Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a scathing letter to both the Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has described the National Assembly as a cesspool of corruption, impunity and greed.
The letter dated January 13 accused the lawmakers of fixing and earning salaries and allowances far above what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission approved for them.
In the letter, published by Premium Times, the former president said the massive corruption and lawlessness at the National Assembly and other arms and tiers of government was alarming.
According to Obasanjo, who was president from 1999 to 2007 after a failed Third Term bid, said the happenings in the National Assembly “detracts from “distinguishness” and “honourability” as it is shrouded in opaqueness and absolute lack of transparency and could not be regarded as normal, good and decent practice in a democracy that is supposed to be exemplary.”
The former president explained that fiscal discipline had gone from bad to worst in the past six years, a situation he noted that the executive and the legislative arms of government must accept and share responsibility in this regard and that if there will be a redress of the situation as early as possible, the two arms must also bear the responsibility proportionally.
“The two arms ran the affairs of the country unmindful of the rainy day. The rainy day is now here. It would not work that the two arms should stand side by side with one arm pulling and without the support of the other one for good and efficient management of the economy.”
He told the lawmakers that the purpose of election into the legislature particularly at the national level was to give service to the nation and not for the personal service and interest of members at the expense of the nation which seemed to have been the mentality, psychology, mindset and practice within the National Assembly since the beginning of this present democratic dispensation.
He asked pointedly, “Where is patriotism? Where is commitment? Where is service?”
“The beginning of good governance which is the responsibility of all arms and all the tiers of government is openness and transparency.
“It does not matter what else we try to do, as long as one arm of government shrouds its financial administration and management in opaqueness and practices rife with corruption, only very little, if anything at all, can be achieved in putting Nigeria on the path of sustainable and enduring democratic system, development and progress. Governance without transparency will be a mockery of democracy.”
Sounding a note of warning, Obasanjo observed that a situation where Nigeria’s national budget was predicated on $38 per barrel of oil with estimated two million barrels per day and before the budget was presented, the price of oil had gone down to $34 per barrel and now hovering around $30 and the country has no assurance of producing two million barrels and if it could, it would have no assurance of finding market for it, definitely calls for caution.
He added that if production and price projected in the budget stand, the country would have to borrow almost one third of the N6 trillion budget.
He stressed, “Now beginning with the reality of the budget, there is need for sober reflection and sacrifice with innovation at the level of executive and legislative arms of government. The soberness, the sacrifice and seriousness must be patient and apparent.
“It must not be seen and said that those who, as leaders, call for sacrifice from the citizenry are living in obscene opulence. It will not only be insensitive but callously so. It would seem that it is becoming a culture that election into the legislative arm of government at the national level in particular is a licence for financial misconduct and that should not be.
“The National Assembly now has a unique opportunity of presenting a new image of itself. It will help to strengthen, deepen, widen and sustain our democracy.”
On the emoluments of legislators, he said the present wages was unconstitutional and out place.
He said; “Mr. President of the Senate and Hon. Speaker of the House, you know that your emolument which the Commission had recommended for you takes care of all your legitimate requirements: basic salary, car, housing, staff, constituency allowance.
“Although the constituency allowance is paid to all members of the National Assembly, many of them have no constituency offices which the allowance is partly meant to cater for. And yet other allowances and payments have been added by the National Assembly for the National Assembly members’ emoluments. Surely, strictly speaking, it is unconstitutional.
“There is no valid argument for this except to see it for what it is – law-breaking and impunity by lawmakers. The lawmakers can return to the path of honour, distinguishness, sensitivity and responsibility.
“The National Assembly should have the courage to publish its recurrent budgets for the years 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015. That is what transparency demands.
“With the number of legislators not changing, comparison can be made. Comparisons in emoluments can also be made with countries like Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and even Malaysia and Indonesia who are richer and more developed than we are.
“The recent issue of cars for legislators would fall into the same category. Whatever name it is disguised as, it is unnecessary and insensitive.
“A pool of a few cars for each Chamber will suffice for any Committee Chairman or members for any specific duty. The waste that has gone into cars, furniture, housing renovation in the past was mind-boggling and these were veritable sources of waste and corruption. That was why they were abolished. Bringing them back is inimical to the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.”
Expressing hope that the National Assembly would reconsider its plan and do what is right not only in making its own budget transparent but in all matters of financial administration and management including audit of its accounts by external outside auditor from 1999 to date.
“This, if it is done, will bring a new dawn to democracy in Nigeria and a new and better image for the National Assembly and it will surely avoid the Presidency and the National Assembly going into face-off all the time on budgets and financial matters,” he said.