50 QUESTIONS AND THE TRAGEDY OF A NATION
The Nigerian nation never ceases to throw up interesting, sometimes absurd scenarios. The latest of these is the ongoing face-off between the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the House of Representatives Committee on finance, over the budget and the state of the economy. The Committee had asked the Minister to furnish it with information and answer to a set of fifty questions which the minister obliged it (the committee). At the weekend, however, the Committee, through its Chairman, Honourable Abdulmumini Jibrin, rejected the minister's response out of hand, insisting that “some questions were either not answered, partially answered, ignored or completely misunderstood”. Consequent upon this, the minister has been sent another set of fifty questions and mandated to appear before the committee for further questioning.
This latest drama of the absurd is being staged against the backdrop of another ongoing fiasco involving the All Progressives Congress and the Federal Government in which the latter directed its members in the National Assembly to stall debate on the 2014 Appropriation Bill. These two scenarios, one cannot but conclude, are intimately related, giving the fact that in both instances a rather sinister political undercurrent runs through the half-truth is being presented to the public as the truth. Anyone who is familiar with the way members of the National Assembly, especially those of the lower house, have been conducting their affairs–particularly in regard to issues of finance–cannot fail to note that the ostensible purpose of the so-called fifty questions is for Nigeria to have a more robust economy but the real goal, one can make bold to say, is self-service. In a House where some of the members have, at various times in the past, been incriminated of ignoble financial crimes (remember Faruk Lawal?) and certificate forgery (remember Salisu Buhari?), and where there has never been probity and accountability in financial matters, what else does one expect but the present scenarios.
There is something not quite right in the present face-off. In one's considered opinion, rather than the honourable minister, it is actually members of the House of Representative Committee on Finance that have questions to answer. If these so-called Honourable men are people with their honours intact indeed, they need to demonstrate to Nigerians first why they have to be taken serious, and this has to start with them telling us what they wish to achieve with these fifty questions. Yes, they have stated the purpose of these questions, but we know too that these questions raise issues that they themselves are also implicated in. He who comes to justice must come with clean hands, and he who leaves in glass house should throw no stones. While it is true that the minister is the coordinator of the economy, it is also true that she is not alone in ensuring that the economy does not go to the dogs. The House of Representative, through its Committee on Finance, ought to realize that Nigerians are not fools and cannot be hoodwinked into shifting blames for the parlous state of the economy to the Finance Minister alone.
How accountable are these men? How have they been expending the monies allocated to them for constituency projects and oversight functions? What can they say about the humongous amount being paid out to them every month in salaries and other emoluments, the bulk of which forms part of our recurrent expenditure? Can these men, in all honesty, wash themselves clean of the hushed allegation making the round that they routinely collect bribe in order to approve ministry budgets and other spending?
More crucial than the above is the question of morality. Here is an assembly with a shameful record of infamy. We cannot forget too soon the case of Honourable Farouk Lawan. We cannot forget too soon that this is a House where members have been routinely implicated in sundry cases of bribery leading to aborted investigation into corruption charges. How, pray, can this House consider itself morally upright enough to ask the minister the so-called fifty questions. Then, of course, there is the political dimension to the whole issue: why are these questions being asked at a time when members of the APC in the House are stalling the passage of the Appropriation Bill? It is all too glaring that these so-called fifty questions and other matters arising therein are related to the current impasse in the House over the Appropriation Bill, and this is rather unfortunate considering the self-serving overtone of the whole affair.
No nation can expect to be great if the leaders will always think that they can always pull the wool over the eyes of the citizenry. For sooner than later, it would be revealed that no matter for how long falsehood may have been travelling, it will take only a small moment for the truth to catch up with it. Nigeria is our collective heritage and we cannot always allow a bunch of self-serving people to keep it down in perpetual thrall. However, let a note of warning be sounded: Nigerians are watching. We are gearing up for a purge, and anyone caught in the vortex of our collective action will have only himself or herself to blame!
Issachar Odion is an angry Nigerian youth doing his post-graduate in one of the Nigerian universities.