Dr. Wumi Akintide

Our National Assembly members have failed to realize that the economic realities of Nigeria can no longer support bogus allowances.

I witnessed on Channel TV the morning of August 24th a workshop sponsored by Africa’s richest Nigerian: our own Aliko Dangote, who surprised with his brilliant opening remarks. The workshop on Sustainable Development in the African sub-region was attended by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, and his team of advisers and experts on that subject.

The workshop touched briefly on the economic realities of Nigeria and the inference I took away from the opening remarks of both Dangote and Ban Ki-Moon is my compelling reason for doing this piece on the Nigerian Parliament which should be the “fons et origo” of the legislations and regulations that shape or determine those realities.

That the workshop is taking place in Nigeria at a time another powerful and eminently-qualified Nigerian was presiding over the United Nations Security Council in New York is a development that should make all Nigerians and our new democratically-elected Administration in Nigeria very proud about the awareness that Nigeria has indeed come of age.

As a historian and a top Administrator in the Federal Public Service of Nigeria for 25 years, I could not be more proud to hear the Secretary-General talk so glowingly about Nigeria and her potential to be the leading economic powerhouse in Africa.

The workshop clearly assures the world and our people that Nigeria is no longer going to play a second fiddle by any means to South Africa anymore. Africa’s most populous nation is moving forward despite all the internal problems holding her back, like the diminishing returns from our one-product economy, which mainly relies on oil, which is now selling at less than 50.00 Dollars per barrel in the global market. The draconian drop in the price of oil from 120 Dollars per barrel has hit Nigeria where it hurts the most. Despite that handicap, the crippling effect of pervasive corruption, and the criminal neglect of other mineral resources that have long been left untapped, Nigeria’s economy has still managed to grow at 6 percent per year as stated by Dangote and as confirmed by Ban Ki-Moon, who accurately described the United Nations as a global coalition and partnership for peace, security and progress.

That was about the simplest definition of the United Nations I have ever heard and that definition immediately takes me to my own definition of the Nigerian National Assembly as the local coalition and partnership for the same peace, security and progress that Bank Ki-Moon spoke about. Present at the Nigerian workshop were some of the richest Nigerian entrepreneurs who are doing well while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet. Those Fortune 500 companies and their owners like Dangote enjoy an unlimited monopoly. They arguably have the whole of Nigeria in their pocket because they literarily control everything. Dangote has a monopoly for most items that come to Nigeria. His industry controls the production and any import of cement and other consumables like sugar and what have you.

Aliko Dangote was even at one point in the process of buying all of the oil refineries in Nigeria.

Olusegun Obasanjo once admitted it—that he had wanted to sell all of the refineries for $978 million to Dangote, who had in fact paid the money before Yar’Adua came to cancel the sale. Obasanjo gleefully told Nigerians at the same interview that all the refineries are so run down today that they could only be sold for a fraction of the amount he had initially sold them to Dangote. But NITEL, the Nigerian national carrier was sold, and all of those valuable assets were sold for a chicken change of their worth because corruption has eaten too deep into the very fabric of our nature.

It is a very sick country where only one of its citizens could literally buy the whole country. As rich as Bill Gates is today, it would be considered a security risk if Bill Gates becomes rich enough to be able to buy up the entire USA. The American system is designed in a way to make that impossible because as long as Bill Gates pays taxes in America, a large chunk of his wealth automatically goes to America. As a matter of fact, America now considers it an unforgivable sin for any American, however powerful, and including the President, to get away from paying taxes on their earnings or profit. America does not look favorably on entrepreneurs or investors that refuse to invest in America, or who ship their businesses abroad to avoid paying taxes.

America is able to do that through legislation and policies and regulations that come out of the US Congress. The US Congress, like the Nigerian National Assembly, is first and foremost a local coalition and partnership, but because of its global interest around the world as the world’s main superpower, the American Congress is more or less competing with the United Nations, whose creation was masterminded by two American Presidents to begin with. I am talking of the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, who led the move with the other world powers to establish the United Nations and to locate its headquarters in New York, the financial capital of the world.

If you compare and contrast the Nigerian National Assembly with the US Congress today, you will clearly see that there is a yawning gap in the “modus operandi” of the two institutions. While both institutions, like the British Parliament, are set up to legislate and to work in partnership with the the executive and the judiciary to govern, you can clearly see that the Nigerian National Assembly has broken all the basic rules compared to the US Congress or the British Parliament.

The institution is for members to represent their people either as members of the House of Representatives or as senators. But if you consider the nitty-gritty of what those individuals do, once elected, you will clearly see that they go the National Assembly to first and foremost serve themselves and enrich their own pockets at our own expense. Doing the people’s business comes a distant second to their own, as I will explain with the remaining segments of this article.

The members go there to fix fast salaries and allowances which now make them the highest-paid legislators in the whole world for literally doing nothing. Many of them go there to sleep or to show off their new wardrobe. A good number of them go there to learn how to shout “Yeh” or “Neh” to a call from either the Speaker or the Senate President, who ask those who are for the motion to say “Yeh” or to shout “Neh” if they are opposed. It does not matter how loud the shout “Yeh” or “Neh” is, the Speaker or the Senate President is at liberty to pick and choose what he has heard. In America or Britain, you will often hear the Speaker give room for the vote to be taken by secret ballot and electronic voting, which is less subject to manipulation.

In Nigeria they more often than not go for a voice vote of “Yeh” or “Neh.” Bukola Saraki became Senate President and “Seriki Tulasi” by selling out his own party and President to satisfy his own personal ambition of becoming President by all means. He actually colluded with the 49 PDP senators to turn his own party’s 59 senators into the opposition at the Senate Chamber through subterfuge.

He had no other choice than to allow the selection of PDP Ekweremadu as his deputy in a national government controlled by the APC It was an absurdity that could never have been allowed in the British Parliament or the US Congress, but the absurdity still stands today in Nigeria despite all the protestations from the APC and most Nigerians who value due process and legality.

The big question to ask Bukola Saraki and his fellow coup plotters, including Ekweremadu and David Mark, is how they are able to approbate and reprobate at the same time. They call themselves lawmakers but they are ipso facto law-breakers par excellence in my opinion.

I could not believe my ears today when I watched former Senator Okurounmu confess in a live interview carried on Channel TV that his own class of senators did not receive wardrobe allowances because they did not see the need for it at all, but the current 8th National Assembly is a different kettle of fish altogether. They have not only fixed their salaries at more than ten times what their predecessors in Nigeria or elsewhere earned for doing exactly the same work or something comparatively similar, they have now introduced more allowances, including for housemaids, children allowances, and transport and inconvenience allowances for leaving their towns and villages to go up to Abuja to represent their constituencies. Many of them were as poor as a church rat before they got elected. Many of them had to take bank loans and sell their properties to fund their campaigns, but once they win, they want to recoup all the loans and steal the treasury dry. They all see their election as a chance to get rich quick.

The most ridiculous of their allowances are those they claim on behalf of their aides, who they claim work for them to gather or do research and compile all the information they would need to back up any legislation or motion they might sponsor in the National Assembly, but the truth is that they never use the allowances for the purpose it was appropriated. They just pocket the money  and merely go to the House to shout “Yeh “or “Neh”  to legislation or motions sponsored by a few of them, like Femi Gbajabiamiala who takes his job seriously and is known to be one of the most hardworking members of the Nigerian National Assembly.

What is so offensive is that some of them have never sponsored a single legislation or motion in their entire four year tenure. Most of them would return home to start asking for the same electorates to let them run for governor of their state because they have all figured it out that politics and public service offer them the quickest and the easiest opportunity to enrich themselves for doing nothing. The people in their stupidity vote for them and few of them become governors to plunder the treasury in a vicious circle kind of scenario. It makes no sense and those who vote for such individuals are the biggest fools of all.

I recall a publisher, the late Olaiya Fagbamigbe who represented Akure Constituency in the House of Representatives in Lagos. He was later murdered in cold blood at Akure as one of the unlucky victims of Akin Omoboriowo’s daylight robbery and election-rigging in Ondo State on August 16, 1983. He was the only member of the House who returned home to his constituency to regularly brief those who elected him about whatever motions he had sponsored in the House and anything he had done to advance the interest of Akure on the House floor. I attended one of those sessions and I was very impressed with what the man did.

I don’t recall any other House member or Senator doing that in Akure, not even one or two of them who went to school in America or Britain and were therefore privileged to see how Congress members and senators proactively serve their constituencies, not by going there to steal money, but to work their head off for their people.

I am able to write about Olaiya Fagbamigbe today because of what the man did. Another Akure man that did something remotely close to that was the late Aleco Segun Adedipe, who became the majority leader in the Ondo House of Assembly under Governor Adekunle Ajasin’s UPN government. He was the most effective Majority Leader that ever represented Akure in the Ajasin Government and history and posterity will never forget him.

I recall one Kenneth “Olawale,” whose biological father was an Urhobo man because he was born and raised in one of the Igbatoro villages in Akure, and he knew no other place to call his home because his parents had lived all their lives in Akure Local Government. Kenneth won election to the state House of Assembly from the Igbatoro/Ala Ajagbusi constituency, which happens to be my own constituency in Akure, while Governor Adebayo Adefarati was Governor.

Kenneth went on to be selected the Speaker and third in rank to the Governor in order of ranking and hierarchy in Ondo State as a member representing Akure. He held the job for four years before the PDP under Olusegun Agagu ousted the Adefarati government.

The man, after leaving the House, should still have been playing a leading role in Akure politics as a former Speaker representing Akure in that August body. The man literarily dropped out of circulation in Akure because he became Speaker under false pretenses. The man was never a member of Akure Community Development Forum, which is headed by the longest reigning Akure Community leader, Chief Fashoranti.  The man did not belong to the Akure Inner Circle, or the Akure National Union, or the Akure Sterling Club, talk less of Akure Progressive Union led by Dr. S.O. Omobomi the former Chairman of Wema Bank.

Nobody ever heard of the man again in anything concerning Akure. I guess the man still lives in town but he is nowhere to be found. That is Nigeria for you. We produce a caliber of leaders that engage in despicable things like the one I have just profiled. They run for office to make money for themselves and to acquire as many properties as they can get.

The most disgraceful allowance that touched my heart to write this piece is the so-called wardrobe allowance paid to members of our National Assembly I mentioned earlier on. Senator Dino Melaye from Kogi openly admitted in an interview that he is paid 42,000.00 Naira per month in wardrobe allowance. If you multiply that amount by 12 months in a year and then by 4 or 6 years of their tenure, you get more than 2 to 3 million Naira per person. That is how much our parliamentarians collectively insult our intelligence. Do they go to the National Assembly for a fashion parade, or were they wearing rags before their election? How come the country has to pay so much for the clothes they wear?

When I was a student at the Royal Institute of Public Administration in London in the early 70s, I was a frequent visitor to the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons in London. I went there not to watch a fashion parade but to listen to parliamentarians on both sides of the isle discuss and debate legislation in flawless Queen’s English that would blow your mind. I listened to the British Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition and the shadow ministers go at it with facts and figures. It was a beautiful drama to behold. I went back home every day feeling empowered and happy that I came to there to see the government at its best. You could say the same of the Capitol in Washington DC.

You compare that to some of the debates you hear on the floor of the Nigerian Senate or the House and you marvel at the level and the inferiority of their debates. You will almost to throw up to see some of them talk in Parliament. I once witnessed Patrick Obahiagbon take the floor to debate why it was a travesty to not brief acting President Jonathan on what was going on with terminally-ill President Yar’Adua and how he was transported from a Saudi Arabian hospital to  die at Aso Rock under cover of darkness. Obahiagbon spoke for close to 30 minutes, “putting his nose to the grinding stone,” to quote him verbatim in his usual bombastic English, which is neither Greek nor Latin. He coined his own phrases and verbage, leaving his audience totally confused. He ended up his contribution with the words “Teke Teke Me Ne Yo Fasin” and “Papoism” and “Alleluyah boys.” I thought at one point that the man was not speaking English.

It was a crazy stuff but the man relished it and his colleagues responded to him as if he were a court jester. I left the chamber feeling sorry for Nigeria. That man was making millions of Naira for talking garbage as a member of the National Assembly. Can you believe that?

I say the Nigerian National Assembly is more about fashion and glamour than the serious business of making laws and shaping government policies and working in partnership with the executive and the judiciary to proactively and productively make a difference in Nigeria. The whole observation is a sad commentary. Need I say more?

I rest my case.

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