Nigeria: Bauchi Assembly's Swivel Dance With Anti-Graft Legislation

Bauchi — It is a game that has so far exposed many intrigues. In Bauchi State, questions are still being asked as to how 13 out of the 31 members of the outgoing state House of Assembly surreptitiously passed a bill to repeal a 2017 law for recovery of looted funds and squandered assets in the state as requested by Governor Mohammad Abdullahi Abubakar.

Curiously, within a space of just two years and at the twilight of his administration, the anti-corruption law was being categorized as obsolete, just as a bill intended to outlaw it was quickly put together and sponsored by the exiting government.

The real problem is that if signed by Governor Abubakar, who has only a week to stay in office as governor, the law could prevent incoming administration from recovering public assets and funds from corrupt public officials.

It could be recalled that on Wednesday May 15, 2019, the Deputy Majority leader, Honourable Abdullahi Abdulkadir, representing Bura constituency moved the motion for the repeal, which was seconded by Saleh Nabayi (Gajuwa West).

Intriguing, featuring just 13 out of the 31 lawmakers in the Assembly, the bill was hurriedly passed. It scaled through first, second and third readings without any whimper or objection from the 13 in attendance.

While rounding off the day's proceeding, the Speaker, Mr. Kawuwa Damina, who presided over the hurried session, appealed to the governor to sign the bill into law in the shortest time possible and to ensure its effective implemented.

However, the development has been generating more controversies and reactions from other lawmakers and the general public at large. For instance, Hon. Maryam Bagel, who represents Dass Local government observed: "It is unfortunate that a bill that is supposed to be an anti-corruption bill is now facing rejection by our honourable members.

"This particular bill now encourages the public officers to loot all they can and believe me, the action of our colleagues is a blow to democracy and a big setback on the face of the 8th Bauchi House of Assembly. This shows to the world how committed we are in the fight against corruption.

"I was not there when it was done, but I learnt from my colleagues that the law, passed through to the third reading within how many minutes without public hearing, this is a disappointment on our part. Here is a bill that affects the whole state and it is unfortunate that this is happening."

Maryam Bagel blamed the legislature for failing in its primary objective of making laws to protect the interest of the people. She wondered the situation that permitted the lawmakers to treat such sensitive bill in a shoddy way.

She recalled that in 2017, "the executive submitted the bill to retrieve the huge looted funds and assets from past governments and this same executive arm is seeking to repeal the same law and our colleagues could not wait for its scrutiny."

"Just within two years this is coming from the same arm and at this time of transition, it is very possible to say they have personal interest, but I can only blame our colleagues for being stooges to the executive arm," she added.

Even Hon. Muhammed Aminu Tukur, the member from Tafawa Balewa local government told The Guardian that those behind the move decided to dribble other members to have their way.

Tukur disclosed that the house was scheduled to hold at 10:am but the 13 members connived to meet at 8:am, adding: "I got there at exactly 10am, but the session has already ended. In that session, they decided to do two things that are inimical to the welfare of the citizens of the state.

One, the issue of the bill to repeal 2017 law that was made to bring the former Governor Malam Isa Yuguda to justice for whatever property was in his possession and that of his appointees.

"Now that the governor has done more damage than what Isa Yuguda did, he's guilty and thought he wouldn't want to be a victim of his own legislation, so he decided to follow the back door to repeal the law he endorsed in 2017. I learnt they (lawmakers) were able to push the bill through to first, second and third readings, you can imagine that. Two, they moved for another bill to create additional districts.

"A bill that will repeal Assets Recovery should be made available and be given to the members to study, which must also pass through public hearing. The people are supposed to decide on its beauty or otherwise, because the governor does not know each constituency better than those representatives."

While insisting that the legislature has displayed a coward act, Tukur declared: "A house that is supposed to be honourable, just because of penury and peanut that will come out of their action. Such people are castaways, cowards and are not supposed to lead in anyway not to talk of someone making laws. These people that are supposed to be upholding the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria and sadly they are the ones tarnishing its image."

He regretted the implications of such bills on the lives of the ordinary citizens, saying the state of the education sector and infrastructure are a disgrace to the State.

His words: "I challenge you to select 50 public primary schools in the rural areas in Bauchi State, you will found out that 90 per cent of them have only one teacher. Teachers are not been recruited, parasites and sycophants are being taken in for allowance and salary to the detriment of education."

But, apart from the position of aggrieved lawmakers, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, Mr. Jibrin S. Jibrin, while reacting to the bill, said it (the bill) represents abuse of power and disrespect to the constitution.

Jibrin stated: "If you look at section 4(7) of the constitution empowers legislature to make laws for good governance and stability of a state. Now with this bill, you are legislating for public officers to do as they like, how do we achieve good governance with this dwindling resources for the citizens?

"I personally condemn this act of the legislature. My colleagues and I in the Body of Bauchi Lawyers of Conscience and other youth political groups shall make use of the right court to challenge the lawmakers."

Jibrin described 13 members who passed the bill as betrayers of trust, remarking that they seem to enjoy the mounting hardship on the citizens that elected them. "There is no lacuna or deficiency of the previous law as far as fight against corruption is concern. There is no reason for the passage of that bill except for the selfish, personal, political and narrow considerations at the detriment of citizens," he said.

Meanwhile, a non-governmental organization, Centre for Information Technology And Development' (CITAD), has condemned the action of the 13 lawmakers.

CITAD programme officer for Bauchi, Mr. Mohammed Chiroma Hassan, said the latest bill was a plot by public officers who might have looted state funds in the outgoing government to cover up and protect themselves from investigation with the hope of getting away unpunished.

Hassan maintained that there was no reason whatsoever to repeal the earlier law that sought to checkmate corruption, stressing that reviewing a sensitive issue that affects the lives and economy of the people in the state should have been subjected to public hearing.

He said it was unprecedented that the lawmakers introduced the bill and allegedly subjected it to first, second and third readings and passed it into law the same day with only 13 out of 31 members of the assembly in attendance.

He added: "CITAD received with shock the decision of the Bauchi State House of Assembly to repeal a law that provides for the investigation of public officers who might have misappropriated state funds entrusted in their hands.

"By this new bill passed by the state house of assembly, if allowed to be assented in the state, it will cancel the initial law that provides ground for the investigation and prosecution of anybody that is found wanting in misappropriating of the state funds. We suspect that their rationale for such unpatriotic bill is a ploy for people who might have looted the state funds in the outgoing government to cover up and protect themselves from investigation with the hope of getting away unpunished."

CITAD urged the outgoing governor, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar, to decline assent to the bill as a lawyer, saying it is detrimental to the citizens of the state. The NGO also called on all stakeholders in the state to do the same by openly condemning the bill so that it would not be signed into law.

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