We were all shell-shocked, not because of what was said. Or, that we were hearing it for the first time. Rather, the shock was stirred by who said it. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo a.k.a Baba Iyabo, has again accused the National Assembly of being a habitation of thieves.
For me, it is like a single mother of three children from different fathers, accusing another woman of harlotry. It doesn’t get more laughable than that.
Folks, have you read the Persian tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves? Very much akin to my tagging this essay: Baba Iyabo and the national assembly thieves. I will soon unwind in brevity, the tale of Ali Baba and the forty thieves and how it connects Baba Iyabo and his national assembly accused.
First, let me situate our discourse in full perspectives. The former president alleged that the federal lawmakers had compromised in their duties and purported that, the National Assembly is a den of thieves and looters.
But the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, in a statement in Abuja, said Obasanjo’s allegation was a deliberate attempt to denigrate the National Assembly.
This is not the first time Baba Iyabo has carpeted the National Assembly. As far back as May 12, 2012, Mr. Obasanjo said most legislators were “rogues and armed robbers.” But the foundation of the legislature was laid during his eight-year presidency. The answer we should seek is: did the roguery and robbery start before, during or after his daughter left the Senate?
On April 7, 2008, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo and two former health ministers were charged to court for allegedly embezzling around 470 million naira ($4 million) of public health funds, following President Umaru Yar’Adua’s,(who took over from Obasanjo) vow to have “zero tolerance of graft” after winning a turbulent election in April, 2007.
The two ex-ministers charged alongside Iyabo, Adenike Grange and Gabriel Aduku, were forced to resign after the scandal over misuse of Health Ministry funds emerged in February 2008.
Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, was then chair of the Senate Health Committee. Pat Utomi, one of Nigeria’s prominent political economists and a former presidential aspirant, also corroborated Obasanjo’s put-down of Nigeria’s National Assembly as being filled with rogues, positing that, a Senator had dumped him.
Before then, was another serving Senator’s bombshell. Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a three-term senator from Niger State and former Deputy Inspector-General of Police had declared on the floor of the National Assembly, “I have said it before, but I am repeating it today without regrets that there are still 419ers in this National Assembly…I am not withdrawing my statement, I will mention one name!”
The Niger State lawmaker had moved to make good his threat, but Senate President, David Mark, intervened and stopped him. He was later forced to recant and tender apology to the Senate for his comments. The message was not lost on us.
Obasanjo, who was, this time, speaking at the public presentation of the autobiography of Justice Mustapha Akanbi, in Abuja, regretted that “Apart from shrouding the remunerations of the National Assembly in opaqueness and without transparency, they indulge in extorting money from departments, contractors and ministries in two ways: … during visits to their projects and programmes and in the process of budget approval when they build up budgets for ministries and departments, who agree to give it back to them in contracts that they do not execute. They do similar things during their inquiries.”
Mr. Obasanjo said the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has upped Nigeria’s corruption level through the huge sums of money it has been paying to the National Assembly to stop investigating its corrupt acts.
He added, “Corruption in the National Assembly also includes what they call constituency projects which they give to their agents to execute but invariably, full payment is made with little or no job done.
“In all these, OBJ added, “if the executive is not absolutely above board, the offending members of the National Assembly resort to subtle or open threat, intimidation and blackmail. When the executive pay the huge money, normally in millions of dollars, all is quiet in form of whitewashed reports that fail to deal effectively with the issues investigated.”
The former president insisted that over the years, the National Assembly never singled out any corrupt lawmaker except where the executive led in the indictment of a member. He listed some of the cases where the executive led in exposing corruption in the National Assembly to include those of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, and former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara.
He maintained that majority of the members of the National Assembly live above the law in both misconduct and corruption and cannot in good conscience carry out oversight duties on any government ministry or department.
Mr. Obasanjo, however, noted that there are still some honourable and distinguished men and women in the National Assembly, who would not do anything to soil their hands. Baba argued that, with a largely corrupt legislature, Nigeria is doomed. His verdict is terse. “When the guard is the thief, only God can keep the house safe and secure,” he said. Albeit, giving a ray of hope, “But I am optimistic that sooner than later, we will overcome.”
But I don’t share his optimism. There are many other cases in the National Assembly bordering on corruption. We won’t forget in a hurry names like, Patricia Etteh (former Speaker) Chuba Okadigbo (former Senate President), Ndudi Elumelu of the Power Committee, Farouk Lawan of the Petroleum Subsidy Probe and the 600,000 Dollar bribe, Aloysius Etok and the Pension Scam saga, House Capital Market Committee, Chairman, Hernan Hembe vs Stock Exchange DG, Ms. Arunma Oteh, and Senators Mohammed Ndume, representing Borno South Senatorial District; Ahmed Khalifa Zannah, representing Borno Central Senatorial District alleged to be Boko Haram sponsors.
There are others which add to the scandal prone National Assembly. But curiously, Baba Iyabo was enmeshed in the National Assembly stink. It was in May 2006 that some members of the House of Representatives collected between N50 and N100 million alleged bribe-for-third term and displayed same on the floor of the House. Some Senators also alleged they were being pressurized to accept a bribe and endorse proposed amendments to facilitate a third term for Baba Iyabo, which failed to sail.
Little wonder, the Senate in response has unwittingly blamed Baba for being the mastermind and initiator of the mess he is now crying foul for.
Describing Baba’s allegation as spurious, the Senate in that statement read by Abaribe, argued, “… that if (the allegation of corruption were)so, “the former President would not have tolerated such for the period he was the President of the country.”
The statement said it all for the discerning. Hear them: “Former President Obasanjo for the avoidance of doubt, was the initiator of the constituency project in the year 2000 as a means of ensuring that projects were fairly spread across the country using the senatorial zones as the springboard. To ensure execution of the projects, ex-President Obasanjo again factored the constituency projects into the annual budgets to be implemented by the executive depending on availability of fund…
So, it looks curious and surprising that former President Obasanjo would turn around after over 10 years of initiating a policy to allege that the National Assembly is performing the function of both the executive and the parliament. The long and short of this statement which, apologies to the courts, I would dismiss as a mere academic exercise, is simple. All they are labouring to say is, “Baba, we are in this thing together. We are partners in crime don’t play Pilate and wash your hands off this perfidy. Period.
Is this not the Senate that engaged then Finance Minister Olusegun Aganga and Central Bank of Nigeria, Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi in a fierce verbal exchange over the duo’s public statements on the National Assembly’s spending profile, which till date is shrouded in secrecy?
Did Sanusi not stick to his guns that the National Assembly alone gets N136.25 billion of the Federal Government’s overhead of N536.26 billion, representing 25.4 per cent of our National Budget? Was that controversy ever fully and transparently resolved? Till date, do we know what our senators and representatives, reputed to be the highest paid in the world earn?
Is it not thieves that jump fences and scale over locked gates to break into a house? Did our lawmakers not demonstrate such trait in the National Assembly under the charge of Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal? How right Baba Iyabo was, for Jesus said, in John 10:1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.” Is Obasanjo not therefore correct to describe those lawbreakers and dishonourable members as thieves and robbers after their show of shame in demonstrating the dexterity and skill of robbers?
That brings me to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves tale. Have you read it? For lack of space, I can’t share the full story. Suffice it to say, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is the story about a man called Ali Baba and his group of forty thieves. Ali Baba in the tale, discovered a magic word, by which the bandits open a cave they stored their loot of gold. Ali Baba applies the words “Open, Simsim!” to gain access, and loot from the loot, when the forty thieves are gone. With the words, “Simsim close”, he also commands the cave to shut its access door. Ultimately, the sleaze, which went on and on crashed on all of them. Let’s leave it at that. Read Ali Baba’s story and you will see his incarnation in Baba Iyabo. The former President, whose legendary hypocrisy appalls us all, like the National Assembly he accuses, knows the magic words that drive corrupt practices and feeds the insatiable greed of incurable ‘legislooters’ and ‘polithiefcians’.
Exactly what Chief Ayo Adebanjo meant when he reacted to Baba Iaybo’s latest diatribe, “This is a man who was almost bankrupt by the time he became president and look at him today, he has a university, a farm, he flies about all over, he has a hotel and you see, you people, you must rise against corruption in practical term.” Need I say more?
Mr. Osondu is a journalist and public commentator from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.