The gag masters of the National Assembly

NIGERIA’S march towards an open society was last Wednesday threatened in a palpable way by the country’s law makers, the so-called representatives of the people, at the National Assembly who usually want us to believe that they have the mandate of Nigerians to work on behalf of the people.

Most times they give the impression that whatever they do has the blessings of the people; they claim to be the voice of the people. But we all know that in spite of their pretences that they are the people’s servants, they work but only to feather their own nests.

This much was made clear by the action of the senators of the Finance Committee of the Senate, led by Iyiola Omisore of the Peoples Democratic Party.

Members of this committee were bristling with anger last week when they summoned Olusegun Aganga, the Finance Minister, and Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, over the latter’s statement that a disproportionate part of Nigeria’s recurrent expenses goes to the National Assembly.

According to reports credited to Sanusi, 25 percent of the country’s recurrent expenses are incurred by the National Assembly. Scandalous as the revelation was, Sanusi said nothing Nigerians didn’t know. The only thing is that as someone in the right position to know, he could furnish the world with facts and figures that are made the secret knowledge of the law makers (clearly law breakers going by their conduct) alone.

In an apparent attempt to kill the report by the CBN Governor and to cover their profligate depletion of the nation’s treasury, the senators summoned Lamido to their chambers. Surely, the senators wanted Lamido to recant and going by our experiences of public officials, we know what was expected to follow.

The typical public servant’s response would be to go into the legislators’ chamber scrapping and bowing while singing a different tune. They would deny the obvious and turn the heat on the fall guy of Nigeria’s discourse, the usual suspect of such infamous episodes – the press. Yes, the press would be blamed for quoting the public servant, who probably had spoken before cameras, ‘out of context’.

Otherwise, the entire report is denied as utterly fatherless, a complete figment of an underpaid reporter’s imagination. Where the public servant has considerable clout, perhaps in a position to take out scarce advert pages that press organisations survive on, the offending reporter’s job might be put on the line.

It is certain that was what Nigeria’s senators who summoned Lamido wanted to hear; to hear him swallow his own word, lie through his teeth, while taking pot-shots at a ‘sensational’ press that is insensitive to national to demands.

Of course, we all know the big stick that senators hold over public officials who need Senate confirmation to be appointed to their position. But the man Sanusi went before the senators like a responsible and dignified public official and confirmed the statement credited to him by the media, to wit, that our so-called law makers are a profligate lot who work but to serve their own interests at the expense of our national interest.

At a time when Nigeria is getting back into the debt quagmire that the Obasanjo administration told us it had taken us out of three years ago by paying various huge sums to external creditors of the London and Paris clubs, different arms of Nigeria’s government have begun a process of huge borrowings from abroad in a manner that is bound to impoverish future generations.

From the federal to the state levels, Nigerian politicians, many of whom have less than six months to spend in office, are taking huge loans for imagined projects that would never be executed. A lot of such loans, and the national budget, go into the servicing of recurrent overheads. Capital projects with long term beneficial effects are left unattended while huge funds are set aside for immediate use such as payment of jumbo salaries for public officials who deserve no more than a few thousands of Naira as sitting allowance.

There is no doubt that a lot of what goes to the National Assembly end up as salary and allowance payments to legislators whose first task on getting into office is usually to increase salaries/allowances payable to them.

They are so selfish they can’t even take care of their own staff, many of whom took to the streets of Abuja just a couple of weeks back to protest against their principals’ refusal to pay the enhanced emoluments approved for them long ago. All the round-bellied, rosy-cheeked senators who came out to address the hungry and angry throng had to offer were promises to address their grievances in due course.

But we know how they continue to increase their own pay- as often as they choose. Nigerians can’t even be sure of what a senator or representative earns on a monthly basis. That’s cult information. But we do know it runs into many millions in a country where an average worker gets N7,000 as minimum wage.

As it is with the legislooters so it is with the executhieves who ensure that both elected officials and others who shot their way into power and their dependants are paid to the tune of millions of Naira each month for their treachery to the nation. They enjoy in unearned retirement benefits the rest of us can’t dream of in several lifetimes.

And so our external debts increase in the billions of dollars while the excess crude account which, three years ago, stood at about US$20 billion is continually depleted and now stands at a miserable US $1billion. Matters like this should concern us all, not the irresponsible politician who would run into exile at the slightest sign of trouble in the economy. This is what Sanusi, like the rest of us, knows. It’s the reason the National Assembly wants him gagged.

It’s also the reason the Freedom of Information Bill will continue to be a pipe dream. With our kinds of law makers and public servants, Nigerians need not look far for the enemies. They are within.

By Rotimi Fasan

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