By Enyioma Orji
An Igbo adage says that when the worn-old basket is mentioned in a proverb, the thin man begins to think he is being referred to. This so aptly captures the Nigerian Legislature and their vehement defense of their fiscal appropriations, whenever the amount is revealed to the public.
First time it was no less a figure than Sanusi, CBN governor telling us that National Assembly alone gulps a quarter of the overhead spent on all the national institutions. Okay, that is putting it too simplistically. He meant that if you can envision all the Federal Secretariats spread all over the country, all the parastatals under them, (CBN, NDIC, FIRS, NPA, NPF, NA, NN, all Federal Universities, their Teaching hospitals, INEC, NOA, NDDC, NNPC and its subsidiaries, DPR, quite an inexhaustible list), I am sure you are getting it now.
Yes, National Assembly spends a fourth and all the above-imagined get to share the remaining three-fourths in terms of overhead costs. Mind boggling! For God’s sake what could they possibly be spending it on! I am sure the no-nonsense CBN governor was not taking a swipe at any individual but pointing out a systemic dysfunction that can sink the entire ship of nationhood if unchecked. Nevertheless, the thin man has heard of a worn-out basket and has taken the proverb to be jibe at his pronounced rib cage. Immediately they called for his head and subpoenaed him out of his busy job to come and defend his statement. In the end what came out of it, sadly nothing. The required lesson was not learned.
Recently it was the person of Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, the World Bank veteran who informed the nation that this same National Assembly has gulped a whooping trillion naira in recent past. Let us try to put it in figures, N1,000,000,000,000.00! O-M-G! This cannot be! I am probably wrong in my representation, and I stand corrected if so. That is what a group of about 600 men, have spent in the course of assembling what exactly! Already the cries of ‘crucify her’ have started pouring in, spearheaded by the ‘honorable’ Victor Ogene.
Lacking points he started with personal attack on the former minister, then he reportedly began to talk about N150,000,000,000.00 as 2010 budget of the Legislature and asked the question, ‘What is the percentage of N150b in a budget of N4.9trillion?’. The answer is 3% of our National Budget but the fact is that it goes to about 600 legislators, and the remaining 97% is spent for the rest 170,000,000 of us, and he wonders why anybody should complain about that.
I am very sure that the fact that a whooping portion of this country’s funds disappear through legislative channels will not come as a surprise to any five-year old Nigerian. However, it calls for serious concern when the people that should know begin to give the raw figures and the real statistics on the gravity of the situation. This is exactly why the Freedom of Information Bill should focus on. In fact if there is any surprise it is the vehemence of the denials that come from the legislators themselves!
Yet they have never been able to vindicate themselves, if anything they corroborate it by the instant shot to opulence that occurs in the life of the least of them just days after being sworn in. Recently, a UK columnist, Michael Burleigh, reported that the official allowance of a Nigerian Legislator is twice that of their contemporaries in England.
Between the years 1999 to 2003, there was a long drawn tussle between the Executive and the Legislative arms, as the legislators insisted on their ‘oversight functions’. The late democrat Dr Chuba Okadigbo championed the cause that it was the constitutional right of the Legislative Arm to oversee the Executive arm and call to question anything they deem unclear.
A worthy battle, which cost him his seat and probably his life later on. Currently the question everyone wants answered is whose job is it to oversee the overseer. I am afraid our current Constitution may not have an answer to that. Many suggestions have also been made on how to reform our legislative houses due to their cost. Some suggests a unicameral legislature, and others advocating part-time legislature, (which makes sense as their recess periods currently exceed their sitting periods).
Whatever the solution may be, the sad part is that it will require the current legislative set-up to make the required change in Constitution for that to take effect. My guess is, they will never live to see that happen!
It certainly cannot be as hopeless as that, maybe the lawmakers could come to the realization that an additional N150billion a year will make our universities outshine their British counterparts or that our Healthcare delivery could rival that of Germany. But no, their current denials show that they will be the last to accept the glaring truth. My good friend and co-analyst will always call me and report the latest update in Egypt, ending with ‘that is an example of the people defending democracy!’
Well we have been at such point several times, but Nigerians have disproved the theory that “rebellion is the product of a basic contradiction between the human mind’s unceasing quest for clarification and the apparent meaningless nature of their world.” That is to say, even when we are disenchanted with contemporary application of justice, we will still never rebel (apologies to Albert Camus).
So how will we ever wriggle out of this… this is another of the dilemmas in which I found my head bowed and eyes dripping. Which way Nigeria?
Enyioma Orji wrote from Abakaliki, Abia State.
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