SANUSI VERSUS THE ANGRY SENATORS
They came baying for his blood. They wanted the 'rascal' taught a lesson or two about civility and how to address distinguished lawmakers of the Federal Republic. You could see the palpable anger in their eyes. Who the hell did he think he was? Just because he had the prefix 'governor' to his name didn't mean he could govern their lives and talk down at the National Assembly members, distinguished senators and honourable members. His offence? Divulging to the public that the men and women we elected to make laws for the good governance and well being of the nation had allocated for themselves a hefty 25% of overhead or running cost (money used to run the NASS bureaucracy) in the 2010 budget.
But when Mallam Sanusi Lamido, the tough-talking, gutsy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, appeared before the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Banking and Currency, the event turned out an anti-climax. Instead of Sanusi who was supposed to be on some sort of trial over his comments on the fat budgetary allocation to the National Assembly feeling the heat, the Senators were the ones who had eggs on their faces and their heads bloodied. They also further confirmed what the public had always known: law making in Nigeria is certainly the most lucrative business in this clime.
It's a business that has turned many otherwise paupers to super rich men. Many who took the night bus to Abuja to resume duties as lawmakers today cruise in state-of -the-art cars and have eye-popping mansions scattered around the nooks and crannies of the country. While those they purportedly serve are languishing on the lowest level of poverty, these guys are enjoying life to the hilt. Sanusi, if you asked me, didn't particularly say anything we didn't know. He merely put an official seal or confirmation to the disturbing news that hapless Nigerians have been under re-colonisation by the lawmakers and other officials of government, including the monstrous executive arm, since we drove away the British and the military from power. What we now have is legisla-thief and execu-thief tag team of oppressors.
Surely, the Senate must be regretting why they ever thought of inviting Sanusi for a dress down which turned out an ugly, naked bath in the public for the law makers. Making the Sanusi event a live coverage for the electronic and the print media also turned out not a particularly smart move by the lawmakers whose perception rating has been more offensive than a dunghill. Smart guys, the House of Representatives had to ask the CBN governor to meet with three or four House members rather than at the plenary session. They knew better than to take the risk of a public wrestling match with the radical boss of the CBN.
Now, what exactly did Sanusi do to enrage the Senators and their House of Reps colleagues? At the 8th convocation lecture of the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, Sanusi, who was guest speaker, was quoted as saying that the National Assembly had appropriated for itself the princely sum of N136.2bn out of a total N536.2bn budgeted for overhead in 2010, which approximates to 25.41% of the entire provision. What this translates to, in Sanusi's professional estimation, is that critical funds needed to develop other social sectors, are trapped in servicing the personal needs of the law makers and others in the National Assembly.
Sanusi's forthright statement so infuriated, and obviously embarrassed, the lawmakers that they extended an invitation to him, the finance minister and the presidential adviser on Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, Olusegun Aganga and Hajia Amina Al-Zubair, respectively, to appear before the Senate Committee on Appropriation to shed light on Sanusi's 25% overhead claim. But, what they actually had in mind was to extract a retraction from the CBN helmsman, to save their face since the story as widely published had clearly shown that the Assembly men were clearly not serving the nation but themselves going by the budgetary provision and other allowances which they have been enjoying since the advent of democracy in 1999.
However, they met a stonewall in Sanusi, the man with a will as tough as he looks. The man said he would rather quit his plum job than apologise for what he knew was true. His words: 'I confirm, Mr. Chairman, that I did say in my speech at the Igbinedion University that 25% of the overhead of the Federal Government goes to the National Assembly. I have figures from the Office of Budget for the year 2010…The overhead of the National Assembly as a percentage of the Federal Government budget in 2009 was 19.87 and in 2008 was 14.19.
'By my upbringing, if I am wrong I don't need to be told to come and say I'm wrong and I would apologise and this is really where the point is. By my nature, if I am not convinced that I am wrong, I do not apologise and this is really where the point is. I gave a figure and I said where this figure came from. I did not abuse anyone. I did not attack anyone. I did not say anybody stole money. I was not given the chance to say the context in which I gave this number. Nobody has heard my side of the story on why that number came in; why the 25% came up.'
When it was being suggested that his statement was anti-democratic, Sanusi would take none of that. 'I am here (CBN job) at your pleasure. I am not thinking of quitting, but if you want me to quit, I will gladly do so…I was one of those who fought for democracy. That I did not contest an election does not mean that I do not believe in democracy,' said Sanusi who claimed to have been a volunteer of the Kudirat Movement, a body set up to champion the democratic ideals of the slain wife of Nigeria's hero of democracy, Moshood Abiola. End of session. End of the drama of summoning the CBN governor to eat his words. At the end of the whole event, Sanusi ended up, in my view, a hero. He portrayed himself as a man with strong balls. For standing up to his views, he earned my respect and I guess, that of millions of Nigerians. He didn't say he was misquoted. He didn't try to modify his views or make his statement more pleasant to the ears of the enraged Senators. He simply restated his position despite the bullying tactics employed by Chief Iyiola Omisore and his committee members.
That's how it should be. Public officials must have the courage to own up to statements voluntarily made and not cower before any authority no matter how powerful it may appear. Lily-livered officials bring to disrepute their position and embarrass the government they serve. It is only the principled ones that actually add value to service. Government jobs should not be a do-or-die matter as some Nigerians take it. Sanusi offered to quit rather than allowing himself to be castrated by the Senate.
And as for the National Assembly, I really do not know the goal it was trying to score by summoning Sanusi, when Nigerians are already sold on the perception that we do not yet have a people's National Assembly. An Assembly that truly protects the interest of the weak, the dispossessed and the cheated. An Assembly that fights for the interests of the majority hungry and hopeless.
A National newspaper, The Compass, quotes a Lagos lawyer as revealing how in four years, the National Assembly only passed15 bills, half of which was on appropriation. But during the same period, the lawmakers gulped N60billion in salaries, emoluments, allowances etc. Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, had also revealed that in 2009, a Senator in Nigeria earned N240million in salaries and allowances, while his counterpart in the House of Representatives smiled home with N203,760,000.
What offence was Sanusi supposed to have committed by stating the obvious?
What the men and women in the National Assembly need to do is to adjust their salaries, allowances and emoluments to the reality in our country and people will begin to see them as true representatives of the people. No purpose is served blowing big grammar and opening the eyeballs to intimidate those who tell them the bitter truth. And the truth is: they are having more than their fair share of democracy dividends. And that's being euphemistic.