To say that Nigeria's National Assembly has been living in infamy since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999 is to understate the severity of the country's democratic woes. While less endowed but well-meaning and development-conscious counterparts on the continent are devising means of advancing the culture of popular representation through openness and improvement of the lives of their people, Nigeria's so-called "distinguished" senators and "honourable" members are perpetually scheming for secrecy, swindling the electorate and the country and generally making lives more miserable for their constituents.
So detrimental has their conduct been that should anyone be bothered enough to launch an honest inquiry into the reason the nearly two-decade old democracy in Nigeria still seems to be critically endangered, the result would decisively point in the direction of this virulent species occupying the national parliament. For them, what is fascinating about the platform they occupy is not service, but the opportunities it offers for a life of almost limitless indulgence served on a platter of sharp practices and bare-faced stealing of public funds.
With an increasingly unusual privileged position made possible by unrestrained wheeling and dealing, and a long-standing twin evil of a sense of entitlement and official appeasement, these legislators have more or less ensured that the Nigerian state remains hostage to their irrepressible greed. They owe the people no service; instead, it is the people that should serve them. That a government which vigorously campaigned that it would do things differently and was ushered in on the wings of an ear-splitting mantra of change could not put the slightest dent on the acquisitive and thieving tendencies of federal legislators readily explains how deeply ingrained the culture of corruption is in that parliament.
Ordinarily, one would expect that a group that enjoys such massive benefits at the expense of the country should at least also reciprocate by helping to deliver good governance to the delight of their constituents. But not these legislators. And the senators, majority of them of the APC, who ought to be the real catalyzers of the change promised by their party, have turned out to be the main stumbling block. In a governance concept that derives its legitimacy from transparency, among other fundamentals, the senators have continued to do all they can to make their budget top secret, and it has remained so.
The more the public asks for details of their budget, the louder and greater the sound of silence and outright disdain from their quarters. Up until today, no one has been able to say for sure how much a senator or a member of the House of Representatives takes home as salaries and allowances at the end of the month. The public keeps getting as different a figure as there are legislators in the National Assembly.
And to demonstrate their preference for a continual cover-up of their financial transactions, when the Muhammadu Buhari administration announced its decision to forcibly implement the Treasury Single Account as a payment platform in all government offices, including the National Assembly, senators promptly voiced their objection.
Senate president, Bukola Saraki, reportedly mobilized his colleagues to persuade the Central Bank of Nigeria to exclude the National Assembly accounts from the platform. The senators knew that with TSA, their murky financial details, something they want to keep under wraps forever, would come to light. When CBN refused their request, they raised a motion to probe TSA. Yet, these persons say they are representatives of the people!
Worse, there are no signs out there indicating that a change of heart is in the offing. Nigerians were still trying to figure out how to get over the trauma inflicted by the mind-boggling 2016 budget fraud in the House of Representatives, widely known as budget padding, when news of another scandalous exploit by presiding officers of the National Assembly hit the public.
This time, senate president, Bukola Saraki, deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and the deputy speaker, Yusuf Lasun, were accused by a group, Citizen Action to Take Back Nigeria (CATBAN), of creaming off N630m in a dubious accommodation deal financed by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA).
Sometime last year, the story goes, while still occupying their personal houses the quartet allegedly pressured the FCT Administration to secure and pay for each of them an accommodation through some consultants, and then turned round to collect the rent. There is no other name for this kind of behaviour other than stealing. This is a classic example of the extent public officials would go to satisfy their unconscionable craving at that very rotten top, a sordid staple to which Nigerians are regularly treated by those elected or appointed to improve their lives.
To show how rattled they were when the story broke, spokespersons for Saraki and Dogara responded with contradictory statements. Yusuph Olaniyonu, Special Adviser (Media & Publicity) to the senate president, dismissed the allegation as "outright falsehood," adding that although the four presiding officers were entitled to official accommodation, they had been living in their personal residences and never got paid by any federal government agency. On his part, the speaker's Special Adviser (Media & Public Affairs), Turaki Hassan, affirmed that FCDA is responsible for providing official accommodation for presiding officers of the National Assembly and challenged anyone to show evidence that the money paid was traced to the presiding officers.
Also, Dino Melaye, senator representing Kogi West and chairman, senate committee on Federal Capital Territory, came out to deny the contract and, like Turaki, challenged anyone to come with evidence that such a contract existed. He apparently forgot that during that period, one Samuel Melaye, in his office, had been acknowledging correspondences with one of the consultants, Legendark, appointed by Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) to secure the accommodation.
However, despite the denial of senator Melaye and others, documents have since surfaced in the public showing that the FCTA, through AMMC, indeed paid N265,650,000 for Saraki's accommodation in Maitama, one of the plushest districts in Abuja, using the same consultant that had been communicating with Melaye's office. In his response, Melaye rubbished the damning evidence with a familiar bluster, describing it as fake and deserving to be probed.
This is the point where the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the police must now come in. Either of them must now take on without delay Melaye's call for probe of the documents. In acknowledgement of their reputed diligence in dealing with such matters, they need not be told where to begin from.
You would now appreciate why, with a leadership and a handful of others mired in crass corruption, this senate would not want on board, a merciless, bulldozing anti-corruption agent like Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of EFCC. There are already words out there that Saraki and his group are digging in and holding on, vowing that unless the Department of State Services (DSS) turns in a new report absolving Magu of any misconduct, he would remain unconfirmed.
That would be contrary to the wishes of the presidency, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the vast majority of Nigerians eagerly awaiting a new beginning for the country and greater impetus for the Magu-led EFCC, considering its exploits in confronting corruption in the last one year.
No thanks to the unholy machinations of an unscrupulous cabal in the presidency which formed a satanic partnership with a shamelessly crooked senate, Ibrahim Magu, nominee of President Muhammadu Buhari as substantive Chairman of Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), was for the second time denied confirmation for that post by the senate on the strength of the same ill-motivated Department of State Service (DSS) security report that informed the first purported rejection.
It bears repeating that Magu's first rejection last December drew intense outrage across the country with most Nigerians describing it as the classic case of corruption fighting back. It is equally remarkable that the senators took this action in spite of President Buhari's letter stating he had received adequate clarification on the issues which informed their decision and craving their indulgence to favourably accept Magu's re-nomination for the position of Chairman of EFCC so as to "maintain the current momentum and capacity of the EFCC since May 29, 2015." But clearly, Buhari's appeal for a favourable re-consideration of the nominee in view of the vital role of the senate in facilitating the anti-corruption campaign and support for the work of agencies such as the EFCC fell on deaf ears.
Given the signal from the senate since Magu's first appearance and the receipt of Buhari's re-nomination letter in January—a body language that brazenly exhibits a preference for corruption—the outcome of a second visit by the EFCC boss was predictable. Clearly, this senate is not on the same page with Buhari on the issue of fighting corruption and would anything not to confirm the man he has chosen to lead the war. Therefore, against the backdrop of what is clearly a dirty slap on Buhari's face, ironically instigated by the same members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who are the majority in the senate, Nigerians wait to see whether the president would simply fold his arms and allow well-known integrity-challenged persons define his presidency.
If you belong to that concerned group of citizens who believe like most key officials of government that corrupt persons in Nigeria, among them a good number of politically exposed persons, are doing everything they can to frustrate the current administration in its fight against corruption, you would be easily vindicated if you nail it down to the disgraceful, yet self-seeking manner, the senate handled the confirmation process of Ibrahim Magu.
In the eyes of objective observers, it was shorn of all elements of patriotism and driven purely by vendetta against the person of Magu on the one hand, and the burning desire to derail the anti-corruption war on the other. The strategy seems straightforward: rubbish the second most visible face of anti-corruption, then the road to dismantling the anti-corruption war would have been significantly smoothened.
This is a tight, well-funded plot in which the very wealthy gang of corrupt persons in and out of government and familiar with Magu's ruthless antecedents are throwing in everything to ensure he does not lead EFCC, especially under an atmosphere that seems uncharacteristically favourable to a vigorous anti-corruption campaign.
To these vampires, the consequence of allowing a pitiless anti-corruption crusader like Magu to lead EFCC is not just dire, but equally suicidal. They have combed everywhere in search of muck to tarnish his image but they could find nothing against him. That is why on Magu's second appearance for the real screening, this depraved senate was used to re-open the same sinister security report, the only alibi they could hang on to which Buhari comprehensively responded in his letter. A maliciously cooked security report that is not worth more than the piece of paper conveying the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election.
It is a mark of the senators' malevolent intent that they would not ask themselves why they should not reject the security report because not only was it not addressed to the senate president, it was signed by a subordinate official and not the Director-General of DSS as such weighty document would require. Why would anyone not be justified for accusing the senate of double standard if only a day before Magu surfaced in the chamber the senate had rejected a correspondence sent to it from the Customs just because it was signed by someone else other than Hameed Ali, Comptroller-General of Customs?
And these senators, like Bukola Saraki, Dino Melaye and Abiodun Olujinmi are the ones lecturing us about integrity? No way! Nigerians know enough to tell that of the 109 senators, it will be hard to find three who have half as much integrity as the Magu that they claimed failed an "integrity test". Whose test? Who told these senators that they are qualified to set any integrity test for anybody? Who among the senators can talk of integrity when they keep thwarting every move to get them to open their books for proper scrutiny? And should the EFCC decide to beam its searchlight on the senate, it is safe bet that more than 90% of the senators would pack their bags and run away to avoid the shame that will trail the putrid revelations.
But who else to blame for all this nonsense but Buhari who seems so clay-footed as not to be ready to take the decisive step of making the point that this presidency belongs to him and that the buck stops on his table. In the face of the ignoble role the DSS played in humiliating him so unambiguously, it is shocking that the DG of that agency is still at his station. For having the guts to deliver to the senate a counter-report when his boss had sent a letter to the senators giving Magu a clean bill of health, a more tuned-in President would have fired Lawal Daura immediately.
There is no other time than now for Buhari to put his feet down. It is disturbing that in spite of its clear majority, the APC seems to be playing the role of opposition in the senate. Otherwise, why should the confirmation of the President's nominee become so messy as to portray the party as uncoordinated and ill-prepared for leadership.
The frequent remarks of some of his aides pointing to Buhari's style which they say does not dispose him to interfering in matters outside the presidency will not help his government. In fact, these aides should tell him that that style of non-interference does not serve him and the nation well as it depicts him as one who has not fully grasped the intricacies of democratic governance. The reason he is President is not to monitor the executive branch alone, but to also keep an eye on every area of national life and intervene promptly where necessary.
It is sad that almost two years into his presidency, Buhari keeps leaving the impression that he is not in charge, and that a few of his heavily tainted appointees are actually the ones running the show. What sort of presidency is that? And he is warned. Should this cabal succeed in eventually seeing off Magu as they are hell-bent on doing, Mr. President should know that that will be the end of the fight against corruption, the only visible item on his campaign agenda that he promised to vigorously engage and which made people turn out in large number to vote for his party.
He loses all, if he loses the anti-corruption war. And he loses the anti-corruption war if he allows the likes Lawal Daura, Bukola Saraki and the official clown of the Nigerian senate, Dino Melaye, to determine who becomes the Chairman of EFCC.
Very few Nigerians will be amazed by the way the House of Representatives handled the allegations of budget padding and abuse of office which Abdulmumin Jibrin, former Chair on Appropriation, levelled against a fraction of the House leadership including the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun, Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, as well as 10 other members of the House. To ensure that the issue remains on the plate, Jibrin has been consistent in issuing statements through both the traditional and new media which clearly identify Dogara, Lasun, Ogor and Doguwa as the main targets of his charge. And to press the point, he rightly labeled the clique the QUARTET.
But even in this atmosphere of suffocating change, nothing seems to have changed in the National Assembly, at least not in the House of Reps. Instead of investigating his allegations, the House in its typical, ever-evolving Machiavellian antics that the Nigerian populace has witnessed since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, presented a dubious resolution summoning Jibrin, himself the hunter as Professor Olatunji Dare, the ace satirist, would have characteristically put it, to appear before an ethics and privileges committee. Talk of the hunter being hunted. It's as if there are no more people with conscience in the green chamber.
And the "honourables" scheming to nail Jibrin at all cost executed their act with a well-choreographed carnival-like fanfare, prancing about the floor without shame, hugging and back-slapping, each brandishing green scarves with the inscription: I Stand with Dogara. In the end, what ought to be a solemn occasion for demanding answers to the issues raised by Jibrin in the interest of public good, was turned into a grand spectacle of pure self-service and reckless endorsement of corruption.
Though originally well-spoken of by the public, the lawmakers by determinedly choosing the option of closing their eyes to the accused and turning the heat on the accuser shot themselves in the foot. That ugly display on the floor of the House has further reduced their worth in the eyes of the people.
And Dogara should know better. An experienced lawyer that he is, the Speaker knows the meaning of the well-worn Latin phrase deployed in the second leg of the title of this piece. Translated in English it means that, "No one should be a judge in his own cause." It's a legal principle that forbids any person from assuming the role of a judge in a case in which he/she has an interest. In this particular case of budget padding and corruption in the House, Dogara, the Speaker of the House is one of the accused persons; to that extent, he is an interested party.
If the House must then investigate as it should the allegations against him and others, the logical step to take is for him to step down from his position as Speaker and allow for a colleague to be elected as Speaker for the purpose of presiding over the investigation. If at the end of investigation he is acquitted he returns to his seat as Speaker. It's such a simple process that anyone who is not aiming at covering up would easily accede to in order to preserve honour and integrity. But by refusing to step down and subject himself to investigation, the Speaker leaves one with no other option than to deduce that he has something to hide or, at best, that he is indeed guilty of the allegations against him.
Anyone would be forgiven for drawing this conclusion, given the desperation with which Dogara exploited his position as Speaker to finagle a resolution of the House glossing over the budget fraud and corruption allegations involving him, and instead recommending his accuser for a most ridiculous trial for all kinds reasons including "campaign of calumny and infringing on the integrity of the House as an institution."
But rather than denigrate the House of which he is a proud member as claimed by his traducers, the former chairman of appropriation merely stated the facts. And countless times he has challenged any member of the House who has evidence of malfeasance, corruption or abuse of office involving him to make them public. Up till the time of writing this piece, no one has picked up the gauntlet.
In fact, the Speaker being one of the accused worsened his case with the clear violation of a sacred legal maxim through that House resolution presided over by him, and directing his accuser to appear before an ethics and privileges committee made up of members appointed by him. There can be no better example of sitting as a judge in your own cause. This is against the principle of natural justice, equity and good conscience.
Besides, there is no way Jibrin will not be found guilty if he appears before the committee headed by Nicholas Ossai, who on July 26 told Premium Times that it was wrong for Jibrin to claim that the 2016 budget was "padded." According to the report, Ossai said the budget was only "amended." He was also quoted as saying, "In legislature, you don't talk about padding. Budget is an appropriation bill and is like other bills that you amend. You know in bills you talk about clauses. Every head in the budget is a clause. So, legislators have power to amend it." How would he now get justice before a man who has made this one-sided statement?
Still, this country has Jibrin to thank for his unprecedented revelations. Now, the depth of the rot in the House of Reps is in the open. Rather than applaud and encourage those working to crucify him, it will serve this country well to focus on his message and squeeze adjustments from it. It is the way to go if Nigeria is serious about entrenching transparency and accountability in public governance.
Over the years, it has been identified in countless studies that one of the core reasons Nigeria has failed to develop to its full potential is pervasive corruption.
Corruption, it is said, runs through the entire gamut of the country's life such that many official enquiries and probes have exposed widespread monumental fraud, bribery, embezzlement, rent seeking and kickbacks across the public and private sectors.
It can't be emphasised enough that funds which ought to have gone into building infrastructure and generally improving the lives of the people invariably end up in the pockets of some people. The result is that healthcare, education, food security, human security, job creation and other areas where funds are needed to make life meaningful to the people are severely neglected. Why? The monies budgeted for these sectors over the years are spirited away by a few heartless crooks.
Today, all over the country evidence of this willful theft and unconscionable looting of public funds can be seen in the appalling healthcare delivery system, deplorable facilities in educational institutions, avoidable food importation, massive youth unemployment, dreadful state and federal roads, as well as shockingly ill-equipped armed forces, police and other security outfits.
Even the emergence of violent extremism in the North-east, militant agitations in the Niger Delta and the serial abysmal performance of Nigeria's athletes in the Olympic Games cannot be attributed to anything other than corruption.
In the words of Eghosa Osagie, professor of comparative politics and Vice Chancellor of Igbinedion University, Okada, "It is easy to see how corruption breeds on the ownership of the state on the one hand, and the weak bonds and structures of accountability on the other." According to him, corruption does not symbolize privatization of public office for private gain, embezzlement and other negative pecuniary transactions that deprive society of much needed resources only. It also includes the manipulation and subversion of institutions, rules regulations, procedures and laws which he said is mostly evident in the flawed electoral process.
Indeed the damage corruption inflicts on society is huge, costing the global economy some $2.6trn annually, according to John Kerry, US Secretary of States during his recent visit to Nigeria. From all indications, going by the manner corruption has torn through its fabric, Nigeria no doubt would be one of the countries contributing a large percentage to the global scam.
Mindful of the havoc it continues to wreak on nations, Kerry describes corruption as not just a disgrace and a crime, but also dangerous. He praised President Muhammadu Buhari for confronting the monster frontally and pledged continual support in that regard. From the way the war is being conducted, he surmised that Nigeria could in fact be a model to other nations.
And truly since assuming office May 29, 2015, Buhari has lived up to his campaign promise of tackling corruption headlong and providing a fresh template for instilling transparency and accountability. On the matter of corruption, credit goes to him for he indeed hit the ground running. Seeing the way the screw has been turned on treasury looters and the big thieves in the society, all those harbouring the belief that there are 'untouchables' who would never be called to give account are now beginning to have a rethink.
The message is now out there that under this administration, it would no longer be 'business as usual.' But the fight should also not be conducted in a manner that leaves the impression that Buhari as the general of this war has no army behind him. It cannot be denied that at the federal level the battle is raging, but it has to percolate to the state and local government levels for it to register the desired impact. Governors, especially those of the ruling party, must take a cue from Buhari in the quest for zero tolerance for corruption.
But by far the greatest army in this all-important assignment is the now rejuvenated Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The institution has so far demonstrated not just the courage, but also the will and the focus to ensure that corruption is reduced to the barest minimum in the country.
The Acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, has not betrayed the image of him that was awash in the media when his name was announced as the new anti-corruption czar, in November last year. Magu was said to be the squirrel teeth that cracked many cases leading to the conviction of some treasury looters during the tenure of the first chairman of that agency, Mallam Nuhu Ribau. He was described as more ruthless in the anti-graft war front than even his famed former boss, Nuhu Ribadu. The man is proving to us that all that was true, and even more!
Going by the accolades and international respect his work has earned Nigeria from all over the world, Magu is indeed a patriot that should be encouraged.
Rising up to the rots of corruption and challenging the powerful cabals in the temple of graft is no mean task. It is not for the lily-livered nor is it for one with moral deficit.
Under Magu's stewardship, and with the full support of President Buhari, EFCC has regained its biting teeth by tackling cases of monumental fraud. Several billions of naira have been recovered from looters and many of them have been dragged to courts.
Considering all these, by the time Magu's appointment is confirmed by the Senate, it is expected that the anti-corruption war would be more invigorated and the EFCC more emboldened in its quest to rein in the monster of corruption and the merciless parasites that have been sucking on our collective patrimony.
In the light of almost two decades of horrendous governance under the PDP administration, the call for change by a large section of Nigerians was expectedly overwhelmingly loud. Thus, this piece is a response to Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, who indeed holds the copyright to the first leg of the title of this piece which I have slightly modified – as can be seen in his latest defence of President Muhammadu Buhari's APC administration.
After 15 tortuous months in the life of the current administration, a period largely mediated by growing criticisms in the midst of persistent agony of diminished expectations, Shehu, a man you can never accuse of being inattentive, came to what was meant to be a rescue with a well-publicised apologia titled, "Is this the Change we voted for? Yes, It Is." And in a spirited effort to convey his message, Shehu provided the question as well as the answer. Given his current station in the presidency, it is hard to fault his emphatic submission. But with due respect to him, however, I hold a different view: Although Nigerians believed in Buhari and indeed voted massively for change, I'm minded to point out that what has been served so far in real terms doesn't seem like the change Nigerians voted for Buhari to deliver.
Yet, there are a couple of areas one would be inclined to agree with Shehu, especially concerning what this administration has done regarding security and corruption.
Sometime in November 2010, my friend and colleague from our Tell magazine days in the early 90s, Segun Adeleke, and I, had interviewed Buhari, then a presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in one of the suites at Transcorp Hotel, Abuja. The interview titled, "Soon There Won't Be Enough Money to Steal", was a cover story for GIRAFFE (Vol. 1 No. 2 November 2010), a monthly magazine which we briefly published. Then, it was clear as now, that Buhari's priority areas would be security, corruption and indiscipline.
Hear what he said when asked which direction he would be taking Nigeria if elected as president in 2011 elections: "There are two fronts. One is security. This country is terribly insecure. No serious investor can bring his money here to build factory, provide employment and goods and services when there is no power, when there are no roads, no water. Look at what the country has been earning for the past 10-11 years and look at the state of infrastructure in this country. Corruption is responsible for that. The whole world knows it. We have said it. We will still have zero tolerance for corruption and indiscipline."
Although the country still faces security challenges in the widespread menace of herdsmen, kidnapping for ransom, rising ethnic agitations and renewed bombings down south, no honest assessor will deny that Buhari has diligently confronted this problem especially by limiting the threats hitherto posed by the Boko Haram insurgents operating from the north-east region. One grey area though remains the issue of the Chibok girls who have been in the custody of Boko Haram for more than two years. You would expect that by now, one way or the other, we ought to have arrived at a closure on this matter. But on the whole, this administration has done far better than its predecessors when it comes to security.
The same single-mindedness has been applied in tackling corruption, even if there are still reservations. All those who looted funds meant to buy weapons for the military are being identified and called to give account. In many cases, such funds are being returned while there are also court cases to bring culprits to justice.
However, in the life of his administration, you would expect that Buhari would make the famous byword of his inaugural broadcast (I belong to everybody, and I belong to nobody) really stick. But there have been occasions tempting enough for one to assume that our president is exclusively for a class of people.
In a government vigorously waving the banner of change, you would expect Buhari not to close his eyes, for instance, to the fact that his ministers have yet to follow the path he and the vice-president had taken by publicly declaring their assets. After all, strictly interpreted, change means that you want to do things differently from past administrations.
You would expect him to instantly address the first major embarrassment to his government when one of his foremost cabinet members stuck out his feet at a public function for one of his aides to polish his shoes in full glare of the public. It would not happen in countries where the leadership places premium on the dignity of the human person.
You would expect him to have halted the secret, largely nepotistic employments in some government institutions like the Central Bank of Nigeria and Federal Inland Revenue Service and demand a process that gives all Nigerians access to vacant positions in such places. In fact in a government of genuine change, all those responsible for those sham employments should themselves by now be out of jobs.
Also, there are reports in the public domain that some highly-placed officials of the presidency, under our president's very nose, are neck-deep in shady deals running into billions of naira, acting as agents of some crooked business persons. By now, you expect Buhari to have used those reports to first suspend the officers so mentioned, and then launch an independent investigation into their activities. Any vindication of the media reports would mean automatic sack and possibly prosecution. No cover-up under any guise.
There are a legion other issues that are of serious concern to a great majority of Nigerians, and that should worry this administration. The pattern of appointments Buhari has made so far is one of them. And truly, a dispassionate assessment of these appointments would justify the questions Nigerians are posing. Take one for example: Why would a man who is already chief of staff to the president also be appointed a board member of a major government organization? Has the president by this appointment not shortchanged another person in a different section of the country who ought to have been appointed to this position?
Yes, Buhari comes across as credible with an admirably high integrity quotient; the only former Head of State who as at 2011 never owned a property outside Nigeria. But this virtue, against the backdrop of our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, has not been enriched enough by a healthy dose of balancing, fairness, compassion and common touch.
This government claims to be one of change, therefore, this president should be one who occasionally pays instantaneous visits to areas of crisis and disasters of alarming proportions wherever they occur in this country. Again an example: Rather than leave it to the vice-president's wife, nothing stops Buhari from taking a trip to Kubwa to see the family of the slain woman preacher, and once again use the opportunity to re-affirm the freedom of religious practice as enshrined in the constitution and the hunting down by all means of perpetrators of such heinous crimes. Those are the periods strong messages are necessary. It is the kind of thing a President Obama would easily do.
By the way, the country is still waiting for the president on his promise before the election to reduce drastically the number of aircraft on the presidential fleet. He had said then that some of them would be sold off to cut cost. That has yet to happen, more than one year after he assumed office.
All of this, and much more that can't be cited here, fuel a contrary standpoint to Shehu's in the answer he gave to his question. To him I say, with all sense of modesty: No sir, this is substantially not the change we voted for.
Even as one struggles to make room for optimism in the destiny of Nigeria in these unsettling times, without doubt in the hope that those who now hold the levers of power will somehow manage to begin to find solutions to some of our lingering pains, some odd incidents take place and feed one’s subconscious desire to remain an incurable pessimist.
These random events, which occur in all areas of our national life, often portray the monumental decay that has spread through the society. Thus, every area you can think of, regardless of its origin and history, stinks to high heavens.
But where it willfully breaks the heart is with the youth, the so-called leaders of tomorrow, majority of whom are graduates of tertiary institutions but have stubbornly stuck to ignorance and all the vices perpetrated by errant elders and deviant peers. They are equipped with all kinds of paper qualifications, from higher diplomas to higher degrees, yet they are without knowledge and perception, nor any form of purposeful bearing. Little wonder the one-time governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Charles Soludo, according to reports, once said a good number of Nigerian graduates are “unemployable.” Not that their younger ones in high school are any better.
There are heaps of anecdotes concerning the pathetic level of intelligence displayed by our youth that should worry any one that is passionate about Nigeria’s future. But one will recall just three, as presented by the two illustrious Dares (Professor Olatunji Dare and Dare Babarinsa) at the apex of Nigeria’s vibrant journalism; the one, an accomplished journalism teacher and talented prose writer with a knack for satire, and the other a founding member of TELL magazine, consummate newsman with a rare grasp of history, and now editor-in-chief of Gaskia Media Limited.
Writing under the heading, Our Endangered Value System, in his back page column in The Nation newspaper published March 29, 2016, Professor Dare regretfully noted that Nigerian schools have stopped teaching history as a discipline, and thus referred to a scandalous report which he said revealed that students in high schools in Ogun State know more about Obafemi Martins the footballer than Obafemi Awolowo, the politician who brought free education to western Nigeria. It’s as bad as that.
On his part, Babarinsa, during a heartfelt discussion with a small circle of friends on the quality of present-day students and graduates of Nigeria’s universities, narrated his encounter with a group of students in the social science faculty of a state university in the south-west who paid familiarisation visit while he was editor-in-chief of the now rested Westerner magazine.
He said as the exchange went on, he was shocked to learn that none of the students knew the name of the founder of their university or who he was. When he then mentioned the name, he said some of the students scratched their heads and replied that they had heard the name before but they could not be sure whether the person ever served the state at the highest political level.
Babarinsa’s second of his many tales of unimpressive abilities on the part of contemporary university students was recorded at the University of Lagos from where he also graduated in mass communication more than three and a half decades ago. On that occasion not too long ago, he had returned to the campus to deliver a lecture to a hall that was jam-packed with students. In the middle of his talk, he asked the students to tell him the name of the first vice chancellor of the university. At that moment a pin-drop silence descended on the venue, with the students staring blankly as not one of them remembered the departed erudite scholar, Professor Eni Njoku. Babarinsa said he was stunned beyond belief by this crass display of pure ignorance. In those good old days, this was an answer any primary school pupil would easily supply.
But these days our university students and products of related institutions would only be able to perfectly reel off names of rappers and disc jockeys as well as post countless meaningless materials on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and the like with a disarming ease. Today, chances are there are more university graduates from Bayelsa State, for example, who have never heard of Isaac Adaka Boro, even though there is a park with that name in Yenagoa, the state capital. Try asking them who Adaka Boro was, and they are likely to tell you he was one of the early Portuguese missionaries who journeyed through the Atlantic Ocean to settle in Ekeremor.
When the youth of a country, young men and women who are supposed to be the vanguard of change in their country evince such level of horrendous intelligence, just know that such a country is in deep trouble. Any development whatsoever can only be in the opposite direction.
That is why the behaviour put up by students at the University of Lagos during a roundtable on winning the war against corruption is not surprising; it only reduces one’s hope for the prospects of a positive future for our country. In an era of crooked studentship, that kind of disgusting behaviour and worse, is what we would be treated to on a regular basis.
It is sad to say that for majority of young people, the main purpose of seeking university education is not to acquire knowledge that will legitimately improve their lives and equip them to help correct societal ills. They are in the university just so they can lay their hands on a certificate that will potentially facilitate a connivance with the wreckers of the society who are both in government and the corporate world.
That is why students will clap, rather than stone a man who stood before them to rubbish the ongoing, unprecedented fight against corruption – a vice that has systematically depleted their lives through low quality education and appalling living conditions. Yet these students are not seeing the severe damage corruption is doing to their lives.
In a more discriminating society, where students place great premium on their future, they would have complemented government’s effort by taking up the front seat in the fight against corruption. They would by now have appropriated the fight by camping out at the National Assembly and would not leave until allegedly corrupt politicians stand down to face justice.
Students will march to the courts each time those accused of stealing government funds and property are brought for trial, protesting how corruption has diminished the society and calling on the judges to promptly send looters to prison. Not in this society, where students are anxious to graduate by any means so that they too can quickly enroll in the club of the corrupt.
But Femi Aribisala, a pastor whose theological/political effusions chain the soul rather than liberate it, should count himself lucky. In the days when students’ consciousness was anchored on the right values, he would not only be shouted down, he would be pelted with all kinds of objects until he vacated his seat on the panel. Indeed, he would be lucky if he left without any harm.
President Muhammadu Buhari deserves the sympathy of the multitude of Nigerians and foreign friends who want him to succeed, the multitude yearning for the change he earnestly promised, that change the country can’t wait to see and which his administration has consistently insisted would be faithfully delivered.
And he alone, no one else, would determine the destiny of this grand promise. But given his well-known passion for rectitude, and the inherent honesty in his desire to right the wrongs of decades of terrible governance (the worst being 1999-2015), Buhari leaves the perception of a genuine leader who would not want to see the promise of change blown away in the long run, let alone just as swiftly as it was made.
In that sense, the motto of the Boy Scout readily lends itself as a cautionary guide. This President must “be prepared,” because as he himself can see, danger looms very early in the life of his administration. If ever anything exists that has shown thus far that there’s no pretence to severely hurting his promise of change in its most vital artery, it is the judicial branch of government, that branch whose most visible symbol of a blindfolded lady with a sword in one hand and scales in the other gives the ostensible impression of dispensing justice in the interest of justice. But in reality the outcome of its intervention, more often than not, has been a potential threat to the well-being of the society.
At the apex of this branch is the Supreme Court, a dour, supposedly regimented institution with a dubious façade of impenetrability which only serves to mock its folly. Yes, Buhari knows what he is talking about when he asserts at every given opportunity that in this historic task of wheeling the business of governance off impunity, and toward the direction of transparency and accountability, the judiciary is a “major headache.”
Although touted as the “the last hope of the common man,” Nigeria’s judiciary as conspicuously epitomised by the Supreme Court, is indeed the ultimate bodyguard of society’s biggest crooks.
How else does one respond when, even in the exclusive club of the learned folks, there are growing whispers among the discerning senior members of the Bar that most of the judgments that have issued from this court in recent times are nothing but a devastating blow to the Buhari government’s effort at reining in the impunity and corruption that have for long bedeviled the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
For example, in states such as Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta, and even in most of the South East states where no honest person or group can claim to witness any election in its proper sense, where elections were marred with violence and massive rigging became the order of the day, Nigeria’s retrograde Supreme Court has returned verdicts which, for both the learned and the unlearned, further authorises, recommends, promotes and reinforces the notorious culture of electoral malpractice.
It doesn’t matter which party it affects, some governorship and legislative elections ought to have been nullified and a re-run ordered. It’s so shocking that despite the overwhelming evidence of large-scale rigging and violence, nothing in those judgments recommended punishment for such gross acts criminality.
The lesson from the Supreme Court’s decisions is this: As a contestant in an election, make the election a do-or-die affair. Slash, burn, kill and maim as many as try to block your path to being declared winner. In fact, write the results in your bedroom, ensure that you are pronounced the victor by an equally diminished electoral umpire (INEC), and then counsel your opponent to take the enlightened path of going to court, knowing that in the end, the matter will land at our supreme court of injustice where it will be cleared of all doubts and resolved in your favour.
Then you can organise a carnival procession of your supporters across the state, followed by a thanksgiving service at a stadium to celebrate a stolen mandate. Simple as that.
Furthermore, the signal from this court offers an immense ray of hope to the big thieves in the society, and those being interrogated as well as the accused facing trial in the multi-billion dollar Dasukigate scandal. They will now have no reason whatsoever to fret, knowing full well that whenever the matter snakes its way up to the highest court of the land, there will be no shortage of complaisant judges in the chamber.
Lest anyone be deceived, in their effort to completely scuttle the change that is gradually creeping in, diehard conservatives and agents of the status quo are already counting on the judiciary to help preserve entrenched interests.
Justice Ayo Salami, the well-persecuted former president of the court of appeal in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, one to whom you can ascribe anything but flippancy, has already dissected the character of the Nigerian judiciary. Speaking on the sub-theme, Eradicating Corruption in the Nigerian Judiciary, at the 2015 annual lecture of the Nigerian National Merit Award, the eminent jurist observed ruefully: “The problem with the Nigerian judiciary is that some dishonourable people not cut out to be judges got into the system and after that made it to the highest level of their judicial careers.” No sane mind will dismiss that statement in the light of what is happening especially at the Supreme Court.
Salami goes on to advise that to tame corruption in the judiciary, the place to begin is the appointment of judges. One can’t but agree with him. And Buhari has said if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. One can’t also but agree with him. But for us to kill corruption Buhari must start identifying progressive lawyers and judges to be appointed to the supreme court – learned men and women with indubitable track record of judicial activism – to replace the bunch (when their time is due) who dish out funny judgments whose reasons will be given at a future date under the “ruse of law.”
Unless he does this, the cause of change will not be helped.
Of Buhari's presidency so far, one thing is clear: the pace is inversely proportional to the quantum of public anger bred by decades of horrible post-colonial leadership. And at no time is this sense of indignation and cynicism more intense than in the last sixteen years.
But surprisingly, whether in the social, political and economic sphere, none of the actions so far taken under this government appears far-reaching enough to clear the trauma of accumulated rage and disillusionment tormenting the people of this beleaguered country.
Buhari has indicated that he wants to be seen as operating from a clean slate. But truth is there are some pasts he cannot afford to let go. For the kind of devious democracy that Nigeria and most developing countries practise, a well-intentioned leader like him would need to unleash some measure of favourable dictatorship over time for a semblance of genuine democracy to be attained.
Such dictatorships, while not threatening the corporate entity, should instantly send a clear message that the era of impunity, the unacceptable era of "anything goes," is indeed over. Unfortunately, that has yet to happen in one month of the Buhari administration.
For instance, consider the pressing issue of ensuring the integrity of our elections. Isn't it shocking that for all the reverberating shame brought on to Nigeria by the scandalous electoral manipulation of the 2014 Ekiti governorship election perpetrated by high-ranking military officers and top PDP politicians and government officials, Buhari seems not to be outraged? For goodness sake, what is our president waiting for?
For a government that waved the banner of change to get the people's vote, a government in which the people are virtually drowning in the official sputum of "it's not longer going to be business as usual," you would expect Buhari, himself a certified victim of serial electoral fraud under the verminous PDP governments, not to waste one second in demonstrating that change is indeed here. In other words, by now, Buhari is supposed to have rounded up all those whose names featured in the Ekitigate scandal and brought them to justice.
A government that truly hopes to be believed as it reels out that endless chant of change or "no business as usual," ought to have dismissed the top hierarchy of the military and the police which operated alongside sponsored party thugs as the armed wing of the PDP.
By now, the trial of the Chief of Army Staff, his pitiable man Friday, Brigadier-General Aliyu Momoh and the foot soldiers, as well as all the politicians and government officials implicated in rigging the election for PDP ought to have commenced, with Captain Sagir Koli ferried in from wherever he is exiling as key witness. A final nail should be on the way to being hammered on the coffin of election rigging in this country, and Buhari should quickly start from Ekiti. This society deserves no less.
Not forgetting the ignoble role played by men and women of the State Security Service, a government truly primed for change should this moment be getting thumbs-up and a pat in the back for using its symbolic broom to sweep away all the undesirable elements who, together with a section of the military, did everything to squelch the APC and carried on as if PDP was the best thing to happen to Nigeria.
This is not about vendetta, or heating up the polity unnecessarily. As they say, to make an omelette eggs must be broken. The signal for a re-energized culture of accountability ought to have been out there from the first day of Buhari's government through firm actions. This government should really awaken people to the fact that for every wrong action there would be consequences, in contrast to what obtained under the PDP. And Examples abound. The police officers fingered in the extra-judicial murder of Mohammed Yusuf, the Boko Haram founder, should be fished out now, under this government, and made to face the law.
The same treatment should be meted out to Sam Chukwu, the controversial police officer, fugitive of the law linked with high-profile kidnapping and murder. Chukwu went underground and got protection from his superiors when the Enugu State Ministry of Justice linked him with the 2009 kidnap and subsequent murder of Lota Ezeudu, a second year student of accountancy at the University of Nigeria Nsukka.
Surprisingly late last year, Chukwu was promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police by the Police Service Commission headed by former Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro. Such a character should not be in the police, not to talk of circulating in a normal society.
And just about a week ago under the watch of this government, one Bernard Ogedegbe of Ethiope West Local Government of Delta State, was said to have been murdered by soldiers of the 19th Battalion, Koko Military Base, who are said to be engaged in extortions, torture and working hand in hand with criminal gangs in the area. Ogedegbe was said to have been killed for informing the police about the criminal gang operating in this area.
In all these cases, nobody has returned a guilty verdict on anyone yet. Buhari and his APC government should promptly show to Nigerians that though they inherited quite a healthy sum of PDP members, this administration is by far different from PDP's. All the people or groups identified with these brutal killings must be arrested and brought to book immediately. It is the least Buhari can do to show that the APC dog – unlike the PDP's – can hunt, and bite. That is the true meaning of change.
Come June 2015, a new Speaker of the 8th House of Representatives in the 4th Republic will be elected to replace the incumbent, Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who many Nigerians believe has had a glorious stint in that exalted office.
No doubt, the 360-member House of Reps that will be inaugurated in June parades a healthy share of excellent men and women, inspiring souls and visionary patriots among whom Abdulmumin Jibrin is numbered, propelled by a passion for service and a burning desire to make a difference in the collective efforts towards achieving lasting peace, equity, justice and sustainable development.
At the moment, at least six Honourable members have signalled their intention to contest the position in which all House members will vote to decide who becomes the 12th Speaker of the House of Representatives since Rt. Hon. Jaja Wachukwu in 1959. Jibrin, representing Kiru/Bebeji Federal Constituency from Kano State, is one of the top contenders, indeed a major force to reckon with considering his antecedents.
A brilliant young man with a tremendous grassroots following, Jibrin's local and international exposures have combined so ingeniously to avail him a superb knowledge of the existential problems of the Nigerian masses; as a highly resourceful legislator, he has been helping to find solutions to these problems as best as he possibly can.
Of all the aspirants, he is the youngest, and the first to publicly announce his intention to contest the Speakership. Before venturing out into politics, he had had a stint in the private sector where he successfully ran a group of companies, as well as in the academia as a university teacher.
Jibrin was first elected into the House of Reps in 2011, and has since been Chairman Committee of Finance where, in the last four years, a number of remarkable achievements have been recorded under his astute leadership. To recall just three: the Committee raised the bar of oversight on the Nigerian economy in a manner that has never been witnessed in the history of the House; it considerably improved the quality of Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) analysis and national revenue framework preparation and monitoring, and then brought to the consciousness of the public the vexed issue of Internally Generated Revenue which led to increased projections from N228billion in 2011 to N452billion in 2014. In particular, as a direct result of the Committee's work, over N150billion was collected by the Federal Government within four months.
In addition to all this, Jibrin chaired and co-chaired a lot of parliamentary investigations, and generally, he and his team achieved substantial success in the area of boosting collectible revenue. Beyond his sterling educational training and significant legislative experience, his enduring spirit of fellow feeling and charming sociability stand him in good stead to be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives.
As the race gathers momentum with each aspirant fine-tuning strategies and engaging in intense lobbying, Jibrin has made a great offer to all new members-elect who constitute more than 80 percent of the in-coming House: 75 per cent of Committee Chairmanship and Deputy will go to them if they use their superior number to elect him Speaker. And this is not just a man blowing hot air. Regardless of the sentiments of detractors, of opponents who have been whispering to new members-elect to treat the overture as fake, they are informed here and now that Jibrin is not a con artist. He is a man of his words, and he will fulfil this solemn promise.
Thankfully, the President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari has announced that he does not have any interest in who becomes the Senate President or Speaker. He has said he is prepared to work with anyone elected by members. The 7th House of Representatives deserves commendation for breaking new ground and making history when, in its wisdom, it decided to elect its Speaker on the basis of merit. It is this same position that the new president has adopted this time around, and it is a position Jibrin has consistently canvassed from the outset of his campaign.
Today's Nigeria expects a complete break from the odious past. The people are more preoccupied with issues that will improve their lives than whether the President, the Senate President or the Speaker is from the north or from the south, from the east or the west, or which faith he or she professes. Issues of poverty, unemployment, poor healthcare delivery, corruption and the like bother them much more than region, ethnicity or religion.
The APC demonstrated a hint of its determination to re-open a fresh chapter in national life with its widely celebrated presidential primaries which allowed all interested members of the party, regardless of where they come from, to have a shot at the presidency. For this gesture, the party was loudly applauded across the country. The party will now do well to build on this token of renewal by toeing the same dignified path of giving their members in the House the free rein to decide who their Speaker will be by merit.
When this is done, it is only fair that the Speaker's cap should go to none other than Jibrin, a very vibrant and competent legislator who already has spelt out a 3-point plan to revitalize the House for the overall development of the legislature and the country as a whole.
Come June 2015, a new Speaker of the 8th House of Representatives in the 4th Republic will be elected to replace Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.
At the moment, four returning Honourable members have signalled their intention to contest the position in which the 360 House members will vote to decide who becomes the first among equals. They include Hon. Abdulmumin JIbrin (Kano), Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos), Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi) and Mohammed Monguno (Borno).
However, as the race gathers momentum with intense lobbying and fine-tuning of strategies, it is important to highlight one singular factor that should determine the choice of Speaker of the House: Merit.
The 7th House of Representatives deserves commendation for breaking new ground and making history when, in its wisdom, it decided to elect its Speaker on the basis of merit. It was the first time the House would take such a gallant step in electing its Speaker since democracy began in 1999.
And happily, the Nigerian people have come to appreciate the reward for that move. By taking the bull by the horns to uphold the independence of the legislature, the Honourable members jettisoned region, religion, ethnicity, party interference and other external influences to identify and choose somebody who, again in their wisdom, they felt would lead the House in a non-partisan manner, somebody who has served as the Speaker of Nigeria, and not of any political party.
Today, it will be difficult for anyone to accuse the House of making a wrong choice in Tambuwal. All through, he has shown convincing proficiency, maturity, dedication and even-handedness. The result of this has been the substantial stability the House has witnessed over the years. This is how it should be.
This is the lesson the incoming governing All Progressives Congress, APC, whose members will be in the majority in the House, should take to heart. Fortunately, the party has shown tremendous insight by adopting a captivating word, CHANGE, as its slogan. It is advised that the ‘Change’ be given full effect by completely avoiding the ways of the outgoing PDP regime.
For example, it will be a grave mistake for the APC to insist that the Speaker of the House must come from a particular zone. That will be a despicable violation of the message of ‘Change’ that the party enthusiastically preaches and which encouraged Nigerians to vote massively for the party. Nigerians want to see ‘Change’ in its full colour, not a shade of it, or anything passed off as such.
Nigerians of today expect a complete break from the odious past. Therefore, they are more preoccupied with issues that will improve their existential lives than whether the President or the Senate president or the Speaker is from the north or from the south, from the east or the west, or which faith he or she professes. Issues of poverty, unemployment, poor healthcare delivery, corruption and the like bother them much more than region, ethnicity or religion.
The people have now realised that the concept of zoning not only forecloses the emergence of the best person who can genuinely deliver; it also reinforces incentives for divisiveness.
The APC demonstrated a hint of its determination to re-open a fresh chapter in national life with its widely celebrated presidential primaries which allowed all interested members of the party, regardless of where they come from, to have a shot at the presidency. For this gesture, the party was loudly applauded across the country. Still, the party will do well to build on this token of renewal by toeing the same honourable path of giving their members in the House the free rein to decide who their Speaker will be by merit. That is one of the significant ways the much-talked-about ‘Change’ can be meaningful.