APC and Its Relunctant Change Champions
Channels television’s ‘Sunrise Daily’ programme warmed itself into my heart in the run-up to the last general elections in 2015. Compared to the crudely biased posture of the African Independent Television (AIT), and the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Channels TV was a breath of fresh air. Its commentaries and news with particular reference to the savage campaigns were informed, balanced and well-presented in the most professional manner.
I particularly loved the way the studio hosts – Chamberlain, Suleiman and Mope - routinely grilled their guests on the programme; whether they appeared in person, or via video-link as did Abubakar Jibrin - the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the Federal House of Representatives yesterday.
Listening to Abubakar Jibrin yesterday must have been a particularly painful experience for many supporters of the All Progressive Congress (APC), not necessary on account of the validity or otherwise of the views he expressed on the vexing question of the alleged distortion of the 2016 budget proposal submitted by the presidency, but essentially over his choice of words and venom with which they were uttered.
The respected legislator freely used words like “lying” and “audacity” to describe the roles of unnamed officials in the presidency he accused of attempting to instigate the general public against the National Assembly (NASS) on the impasse.
He insisted that the Presidency never included the contentious Lagos to Calabar coastal rail project in the 2016 budget estimates submitted to the NASS. He also repeatedly questioned the competence and capacity of those who prepared the document on behalf of the Presidency particularly the involvement of Consultants.
On why the NASS included 100 billion Naira to the budget estimates for their controversial constituency projects, Honorable Jibrin insisted that they had the right to do so because, in his opinion, they were elected representatives with the overall responsibility for Nigerians at the grassroots. He lampooned the executive arm for its heavy emphasis in location projects in urban centres. He correctly flaunted the constitutional right of legislators to appropriate funds for the executive arm, but failed to state whether the same constitution empowers the NASS to initiate projects as well in the manner that was clearly done with the constituency projects.
To those unfamiliar with the issue, the so-called constituency projects embarked upon by the NASS is by far the most typical platform for budget padding as most of such projects are never executed in their intended in the budget. Many of the abandoned rural electricity and water projects that litter our national landscape belong to this category.
The constituency projects can at best be described as the veritable platform for our honourable members and distinguished senators to access slush funds to meet their selfish needs. The projects are routinely projected for in the name of the masses at the grassroots but in the end only their pampered representatives get to do as they liked with the funding provided for them. I was saddened to perceive the unmistakable tone of entitlement as Jibrin spoke on the issue.
I was shocked, but not totally surprised, that the same legislator who insisted on the oversight function of NASS in the budgetary process was critical to guarantee its conformity with the public policy pronouncements of the executive arm, still insist on the inclusion of constituency projects not contemplated by the latter.
What else could be the motives of the NASS in that particular instance beyond selfish greed? Since the return of democracy in 1999, colossal amounts were provided for constituency projects by the NASS on an annual basis with little or nothing to show for it.
Why on earth should anyone think the present administration with its emphasis on probity and accountability will tolerate the same thing? The question is even more pertinent when the person insisting on the maintenance of the status-quo also belongs to the same party as the president and his Ministers! Honourable Jibrin was asked the same question yesterday and his response was no less perplexing.
Asked to comment on whether his views on the budget imbroglio did not amount to an indictment of his party – the APC – and its capacity to govern, he alluded to the bi-partisan nature of the various Committees in the NASS, and how, somehow, they were able to pull together to always act in the national interest on important matters to do with the collective well-being of Nigerians. He expressed the preparation of the NASS to pass the contested budget if the president fails to do so within the allotted time frame and also their inclination to override his veto if necessary.
By-partisan views expressed in the context of presidential systems of government are healthy for genuine democracies provided they are in the overall national interest, and not intended to satiate the primitive greed of legislators who routinely betray the collective aspirations of their constituencies. Even in the United States from where we copied our system, there is nothing that remotely comes to the description of constituency projects in the form and context contemplated by our national legislators.
Without necessarily absolving the executive arm of blame in the broader context of this impasse, it his high time that Nigerians resolved to do all that is required within the confines of the constitution and our laws to restore sanity to our broken system. Nigerians must begin to ask critical questions on the performance of their elected representatives and to exercise their constitutional rights of those who betray their trust.
It is obvious that past few months have been unpleasant for the Buhari administration. While millions of Nigerians have little to doubt his resolve to fight corruption and to enthrone lasting change for their collective well-being, those closer to the President should be the first to tell him that questions are now being asked in muffled tones on whether the “change” is worth it after all.
Nigerians voted for a departure from the traditional abuse of privileges by members of the NASS under PDP leadership. They are yet to be rewarded for their efforts going by what is already in the public domain regarding the trial of the Senate president at the CCT and the leaked Panama documents. Today, not only has the APC leadership of NASS become the subject of crude jokes and public ridicule in recent times, they add insult to injury when they insist on doing business as usual.
For the executive arm, the President should also be troubled that the APCs much vaunted change mantra is being gradually ridiculed. A few weeks back it was reported that the CBN conducted irregular appointments to the consternation of Nigerians yet to come to terms with similar behaviour perpetrated under Abba Moro’s leadership of the Ministry of Interior. To compound matters, the Federal Inland Revenue Service was also accused of the same thing in a report carried by the Daily Trust yesterday.
Unless the APC leadership responds urgently by getting their change agents in the legislature and the executive arm to begin acting responsibly, the distinguishing line between the party, and the PDP, will become completely eroded sooner, rather than later.
The time for decisive action to arrest the drift is now! For the change they promised to mean anything to Nigerians in these trying times, the APC, at all levels of government, must begin to live and act the change they promised. They cannot afford to waste their enormous public goodwill any longer. The party has far too many saboteurs or reluctant change champions out there presently.