Friday, 12 August 2016

Legislators, scandals and distractions

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

The allegation of budget-padding, leveled against the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and three other officers, by former chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriation Committee, Abdulmumin Jibrin, and the denial and counter-accusation there from, have reinforced the escalating degeneration of lawmaking in the National Assembly. So far, in this eighth National Assembly, attempts at surpassing the vices and impunity of actions committed by earlier parliaments have been relentless as this scandal over budget “padding” demonstrates. That the event is a needless distraction derailing the progressive movement of governance is evident in the time and resources spent discussing it.

What is the story this time? Reports were that following pressures from committee members, Mr. Jibrin was removed from his position as chairman of the House Appropriation Committee over accusations of gross anomalies, non-inclusion of members in the discharge of committee duties, and of allocating 20 projects worth N4.3 billion to his constituency, and projects worth N40 billion to the leadership of the Appropriation committees of the Senate and the House.

In reaction to this, Jibrin lashed out at Dogara and three other principal officers of the House, asked them to resign because they allegedly prevailed on him to pad the budget in their favour, but refused. He also said that 10 committee chairmen injected 2, 000 fictitious projects worth N248 billion into the budget. However, in response to Jibrin’s claims, Dogara came out to state that nothing wrong had been done.

Whatever the nomenclature conjured to describe the activity in question, be it budget padding, misallocation or appropriation, it is clear that the legislators do not have the same understanding of what proper appropriation entails. Is the injection of fictitious projects into the budget the meaning of budget padding? Is it really true that these fictitious projects were injected into the budget? If this is the case, why is Jibrin just making the details known after his removal as chairman of the appropriation committee? Given this controversy, it is obvious that the very issue many politicians seek to gloss over has now been made the crux of the matter: the moral question in Nigeria’s governance.
Although many have argued that the revelation arising from this shameless act, of legislators washing their dirty linens in public, is a rite of passage for any virile legislature, there is no sense in turning personal animosity and misunderstanding into statecraft.

Discerning Nigerians, must ask again and again: What is happening to our lawmakers? Why is it not surprising that it is only when issues of allocation of funds are raised that we find lawmakers in this show of shame? Why is it that only on matters relating to rabid material quest do we feel the vociferousness of the lawmakers? Who amongst them has come up with any insightful idea, or any quotable quote demonstrating high intellect and moral virtue? Who amongst them has stood so high in dispassionate acknowledgement of a ground-breaking act of selflessness and sacrifice?

Nigerians are witnesses to the degenerate recruitment process that brought these characters to the National Assembly and into many other political offices. We were and are still witnesses to the gradual loss of values at the family level, the increasing poor quality of education despite the prefixes and suffixes around the names of lawmakers, and the silence of local communities over graft and impropriety. True, the result is the cascading mediocrity that has percolated onto the sanctuary of lawmaking. As can be observed, it is not any alien who is destroying Nigeria but Nigerians themselves. By their shameless activities, these lawmakers are destroying Nigeria inside and outside.

Nigerians and concerned parties must also act, for that is the way out. It is a shame that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is the majority party in the House, and could not do anything about its various issues until they become scandals. The rot in the National Assembly is partly attributable to loss of attitude and direction in the party – absence of party cohesion and discipline. Even though APC controls both houses, members hardly meet as a party. This seems to justify the views of pundits that there is no ideological nexus amongst members suggesting, therefore, that the quest for naked power and primordial sentiments rather than a cohesive ideological framework for political and social action, are the real motivation for members.

However, it is cheering to note that amidst the mudslinging, eminent persons are clamouring for drastic reforms in the National Assembly. Irrespective of the kinds of reforms, there is unanimity on the need for men and women of integrity at this realm of government. Every country that has earned respect for good governance and people-centred service and development of its society, has achieved such through the commitment of its lawmakers to discharging their duties with a sense of responsibility.

This is a truth many Nigerian politicians, especially lawmakers, are wont to negate by the circus of ignominy over budgetary allocations. And this is the truth this newspaper has always harped on. Beyond clannish popularity, party affinity and certification in various trades and endeavours, the quality of being just, good-seeking, visionary, selfless and sacrificial to the public good make up the overall credentials of those wanted in this hallowed position of government.

Until Nigeria presents the very best of its citizens, who have the nation at heart and are nationalistic, people-oriented and selfless enough to feel the pain of the common man, listen to the cry of the helpless, and are willing to act until something positive happens, Nigeria would be wobbling aimlessly in the same messy merry-go-round it has created.

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