We Run a Corruptocracy

If the fiery anger of an individual towards the system is a potent fumi-gant, then Professor Sola Adeyeye, former member of the Federal House of Representatives, certainly possesses enough to eradicate the pests of corruption thriving in the corridors of power in Nigeria, especially in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly. Before he joined the House of Representatives in 2003 on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, after serving as chairman of a caretaker committee in Ifedayo Local Government area, Osun State, the intrepid professor of Biology promised his people in Boluwaduro/Ifedayo/Ila Federal Constituency that he was ready, even if single-handedly, to confront the mess in a National Assembly he described as “a facsimile of political Gomorrah” with a view to stamping out the “metastasis of parliamentary indecorum”. Taking a cue from the inimitable Sam Amuka, publisher of Vanguard newspapers, who once wrote in his characteristic satirical genius that Nigeria’s independence from the British colonial masters in 1960 “exchanged monkeys for baboons,” Adeyeye lamented that the nation’s “years of putative independence” merely afforded us the opportunity to replace the “British alligators with Nigerian crocodiles,” leaving over 140 million people in the hands of a thieving band of soldiers and politicians that has now turned the world’s largest black nation into “a colony of maggots”.

Formerly of the Department of Biology, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, United States, US, Adeyeye has often maintained that government in Nigeria is a “cesspool of corruption, an oasis of immorality and an open sewage of political prostitution and bastardy,” which has occasioned the endemic poverty ravaging the land. He is particularly irked that, in an age when governments in other climes are passionately committed to the social and economic emancipation of their constituents, Nigeria’s predatory ruling elite, like the family of flies and maggots that often finds a five-star hotel in filth and squalor, are always busy “having jubilatory rendezvous in the midst of a wanton decay” they have foisted on the people.

Perhaps, this explains why he was seen as a rebel of sorts by his colleagues throughout his days in the House. And for constantly hurling verbal missiles at those feeding fat from the system then, himself inclusive, he earned the excoriation of his colleagues. Adeyeye was not only vilified, he was avoided like a leper. However, the proverbial last straw that broke the back of the camel was his expose of a secret meeting convened in 2006 by promoters of the infamous third-term agenda in the cozy ambience of the NICON Hilton Hotel, Abuja, where strategies were perfected to oil the itchy palms of each of the ‘honourable’ lawmakers that supported the evil plot with N70 million. Ditched by his colleagues and members of his party who were also part of the secret meeting, Adeyeye was dragged before an ad hoc committee of the House which compelled him to “eat” his words.

Perhaps the leadership of the House got wind of the fact that Adeyeye truly had a recording of the infamous meeting, it ensured that the report of the committee that tried him never saw the light of day. Says he: “There were three assassination attempts on my life. I later realised that it is dangerous to be right when everybody is wrong.”

Now, an unrepentant Adeyeye is back in the trenches, spewing invectives on the reward system in Nigeria that obscenely rewards political office holders at the expense of the rest of the citizenry. In this interview that may cause quite a stir, Adeyeye, who is still contesting his defeat in the Osun Central senatorial election of 2007 in court, links the nation’s backwardness to the “maggot syndrome” and exposes the ingenious methods through which Nigerian lawmakers fleece the nation, and suggests how political office holders can be stopped from having a “cabaret festival,” endlessly looting the nation’s treasury.
Excerpts:

What do Nigerian public office holders earn in terms of salaries and allowances?

What we have in Nigeria is what I have described many times as a corruptocracy, a government of the corrupt by the corrupt and for the corrupt. And in that kind of government, there are no rules because anything goes. A situation where a political office holder, in an extremely poor country such as Nigeria, earns more than a neurosurgeon working in the United States tells the story of how sad our reward system is. When I was in the National Assembly, twice I made a statement that was carried by some newspapers to the effect that if Nigerians know how much we in the National Assembly were making, they would come and stone all of us. I would park my car in front of the National Assembly and I would load the trunk with stones so that there would be enough stones to stone everybody, including myself. Unfortunately, as things are in Nigeria, nobody thought my revelation was worthy of being followed up, and things have since gone from bad to worse.

Is it as a result of the ostentatious lifestyle of an average politician that many now see politics as the most lucrative business in the country?

I used to think that the most lucrative business is becoming the pastor of a pentecostal church. But I can tell you that I do not think even those preachers come close to the politicians when it comes  to living above the average Nigerian. Those who are supposed to be public servants, who are supposed to reflect the values and lifestyles of Nigerians, their hardships and sufferings, are in fact the ones who are far distant from those realities. When I got to the House of Representatives in 2003, I thought our salary at the beginning was very reasonable. The official package and everything came to a net of about N166,000 per month. And that is just a little over a thousand dollars. At the same time, my wife, a visiting professor at the University of Lagos who was at the bar of professorial salary, was getting about N150,000 per month. So, we were getting almost the same thing and I thought that was reasonable. But the real problem in Nigeria is that much of the money politicians take home does not come in the form of salaries; it comes in the form of
barefaced looting called allowances.

How?

Let me give an example. When we got to the National Assembly, we were given money for stationery, and I thought perhaps that was the money for all the stationery I would need for one year or throughout my stay in the National Assembly. So, I went ahead and bought the stationery. I later realised that I was naïve. The funny thing was that I did not use half of the stationery till I left the National Assembly. But the real tragedy was that, almost two months later, we were given money for stationery again. And that must have repeated itself about twice every quarter throughout my stay there. I am saying that the money they paid us for stationery was probably 20 times what they should have paid us. I do not know of anyone (in the National Assembly then) who wrote more than I did. I cannot recollect the figures again but I would be surprised if we received less than N12 million during the four-year period that we stayed there. And that is obscene as far as I am concerned. Another example is the amount of money that is allocated to travels. If you have to travel based on the amount you get for travel, essentially you have to travel every day because there is already a ceiling set by the Revenue Allocation and Fiscal Mobilisation Commission, on how much can be withdrawn per day as allowance for travelling. If you are now given a million naira when you can only withdraw N15,000 as allowance per day for local travel, it will take you roughly 66 days to spend a million naira, except that that one million naira is not for one year. It might be for one quarter or half a quarter. And by that, you have to devise all kinds of means to explain how you spent the money — you have to say your car broke down while going out and you repaired it, you have to say you went
with your security aides, and if you are a principal officer, you have to say you went with drivers, police, and when you got there, you organized entertainment for the community and this and that. Honestly, the whole thing is a scam. I got tired of this when I called that initial press conference. I remember it was within our first year that Uche Onyegoacha and Haruna Yerima (fellow lawmakers) called me that we had to do something about the outrageous allowances we were getting. I told them that I did not think the three of us had the power to do anything and that the best way to do something about it was to expose it to the press. I was going to go to the press and, hopefully, the press would take it up and the whole scam would be exposed from the fire that would have been lit and, therefore, gotten rid of. Unfortunately, that did not happen because the press in Nigeria is very weak when it comes to investigative journalism. For example, I told this nation that I was part of a meeting in NICON Hilton Hotel, Abuja, where we were told that a plan was in the offing to give N70 million to every do not cost too much money; the Nigerian worker is underpaid. The Nigerian worker is a near slave. So it is not having the aides that is the problem. When we were there, we were given four aides for our official duties — one senior aide, one junior aide, one secretary and one assistant.

Aren’t these too many for a House of about 360 members and Senate of 109 members?

Quite frankly, that is not to many because you will need them if you are to do your work. When I went to Abuja, I took an oath that I would run an office that is as good as that of an American Congressman. And I took extremely bright gentlemen with me-one of them is Gbenga Adebusuyi, one of the most brilliant men this country has. He was former personal aide to Chief Bisi Akande (National Chairman of the Action Congress -AC). I said to myself that everyone who would be my staff would be good enough to be a star at the House of Representatives. Should I drop dead, he should be able to take my place. That is the calibre of people I took with me when I was going to the House.

So, paying the staff is not a huge burden to the taxpayers?
The real thing is not the money you pay to the staff. The real thing is, how much money do you allocate to international travels? And do you actually make those travels before you make your claims? How much money do you provide for local travels? If you engaged in those travels, how did you have time for the 180 days that the rule requires that you must be in the House? These are the contradictions of the system. You have so much money for stationery, travelling, consultancy fees and all sorts of sundry things. It is absolutely ridiculous.

And the wastage still continues till now?

I have no way of verifying this but I am told that each senator right now draws at least N10 million a month and a representative draws around N7 million a month. Our last year there, were receiving about N50 million per year (about N4.25 million per month). When we first got there, a House of Representatives member was receiving about N18 million per year. I went to Speaker and the deputy speaker and told them to give us a rate so that all these clamour allowances could be reduced. Instead of the endless clamour allowances for this and that, I told them to give everybody N2 million a month and let us take care of our staff with it. How many of us there were making N2 million a month before we went there?  Though there were a few wealthy men among us to whom N2 million would mean nothing, million a month would have been a lot of money to the vast majority of us, about 90 per cent of us. And the Speaker said he dared not do it because every time there was chaos in the House, it was not over policy issues but allowances. All the time that the Senate kept changing its president, it was over complaints about how allowances were apportioned. And (Aminu) Masari was a ‘genius’; he kept an open book. Masari told us how much he was making, and whenever we complained, he would give us more from his own cup. That is why he lasted four years without any trouble. We are in a mess.

Apart from these methods, in what other ways do legislators fleece taxpayers?

Professor Samuel Aluko said our estacode is the highest in the world. I have since read that it is second highest in the world. When I went to South Africa to visit their Senate, I found out that the estacode for a representative is $80 per day, ours was $500 as at that time. That is how terrible it is! In Ghana, it is $60 per day.
In any case, what they do over there is that the embassy arranges your hotel, puts you in a luxurious, comfortable hotel and gives you money to buy whatever food you want to buy. But here, you do not even have to go before collecting all the allowances! They should collect the passport of all of us who were there for four years, 2003 to 2007, and ask, where did we all go with all the money we collected for international travels? If they do that, 90 per cent of us would go to prison. Do you know why they would not do it? It is because the highest estacode in the world was Obasanjo’s.  Let me give another example. When the federal government sold its houses, the occupier was given the right of first refusal. So all the ministers, all the directors and all the legislators bought them, where did they get the money?
They got a loan. Ask again, where did get the money to pay the loan? of course, from the allowances! Otherwise, let them tell us where the income came from. That tells you what the allowances were really used for.

Can’t we take a cue from countries where lawmaking is done on part-time basis?

I believe that there is nothing we doing in the House of Representatives that requires full-time job. Under (Tafawa) Balewa and Nnamdi Azikiwe, (first Prime Minister and President of Nigeria, respectively) a legislator was a part-time job.
own principal at Ilesha Grammar School was a member of the House Representatives; so were many principals. When (Obafemi) Awolowo began drawing the bright and women that helped him to the Western Region, many of the people who joined him were, in fact, school principals. Papa (Adekunle) Ajasin, a school principal, was in the House of Representatives. I think we copied the Americans too far. we do not have the money that America has; we do not have the seriousness, not yet in politics, which the American has. Unfortunately, we pay people too much money to do part-time jobs. I remember there was a lady who showed up one day to move a motion and the whole House laughed because that was the first time we were seeing her in almost five months. So, this is the kind of wastefulness and prodigality that we have in Nigeria. Of course, they would all deny it when this comes out. When I first got there, I refused to take it because I was afraid we would all go to prison. But every time I got home and election was coming, there was no way I could run for the election without money, I was begging people for money. So, eventually, I also joined them, to my shame, I must say. But the truth is that, somehow, we must terminate this stealing.

How do we stop it?

I think the best way out is for journalists to do something. What will it take to get a copy of how much a representative or senator is paid per month? After all, these things are not paid into Swiss banks; they are paid into banks in Nigeria. This is how journalists do it all over the world. Then tell the public by actually writing against the system. I think if it can be ascertained that a senator is actually drawing N10 million per month as allowance, then the next question is: under what sub-headings are they making this kind of money? If a senator says that he is given N3 million for travels and produces receipts, ask him, what other job does he do, and you will realise that he has no other job. Then, you can ask, where did the money he gave to his church or kabiyesi last month come from?

You can also go and look at the account and see how many withdrawal checks were signed. What you will find is that the man has no other income going in; he is only signing the money deposited by the National Assembly into other things that were not what they were meant for by the National Assembly. That was why I called for the arrest of everybody, since no representatives or senator has immunity against arrest. As my colleagues would ask me in the House, “Professor, when you say money is too much for us in the House, do you know how much the ministers are making and nobody is complaining?” I remember one representative who came to me one day and said: “Egbon, I like you but we will quarrel on this matter. I used to respect you.” It got to a point that they started to be afraid of me and decided to smear me. The Speaker had sent me to South Africa, because I was constantly pushing for a library system. So the Speaker gave me N2.4 million and I had to go to four countries — South Africa, Ghana, Canada and the US. I told the Speaker I did not want to go alone. I nominated three serious people that went with me, including the chief librarian of the House, because I wanted us to have a library that would be worthy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I wanted the library of the National Assembly to be the best in Africa, just as the library of Congress in the US is the best in the world. But by the time I came back, I had spent far more than the Speaker gave for the project. I came back to find out that, in my absence, a story had been carried in the newspapers that I was given a contract to build a library when, in fact, there was no such thing in the budget or in the House. That was how I was smeared beyond measure. And I quickly said, if you want to build a library or not is your problem. The point is that one person cannot do it alone. I had thought, between Yerima and Onyegoacha and a few that I knew later that were serious, that we could fight the system.
Unfortunately, Yerima, in my view, jumped the gun because we actually met and we were to have another meeting to decide the strategy for exposing the corruption in the National Assembly. We know it was not something we could expose ourselves but to just give enough incontrovertible information to the press and let the press run away with it. Afterall, these things (looting) are done with so much impunity, so flagrantly that it would have been extremely easy to file the evidence. But Yerima suddenly went to the press and lambasted everybody. And by the time we came back, he got suspended.

But that was a House that many believe fared better than the one before it…

(Cuts in) Except that we fought the third-term agenda, I do not think there was anything we did for four years in the National Assembly that deserves commendation. Do you know that the electronic voting system in the National Assembly has never worked in eight years? That is why it is possible to manipulate the vote in the National Assembly. The nays will have it while the Speaker will announce that the ayes have it. At least on four occasions, I, persuasively, along with colleagues, triumphed on motions or bills which were manipulated through voice votes. Go to South Africa and Ghana and see whether electronic voting does not work. That is the kind of magomago we call democracy in this country. On the day we passed the emergency rule in Ekiti State, we were not up to 240 in the House that day. So they announced whatever vote they wanted. Same thing in Plateau State. Plateau State had a legislature of 24 members but only six impeached (former Governor Joshua) Dariye, thanks to Olusegun Obasanjo and Nuhu Ribadu. Now, Ribadu can see that it is better to let due process to have its way. He it was who brought (the legislators from Plateau) to Abuja, put an axe on their head and ensured that Obasanjo’s whims prevailed. I am not saying Dariye should not have been impeached but there was no due process. And whenever you say that the end justifies the means, you corrupt the end through the means as we are having right now.

Besides the fact that such despicable acts impoverish the country, what other effects do they have on the polity?

It sends the wrong type of people into the political arena. Right now, you do not have to care about any issue before you go into politics. All you have to care for is your pocket. You need a godfather who can use the instrument of terror to subvert the sovereignty of the electorate. If there were free and fair elections, of course, I
would be in the Senate by now. But I was not even allowed to vote for myself.

Of late, the National Assembly has been probing into different sectors of the nation. Is this not the case of the pot calling the kettle black?

I actually agree with the House in the probes because that is the duty of the House. The executive has been given too much leeway. But what has been the result of any of the probes? In other parts of the world, when you probe and discover that corruption has taken place, you use legislative powers to get the culprits arrested. The Speaker of the House can order the arrest of any witness who perjures himself and the person will be prosecuted. But the problem in Nigeria is that the commissioner of police and inspector-general of police can only listen to the executive. By the same token, the President should keep an eye on the legislature to ensure the members do not steal our money. If the investigative arm of the executive keeps an eye on the legislature and the legislature keeps an eye on the executive, you can have a responsive and accountable government. But ours is a corruptocracy where nobody wants to ruffle the feathers of the other because everybody is embroiled. originally TELL .February 2, 2009

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