LOOTING SPREE IN NIGERIA’S LEGISLATURE!

It appears that members of the National Assembly have lost the sense of propriety, decency and shame. Penultimate week, tempers flared in the House of Representatives when some disgruntled members of the house accused the leadership of leaking to the press an agreement to collapse the capital vote in the 2010 budget and increase the quarterly allocation due to each member from N27.2m to 42m. Senators were also not left out in the attempt to defraud Nigerians.
A move by some of them to have their quarterly allowance increased to N50m, according to media reports, was scuttled by the public outcry which resulted from the row in the House of Representatives over capital vote. The record of federal legislators since the military handed over power to civilians in 1999 is thoroughly dismal.

Apart from Salisu Buhari, who was kicked out of the office of Speaker, Evan Enwerem, Adolphus Wabara and late Chuba Okadigbo, who were former senate presidents, and Patricia Etteh, former speaker of the House of Representatives, were disgraced out of office due to allegations of corruption (although latest information has it that Wabara has been cleared by a court).

It is well known that National Assembly members have perfected the art of manipulating federal budgets to satisfy their deadly insatiable appetite for primitive accumulation. Smart Adeyemi, chairman senate committee on federal character and inter-governmental affairs, is so disappointed with the avarice of his colleagues that he has called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate federal legislators for corruption.

Adeyemi also indicted banks located inside the National Assembly as part and parcel of the shady deals going on there. Specifically, the banks were alleged to have opened accounts for members using ficticious names, and thereafter connive in laundering the money through the accounts.

I hope that Adeyemi is not grandstanding, because there have been cases of public officers who made such allegations in the past but who could not provide concrete evidence to back their allegations. But supposing the senator is genuinely fed up with corruption among his colleagues, probably because he still has some decency and sense of shame left in him, or had an epiphanous experience which revealed to him the utter vanity of ill-gottn wealth, then he should be prepared for war with some of his guilty colleagues.

As Nuhu Ribadu, erstwhile chairman of the EFCC once said, “if you fight corruption, corruption will fight you back.” It is the context of Ribadu’s assertion that one can really appreciate the lamentation by Farida Waziri, chairwoman of the anti-corruption body, that wealthy and influential Nigerians accused of corruption are using frivolous legal legerdemain to stall their cases in court. Recently, she complained that EFCC’s “capacity is 1500 and this is a country of 140m people.

We are overworked and we can’t even do one quarter of the job of [fighting] corruption in this country. It is endemic.” Given Waziri’s statement, it is obvious that the EFCC is grossly understaffed, and does not have adequate logistic support which it desperately needs for effective performance. Also, the public image of the outfit is ambivalent. While many Nigerians accuse the EFCC of being cowardly selective in its fight against corruption, others cite the successful prosecution of Olabode George and few others as evidence of its commitment to take on the so-called sacred cows.

EFCC’s shambolic performance during Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure did not help matters at all. I think that the relevant authorities should look into the problems of the EFCC and provide it with all the necessary support. The law setting up the commission contains some loopholes which corrupt big men and thick madams have been exploiting to escape justice.

Perhaps, given the widespread entrenchment of corruption in the country, special corruption courts should be created, headed by reputable judges of impeccable character and integrity, to head them, with provisions that would occlude some of the tricks lawyers routinely employ to prolong cases unnecessarily. In the meantime, the Nigerian Bar Association (MBA) should set up a machinery to monitor how its members defending former top political office holders and members of the ruling and business elite are handling their court cases: it should deal decisively with lawyers who habitually file frivolous injunctions to stall the trials of their clients.

Amending the law setting up the EFCC in order to enhance its efficiency is the prerogative of the National Assembly; but with the present set of lootocrats there, nothing of the sort will happen. It is really sad that the so-called lawmakers are so morally decadent and insensitive to the relentless sufferings of “the wretched of the earth” in our country. Judging by the shameful conduct of our politicians, one can justifiably argue that we are not practising democracy yet. Rather, what we have now is lootocracy, which is government of the looters, by the looters and for the looters.

With what has been happening in the National Assembly (replicated in varying degress in the thirty-six state houses of assembly) I wonder what Uche Chukwumerije, Olorunimbe Mamura, Chris Anyanwu and others who in the past denounced the highhandedness, impunity, and corruption that characterised military regimes are doing to combat the dominant culture of corruption in the legislature.

Or were they just grandstanding and sermonising then, and having been (s)elected to come and eat, decided to chop quietly and clean mouth? When will genuine lawmakers, not lootocrats, emerge in this country?

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