Saturday 30 April 2016

#MustRead: Before we burn down the National Assembly

National Assembly
by: Niran Adedokun

From the outset, the Eight National Assembly got off the wrong foot with Nigerians and it does not appear like this frosty relationship will ever improve.

At its inauguration in June last year, the Senate, which first convoked, delivered a coup de main in which Dr. Bukola Saraki, evidently not anointed by the hierarchy of his All Progressives Congress, became Senate President.

This precedent buoyed the confidence of members of the House of Representatives as they went on to elect Yakubu Dogara, another ill-favoured member of the party as the Speaker. Puritans, who imagined that the APC and all the choices it makes will mean well for the country, have not forgotten not to talk of forgiving the betrayal of the party by these legislators.

Unfortunately, like a man we plan to set on fire who daps himself with petrol, the legislature continues to irritate Nigerians at every turn. For examples, citizens complain about the opaqueness of the running costs and entitlements of members.

Sometime last year, news broke that some outrageous sums of money were voted as wardrobe allowances for these men and women. Emotions were still on the boil on the matter when the trial of the Senate President started at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and an army of his peers would abandon the business for which they were elected to escort Saraki to the Tribunal. There have also been the controversies surrounding the 2016 budget, frustrating the Gender Equality Bill as well as the recent attempt to amend the laws that set the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal procedure.

But the National Assembly seems to have the cup of its misadventures full with the purchase of Land Cruiser V8 Sport Utility Vehicles at costs alleged to double the actual. This time round, Nigerians took their protests beyond mere words as a group, Citizens United for Peace and Stability, marched on the premises of the National Assembly on Tuesday. It demanded the return of these vehicles, the scrapping of constituency projects as well as the removal of the veil on the utilisation of the N150bn budget of the legislative arm of government.

While demanding accountability from elected representatives is the inalienable right of Nigerians, I wonder whether we are asking the right questions about the profligacy that attends public office in Nigeria.

Why, for instance, have we complained about the lack of transparency in the National Assembly since 1999 and we still do not have a change in spite of the fact we have had three generations of people occupy these offices? And in the extant situation, a majority of senators and representatives are “progressives” who do not suffer the kleptomaniac tendencies with which we have labelled the erstwhile ruling party.

Is the spirit of avarice and selfishness resident in the assembly such that occupants suddenly become deficient in fellow feeling but over-endowed in egotism, self-indulgence and covetousness? Have we pondered on the likelihood that there may be something in us as a people that make the best of us lose their humanity once they get into political offices? Have we even considered a dispassionate interrogation of the entire gamut of our political system to understand how to solve our problems? Is it just the National Assembly that we need to complain about?

In personal introspections, I have arrived at the conclusion that fixing the disconnect between Nigerians and those we elect into public office will take more than occasional picketing of national edifices. It will take deep reflections on our situations and a universal agreement to reorder our ways.

We cannot, in fact, exonerate ourselves, from the guilt of the Senate as these people did not drop from space. They are our brothers and sisters with whom we rubbed shoulders and spoke the same language before their elections. How is it then possible that they will become strangers overnight? Isn’t there something about all of us that encourages ostentation?

For example, Nigerians made an issue of the number of aircraft in the Presidential fleet when former President Goodluck Jonathan was in office. The hope was that the new government would reduce the fleet and save Nigerians the trouble of maintaining an apron of government owned aircraft, which is said to be the second largest in the country.

But the Presidency has maintained the fleet for the convenience of those in office and their families. Last week, the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, had complement of one of the jets when she had an engagement in Calabar, Cross River State. I nodded my head in absolute comprehension of the retention of the fleet as I saw her flash her beautiful dentition at the crowd waiting to receive her. Then, talk about the budget to feed people and animals and buy books at the Villa in 2016, the same year in which the average Nigerian is unable to feed his family!

What about ministers? Not too long ago, Information Minister, Lai Muhammed, told us that he had only five cars in his convoy. This was to shut up reporters who claimed that there were six cars. He was literarily asking us to be grateful for the favour he does us by not driving more cars. Public servants in his capacity in other countries park their cars in favour of public transport!

And governors? Vanguard recently published a report indicting three state governors for diverting the bailout approved by President Buhari last year. These governors, who would still fly in commercial private jets, insist on security votes, and fly first class on trips out of the country on the bill of their states, owe workers hundreds of millions of naira. Yet, they cannot sacrifice the good life in the interest of the common good for just a moment.

I have heard of men, who could not feed themselves yesterday, become local government councillors to assume that they had attained the heights of their lives. To drive the point home, they would add another wife to the wife at home as a first sign of their “arrival.” Next mission is to build a big house, acquire new cars and seek as many chieftaincy titles as communities are willing to part with. And we, the people, will become patrons of their new status, giving them reverence that they could not deserve yesterday, even if they are the age of our children. We are a society that worships the material, deify the wealthy and elevate the mundane beyond imagination.

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