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WHO IS KILLING NIGERIA? (1)

By Law Mefor
 Published December 6th, 2010

“Nigerians have no other country to call their own; we must stay here and salvage it together!” - Muhammadu Buhari, former head of staate

The standoff between Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank and the National Assembly is nothing but monkeyshines meant to draw attention away from the real issue: who is really killing the Nigeria, between the executive and the legislative arm? There is no doubt that the nation is being bled to death and somebody is killing her in installments and her citizens deserve to know who is killing their only country.

This article begins a systematic attempt to answer this thorny question by first examining how the National Assembly and State Assemblies bleed the nation’s economy. Next week will focus on the executive arm. The conclusion will bring forth how the two arms conspire to loot the economy and betray both the masses and the nation. The buck passing going on is, as already said, nothing but shenanigans calculated to pull the wool over the eyes of the discerning public.

The main four statutory functions of the legislature are: (1) Representation, (2) Legislation, (3) Appropriation and (4) Oversight. The value and performance of any legislative assembly can easily be checked by subjecting its input, output and outcome to these cardinal assignments.
Doing such assessment with our National Assembly is not exactly the aim of this discourse save to quickly state that the body falls well below par on each count. When compared to a thriving legislative assembly even in the West Africa sub-region, ours will no doubt pall into embarrassing insignificance.

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For a fact, not much reasoned deliberations go into lawmaking in Nigeria. Citizens watch the sittings often in utmost dismay as not a few lawmakers play to the gallery and revel in irrelevancies while greater majority remain habitually absent. Fisticuffs are rampant, a male senator once slapped a female senator in this dispensation and the Dino Maleya group members stripped naked in a House Reps sitting and this happened in the full view TV cameras that were beamed to the world, and so on.

Critical bills addressing the banes of the Nigerian society are simply ignored. A few examples of this abound: Senator Osita Izunasor, Chairman Senate Committee on Gas conceived the Gunshot bill, to address the legacy of the Buhari regime, which promulgated a decree requiring gunshot and accident victims to first produce police report before receiving treatment in the 21st century. This bill has passed the first reading in the senate. For months, it has been lying in the drawers of the Senate Committee Chairman for Health, Iyabor Obasanjo-Bello. All entreaties by well-meaning citizens and NGOs such as Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM) for the Senate to act on this crucial bill has thus far failed and there is no chance that this important bill to halt the deaths of innocent victims of violent crimes and accidents will receive Iyabor’s attention before the current Senate lapses.

Other bills like this are the Freedom of Information Bill, the Prison Bill and several others are just in abeyance. For the Prison Bill particularly, it is said that over 70% of Nigerian prison inmates are awaiting trial.
The Prison Bill would have addressed the gross injustice and save the prisons from serving as an incubator of HIV, Tuberculosis and other deadly diseases and more importantly, training grounds of hardened criminals which innocent citizens are turned when incarcerated without trial for unnecessarily too long. Some people are said to be there for over 20 years for minor offences for which full convictions entail not more than a few months.

In the area of Appropriation, budgets have always been late. Up till this moment, it is not clear whether the National Assembly is through with 2010 budget even in December, let alone commencing work on that of 2011.
The result is, since the days of Obasanjo, Nigerian nation has been run without budgets in the real sense of the word, and therefore run without any accountable process in public spending. Government thus becomes one huge lie; where anything goes and the executive arm has been allowed to carry on as it pleases by the legislative arm, in clear violation of the 1999 Constitution, which assigns to it the responsibility of holding the arm accountable to the people.

So, in all this, what is dealing a crushing blow to the nation’s hard-earned democracy is the legislature for refusing to do its oversight work. The quintessence of the principle of separation powers is ensuring that no arm is allowed by the rest to become tyrannical. Since the executive arm, by nature, is tyrannical, a check on its excesses by the other arms especially the legislature, is the only way to ensure democracy.
Democracy is simply majority rule and majority wish. Since all citizens cannot be in government at the same time, the only way round it is electing representatives to act on the behalf of the whole. Government therefore exists at the pleasure of the people and only the legislature can ensure it is so when it is doing its constitutionally assigned duties dutifully.

For the avoidance of doubt, the lawmakers are the ones to ensure the executive arm sticks to the laws of the land and that decisions as regards public expenditure are carried out in strict conformity with the extract laws and in compliance to the appropriation bill as passed and signed.
Oversight refers to the review, monitoring, and supervision of federal agencies, programmes, activities, and policy implementation by the lawmakers. National Assembly exercises this power largely through its committee system. It occurs in a wide variety of legislative activities and contexts. These include authorization, appropriations, investigative, and legislative hearings by standing committees; specialized investigations by select committees; and reviews and studies by National Assembly support agencies and staff.

The National Assembly’s oversight authority derives from its implied powers in the Constitution, public laws, and House and Senate rules. It is an integral part of a normal presidential system of checks and balances and found everywhere democracy is run.

But in our case, what obtains is the struggle by the legislators to join the executive is dispensing state resources through contract awards and execution. Since the days of Obasanjo, the legislators fought hard and secured for themselves what they call Constituency Projects. By Constituency Projects they mean projects captured in the nation’s budget that are sited in their various constituencies as dividends of democracy.
Ordinarily, this looks good: the legislators are attracting development to their constituencies. But in practice, what obtains is a compromise process where the legislators do not only identify the projects but also directly usurp the power of executing them from the executive arm. It is generally believed that the legislators execute the so-called Constituency Projects by themselves and in a significant number of instances, fail to execute the projects at all after using their companies to win them and still receive payments as though they did, and by so doing, lose the moral power to oversight such government Agencies, which awarded their companies the contracts.

The federal legislators in Nigeria have always denied this, yet reject the call for them to submit to Constituency Projects’ audit and investigations to ascertain who the actual executers of the said projects are and those who failed to carry them out.

The legislature, without oversight function is no legislature at all. In fact, since most of the bills emanate from the executive arm, through sound policies and honest leadership, a responsive government can do without a legislature that is not in a position to carry out oversight functions. For what use is the salt if it has lost its saltiness?

The question that has engaged us is: why is killing Nigeria. Is it the legislature or the executive? Sanusi had said at the Senate: “Total Federal Government Overhead is over N500 billion and the Overhead of the National Assembly is N136.2 billion. This is exactly 25.1 per cent of total government overhead. I am quoting from the figure I got from the Budget Office…’’ One expects the CBN governor to be armed with irrefutable figures and not create the impression that he is speculating. At that penultimate Wednesday meeting, the Senate Committee on Appropriation had also said to Sanusi without reply: “The entire National Assembly budget is N158 billion; that of the CBN is N303 billion”.

In all the hogwash of claims and counterclaims between the executive and the legislature, one thing can be seen clearly: nobody knows exactly how much drain each sector of government constitutes to the polity. To start with, since the days of the military, nobody is managing our nation’s resources at any level for her development. What appears to be happening with growing impunity is a systematic class fraud and elite conspiracy, consciously aimed at sapping the economy and immobilizing the nation. The precipitate underdevelopment as a consequence of their nefarious actions is well known to these enemies of the people and yet they push on with stealing of government funds in larger lumps.

Looking critically at the legislature, newspaper reports have it that in addition to the regular and legitimate salaries and allowances of N17 million ($113,333) and N14.99 million ($99,933) which senators and Representatives were collecting yearly and the irregular allowance of estacodes, duty tours etc, they are also said to be collecting N192m and N140m respectively in illegal quarterly allocation, which is not provided for by Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC. In addition, Nigerian news media reports that the Senate President alone takes N250 million quarterly or N83.33 million per month. Senate Deputy President gets N150 million per quarter or N50 million a month. This has not been disproved to date.

But, as said, where the National Assembly deals a death blow on the economy is in the area of oversight for getting involved in contracts execution and contract sleaze. Their involvement has left the credibility of the arm seriously damaged and compromised, and, having lost the needed moral rectitude, can only look the other way as other government officials loot the rest of the treasury.

The way out of this quagmire remains the panacea supplied by the Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM) by calling for an audit of the so-called Constituency Projects and discontinuing the policy forthwith. That way, the nation may have saved the legislators from themselves as well as save the dying democracy.

The shame and bane of the nation’s democracy is just the level of corruption and compromise perpetrated by government officials at all levels. A situation where a lawmaker earns about 8 times more than the president of the United States in an economy that is near comatose is indeed shameful.

Yet, what happens in the legislative is only a child’s play compared to what is happening in the executive arm. Figures from the RMAFC show that the salary review of political office holders till date revealed that a mere 17,474 officials earned N1.12 trillion yearly. Of this N1.12 trillion about N94, 959,545,401.20 billion is spent on salaries and N1, 031,654,689,033.18 trillion goes to allowances annually. The officers are: Federal Executive (472); Federal Legislature (1,152); Local Government Executive (3,096) and local government legislature (8,692). What is more, these 17,500 officials constitute just 0.014 per cent of Nigeria’s 160 million population estimate.

Their argument that their constituents expect them to bring home projects is irretrievably flawed since they can attract projects to their constituencies without being directly involved in their execution or in diversion of public funds meant for such projects as is said to be the case today.

The commitment to development of the nation is not just there. How many of the attend sittings? 39 senators attended the plenary session in the hallowed house and 68 were absent the day the senate voted on whether to invite Sanusi or not. Somebody said: not only are these people illegally awarding themselves embroidered incentives but they also abandon their duties.

A source computed a total take-home of a Nigerian senator as N1.8 Billion. The Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal commission has refused to give the official figure. One wonders why? Yet, a senator cannot be allowed to walk home with nearly 2 billion naira every year, aside the huge contracts allocated to them by the ministries and agencies they oversight, which is another aspect of the corrupt practices in the polity that have made the arm a drain on the economy.

So, who is really killing Nigeria? You can see some of them for yourself. Our searchlight will beam on the executive next week as coconspirators.

• Law Mefor, Author and Journalist, is national Coordinator Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM) and Director, Center for Leadership, Social and Forensic44b gx Research, Abuja; cell:234)0(803-787-2893; lawmefor@yahoo.com.




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