On several occasions, we have called on the need for Nigerians to regularly re-appraise and re-examine the characters and personalities of those representing their various constituencies in the National Assembly, particularly those in the Lower Chamber – the House of Representatives.
It is not everybody that puts on good cloths, drives good cars or lives in affluence wealth that has the integrity, character and charisma to be a leader. The National Assembly as the Legislative Arm of government can be regarded as the ‘deciding factor’ that legislates laws meant for the progress and development of the country.
They are also in the position to ‘checkmate’ the ‘excesses’ arising from the Executive Arm of government.
Hence, it is imperative that men/women that will make up the National Assembly should be persons of integrity and high moral uprightness.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case with the Nigerian National Assembly and its members, particularly those of the House of Representatives. Every now and then, they are embedded with one controversy or the other.
If it is not allegations of bribery and other corrupt practices of great proportions, it will be dramas of fisticuffs and free-for-all fights or gross misconduct and mis-appropriation of public funds.
Aside their outrageous recurrent expenditures that is yearly draining the nation’s funds dry, another means through which all manners of undemocratic atrocities are committed by members of the House of Representative, as recently observed, is through their “oversight functions” through Probes, in seeking to find out whatever anomalies or corruption practices reported in any sector of the Nigerian economy.
However, recent happenings in the polity concerning the House of Representatives Fuel Subsidy Scam public probe have indicated that our legislators in the lower chamber are equally using these probes to enrich themselves with reckless abandon. Perhaps, this explains why the issue of public probes has never yielded anything concretely positive for the good of the common man and the nation at large.
Despite the usual mind-bugling ‘revelations’ often exhibited through these public probes by the Legislators, Nigerians are yet to witness any appropriate prosecution or conviction of suspected/indicted persons in high places and government circles.
From the Power Sector probe, the Halliburton probe, etc, all the reports from these probes that had revealed corrupt practices of the highest order, have been practically swept under the carpet as if nothing happened. And those found in these past probes are still left to go about their normal life as if all is well. Now again, we are faced with the fuel subsidy scam probe.
Already, surprising allegations and counter-allegation of bribery and kick-backs is rocking members of the probe committee of the House of Representatives and those suspected to have been indicted by the findings of the said probe. .
Nigerians do not want the bribery scandal currently tainting the petrol subsidy report of the House of Representatives to bury the report, yet, Justice will not be served without full investigation of the bribery allegations and adequate prosecution of those found wanting, no matter how highly placed they are.
A couple of weeks ago, Nigeria’s former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, stirred the hornet’s nest, when he was quoted as saying that: “Integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the State Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly.
What sort of laws will they make? “Obasanjo made this assertion when he told his audience at a conference of the Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies in Lagos that reports and laws made by the National Assembly are questionable.
That was because of his belief that most members of the National Assembly lacked the right character and integrity to be in the hallowed chambers.
The lawmakers felt insulted and slighted. They were uncomfortable. They almost called for the head of Obasanjo.
Shortly after, all hell literally broke loose. Chairman of the probe committee of the House, Mr. Farouk Lawan and leading fuel marketer, Mr. Femi Otedola, came at each other’s jugular. Otedola, the owner of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Company accused lawan of demanding $620.000. After initial denial, Lawan reportedly owned up, but said that Otedola wanted to induce members of the committee with $600,000 to remove his company’s name from the list of the indicted firms that swindled the Federal Government and the Nigerian citizenry.
For those of us who needs to be reminded, Mr. Farouk Lawan is a fourth Term member of the House of Representatives, representing Shanono/Bagwai constituency of Kano State, on the platform of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He may have unknowingly lent credibility to Obasanjo’s statement that there are indeed, rogues, armed robbers in the House. Before now, Lawan has presented himself as corrupt-free parliamentarian, to the extent that he has been nicknamed as Mr. Integrity. He has also championed causes that are seen to be in the interest of the public and accountability. Recall that he was the leader of the Integrity Group that worked against former Speaker Patricia Etteh and eventually ensured she resigned as Speaker. The same Lawan and his
Integrity Group lost their voices when the embattled former Speaker Mr. Dimeji Bankole, presided over the sixth House that was characterized by alleged massive corrupt practices.
Emerging facts have indicated that members of the House of Representatives want Lawan to “face his music alone”. Lawan, who is nursing a 2015 governorship ambition in Kano, is believed by many law makers to be living a larger-than – life lifestyle in the House since 1999.
It was learnt that, in some cases, he single-handedly sponsored elections and ensured that they got juicy positions. Even outside the PDP caucus in the House, members revealed how his political influence had in the recent past caused Aminu Tambawal (The Speaker of the House) to take decisions that would always favour Lawan. The Lawmakers, who later learnt that Lawan indeed, collected the stated sum since April 2012, said his action had affected the integrity of the House, hence the need to abandon him.
With all the accusations and counter-accusations pertaining to this case, the truth is that Lawan has a lot of explaining to do; Who is supposed to visit (as reported) the other between the giver of a bribe and the taker? Should it not be the giver who wants his name removed from an indicted list? Why did it have to be Lawan going to the home of Otedolo (as reported)? Also, why is Lawan reluctant to release the alleged bribe in his possession if in truth it was received with the aim of exposing the business as a bribe-giver, instead insisting on producing it in court? The public can only conclude that he is at a loss because of information that the dollar notes given to him were marked and have been spent.
If he presents another set of wads, the lie will be easily exposed. Even with his recent suspension as Chairman of the Probe Committee on the fuel subsidy scam, the Lawan controversy has caught many by surprise. Until now, Farouk Lawan has headed various sensitive Committees in the House, including: Chairman, Committee on Cooperation, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security ECOWAS Parliament, 2003-2011; Chairman, Education Committee, 2007 till date, Chairman, Appropriations Committee, 2005-2007;
Chairman, Information Committee, 2002-2003; Chairman, Inter – Parliamentary Relations Committee, 1999 – 2000.
With this allegation of bribery rocking the House, Nigerians are increasingly worried about the caliber of individuals at the legislative House who are supposed to be representing them on constitutional issues of national interest. The question from Nigerians nagging for answer is: how many of such illicit activities have gone underneath the table unnoticed by the appropriate authorities? In the past one year, many atrocities have emerged from the various oversight inquisitions of the National Assembly, from the Pension Scammers to the oil subsidy saga.
On the other hand, so much was embedded in Obasanjo’s deliberate provocative speech. Obasanjo, usually known for his blunt use of words, also fired some volleys at the third arm of government, the Judiciary: “We believe that the Judiciary is the last to be affected by corruption. Now, the judiciary has been riddled by corruption. And if the judiciary becomes corrupt, where is the hope for the nation? Justice is now for the highest bidder. That is what we have now. The judiciary did not see anything wrong with a former governor (referring to former governor of Delta State, James Ibori’s corruption case), but the same set of evidence was used to sentence him in the United Kingdom.
The former President may have made some valid points to be noted here. But it is imperative to examine his choice of emphasis. For instance, was it not curious, that he took his “anti-robbery,” and “anti-corruption” ‘insight’ only to two of the three Arms of government, conveniently refusing to ‘see no evil; hear no evil or talk no evil’ about the
Executive Arm, which by common consent, has metamorphosed into the head-quarters of corruption and unpleasantness? As noted by a social commentator, Brisibe Perez; “Why did Obasanjo not make allusions to the monumental corruption that has seen the disappearance and unaccountability of trillions of Naira in recent months, and the Executives; from the fuel subsidy scam to the pension funds scandal and just as he was literally making the speech, the Malabu Funds sleeze? Was the old general sending a
cannon ball at his old adversaries in the legislature and the judiciary? Whatever the case, let us not forget that the renowned retired general has his own cup filled to the brim with corruption issues and controversies while he was President.
Away from Obasanjo’s insightful comments, relevant stakeholders have noted that the corruption allegation on the National Assembly is not a new development, and that it is a confirmation that they are as corrupt as the Executive, as nothing should be inferred to insulate the corrupt law makers from any form of lawful investigation and prosecution. The truth is that, facts have been established as to who participated in the bazaar and these facts should not be thrown out of the window. It is unfortunate that each time Nigeria appears set to change its history and bring perpetrators of monumental crimes to book, something funny happens and those indicted are left off the hook.
It is becoming difficult to decipher what to believe in the Nigeria of today. The common man is the loser in all of this; when the Executive, Legislative and the Judicial Arms of government can no longer be trusted, relied upon, or dependable in ensuring that the vast ‘wealth’ of the nation is beneficial to all. What hope then, does the common man have in all of this? Where are we heading as a developing nation when the enormous resources of the land are deceptively being recycled by and in the hands of some few in government circles, to the detriment of the many? Another issue of great concern here is that of morality, upright principles of integrity, courtesy and doing the right thing as the situation demands. Never in the history of Nigeria’s democratic dispensation have we witness the willing voluntary resignation of a top government official who has a grievous allegation of corruption hanging on his/her neck. Even when it is very obvious that such corruption
allegations have dented such a public office and has questioned the integrity of the public official concerned to continue his/her public service, they seem not to be bothered or see the need to voluntary resign and save face while investigations continues.
It is only in this part of the world that our public officials do not feel or have any remorse or shame, while in the midst of corruption allegations.
Where as in other civilized developed countries, public officials quietly resign to allow investigations and prove their innocence or guilt, concerning the slightest allegation you can think of, to protect and dignify the integrity of such public office concerned. But in Nigeria, the case is different. If force is not applied, or the public does not cry out for such an official to resign, based on the allegations on the head, they do not see the need to. This equally goes to explain that, the motive and reason behind most Nigerian public officials of wanting to be in government circles, is not to ‘serve’ but rather to increase the size of their bank accounts.
Most of the lawyers in the country are equally not helping matters with their habit of using legal technicalities to defend, delay, postpone, protect these alleged corruption government officials, obviously because of the exorbitant fee they get to enjoy from such clients. The perception of: “one is not guilty until proven otherwise by the law court,” is usually one of the favourites. But any morally upright conscious individual that is being faced with grave fraudulent allegations of corruption, should not wait for the court of law to decide their ‘innocence or guilt before he/she resigns from office. When it comes to the outright fight against corruption in Nigeria, nothing ever comes to a “conclusive end”, or are those found wanting adequately prosecuted and convicted as prescribed by law, especially when top government officials are concerned.
The Lawan/Otedola saga appears to have hit bottom pot. Lawan has insisted he gave the money to the Chairman, Committee on Narcotics and Anti-corruption, Adams Jagaba. On the other hand, Jagaba has denied this claim by Lawan. Investigations according to recent reports, showed that the Police probe into the matter was compounded by the refusal of the State Security Service (SSS) to provide the Special Task Force (STF) with the original copy of the video recording of what transpired between Lawan and Otedola. “The STF has not received details of the marked money allegedly given to Lawan by Otedola. This investigation is heading for the rocks,” concluded the report. To make matters worst recently airing by Channel TV, of the purported audio recording of the conversation between Lawan and Otedola over the bribery allegation, has further increased the drama in this whole ‘distraction’, from what is more important. Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is that the fuel subsidy scam and its report should not be swept under the carpet, as a result of the drama playing out with Lawan and Otedola.
The subsidy report, according to international standard can be technically understood to mean House of Representatives Committee’s Report on Conformity Assessment on the contracts for the supply of refined petroleum products to Nigeria through the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC) and Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), and the disposal of the oil for local consumption in Nigeria. It also includes the guidelines detailing operational principles and organizational modalities to be adopted by all entities engaged in the disposal of public property. Based on recent events, it is becoming very glaring that the aspect of the focus will be a hand nut to crack except there are supports and cooperation of the anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria.
The release of the report had fueled a nationwide frenzy for the prosecution of the Marketers, their political collaborators and Merchant, who were demonized for reportedly milking the nation of trillions of naira.
The fuel subsidy report said that subsidy fund totaling N1.7 trillion was allegedly paid to some government agencies and oil marketers. It identified the agencies as the NNPC and the PPPRA and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), which equally involves the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and its head. The report also listed the office of the
Accountant – General of the Federation and 72 oil marketing firms as authorizing and receiving the illegal payments. Giving the bitterness of Nigerians over the way and manner that the administration handled the removal of subsidy from petrol, it was understandable that many Nigerians would call for the prosecution of these indicted by the report.
This is why we are surprised that inspite of all these revelations, no government official has consider it necessary to resign, or those in higher authority having them removed from office, pending when investigations are concluded. But here we are, going about as if all is well and that nothing has happened.
But for the recent sack of the NNPC Group Managing Director (GMD), Austin Oniwon, by President Jonathan, and his replacement with Mr. Andrew Yakubu, nothing seem to have happened concerning over hauling the petroleum sector and ridding it of questionable elements. Apart from the now former GMD of the NNPC, what about others? Moreso, the sack and replacement of NNPC GMD’s has become a ritual by past and present governments that hardly change anything. It is the same old recycling of old hands without addressing the “structural” problems of the NNPC and its subsidiaries. The puzzle of trust and integrity appears to be the most difficult challenge for Nigerians to solve, especially, when it involves financial management and accountability in a very capital intensive sector like that of petroleum. But we believe the legislature (members of the National Assembly), should stand above board in doing the right thing to upheld its position of integrity in national matters. It is high time the right things are done, this we urge.