President Versus the National Assembly
Victor E. Dike
The brief serenity in the society was disturbed last week by the N50 (N55?) million-bribery scandal involving Senator Adolphus Wabara, Prof. Fabian Osuji and a host of the complicit members of the Education Committee in the National Assembly. Since 1999 the President’s domestic agenda seems to have centered on his avowed “war on corruption.” Some Ministers have been relieved of their post and some Members of the National Assembly sanctioned, yet, corruption has blossomed. The National Assembly appears to have become a chamber of corruption or should one call it a snakepit in which corruption breeds. It seems many of them are in politics to make quick money, no matter how risky the business might be or the damage it does to the society. Sadly, they would disavow corruption during the day, but accept Ghana-must-go bags at night before they could carry out their official duty of passing the nation’s budget.
Just a couple of weeks ago this group threatened to repudiate Nigeria’s debt to her creditors, without understanding the political implication of such action. Perhaps, that was a way to make more funds available for them to steal. But now the world is watching what they do!
Nevertheless, the President appeared deeply distressed over the budget-related scandal when he admonished the National Assembly. He intoned, “the legislature cannot wallow in corruption and expect the outside world to take our pleas for debt relief very seriously.” He added “corruption in such highly regarded political institution compromises national integrity, contaminates public morality and misguides those that look up to you for leadership.” Yes, corruption ‘contaminates’ and hampers sociopolitical and economic activities in the society, but it is not only the National Assembly that should become corruption-free. The PDP, which is the leading party, should also disavow corruption and become law-abiding and transparent in its political dealings. One wonders how the President could wage a successful war on corruption without first cleaning up his corruption-infested party. The PDP must lead the fight by stopping its dirty politics of political patronage; it must disavow election frauds, political assassinations, and politics of intimidation.
However, the President’s bulldog-like manner and autocratic military-like approach at tackling issues, which has earned him some enemies, may not stop corruption in Nigeria. This approach will only succeed in driving underground the corrupt members’ of the National Assembly and Ministers. A better and more democratic approach would be to institute an enforceable law (with explicit consequences) against corruption for political officeholders, private individuals, and businesses organizations. An effective deterrent (as it done in other organized democracies) would be to have any public servant convicted of corruption to serve a prison term that is proportionate to the crime (instead of a mere dismissal from office) and confiscate illegally acquired properties and bank accounts. Treating the corrupt and greedy politicians and their friends that share the public funds meant for social development with the kid’s clove (or a slap on the wrist) WILL NOT solve the bribery and corruption problem. Or will that foster economic growth and development? The causality will remain the poor and the voiceless in the society!
To be successful in his avowed ‘war on corruption’ the President must keep a good company and listen to good counsel. He should understand that his association with known political rouges has dented his image! And the National Assembly should put its house in order, and come up with effective laws that will deal with its members caught with their hand in the ‘cookie jar.’ Thus, the National Assembly and the President should tackle this cankerworm that has dented the image of Nigeria by putting in place constructive public policies. In other words, they should set up structures that would safeguard Nigeria’s resources and finances from abuse. Therefore, Nigeria needs a democratic leader who can launch a better vision for a New Nigeria and rekindle enthusiasm in the society, because the public morale is presently downcast. The people have always been saddened and badly shaken by the magnitude of political fraud and corruption scandals involved in this administration. And the nation will hardly move forward this way!
Perhaps, what is happening in Nigeria today will serve as a good guide to the politics of 2007. The people should be conscious of the personalities they would allow to set their feet in the National Assembly in 2007. And to weed out the group with dubious character, the people who live with them should be allowed, as the principle of true democracy dictates, to vote for the people of integrity and with impeccable credential into political office. We hope that Nigeria has learned a lesson from the havoc that the 2003 elections-rigging and by allowing political crooks who think that politics is a money making business, as leaders, could cause in a society.
As this writer has discussed elsewhere, the real problem in the society is more of structural than political. The society lacks effective and efficient institutions to tackle corrupt practices. And this hampers the struggle to develop Nigeria! The nation, therefore, should de-emphasize the politics of ‘money bag’ and ostentatious living beyond their means and the “big man syndrome.” Sadly, any person who managed to win (or should we say rig his/her way into political office) is automatically a “big man” destined to be rich. And this gives them the undue privilege to commit fraud and jockey around for ‘juicy’ committee in the National Assembly (or Ministerial position) that they have nothing substantial to contribute other than waiting on the fence to take part in sharing political bounties. Yet, the society pays them handsomely, while the university teachers, doctors and nurses, et cetera, truly working for the benefit of the society are always begging and fighting for their salaries. It is ironic that the NUC Secretary who has been ‘fighting’ “sorting” in the tertiary institutions, and the former education minister who condemned the teachers for collecting ‘nickels and dimes’ from handouts prepared for students, have been busy bribing the National Assembly with Millions stacked in “Ghana-must-go” bags. Oh, you hypocrites!
The President and the society should not waste this splendid opportunity to dissect the National Assembly and flush out the bad eggs in leadership positions in his administration. If he cannot beat them now they are in disarray it will be difficult when they re-group! The public will always support the President when he is taking proper step to clean up the rouges masquerading as politicians from the system. But “selective justice” will be condemned; the war on corruption should be ‘holistic’ and everyone should be treated the same way. Thus, every segment of the population and every individual has the right to demand a fair deal from the government. But this should not mean that we should allow Nigeria to crumble under the weight of corruption. At every war there must be some causalities!
However, the President should make it a point of duty to hold at least a monthly briefing session with the National Assembly (or the leadership) to hammer home his determination to win the ‘war on corruption.’ This fact should be put to them constantly, whether it is palatable or not, and let them know he is not witch-hunting, but serous! This may re-enforce his image of personal integrity. Some of the politicians may have been motivated into the dirty dealings by the shoddy and undemocratic manner the President has been handling some political issues (specifically, the Anambra and Plateau crises). It is expected that some of them would say ‘since you are wining and dining with known terminally corrupt Chief Chris Uba (and his gang and others) why shouldn’t we steal a little?’ As Gandhi had rightly noted, ‘a chain is no stronger than the weakest link in it.” But it is not too late for the President to show the world that he is determined to tame corruption in the society. The President should be committed and pray that in the remaining years of his tenure, the Lord sparing him, he will fight corruption, which is being regarded as Nigeria’s tradition, as hard and as best as you know how. But as a President, it is expected that he should adjudicate impartially!
With the corruption mission accomplished, the world (including this writer who has been against the President’s ineffective policies), may have a positive view about his presidency. It is only then that all will be well with Nigeria!
Victor E. Dike, CEO, Center for Social Justice and Human Development (CSJHD), in Sacramento, California, is the author of Fraud or Democracy? The Presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, 2003-2007 [forthcoming]