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Saturday, 30 July 2016

N’Assembly: Obasanjo as lawmakers’ nemesis


For the second time this year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has hurled scathing remarks at members of the National Assembly, accusing them of being corrupt. BAYO AKINLOYE in this report, captures the views of prominent Nigerians on the issue
As a relentless political pugilist, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is considered to be ruthless in throwing sucker punches against his perceived enemies.
The retired general, who is seen to have a penchant for criticising and discrediting individuals institutions, last week, for the second time this year, hit National Assembly lawmakers accusing many of them of being corrupt.
The frosty relationship between Obasanjo and the lawmakers started in 2002, when there were concerted efforts by the House of Representatives under the leadership of Ghali Na’Abba, to remove Obasanjo as president.
“Eventually, we were persuaded not to continue, not because we were not right or because we were not sure we were going to succeed, but because these elders told us many things about the unity and stability of this country. We heeded and I must admit that I regret listening to them because it is as a result of us listening to them that Nigeria is in this mess today.”Na’Abba, while giving reasons for the impeachment move against Obasanjo in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH had said, “Our reasons were cogent and verifiable; there were several constitutional breaches. The budget was not being implemented as well as a lot of other things, which are in public domain (today). We backed down because some elders were asked to come and exhort us to water down the impeachment.
On Monday, the former president  again expressed his disdainful disposition towards the federal lawmakers, while reacting to a public spat between the House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, and a former Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Abdulmumin Jibrin, over allegations of budget padding.
Jibrin had, following his removal as chair of the committee, accused Dogara, and three other principal officers of being accomplices in the alleged padding of the 2016 budget by the House.
He had specifically alleged that chairmen of 10 committees injected 2,000 fictitious projects worth N248bn into the budget.
Obasanjo had noted that the current corruption allegation in the Green Chamber, proved him right that lawmakers were more interested in personal gratification than representing the people who voted them in.
He said, “Well, if there are people who didn’t believe what I said in the past, then you now that what has come out confirms what I said in the past. What I said in the past is what I will say now. We should get men and women of integrity into the place (National Assembly) and the President should be very vigilant.”
But in a swift reaction on Tuesday, the Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, Bala Na’Allah, took a swipe at Obasanjo for describing members of the National Assembly as corrupt.
He went further to exonerate himself of any corrupt practice even as he indicted Obasanjo of introducing graft into the National Assembly.
He said, “I am not corrupt and I have integrity. For the records, I was the only member from Kebbi State, who did not find it worthy at that time to collect the sum of N50m as an inducement to subvert the constitution and provide a constitutional framework for the third term ambition of (then) President Obasanjo. I find this statement, if it is true, to be reckless and terrifying.”
Commenting on Obasanjo’s condemnation of the lawmakers, the 2015 presidential candidate of KOWA Party, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, told SUNDAY PUNCH that while Obasanjo’s accusation was weighty, the onus is on him to prove his point.
She said, “Maybe he has information that the rest of us do not have. If he could make such an allegation, it is also important if he can substantiate it.”
Earlier this year, Obasanjo, through his favourite channel – letter writing – had accused members of the National Assembly of corruption and extravagant wastage of the nation’s resources, despite the harsh economic reality confronting the nation.
The letter, dated January 13, was addressed to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
The ex-president claimed that the legislators allocated to themselves salaries and allowances above the template approved by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, among other accusations.
He further condemned a situation whereby the lawmakers demanded a vehicle each as official cars, even though the vehicles had been monetised. He had insisted that with such act, the legislators were being wasteful and insensitive.
Even though the Senate President, Saraki, had mildly replied Obasanjo that the Eighth Senate was committed to good governance, the elder statesman’s criticisms drew the ire of some legislators, including the Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory, Sen. Dino Melaye.
Melaye had, through a rejoinder, alleged that it was Obasanjo that exposed the lawmakers to corruption during his tenure.
The senator accused the retired general of expressing his anger on the current members of the National Assembly and said Obasanjo should have forgiven members of the Fourth National Assembly, who allegedly refused to impeach Na’Abba, despite an alleged huge financial inducement.
However, a former Secretary of the National Democratic Coalition and Convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms, Chief Ayo Opadokun, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, had argued that though Obasanjo was not the right person to make such a claim, some of the issues he raised were major matters of national concern.
“Part of what the Obasanjo-led government did was the monetisation of salary and statutory of office. Obasanjo cannot deny that. There were several instances where money changed hands (between the Presidency and the National Assembly); they even brought some into the open at the Assembly about three times when he was to be impeached,” Opadokun had said.
Sometimes in 2012, Obasanjo had also described the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly as institutions filled with “rogues and armed robbers” at an event in Lagos attended by a former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, and the Head of the defunct Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan.
He had said, “Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly. What sort of laws will they make?”
Similarly, in November 2014, the ex-president described the National Assembly as largely an assemblage of looters and thieves.
“Apart from shrouding the remunerations of the National Assembly in opacity and without transparency, they indulged in extorting money from departments, contractors and ministries in two ways. They did so 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 did similar things during their inquiries,” he had alleged.
In what was regarded as Obasanjo’s overbearing influence on the National Assembly, the Senate changed its president thrice between 1999 and 2007. Similarly, the House of Representatives had two speakers during his first tenure.
There was a time the National Assembly Committees on Appropriation were accused of conniving with ministries, agencies and departments to pad budgets.
In one of such instances, the then Minister of Education, Professor Fabian Osuji, was dismissed by Obasanjo for allegedly paying N50m to the Senate Committee on Education as inducement to increase the budgetary allocation to his ministry.
The “cash-for-alteration” scandal led to the resignation of Senator Adolphus Wabara, perceived to be an executive stooge by his colleagues, as President of the Senate.
To the Head of Political Science Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Jonah Onuoha, Obasanjo is a whistleblower that should be respected for his courage to speak out against the establishment.
He said, “Obasanjo, in my opinion, speaks on facts not sentiments even though the corruption allegation is debatable. If the lawmakers feel aggrieved over what he accused them of, they should ask him to provide evidence.
“It has to be said that the lawmakers are not free from corruption. Nigerians should take Obasanjo’s comment seriously because he doesn’t fear whose ox is gored. “He’s just playing the role of a whistleblower, calling the attention of constituted authorities to beam their searchlight in the direction of the National Assembly,” Onuoha told SUNDAY PUNCH.
Expressing a different opinion, Dr. Idowu Johnson, of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, told our correspondent that Obasanjo’s accusation against the lawmakers was a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
“Obasanjo is not an effective role model. Let us call a spade a spade, Obasanjo has no integrity on the issue he is speaking about.
“Has he so quickly forgotten about the third-term agenda that he often denies? If Obasanjo had, during his time in office as president of this country, done what Buhari is doing now, we are not likely going to be in the mess we are in today, politically and economically. What we are experiencing is just a case of the pot calling the kettle black,”  Johnson said.
In his submission, Prof. Sheriffdeen Tella of the Department of Economics, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the National Assembly has not been able to fully prove that it is incorruptible.
He said, “I think Obasanjo is always trying to justify himself. But in this case, the lawmakers have given Obasanjo the opportunity to take a swipe at them. This National Assembly appears more corrupt than previous assemblies.
“Nobody is denying the allegations; what we have is counterclaims. But then the third-term agenda is still fresh in our memory. Though the agenda didn’t succeed, it was alleged a lot of money was shared by the Presidency to lawmakers in the National Assembly. Well, one can conclude that the issue between Obasanjo and the lawmakers can be summed up as the pot calling the kettle black.”
Similarly,  a former spokesperson for the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, said  that it would be a wise decision to focus on the elder statesman’s message than his character.
He said, “My understanding of former President Obasanjo on the allegations of corruption in the National Assembly is that he has been vindicated, perhaps because he had made such allegations against the House in the past. But there is nothing exotic or quixotic about the allegations, considering there have been many allegations against the National Assembly in the past.”

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