Not many paid attention when I wrote the first part of this article probably because it didn’t strike any sentimental cord. If I had chosen outright bashing of the National Assembly or it principal officers, it would have received higher degree of acceptance from most supporters of Mr. President. If on the other hand, I choose to support autonomy of the National Assembly, I would be an instant hero with those opposed to anything Buhari. Such is the our political climate in Nigeria. However, I chose to be as objective due to my believe that the National Assembly is the true symbol of our constitutional democracy. The only difference between military and democratic government is people representation as symbolized by the National Assembly.
Due to its strategic importance to our constitutional democracy, it’s imperative that we take more than just a passing interest in what goes on in the National Assembly. The stability of the National Assembly will determine the stability of our democracy. It’s suppose to check the excesses of the Executive. In other words, if the National Assembly is discipline, the whole country is discipline. If it’s corruption free, then the anticorruption agencies will have less work to do. But in a situation where the National Assembly is a cesspool of corruption then the nation is in trouble.
The happenings in the 8th assembly left more to be desired. It’s not like the past assemblies have been collection of saints, but they were operating under a different atmosphere. Previous assemblies operated in an era when “stealing was not corruption”. An era that it’s a norm to pad budget. An era when collection of gratification from MDAs to insert new budget line and inflate the already budgeted items normal practice. It was an era when anybody does whatever he/she likes and get away with it. An era when having an appellation of “Distinguish Senator of the Federal Republic” or “Honorable Member” can qualify you to access a huge loan from a bank without collateral. It was an era of anything goes. This was what Nigerians get tired of to vote for change in the last election. Probably our Distinguish Senators and Honorable did not understand change means doing things differently. Majority of them cashed on the slogan and rode the tide to the hallowed chamber. The old habit however surfaced before they settled down to law making business. Some of us shouted ourselves to hoarse but majority would rather give credence to illegality because they must take their pound of flesh from Nigerians for voting their hero out of government.
The promise of making the purse of the National Assembly open was spurned with disdain despite pressure from different NGOs. Nigerians can make all the noise on social media, our Distinguish Senators and Honorable don’t give a damn. After all, they are doing us a favor by legislating for us. When it was brought to lime light that the rule book used for principal officers election at the upper chamber was forged, our Distinguish Senators hide under autonomy and internal mechanism in an attempt to sweep such monumental criminal offence under the carpet. When they were taking before law court, our Distinguish Senators weep up ethnic sentiment. They know how gullible we are as people. Trust us to kind, many lap on to the bait and took the President to the slaughter. These same people will ask the next day: Where is the change we voted for?
After much delayed in preparing the 2016 budget occasioned by the civil servants that are also averse to change, Mr. President finally presented the budget to the national assembly at an elaborate ceremony as stipulated by the constitution towards the end of 2015. The President’s budget presentation speech lifted many hitherto discouraged hearts. Before the occasion completely sank in, our Distinguish Senators and Honourable informed us the budget presented by Mr. President was missing. Few of us queried that assertion because it defiles logic that such a huge document submitted to the national assembly in full glare of the world will vanish into thin air from its custody. However, it was an occasion for those opposed to the President to take swipe at him without recourse to rational thinking. The President was forced to apologize for an offence that was never committed. As if this was not enough, then story of budget padding surfaced. It started with the Honourable Minister of Health denying his ministry’s budget when it was to be defended at the committee level. The situation was so embarrassing to the President that he has to apologize the second time with the promised that anybody involve will be punished. True to type, Mr. President has effected alot of changes at the budget office since that incident. The suffering nation was held to ransom for over five months by the national assembly before the passage of the budget. After the budget was passed, the National Assembly sent a summary to the President for assent with the claim that was the tradition but the President refused. The President was bashed on all front for his refusal to assent the bill immediately but he held to his ground. The President was later exonerated when it was discovered that budget has been severely mutilated by the National Assembly. All entreaties to the President to assent the bill and send a supplementary bill was rebuffed before a common ground was found and the bill assented. I am sure the President assented the padded budget because Nigerians were already agitated.
Budget padding is not new. It has been with us since the inception of our current democratic dispensation. It is an industry that involves the national assembly, the MDAs and the budget office. The noise about it during the passage of the 2016 appropriation bill was because there is now an executive arm that is not ready to continue with business as usual; that is change. Some of us that knew the system did all we could to educate the nation about it when the saga was playing out but our voice was drawn out by the cacophony of noise from the ignorant majority. The revelations coming out of the House Representative has now vindicated us.
The former chairman house committee on appropriation has been dishing out odiferous information about what happened during the budget debate in the national assembly. Many of us have suspected that the House of Representative may not be house of saints but it has manage to keep it dirty linen out of public view unlike the Senate. Now we know that the whole of the National Assembly stinks. The appeal to the security agency is not to allow this matter to be swept under the carpet in the spirit of change. The former chairman house committee on appropriation has mentioned some names and those named have also made accusation against him. Questions should be asked and anybody found culpable should be brought to book. The idea of the matter handled in-house is unacceptable.
Fellow Nigerians, we cannot allow few individuals to destroy the only institution that symbolize our hard earned democracy. The National Assembly has the responsibility to make law and put the executive arm under check to prevent tyranny. The National Assembly cannot become a tyrant as an institution. It is our responsibility as citizens to put the National Assembly in check. We cannot allow our freedom to be hijacked by privileged few.