Of Goats and Cassava-Eating People In the National Assembly, By Gbolahan Gbadamosi
In organising towards 2019, Nigerians can make the political parties and the world learn a new lesson in democracy through their votes. We could set a new record. We can, in one fell swoop, remove all our current legislators and reject anyone who has previously been in the National Assembly.
Let me start by concluding that I am proposing that Nigerians collectively should rise up and put our country on the world map as a first in an unprecedented move. I propose that we do it with the National Assembly, and do away with the entire lot, come 2019. I propose that all pressure groups, the press (we can exclude the corrupt ones if they will not come on board), civil society groups, and all progressive Nigerians should be committed to dismantling the present National Assembly membership. I suggest that in every single constituency throughout the country, we mobilise the people and campaign to vote OUT every single member of the National Assembly. I also propose that we vote against any political party that fields as candidate a current member, a previous member or anyone who has held any executive position and now wanting to be a senator. Here is why.
Nigerians should express outrage at the current eighth National Assembly. Outrage will not suffice to show disgust at how the current crop of legislators, and I dare say particularly in the Senate, have been going on in the past two years. At the start, they could not hold a credible leadership election. On day one, they held a leadership election with most members of the ruling party absent and that election stood. Like a new bride that was the tell-tale sign that the “leg of the new bride is bad”! The ensuing crisis following that flawed process remains with them and is perhaps at the bottom of much of the crisis in the ruling APC. With the erstwhile PDP government, they were at least able to put their house in order and agreed on a selection before the “election”. In any case, what is the difference between the APC and the PDP? It is that of six and half a dozen; exactly what the Yoruba people describe as “iru iro niborun”, literally meaning that ‘they are just the same.’ The membership ofn the two parties has merely been a cross over. No less than a third of the present membership of APC were in PDP and may be on their way back to a reinvigorated PDP soon. Anybody can belong to either party, just as the weather changes. Some have even moved between the two parties and returned in the last two years. Our political class is a mess. These are political parties without any ideological leaning, without any real grounding, without any real connection with the people! They connect well within their top membership, as long as there is something to share and there will always be something to share. They are exclusive to all the people they claim to represent. You cannot join them, you cannot change them and you cannot dialogue with them. It is a mess. But I digress since my interest is particularly in the Senate.
Babatunde Fashola, Nigeria’s minister of Power, Works and Housing has just revealed that the National Assembly slashed N21 billion off the N31 billion vote for the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway and that N5 billion was also taken off the Second Niger Bridge. According to Fashola, in the place of these budget lines, they inserted projects which are not government priorities, including primary healthcare centres and boreholes. I disagree with the choice of Fashola’s words because primary healthcare centres and boreholes should equally be government priorities, especially for the teeming Nigerians in the rural areas. These legislators will probably jump up and take my argument forward, saying they are primarily concerned with the grassroots and have swapped the fund’s use in the best interest of the regular people. But then they would be lying and we could already see through that lie. The boreholes and primary health care centres will never materialise where they are most needed. In truth, they are interested in constituency projects that would line their pockets and not help their people.
The Lagos–Ibadan Expressway became highly derelict in the 16 years of thieving PDP administrations. Their APC siblings are now “padding” the budget and swapping the use of public funds. Why should it take up to 20 years to make a 120-kilometre road safe and motorable? This is one road that links Lagos with the rest of the country – North, West, East and South. If it is budgeted that it will cost 31 billion naira to fix the road and the National Assembly reduces this to 10 billion naira, are they suggesting that only one-third of the road should be constructed? Or that the quality of construction is brought down by two-thirds? Or perhaps that they have done a superior road design and costing since they received the budget, to realise that President Buhari and Babatunde Fashola have, between them, padded the road project by 21 billion naira? All three arguments are plausible and it will be nice to know which it is? One would have thought that parliaments do not make budgets but scrutinise them for the public good, transparency and accountability. When did it become the responsibility of legislators to insert projects into budgets?Apparently, they inserted several projects in the budget of every single ministry. Who are these people and why are they so unified and cohesive in their fraudulent, illegal and evil ways! Oba rere ma gba wa ke (May the good Lord save us)! Lojukoroju (so daring)! Why are our legislators hellbent on usurping executive responsibility? Why must they have their own projects (or any project at all) in the budget?
It is all President Buhari’s fault for succumbing to the evil machinations of these legislators by signing last year’s budget after the initial hesitations and with all the revelations about its padding. These thieving legislators have become emboldened and they are taking us by the jugular again.
It was the National Assembly of 1999 that started the practice of re-creating budgets. They arm twisted Olusegun Obasanjo several times and he ultimately succumbed to their blackmail to keep his seat in the face of a likely-to-succeed impeachment threat. They, thereby, set the precedence and by the time Goodluck Jonathan was in office, they had perfected the act and he was a willing accomplice, anyway. What is, however, interesting is that all these happened under PDP governments. The APC-led National Assembly seems to be much worse in budget reengineering and padding. They have passed two budgets much “fatter” than they received them, while taking about six months to approve the document each time. The present crop of National Assembly membership seems to have taken the last 16 years studying how to make this evil practice, invented by the PDP, better and stronger. I think they found the blueprint and we are all now at their mercy. They are actively disrupting governance.
It is all President Buhari’s fault for succumbing to the evil machinations of these legislators by signing last year’s budget after the initial hesitations and with all the revelations about its padding. These thieving legislators have become emboldened and they are taking us by the jugular again. Acting President Oshinbajo is equally wrong to have backpedalled, having initially sighted discrepancies and hesitated in signing the budget. Buhari, particularly, should have taken this fight to a conclusion last year and we would not have the problem we have presently. Next year, these legislators will insist on preparing the entire budget on their own, vet it and pass it on for signature and implementation. They are vultures. The president is trying to be amiable, trying NOT to be what they feared he would be when they campaigned against him over the 12 years before he finally got into office. He is actively trying to be who he is not and he has failed woefully on this front. Right now, we are no longer sure who he is anymore. Oshinbajo would have changed the course of history if he had stood firm but he also capitulated. Pray, who still has some balls in the presidency?
There are 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives. I have always wondered where the men of integrity among them are. Who is going to stand up and be counted? No outrage from a single member regarding the ongoing fraud that has happened to our national budget. Sola Adeyeye was our voice in his days in the House of Reps but alas he is now quieter than the graveyard as senator. Our National Assembly is run like a cult when it comes to money matters. When did Sola Adeyeye become one of them and no longer one of us? Did he eat “vegetable”? Was it edikaikong or efo riro? I speak not in parable because “the child who cries understands so does the mum who begs the child”.
Ali Ndume was suspended by the Senate for asking for investigations into the allegations of the importation of a bullet proof Range Rover with fake documents, involving Senate President Bukola Saraki, and that of perjury involving Dino Melaye. A rushed kangaroo investigation immediately exonerated both of them. Thereafter, Dino Melaye waxed a chart bursting album, and donned an inappropriate (possibly nicked) academic gown to celebrate his success following the incident. Hopefully, INEC will be able to verify signatures and ultimately get rid of the “Ajekun Iya” exponent. It would be another glorious day for Nigeria. Saraki, on his part, has been discharged and acquitted (a no case submission) for false asset declaration by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He has recently become so visible and larger than life, speaking like a representative of the Vatican City since his acquittal. Again, we wait for the government’s legal appeal of the judgement. People who know and should know say both Saraki and Melaye will ultimately walk away freely and that I am just in perpetual dreamland.
Collectively, we can vote against any party that fields a beneficiary of the current or previous dispensations. We can have an entirely new set of faces in the Senate and in the House of Representatives come 2019. The time to start mobilising is now. One of the stronger civil society groups can make this a priority project.
Over the last 18 years, our senators and House of Representatives members have become goats and they have been cassava feasting. At their determined current rate, they will eat all the cassava that is Nigeria’s. I predict Fashola would be summoned by the Senate soon. They will ask him to come and explain why he should not be “disciplined” for bringing the Senate into disrepute. He would probably be asked questions like these: Are you the only minister whose budget was tampered with? Did we say you should not eat your own cassava? How many contracts have you given your friends and associates? How much kickback have you received so far? If he fails to put his hands between his legs and apologise, then they will find some scandals for him. He had it coming anyway because we need to ask him: Where is our improved electricity after two years? At this point, perhaps, we also need to ask: Where are the other ministers and why are they not speaking up to be counted? Is this budget mega-scandal only in Fashola’s ministries’ budget lines? Is he alone in this allegation?
It is very difficult to fight people without a sense of shame because they reside in the mud with pigs and enjoy the fragrance of the sty. Our legislators have no sense of shame and thus are difficult to fight. The quiet ones among them, and trust me not all of them are bad, need to speak out more. They should not continue to implicitly support this indecent and shameful legislative impunity and bravado, otherwise they are complicit in the crime. They will suffer the consequence along with guilty ones if my proposal were to gain acceptance and implementation.
I, therefore, come back to my proposition. Heaven helps only those who help themselves. We have to fight our fight. In the words of Charles Oputa (Charly Boy), “our mumu don do”. In organising towards 2019, Nigerians can make the political parties and the world learn a new lesson in democracy through their votes. We could set a new record. We can, in one fell swoop, remove all our current legislators and reject anyone who has previously been in the National Assembly. Collectively, we can vote against any party that fields a beneficiary of the current or previous dispensations. We can have an entirely new set of faces in the Senate and in the House of Representatives come 2019. The time to start mobilising is now. One of the stronger civil society groups can make this a priority project. If we succeed with this, Nigeria will never be the same again. We can have our cassava back from greedy goats!
Gbolahan Gbadamosi can be reached at email@example.com