Opinion

The NASS, obnoxious bills and the rest of us

 

By Akintunde Babafemi

We all know that the National Assembly, NASS wields enormous powers as conferred on them by the laws of our land; but it is not difficult for me or anyone else to discern that this power is often and consistently misused and abused. And, sometimes, it is done in a blackmailing fashion of the executive arm of Government for selfish reasons and personal benefits, even in instances it is glaringly at the detriment of the Nigerian public.

It is my conviction that the absoluteness of the powers vested in NASS does not in any way confer on them the brazen prowess or use of same in sealing the fate of Nigerians in a destructive manner.

With due courtesies and humility, I dare say, the NASS in the 8thand current 9th Republic of Nigeria under the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari have demonstrated in all ramifications as the worse legislators. I am not surprised because some NASS members have survived in the Federal Legislature progressing from Green to Red Chambers.

In the meantime, truth cannot be distorted forever. So, I expect those who would doubt me to tarry awhile because I am not alone in my perception of NASS’s defective functionality. And I will justify, why I think the 8th and 9th Nigeria’s NASS have irrefutably earned the trophy of abnormality in our democracy.

Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) captured it succinctly and eloquently in a January 13, 2016 letter he wrote to the expired leadership of the National Assembly headed by former Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki. Though, most times, OBJ fires off the range when commenting on national issues/institutions. But I also belong to the millions of Nigerians who endorsed this letter as a true reflection of the degeneration of the NASS of our time; and a tradition which seems to consolidate, keep permeating and deepening its poisonous tusks into the system rather than abate.

The OBJ letter was vexed by the plans of NASS leadership to purchase 469 official cars for members of the national parliament. The bug is still with us to date and stinging harder. But in the epistle in question, the former Nigerian leader also accused the Nigerian legislature of corruption and refusal to support the government in the face of the many economic challenges. This too has outlived every session of NASS.

I was stunned by the disclosure as projected by OBJ’s template. He further articulated that the operations of NASS are embroiled in secrecy; sponsorship of self-serving interests and epicurean lifestyles on the ladder of the Legislature and frivolous spending of public funds and entrenched corruption. It summed it all; but their response was that “ we will not join issues with him.” I plead and dare remind those who may have forgotten that it was not the first time OBJ vented his spleen on NASS .

The earlier one was in 2014 and in all instances, the similarity of the allegations struck me unforgettably. And NASS has not departed from this repulsive culture nor taken steps to embark on soul-searching to reposition itself for better service delivery to Nigerians.

Now, no one can convince me otherwise that the basic essence of electing Nigerians into the National Legislature is to render honest and sincere service to the nation. It is not a platform for personal enrichment or the pursuit of personalized interests.

NASS members have refused to reason this way. And failure of the executive arm of Government to support or back their defective and dubious plots against the nation, leads to assorted underground antics. It’s only in circumstances like this that you see the finest quality of intimidation and arm-twisting of whoever is the President to frustrate his Government and distract his focus in order to extract whatever they want from him while feigning patriotism or national interest.

Quite despicable for me and millions of other Nigerians, the same NASS members who craft unlawful means to elevate and promote their selfish and personal interests overlook actions that would better the lives of Nigerians. National parliamentarians descend heavily on Bills especially, the ones emanating from the Executive whose contents answer to the needs and aspirations of the generality of Nigerians for a better life, security, development, progress and tackling of the awful infrastructural deficits in the country.

By my observation, the 8th and 9thNASS is very famous for this practice. Nigeria happens to be blessed with a leader like President Buhari who has a clear vision and agenda for reversing the decay in Nigeria’s public life. The Presidency is desirous to redistribute the hijacked public commonwealth among the poor of the poorest; curbing endemic corruption, gingering economic prosperity and the disfiguration of the multi-dimensional insecurity threats assailing the country.

But it has always been very difficult for the immediate past or current NASS session to muster honesty enough to discharge the required support to inspire the realization of these aspirations. But ironically, the Nigerian Legislature expeditiously push and endorse Motions and Bills which lubricate their interests very easily. NASS has failed Nigerians on countless scores which is impossible for me to recount all in this piece. But a few examples would suffice!

Under Sen. Saraki as Senate President, Nigerians noticed the extent NASS dragged and almost rejected the N500 billion President Buhari inserted into the 2016 national budget for social welfare packages to get millions of Nigerians out of poverty and hunger. The funds were targeted at unemployed graduates, artisans, market women, farmers and so forth.

Lawmakers were reluctant to approve the funds under the pretext that there was no clear-cut framework for the implementations of the scheme until public pressure became overbearing before they backed down.

But they approved billions of naira for their welfare. It included funds for the purchase of the exotic 469 official cars for all members at a time of severe economic crunch.

Acting in same selfish manner in 2016, the national legislators demonstrated an unusual solidarity with Sen. Saraki, a sitting Senate President who was charged to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) for false and criminal assets declaration. Ordinarily, any Senate President is the number three citizen of the country and should exhibit an exemplary life and leadership.

The legislators were more interested in shielding Sen. Saraki from prosecution by the CCT and by extension some of them who may have committed similar offences but yet to be fished out. And in a hasty move, the Senators amended the CCB and CCT Acts overnight tinkering with Section 18(1) & (2) of the extant law. The new amendments transferred the regulatory powers of Mr. President on these agencies to NASS. Why would anybody consider NASS a serious organization?

And in the same 2016 and in consonance with the anti-corruption policy of the Buhari Presidency, an executive Bill for the establishment of Special Crimes Court, imbued with exclusive jurisdiction to speedily handle corruption, financial crimes and related breaches to break the cord of inordinate delays. But it was also frustrated and thrown out by the federal legislators, peopled by former state Governors and other public office holders. Their interest was once again central to the rejection of that laudable Bill.

By 2018, the Federal lawmakers also queried the anticipatory approval for the sum of $496 million sourced from Excess Crude Account (ECA) by President Buhari, for the purchase of Military 12 super Tucano fighter jets from America to battle Boko Haram insurgency and allied insecurity threats in the country. Mr. President explained the urgency of the contract and its expiry caveat placed on it and the necessity of the fighter jets to national security, but NASS rather overlooked the national interest and threw up all manner of tantrums at the President.

In the 9th NASS, soon after inauguration, its leadership issued a directive to allow only just a handful of media reporters to cover the NASS. The intention was to shroud activities of NASS in secrecy and from the prying eyes of the media and public. It attracted intense national uproar, condemnations and protestations from Nigerians and they were forced to back out and rescinded the directive. It was the same spirit which informed the sponsorship of the “Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019,” by Sen. Mohammed Sani Musa, to gag social media. And parliamentarians went to the edge of prescribing death sentence for offenders. The masses triumphed again.

And with the same personalized mindset and inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, NASS is again out to strip the President of his powers to appoint his Service Chiefs or terminate their appointments when he deems justified. NASS is seeking to hand it over to themselves and politicians through an obnoxious Bill tagged the “Nigerian Armed Forces Commission Bill,” sponsored by Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe. And I was shocked that they excitedly jumped at it.

Yet, they left the President with the powers of Chief Security Officer of Nigeria. How is it possible to oversee the security of a nation when you don’t have the power to hire and fire, your Service Chiefs? How do you assume responsibility over an action which the executors are determined by someone else? This is common knowledge! I wonder which country in the world subscribes to such anomaly as contemplated by Nigeria’s NASS.

Nigerians are persuaded to rise to the occasion again. NASS is out to exterminate our Armed Forces, sow the seed of discord and divided loyalty. The Federal Legislators have perfected plans to reduce our Armed Forces to the current status of some paramilitary agencies such as the Peace Corps which is still begging for legitimacy through a barbaric Bill. Anyone who so wishes same for Nigerian Armed Forces should do well to immediately visit a psychiatric doctor to reexamine his brain.

Babafemi is a political activist and wrote this piece from Maryland, USA..

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