How National Assembly Lost Out In Anti-Corruption Battle |- By David Onuoha-Bourdex
It is exactly one year now. I remember asking members of the National Assembly to see reasons why they should review the issue of constituency projects in the country’s budget. What informed my decision to make that call was the fact that, as I noted then, the provision gave room for legislative corruption.
The dust raised by padding allegations and other outrageous exposés by the former House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Dr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, have more than vindicated me.
However, this intervention is not intended for self-glorification or exultation. Rather, after appraising how far the eighth National Assembly has fared in the past 16 months, one is compelled to make the following observations.
In the first place, the National Assembly, through acts of omission and commission, have allowed itself to be distracted and thereby caught in the web of incessant recriminations and manipulations. Secondly, since the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari made the fight against corruption its main policy thrust, the inability of the National Assembly to rise to the occasion and take the driving seat diminishes its place as the first arm of government.
It is in the performance of its constitutional role of lawmaking that the Legislature acquires its pre-eminent position as the driver of governance in a democratic system. And so, because the National Assembly failed to put its house in order to perform that crucial and catalytic role of setting the enabling stage for the fight against corruption, it became a loser. And having been so perceived by Nigerians, it did not take long before the federal legislature was bundled together as part of the institutions that facilitated and propelled the official corruption that has pervaded Nigeria.
This is a very sad and painful development, because, had the National Assembly been very circumspect and patriotic in denouncing narrow interest and personal enrichment, it would have purchased the bond of goodwill of Nigerians and with that essential quality, gone ahead to lift the hand of the executive to give the anti-graft battle the blessing of enabling laws and process facilitation.
That moral high ground was what I expected NASS to mount by sacrificing the crumbs from constituency projects for the bigger things of serving as the moral compass and lighthouse for the executive arm. Had NASS completely expunged constituency projects from the nation’s budget, it would have in so doing, sounded a note of warning to the executive that it was prepared to hold it to account.
It has been observed by no less a person than the former Chairman of Nigeria Human Rights Commission (NHRC); Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, that the greatest source of waste in Nigeria’s practice of presidential system in the past 17 years is the Executive arm. Indeed, available fiscal and structural indices bear eloquent testimonies to that claim. But, somehow, through heedless and needless acts of omission and commission, the National Assembly has been made to, not only look bad in the eyes of Nigerians, but also carry the unenviable burden of being a conduit for waste and private enrichment.
What do I mean by acts of omission and commission? Let me explain. Had the National Assembly decided, after its uproarious election of floor functionaries, to announce the abolition of the constituency project funds, as well as, publish its wages, rebates, commissions and allowances for Nigerians to see, it would have navigated towards transparency.
Lawyers always assert that ‘he who comes to equity must come with clean hands and be prepared to do equity’. As such, by failing to show that it exists to serve the Nigerian masses, NASS lost the driving seat and its good name. Consequently, the twin lawmaking chambers wallowed in bad name, shame and seclusion from the people.
Sitting as an accused, the present National Assembly therefore conjures the image of an enemy, instead of a good friend of lovers of a democratic Nigeria. And with that baggage, whatever steps it takes end up with the halo of deep suspicion and as further evidence of its inelegant conduct.
As the 2017 Appropriation Bill is being awaited and in the light of President Buhari’s request for legislative approval for $30bn external borrowing before it, the National Assembly would no doubt be laboring under the weight of poor public perception and the need to do what is right for the socio-economic and political stability of Nigeria.
It is painful to realise that howsoever NASS chooses to tackle the executive correspondence before it; its loss of citizens’ confidence would besmear its conclusions. Because, should NASS approve the loan request; the lawmakers stand the risk of being accused of patronizing the executive in search of its own cut. And should it withhold consent, the executive might taunt it as enemies of the people.
This dilemma has been thrust on NASS, because it lost the driving wheel in the anti-graft consciousness. The amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and Code of Conduct Tribunal Acts, which some people are asking the president to withhold ascent, suffer from that negative perception of NASS.
Intimidated by its failings, one hopes that other crucial legislations begging for review, including the Electoral Act, INEC operations and the Constitution would not suffer from any defects arising from the public image of the federal legislature as a self-serving arm of government.
If that happens, Nigerians might as well zero their minds away from the optimism that the present NASS would deepen democracy and facilitate good governance in this dispensation, and start thinking of how to elect courageous, but incorruptible patriots to the National Assembly.
Dr. Onuoha-Bourdex, a telecom expert, who contested the last Abia North Senatorial District Election, writes from Abiriba, Abia State.