Friday, 29 July 2016

The shame of a nation – By Louis Odion, FNGE

By on 12:06
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Yakubu Dogara
Following report that a member of parliament (MP) had defrauded British taxpayers of a "modest" £20,000 some years ago, hell was literally let loose in the United Kingdom. It was not until David Chaytor had been sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2011 after a speedy trial that the media and watchdog groups finally relented.
Chaytor, who represented Bury North, was convicted at Southwark Crown Court where he pleaded guilty to three charges on false accounting of over £20,000 (less than N9m today). He could have earned a maximum 7 years had he not taken the wise option of owning up and pleading guilty.

He had pilfered the money by claiming rent for his own flat in London and rent for a house in Bury owned by his mother. He falsely produced a tenancy agreement which said he was paying £1,175 as monthly rent.

Louis Odion
Now, the Nigerian media has been awash in the past few days with reports of an alleged monumental scam involving the leadership of the House of Reps and hundreds of billions of taxpayers' money and business seems to be continuing as usual at the lower legislative chamber with the rest of the country watching with amusement, rather than outrage.
Last week, a falling out between principal officers of the House led to the "resignation" of Abdulmumin Jibrin as the chairman of the Appropriation Committee. An embittered Jibrin chose not to exit without opening the Pandora Box. He pointedly accused the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, of offering a rogue leadership alongside three other principal officers namely Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun, Whip Alhassan Doguwa and Minority Leo Ogor.
Specifically, he accused the Speaker of greedily cornering to himself and three principal officers a whopping N40b out of the N100b earmarked for Constituency projects in the 2016 budget.

The original 2016 appropriation bill brought by the presidency had allocated N60b for constituency projects. Jibrin claims to have documentary evidence where the Speaker directed a topping up of N40b and re-ordering the allocation formula in the same manner a typical butcher would, by the swish of the knife, divide the meat on the slaughter slab.
Jibrin Abdulmumin
He did not stop there. He also accused the Speaker of a slew of other financial malfeasance and corporate extortions too lurid to be restated here.
Expectedly, the accused have counter-punched, accusing Jibrin of not only being the culprit of the last padding scandal that delayed the passage of the 2016 budget months back but also complicit in past illegal injection of extraneous provisions into the appropriation bills submitted by the executive arm of government.
At this writing, the orgy of accusations and counter-accusations had degenerated to a point where Jibrin alleged threat to his life while the Speaker on the other hand demanded that the "libelous" statement against him be retracted.

Leo Ogor

Overall, serious issues have inadvertently been raised by the throwing of mud at the House in the past week. The litany of claims and counter-claims put a big question mark on the moral integrity of the House leadership as presently constituted under Dogara. It speaks directly to the culture of greed, shamelessness, cant and profanity now mistaken for legislature in Nigeria.
Rather than issue ultimatum for Jibrin to withdraw his statement, the least one therefore expects of Dogara and others accused is to step aside, even if temporarily, to allow an independent investigation of the matter. The allegations are far too weighty for the Speaker to continue to sit pretty and pretend all is well. What is involved is people's money running into hundreds of billion.
Perhaps, the latest incident will afford us the opportunity to interrogate the essence and sustainability of the so-called "constituency projects". Often than not, it is a euphemism for the head where the pecuniary interests of members are satiated. Those who conceived the idea in a democracy may have meant well. But the operation in our own environment is quite problematic.

Yusuf Lasun

The lawmakers would rather they be allowed to personally draw down the vote to "execute" a project of their own choosing or be allowed to nominate the contractors. So, the question is: how wholesome is such arrangement? Ideally, the business of legislature is to make laws, not executing contracts. At best, legislators can perform oversight during the execution of such. To think otherwise is to create room for corrupt practices.
When such "projects" are executed at all, the standard practice among the legislators is to privatize same. Usually, a giant bill-board bearing the life-size image of the respective lawmaker will be hoisted there giving the false impression that it is a personal donation from the representative to the constituency.
Time has come to sanitize the idea.

Gbenga Dan Asabe

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