Taming The ‘Coronavirus’ in Nigerian Lawmakers

Casmir Igbokwe

Coronavirus is currently ravaging many parts of the world. Many people have died of it. Many others have been quarantined. In Nigeria, many politicians are afflicted by a special kind of ‘Coronavirus’ – greed. Though Nigerians are adjudged the poorest in the world; though many state governments find it difficult to pay salaries and pensions; our career politicians, especially our lawmakers, appear isolated from any financial danger. Nigerians refer to their salaries as jumbo, their cars as exotic, and their wants as insatiable. There is every need to quarantine their greed.

Recent reports have it that there are plans to buy 400 exotic cars for the current members of the House of Representatives. The model is Toyota Camry 2020. This will cost Nigerian taxpayers an estimated N5.04 billion. Already, the presiding and principal officers as well as chairmen of select House committees have reportedly acquired Toyota Land Cruisers and Prado jeeps. In 2016, both chambers of the National Assembly similarly bought luxury SUVs worth N4.7 billion for themselves. This was despite their car loans, pool buses, and public outcry.

Besides, it is common knowledge that our lawmakers are among the highest paid in the world. The head of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, had once said a Nigerian senator earned N15 million monthly while a member of the House of Representatives earned N13.5m monthly.

Two years ago, Senator Shehu Sani corroborated what Sagay said. According to him, each senator gets a monthly salary of N750,000 and N13.5m monthly as running costs.

“The National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent organs of government. It pricked my conscience and I decided to burst the bubble and open the National Assembly to scrutiny,” Sani had noted.

Curiously, President Muhammadu Buhari believes the National Assembly members are not overpaid for the work they do. At the recent launch of The Green Chamber magazine, a publication of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Buhari said, “Hitherto, the public perception of the National Assembly is that of a bicameral legislature where overly comfortable and highly-overpaid members merely stuff wads of currency notes into their pockets for little work done. This wrong perception has resulted partly from the lack of understanding of the enormous work of lawmakers, especially outside the glare of television cameras.”

Ironically, this same Presidency in 2018 described the National Assembly as being greedy. It was on the heels of the reported padding of the 2018 budget by the legislators. Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, had in a statement then berated the lawmakers for not only increasing the oil benchmark to service their interest, but for also cutting funding for essential projects in order to further increase their allocation for constituency projects.

In a similar self-seeking move, the lawmakers want immunity for the presiding officers of both the National and State Assemblies. A bill to that effect has scaled second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to amend Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, which grants immunity to the President, Vice President, state governors and their deputies from civil and criminal prosecution while in office.

It is worthy to note that a similar bill did not survive in 2016. Then, the Senate toyed with the idea in an apparent bid to protect the then Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who faced some charges by the Code of Conduct Bureau. For now, the legislators should be satisfied with the act, which grants members of the National and State Assemblies immunity from litigation for actions taken in plenary or committee proceedings. Buhari signed that act in 2018.

Happily, civil society groups like the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) are not sleeping. SERAP specifically described the immunity bill as a blatant assault on the rule of law and breach of public trust. It reminded Nigerians that countries such as Guatemala had voted to strip their presidents of immunity from prosecution for corruption.

Last year, SERAP, BudgIT and 6,721 Nigerians also launched a lawsuit against the purchase of luxury cars for principal officers in the Senate. And just recently, the same SERAP and 192 concerned Nigerians also sued the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and all members of the House. In the suit, filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the plaintiffs are asking the court to stop the defendants from the planned purchase of cars until an impact assessment of the spending on access to public services and goods like education, security, health and clean water is carried out. This is the way to go.

As Senator Sani had suggested, the nation could do away with constituency projects and running costs. Let the lawmakers make do with their salaries. They should also emulate legislators in saner environments who place the welfare of their citizens above selfish inclinations. In the United Kingdom, for instance, two MPs, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, in 2015, rejected a 10 per cent hike in their salaries, which amounted then to £74,000 per annum. The increment even came with a reduction in other allowances. Some others decided to donate their own increment to charity.

Essentially, the aim of holding a political office should be to serve and not to be served. The do-or-die political contest in our environment will end the moment we realise this fact. We can start by making our legislature a part-time affair.

We also need to intensify efforts to put a stop to our profligacy not just in the parliament but also in our entire political life. We need to stop our huge expenditure during elections. We need to control how much political parties spend during campaigns. We need to block the wastage called security votes. Above all, we need to place all forms of greed, bribery and corruption in a political isolation ward.

 

Re: Villa war and Buhari’s uncomfortable silence

In my village, we were taught that “when you do not know what to say, don’t say what you don’t know.”  Keep quiet! This punctures the wrong assumption that President Buhari purposely maintains uncomfortable silence in the face of daunting national challenges and tribulations. I believe that this is part of his DNA. Recall that, as Head of State and as a young army officer in 1984/85,  Buhari got Col. Tunde Idiagbon to do the whole work, while he took all the credit, for using army tribunals to jail some governors for 110 years.

In 1995, when the late Gen. Sani Abacha appointed him chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), Gen. Buhari reportedly insisted that, for him to accept the job, one retired federal permanent secretary, Chief Tayo Akpata, now late, must be made secretary of PTF. It was so. Then he got in one young Fulani “wheeler dealer” as PTF “super consultant.” That was why and how over 70% of PTF contract jobs were located in NE and NW states of Nigeria. I got to know all this as a consultant to a young consultant, to another Igbo consultant with a PhD, who was brought in from the USA, apparently to watch and see what the hell was going on in the huge potpourri of the PTF system. Dr. Ochi flew back to USA immediately the circus show ended. Any more questions on the indispensability of Abba Kyari as CoS?

– Dr. Chuka Nwosu, Port Harcourt, 08085914645

Dear Casmir, the man you see on President’s seat is not the same person Nigerians voted for. If not, how can a President ask ministers to report to his PA? Every statement from the cabal is credited to him and he won’t deny because he was on assignment to destabilise Nigeria. Even the service chiefs are culprits. Nigeria has been handed over to a set of confused analog old men. Shame to Nigerian youths!

– Tobias Igbokwe, +2348023729899

Bro Cas, Fela posited that a carpenter who does not know his work is a ‘suwegbe’. Buhari, Monguno, Kyari are ‘suwegbes’. But they should know that Nigerians’ life is too precious to be gambled with. Enough of all this hullabaloo/nonsense!

– Smart, Abakaliki, 08134774884

Dear Casmir, right from time, in administration, there are cross functional teams like in the case of the production and marketing manager in companies. What owners do is to define roles in the company law and advise against encroachment. Checks and balances are not just separation of powers but also balance and definition of it. Our leader should define roles for his men.

– Cletus Frenchman, Enugu, +2349095385215

Mr. C, Buhari’s muteness on Kyari and NSA’s face-off is directly and indirectly proving IPOB right on their allegation of Aso Rock Sudan impostor. Thanks for choosing to write on it.

-Iyke, Okigwe, +23490119307991

When First Lady Aisha Buhari said some cabals were controlling the government of her husband, Nigerians started asking, why must she make that kind of statement? The President should do the needful by sacking them now because it is a disgrace to the nation.

– Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348115368466

Casmir, Buhari’s men should work in synergy. Since they both have their rules for engagement in service, Monguno and Kyari should work as a team and with respect for each other in the best interest of Nigeria.

– Mike, Mushin, Lagos, +2348161114572

Dear Casy, there is no war in Aso Rock between the members of Buhari cabal. It is their usual drama when they want to strike us with their evil virus in the form of bad policies, they resort to divert our attention. Currently, there is influx of Fulani herdsmen terrorists across regions of Africa into southern Nigeria. They have taken over our farms and forests with kidnapping, rape, murder. In Buhari’s Nigeria, Fulani and their cattle are the sacred cows; the lives of other Nigerians no longer have meaning.

– Eze Chima C. Lagos, +2347036225495

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, March 2, 2020

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