FAT CATS AND FAT CHEQUES
It all started with Central Bank Governor M. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi pointing out that the nation's legislators were consuming an unmerited 25 per cent of total Federal overheads; and all hell was let loose when he was summoned to appear before a joint sitting of Senate committees on appropriation, banking, and Millennium Development Goals to explain how he arrived at the hefty percentage for the National Assembly.
In a practice that is slowly on its way to becoming a national norm, and a precursor to legislative tyranny and censorship of sorts, the legislature summons anyone who makes some comments disagreeable to it to appear before it and defend himself or herself.
But even before Sanusi was summoned by the Senate to appear before its committees, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole also faulted the newspaper report attributed to the Central Bank Governor that the National Assembly gets 25% of the annual budget, saying, 'the total budget is N4.6 trillion and the National Assembly gets N100 billion. By my calculation, that amounts to 2.5% and I am praying that he was misquoted. I know that five years ago, the annual budget of the CBN was over N200 billion. Let me leave that for another day.'
One thing we can say about Bankole is that he is not a good mathematician, because the calculation using the figures he has quoted should have given him 2.17 per cent, not 2.5; and it was not clear whether his outburst was a threat to the CBN Governor or volunteering irrelevant information to the world.
Then, perhaps thinking that corruption in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, could excuse the level of overheads in the National Assembly, the speaker lashed out at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, accusing it of colluding with external forces to rip the nation: 'We do not even know the exact amount of crude oil Nigeria exports annually as different agencies bring different figures'.
But, apparently, this confusion is not limited to the oil sector. The figure given by Bankole [4.6 trillion Naira], for instance, is itself different from the one given to the press [4.4 trillion] by Senator Ayogu Eze, chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media; and while Eze was giving 158.9 billion Naira as the figure for the national Assembly budget on the one hand, Bankole was quoting 100 billion Naira on the other. And while his calculation showed that overhead spending by the national Assembly was 2.5 per cent of Federal overhead budget, Eze said it was 3.5 per cent, while Senator Iyiola Omisore, chairman of the joint committee that interrogated Sanusi, triumphantly declared that it was 3 per cent.
While Sanusi got his figures from the actual expenditure happening on the ground, the legislators were quoting figures from budget estimates. And with a siege mentality and a territorial herd instinct, they all took refuge behind the 303 billion Naira budget of the Central Bank, as if the expenditures at the bank could excuse the drain at the legislature.
But the mood of the nation was 100 per cent behind Sanusi, because half of the nation is old enough to remember the First Republic. When General JTU Aguiyi Ironsi was presenting the 1966 budget, for instance, he revealed that because the coup had got rid of politicians, he had been able to save 750,000 pounds of what he referred to as 'political expenditure' out of a budget of 99,402,660 pounds. The whole cost of the political establishment then was merely 0.75 per cent of the national budget.
Yet even today, this nation is not a land of the blind. If our legislators are asked what their occupation is, most of them will probably answer: 'lawmaking,' when the correct answer will have 'deal-making.' This is because the nation sees them doing more of running after contracts than settling down to enact law for the land; cherishing chairmanship and membership of committees more than moving motions or preparing bills for acts; and realising their best moment during ministerial defence of the budget or oversight visits to institutions; because, in these deals, they get even more than the supposedly 'legitimate' 25 per cent they are getting. These fat cats earn really fat cheques.
There is no doubt that this nation will be better, richer and more prudently managed without the legislature; and, at the end of it, Nigeria may hardly notice its absence, because it doesn't benefit the nation anything by its presence. It is an institution too unbeneficial to struggle to protect, a burden too heavy to bear, and an insult too brazen to continue to tolerate. It is as if it is there just because the constitution says it should be there, and not because it adds value to the politics of the nation.
Even during the military era, the nation was making laws that were better, cheaper, faster in passage, more effective and very much more cost-effective. The excesses of the legislature are, indeed, making many people in Nigeria rethink democracy.
As it were, most of them didn't win the election; majority of them don't concentrate on the job at hand and all of them are greedy; and none of them will come out to tell the truth because it will be against his own interest. A legislature that is of political pedigree, electorally illegitimate, of debate uninspiring, and of the general knowledge and quality of its members benighted and of their aptitude for work incompetent, and of patriotism deprived, is clearly not the one to take this nation to the land of that towering dream encapsulated in 2020-20.
Perhaps there is no better argument today for the return of parliamentary democracy—the real choice of the people, made for them by their trusted, patriotic and public-spirited representatives in several pre-independence constitutional conferences at home and abroad over the course of more than a decade—than the current un-tenability of the legislature and the drain it has become on the nation's resources.
Finally, in a desperate attempt to divert attention, Speaker Bankole lashed out at a familiar punching bag—the Obasanjo Administration, asking: 'The past government built the biggest power plants, spending about $13 billion without building the gas pipelines to power them. Another $6 billion has been spent by the present government. How can they be such comedians?' Perhaps it was because they had seen bigger comedians making laws for the nation.
For the nation to be able to support the legislature, the quantum of legislators' pay must be drastically cut, and all that plethora of indefensible allowances stopped, the number of legislators must be more than halved and their tenure be made part-time. Equally important, the vote for legislators' travels must be brought under some kind of review. Since the laws they are making are for Nigerians, they must stay in Nigeria and make the laws. They just can't reserve the right to go out at will to any destination in the world they fancy, decide how many weeks to spend and how much estacode to claim and how many other allowances to pay themselves. And it must be made clear to them that those who are not ready to settle down and do the work will be sent out. Every one of the nation's new fat cats must be made to squarely earn his keep.
And while a cat may have nine lives—a fat cat will almost certainly have less on account of possible feline cholesterol—but, in either case, it is but one death that it will suffer. That death may already be on its way; but uncharacteristically uncurious, Nigeria's cats are quite contented in their cushioned and spoilt purring, with virtually nothing to offer the nation except an irritating meow. Meanwhile, the writing is already clear on the wall. But then, as a general rule, cats won't see it because cats don't read, and most of them can't in fact read—they only purr. Poor cats.