Pay of the National Assembly members

By Patrick Dele Cole

NEWS organisations in Nigeria have to be ashamed of themselves for lacking the ability to truly inform the Nigeria public. All we do is to be a megaphone of government, big businesses and indeed anyone who can pay.

Chibok and Dapchi happened, no Nigerian journalist reported it properly: no one went there; no one interviewed anybody in Boko Haram, etc. In fact, reporters are spoon-fed with hand outs which are then digested – no in-depth analysis. We had to wait for CNN to do that or carry whatever Boko Haram decides to give the media.

On a simple matter of what our assemblymen and senators earn we have to go to Wiki leaks and other foreign platforms to find out. These parliamentarians have bank accounts to which monies are paid.

In Europe and USA, relationships with officials in government and with banks are encouraged, developed and guarded for exclusives. The press even have hackers who check in on news worthy issues and people.

In Nigeria, the state house correspondents wait for handouts; same attitude for those who work in the National Assembly – with all that staff and supporting institutions, leaks should be plenty.

We should have evidence supported by at least two other reliable sources to get to this idiocy of hiding in plain sight. Journalists should have a lot more information than EFCC or Code of Conduct Bureau.

In the US, the financial statements of all politicians can be assessed and published. Yes, Mr. Trump is fighting this, but to his detriment. And he is lonely in his isolation on this matter. Such light on the activities of these parliamentarians is a strong disincentive to misbehave.

On a daily basis in Nigeria, government and businesses announce the spending of unimaginable amounts – no journalist sits down to check whether the dots can actually be made to form an intelligible optic.

Can we join the dots: follow the facts; follow the numbers and follow the money? In UK, leakages are encouraged. Press light has shown the way money is spent.

When expenses were fiddled, the press exposed it. Not necessarily because they are corrupt but public light is used on these dark areas, makes better legislation and better able to hold power to account.

Investigative journalism is a gaunter of journalism so far unknown in Nigeria. It is impossible to be a good journalist without investigative powers and instincts.

The whole of the #Me Movement and the effects thereof is from investigative journalism, for example NY Times. We have a freedom of Information Act in Nigeria that is more respected in breach than in compliance.

When government announces that it will spend N600 million per day feeding people – how, by whom and when? What is the mechanism for this – where are the kitchens?

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Are the foods cooked or raw? Has any journalist seen how this programme is dispensed? The CBN is spending over N400 billion on farmers during this planting season.

Really? Where or how? All money spent or acquired by government is subject to review. It is difficult but not impossible. And following the money is a lot better than our usual public flagellation of blame and innuendo.

Bashiru, Akanni and Okoro were hungry and had not eaten for days. Okoro’s stomach is growling and he is complaining that for two days he has not eaten. Akanni looks at Okoro with disdain, saying: ‘Okoro you have not eaten for two days and you are here blabbing your mouth, what kind of man are you?’ – only two days.

I have not eaten for four days. I would have eaten yesterday but the last food was given to the guy in front of me. Even so, although I am worse than you are, I am not disturbing the neighbour for not eating for two days.

Bashiru is shaking his head listening to Okoro and Akanni. All of you, shut up. For seven days I have not eaten. The harmattan had blown cold wound on my body, filled my nostrils with dust.

I am here and you talk of hunger. Bashiru, Akanni and Okoro are competing in a crescendo of a misery symphony. They would agree on their circumstances, agree on what is making them hungry, but disagree on who is making them hungry; thereby confirming their paralysis. On the ‘who’ they went tribal.

The same information should be available for the pay of state assemblymen and local government councilors: we know how much goes to the local government from the federal purse; how is it spent?

For example, in Akikwtoro 17 councilors have four supervising councilors. The chairman of the council and four councilors came to my house to resolve a bitter quarrel of how much was due to them from the security vote.

Having appropriated a lion’s share of the security vote, they fell apart on how to share it; the chairman was demanding 50 per cent and the others were to be satisfied by 12 per cent each.

It was clear that the division of this money was what brought them to me, not the security of the local government. When assembly men seek office in the subcommittees – the vehemence of the quest is dependent on the budget of that committee, not on its particular activity which may have no actual projects that would be accomplished.

The disgraceful performance in the National Assembly was during interviews between them: Dr Chris Ngige, Godswill Akpabio and Mr. Festus  Keyamo and the Joint Committee of the Assembly on Labour, about the federal government’s plans to recruit 774,000 laborers may be an eye opener.



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