28 January 2016

Nigeria: Obasanjo Writes Saraki, Dogara, Accuses Nass Members of Corruption, Greed, Impunity

Photo: Wikipedia
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has lambasted members of both arms of the National Assembly, accusing them of greed, impunity and corruption.

Obasanjo, whose accusation was contained in a January 13, 2016, letter addressed to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, lamented that the lawmakers had failed to show understanding, in view of the present economic situation in the country, caused by a crash in the price of crude oil in the international market.

Saraki, Dogara speak

While Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said he would react to the former President in a formal manner, the House of Representatives Speaker said it would not like to join issues with him.

Obasanjo said it was regrettable that the National Assembly had not shown enough courage to publish its recurrent budget for 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015, stressing the need for the lawmakers to be transparent in their financial dealings.

Obasanjo said: "On a few occasions in the past, both in and out of office as the President of Nigeria, I have agonised on certain issues within the arms of government at the national level and among the tiers of government as well.

"Not least, I have reflected and expressed, outspokenly at times, my views on the practice in the National Assembly which detracts from distinguishedness and honourability because it is shrouded in opaqueness and absolute lack of transparency and could not be regarded as normal, good and decent practice in a democracy that is supposed to be exemplary. I am, of course, referring to the issue of budgets and finances of the National Assembly.

Present economic situation

"The present economic situation that the country has found itself in is the climax of the steady erosion of good financial and economic management which grew from bad to worse in the last six years or so.

"The executive and the legislative arms of government must accept and share responsibility in this regard. And if there will be a redress of the situation as early as possible, the two arms must also bear the responsibility proportionally.

"The two arms ran the affairs of the country unmindful of the rainy day. The rainy day is now here. It would not work that the two arms should stand side by side with one arm pulling and without the support of the other one for good and efficient management of the economy.

"The purpose of election into the Legislative Assembly particularly at the national level is to give service to the nation and not for the personal service and interest of members at the expense of the nation which seemed to have been the mentality, psychology, mindset and practice within the National Assembly since the beginning of this present democratic dispensation. Where is patriotism? Where is commitment? Where is service?

Good governance and transparency

"The beginning of good governance which is the responsibility of all arms and all the tiers of government is openness and transparency.

"It does not matter what else we try to do, as long as one arm of government shrouds its financial administration and management in opaqueness and practices rife with corruption, only very little, if anything at all, can be achieved in putting Nigeria on the path of sustainable and enduring democratic system, development and progress. Governance without transparency will be a mockery of democracy.

"Let us be more direct and specific so that action can be taken where it is urgently necessary. A situation where our national budget was predicated on $38 per barrel of oil with estimated 2 million barrels per day and before the budget was presented, the price of oil had gone down to $34 per barrel and now hovering around $30 and we have no assurance of producing 2 million barrels and if we can, we have no assurance of finding market for it, definitely calls for caution.

"If production and price projected in the budget stand, we would have to borrow almost one third of the 6 trillion naira budget. Now beginning with the reality of the budget, there is need for sober reflection and sacrifice with innovation at the level of executive and legislative arms of government.

"The soberness, the sacrifice and seriousness must be patient and apparent. It must not be seen and said that those who, as leaders, call for sacrifice from the citizenry are living in obscene opulence.

"It will not only be insensitive but callously so. It would seem that it is becoming a culture that election into the legislative arm of government at the national level in particular is a licence for financial misconduct and that should not be.

NASS and new image

"The National Assembly now has a unique opportunity of presenting a new image of itself. It will help to strengthen, deepen, widen and sustain our democracy. By our Constitution, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission is charged with the responsibility of fixing emoluments of the three arms of government: executive, legislature and judiciary.

"Mr. President of the Senate and Hon. Speaker of the House, you know that your emolument which the Commission had recommended for you takes care of all your legitimate requirements: basic salary, car, housing, staff, constituency allowance.

"Although the constituency allowance is paid to all members of the National Assembly, many of them have no constituency offices which the allowance is partly meant to cater for. And yet other allowances and payments have been added by the National Assembly for the National Assembly members' emoluments. Surely, strictly speaking, it is unconstitutional.

"The National Assembly should have the courage to publish its recurrent budgets for the years 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015. That is what transparency demands. With the number of legislators not changing, comparison can be made.

"Comparisons in emoluments can also be made with countries like Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and even Malaysia and Indonesia who are richer and more developed than we are.

"The budget is a proposal and only an estimate of income and expenditure. Where income is inadequate, expenditure will not be made. While in government, I was threatened with impeachment by the members of the National Assembly for not releasing some money they had appropriated for themselves which were odious and for which there were no incomes to support.

"The recent issue of cars for legislators would fall into the same category. Whatever name it is disguised as, it is unnecessary and insensitive. A pool of a few cars for each Chamber will suffice for any Committee Chairman or members for any specific duty.

"The waste that has gone into cars, furniture, housing renovation in the past was mind-boggling and these were veritable sources of waste and corruption. That was why they were abolished. Bringing them back is inimical to the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.

"It will be interesting if the National Assembly will be honourable enough and begin the process of transparency, responsibility and realism by publishing its recurrent budgets for 2016 as it should normally be done."

Saraki, Dogara, others react

Reacting to the allegation, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said he was still studying the letter and would formally write a reply to the former President in no time.

Speaking through his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity,Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki acknowledged that he had received the letter and that he would formally communicate the former President.

But Senate spokesman, Aliyu Sabi, claimed that he was not aware of the said letter to the Senate President, stressing that if the letter was sent, it would be communicated to senators through the Senate President.

"As far as I am concerned, I am not aware of any letter to the Senate President from the former president,so I cannot comment on what I am not aware of.

"We have a constitution on this country and any communication to the National Assembly must follow the laid-down rules, so like I said, when I am informed of the said letter, I can now speak," he told Vanguard.

On its part, the House of Representatives said it would not like to join issues with the former President.

Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrasak Namdas, said: "I don't want to join issues with the former President, what is before us now is the 2016 budget which we are committed to work on."

However, a member of the House, Chike Okafor, APC, Imo, said the former President's letter was an expression of his lost bid to extend his tenure about ten years ago.

According to him, the former president appears not to have forgiven the National Assembly for cutting short his aspiration.

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