, and thus corruption was introduced into the legislative transactions between the presidency and the National Assembly.
It is noteworthy that the same senators who collected money to vote for Enwerem barely five months later voted him out and brought in Okadigbo, the very man that they collected money to reject. That was the first betrayal.
The Third Term deal in which many legislators received a minimum of N50 million each to support the proposal was another classic betrayal.
There are few cases of organised corruption that can be compared with what transpired in that period. It is also difficult to imagine a greater act of political conspiracy by legislators. While, a few senators like Udo Udoma, Ben Obi, Uche Chukwumerije, Joy Emodi, Siadu Dansadau stood in opposition to the amendment, many others opposed it in the day time but collected the money in the night time. In the House of Representatives, Temi Harriman stood out as the only PDP member from the South who opposed it. She had for company from the South, Uche Onyegocha, a member of APGA and Francis Amadiegwu.
Remarkably, even some prominent officers of the National Assembly who collected the money at that time have gone on record to claim to have killed it.
Even more, it is still emerging that one of the open drivers of the proposal may have worked to kill it behind the scene. Many Nigerians have continued to imagine what sin Senator Ibrahim Mantu committed to the extent that the agents of the Obasanjo administration reportedly worked to frustrate his re-election in 2007. Some, however, say suggestions that Mantu was in heart against Third Term would be a classic revision of history.
Unexpectedly, the senators caught everyone off guard when they killed the proposal by voice vote, and by that, left no trace of how to identify those who collected money but voted against it.
So when next President Obasanjo demonises the National Assembly and the legislators retort, we should read between the lines. They are speaking parables of betrayal, the kind of quarrel that erupts when thieves come to share their loot!