Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has accused members of the National Assembly of corruption and extravagant wastage of the nation’s resources despite the harsh economic reality confronting the nation.
Obasanjo stated this in a letter addressed to Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Mr. Yakubu Dogara, dated January 13 but received at the Senate registry on January 18.
The former president, in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by one of our correspondents on Wednesday, specifically alleged that the federal legislators allocated to themselves, salaries and allowances above the template approved by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission for National Assembly members.
Obasanjo also accused the Senators and members of the House of Representatives of receiving huge sums as constituency allowances despite the fact that most of them did not have functional offices in their various senatorial districts and constituencies.
He described as wasteful and insensitive a situation where the federal lawmakers demanded a vehicle each as official cars despite the fact that the vehicles had been monetised.
The former President added, “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 had gone into cars, furniture and 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.”
However, Saraki, who spoke through his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, acknowledged the receipt of the letter from the former President and promised to formally reply him (Obasanjo) at the appropriate time.
He said, “The Senate President has acknowledged the receipt of the letter from former President Olusegun Obasanjo and he will reply him in a formal manner.”
Reacting on behalf of the House of Representatives, the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, however, said a response to Obasanjo’s allegations would create a distraction for the federal lawmakers.
He stated, “We don’t want to take issue with Obasanjo, who we have tremendous respect for, as a parliament.
“Taking issue with him on these allegations will create needless distractions for us at this period that we are working on the national budget for the good of Nigerians.
“We remain focused and won’t be distracted.”
Obasanjo, in his letter, recalled one of his encounters with the parliament during his tenure when members of the National Assembly threatened to impeach him because he failed to give them some money which they demanded outside their salaries and allowances.
He said, “The commission (RMAFC) did its job but 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.”
He therefore challenged the National Assembly leadership to “return to the path of honour, distinguishness, sensitivity and responsibility” by making its accounts open and transparent.
Obasanjo stated, “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.”
He said such action could not be regarded as normal, good and decent practice in a democracy that is supposed to be exemplary.
He noted that the present economic situation the country had found itself was the climax of the steady erosion of good financial and economic management, which he contended, grew from bad to worse in the last six years or so.
He argued that the executive and the legislative arms of government in the past few years ran the affairs of the country unmindful of the rainy day, which the country was currently experiencing.
Obasanjo expressed fears that the rainy day might be difficult to manage in the current situation where one arm of government was pulling without the support of the other one for the good and efficient management of the economy.
He said efforts aimed at putting Nigeria on the path of sustainable and enduring democratic system, development and progress would remain a mirage in a situation where one arm of government shrouded its financial administration and management in opaqueness and practices rife with corruption.
Obasanjo said, “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.
“While in government, I 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.’’
The ex-president added, “Where budget proposals are extremely ambitious like the current budget and revenue sources are so uncertain, more borrowing may have to be embarked upon, almost up to 50 per cent of the budget or the budget may be grossly unimplementable and unimplemented. Neither is a choice as both are bad.
“Management of the economy is one of the key responsibilities of the President as prescribed in the constitution. He cannot do so if he does not have his hands on the budget. Management of the economy is shared responsibility where the Presidency has the lion’s share of the responsibility.
“Hopefully, the National Assembly will take a step back and do what is right not only in making its own budget transparent but in all matters of financial administration and management, including an audit of its accounts by external auditors 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.’’