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Nigerians need to pay attention to the National Assembly in 2019

By Tabia Princewill

ONE of the many dirty secrets in Nigerian politics is the use of “area boys” and touts as thugs or guns for hire. Reportedly, Boko Haram itself started out as a small group used by some Northern politicians to terrorise their opponents and the citizenry before these young men developed their own agenda and went rogue, using the arms they had been given.

Offa bank robbery gang being paraded by the police in Abuja

Armed groups around the country, from militants in the Niger Delta, to herdsmen and kidnappers, allegedly have political connections which is why they are difficult to apprehend without decisively tackling their sponsors, which in itself is another kettle of fish entirely, as many of these politicians have much of the media, the judiciary and a large segment of the society who benefit from their largesse, on their side.

The Offa bank robbers reportedly claimed to be connected to a number of powerful people. According to news reports, the police is not accusing the politicians they named of sponsoring armed robbery. The police, however, claimed the suspects are connected to certain members of the National Assembly who were first asked to come in for questioning and then to submit a written statement.

Reno Omokri, a former media aide of ex-President Jonathan, said: “If Saraki hadn’t betrayed Jonathan, Buhari wouldn’t now have the power to victimise Saraki. The amount of money stolen during the #OffaBankRobbery isn’t even up to the cash Saraki gives out to the masses during Sallah. The Senate President sits atop a N100 billion annual budget. Why would he sponsor a bank robbery?” We need to analyse Omokri’s statement; it is the bread and butter of Nigerian politics.

Omokri says Saraki “betrayed” Jonathan. Politics in Nigeria is seen as a network of “alliances” between personalities rather than loyalty to one’s country or actions based on the common good. Politics is personalised, most politicians discuss corruption allegations or any illegality they and their friends are accused of not in terms of evidence (i.e. is it true, did these things happen?) or in terms of what can be proven in a court of law, but instead believe actions should be forgotten or swept under the rug because some people are now supposedly “allies”, even though, if we are to follow this logic, some parties have not quite acted like they are “allied” to the other.

Indeed, the National Assembly has appeared to be the true opposition in the country and not the PDP or any other party, despite, ironically, its principal members being of the APC (except Senator Ekweremadu who is of the PDP which is an irony in itself). Why do we always believe any investigation is “victimising” the party who is to be investigated? Where do truth and justice come in? Nigerians wonder why the request for a formal meeting with the police was changed to a request for a written statement. As for the idea that the money stolen during the Offa robbery isn’t “up to” the amount the Senate President gives away during Sallah, this too is problematic. Gift-giving by politicians is a grey area we never stop to think about.

When politicians give hand-outs as “charitable works” etc., is it their personal money they dole out or the state’s? We forget a government’s job is primarily to create an enabling environment for all to work and thrive, not to give out “free” money Nigerians can’t account for.

There’s a clear distinction between the Obama foundation and the government he ran. In Nigeria, we still prefer hand-outs which don’t take us far, rather than asking our leaders to teach us to fish, therefore, guaranteeing our independence.

As for the N100 billion budget the Senate President allegedly controls, why does Mr. Omokri speak of it as if it belongs to him personally? What are the processes to approve its spending? Where is the transparency? Nigerians would like to know how that money is spent.

Budget for election expenses

Mr. Omokri might just be opening another can of worms. The feud between the executive and the legislature seems to have taken on a new dimension, with the 2019 elections as a backdrop. Added to this, Okonjo-Iweala, the former Minister of Finance, says in her new book that N17 billion was paid to lawmakers to pass the 2015 budget.

“N17 billion was forced into the budget for election expenses of members of the National Assembly with the agreement of its leadership. The funds became the price to pay to have the 2015 budget passed,” she said.

If Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala is to be believed, budget padding is nothing new and the executive branch in Nigeria has often paid to pass the budget. Are the difficulties President Buhari is facing to be read with a new light? How long will we continue to watch the drama unfold without demanding this country changes course?

 

Prof Itse Sagay

Prof. Itse Sagay

THE Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, reacted to Prof. Jega, the former Chairman of INEC’s statement about members of the National Assembly, NASS, demanding bribes from the executive in the name of “oversight functions”.

“They claim to be carrying out oversight functions and insist that the agency they want to oversight should book their hotel rooms, pay for their food, transport and give them money. What sort of result would come out of such an exercise?” Prof. Sagay said.

The relationship between NASS and the executive has been described as corrupt by many people, among whom is former President Olusegun Obasanjo who ironically has also been accused of facilitating the entrenchment of said corruption given his third term agenda and his alleged attempt to “persuade” NASS to support it.

Those governments who’ve had a good relationship with NASS are alleged to be those who “play the game” and keep quiet about certain requests. When will all of these dysfunctional “open secrets” be punished and corrected?

According to Prof. Sagay: “We all have names of different people who have done different things. The fact that no one is mentioning them doesn’t mean the claims are not true”. Prosecution remains our weakness in Nigeria. Everyone knows the problem and knows the culprits; why we can’t convict and get justice is the crux of the matter. Prof. Sagay says to curb corruption in NASS, Nigerians must elect “people of high moral standard”.

The problem is the public generally doesn’t even know them. First of all, only party symbols appear on ballots, not names; unlike what obtains abroad which would force us all to familiarise ourselves with individual personas and programmes for development rather than party politics.

But our civil society is yet to organise itself to make such demands beyond asking for specific corruption cases to be tried in court.

 

President Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari

‘I’M afraid the opposition  has too much money,” he said. If the evidence, allegations and information revealed by the EFCC since 2015 is anything to go by, then of course, politicians have huge sums at their disposal.

Nigerians voted for PMB primarily because they believed he was coming to fight corruption. Corruption has fought back, as expected, and unfortunately, PMB’s administration scored many own goals and opened itself up to criticism through some of its actions (or inaction).

PMB alleges that a lot of things happening around the country are sponsored, the same way former President Goodluck Jonathan alleged some people wanted to make Nigeria ungovernable for him. Politicians can make whoever is in power uncomfortable and the masses are always the victims. PMB said most of the people he attempted to jail before the coup which took him out of office “have been given back all they had” (and more). In 2015, the PDP controlled the Presidency and despite the power of incumbency, PMB won the elections.

What really makes a difference beyond money, is narrative: the Presidency today hasn’t convincingly sold its side of the story. Beyond who has more money, can PMB convince a majority of Nigerians he is still the man to trust to fight for what is right?

 

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.