Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is set for a showdown with members of the National Assembly whom he has roundly accused of corruption, greed, impunity and lawlessness.
In a letter dated January 13, 2016 but which became public today, and addressed to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the former president specifically accused the lawmakers of fixing and earning salaries and allowances far above what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission approved for them.
He also alleged that most of the 109 senators and 369 members of the House of Representatives were receiving constituency allowances without maintaining constituency offices as the laws required of them.
In the letter, the former president said on a few occasion, both in and out of office as president, he had agonised over the massive corruption and lawlessness at the National Assembly and other arms and tiers of government.
He said he had reflected and expressed, outspokenly at times, his views on the practice in the National Assembly “which detracts from “distinguishness” and “honourability” because 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.”
While referring to the issue of budgets and finances of the federal legislature, Obasanjo said the present economic situation that the country has found itself in is the climax of the steady erosion of good financial and economic management which grew from bad to worse in the last six years or so.
According to him, 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 said.
Obasanjo argued that the purpose of election into the Legislative Assembly 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.
“Where is patriotism? Where is commitment? Where is service?,” he asked pointedly, stressing that 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.”
Specifically, Obasanjo noted that a situation where the 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.
“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.”
Obasanjo said going by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, RMAFC is charged with the responsibility of fixing emoluments of the three arms of government: executive, legislature and judiciary.
He said the Commission did its job but that “by different disingenuous ways and devices, the legislature had overturned the recommendation of the Commission and hiked up for themselves that which they are unwilling to spell out in detail, though they would want to defend it by force of arm if necessary. What is that?”
“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 former president recounted that while in office, he was threatened with impeachment by the members of the National Assembly for not releasing some money they had appropriated for themselves which were odious and for which there were no incomes to support.
On the plan by the legislature to buy new cars for its committees, the former president said it is unnecessary. “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.”
Obasanjo expressed 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.