BANKOLE: BEYOND THE N10 BILLION LOAN SAGA
It is good to be back on beat again after a short break. As our people say, so much water has passed under the 'Nigerian' bridge since I last wrote. For about ten days, I was among Nigerians watching news on the country from abroad, and, what a time to be away!
Now back, there are so many issues battling for comments, from the president's inauguration, his inaugural address, the various agenda that are being set for the new governments and the selection of ministers. From all these happenings, none intrigues me as much as the case of the former Speaker of the Houses of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole.
Here, once again, is the case of a Nigerian 'god' found crumbling on feet of clay! Although not yet tried and found guilty of any crime, the arrest and confessions of Bankole over disbursement of a whopping N10 billion loan is a typical Nigerian story.
The incident is significant not only because of the colossal sum involved, and the personality of the, shall we say, 'villain' in this case, it stands out because it has again brought to the fore the type of men and women we have in the National Assembly.
Let's take the defence of the former Speaker on the use to which the N10 billion he took as loan from a bank was put, for instance. Bankole admitted the House took the loan to pay the jumbo increase in salaries and allowances of members of the House of Representatives, including some of the principal officers, but with the exclusion of himself and his then Deputy, Hon. Usman Bayero Nafada.
Via a statement issued by his then Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Idowu Bakare, he confirmed, for the very first time, how legislators were milking the nation though jumbo allowances.
He said the loan was taken after a 37-member committee of the House recommended an increase in allowances of all members on March 25, 2010; and an execution session of the House, which he did not attend, endorsed it. The loan was then taken from a commercial bank and used to fund the increase in quarterly allowances for two quarters. He said that his own quarterly allowance of N100 million every three months was not increased. So also, that of his Deputy, which was N80 million every three months did not increase.
However, the loan went into increase in allowances of certain principal officers and other members of the House. According to the former Speaker, Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Tunde Akogun, had his quarterly allowance increased from N46 million to N60 million, a difference of N14 million. Deputy Leader Mr. Baba-Shehu Agaie had his allowance increased from N43 million to N57 while former Chief Whip, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, now elected Deputy Speaker, had his allowance increased from N41 million to N55 million. Former Deputy Whip who has now been elected Speaker, Mr. Aminu Waziri-Tambuwal, and former Minority Whip and Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, had their allowances increased from 40 million to N54.5 million, and from 35.5 million to N50 million naira quarterly, respectively.
All other members, with the exception of Bankole and his then Deputy, Nafada, had their allowances increased from N28 million N42 million each.
From this explanation, it is glaring that the six former principals of the House in the sixth National Assembly collected N456.5 million from the national treasury every month!
If this admission by the former Speaker is not barefaced treasury looting by the legislators, I wonder what else qualifies. And all these, for the little work done while their normal salaries were still paid.
Beyond the expose on Bankole's role in taking the loan that was used to fund the illegal allowances or running costs that these legislators approved for themselves, however, is the propriety of such huge sums being paid to the legislators.
The sums, that are not commesurate with the services they rendered, have continued to elicit protests from Nigerians, yet the legislators, including senators, continue to collect them.
Even the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) that has the statutory responsibility to fix salaries of public officers has been unable to correct the situation.
This is one issue the executive arm of government, and the legislators themselves, must address if they are not to be seen as mere treasury looters only out to make a fortune at the expense of Nigerians.
It is instructive that the House members desperately went out to fund this abnormal increase in allowances, which came to about N5 billion per quarter, with a N10 billion loan to cover two quarters of last year.
These legislators that took years to pass good bills that could improve the lives of the people took only five days, between March 25, 2010 to March 30 of the same year, to conclude and take the N10 billion loan. The failure of the legislators to get some of their allowances because of withholding of the House's quarterly allocation by the bank which granted the N10 billion loan is at the heart of the present trouble.
The role of Bankole should therefore not be treated in isolation of the propriety of the jumbo pay of legislators. It should be a launch pad for more serious agitation and action on the demand for a reduction in legislators' jumbo salaries, which are said to be among the highest in the world. It should also provide opportunity for investigation of other allegations against him, including the N2.3 billion car scam and another N9 billion misapplied House allocation.
The lesson from Bankole's fall is the truism of the statement that no condition is permanent. It is a truly grace to grass story that ought to guide newly elected political office holders on the transience of power. From the nation's number 4 position, who collected N400 million allowances per annum and flew about in private jets at public expense, he is now being hounded as a common criminal. This should tell our legislators to do the job they were elected to do and eschew the quest for filthy lucre.
It is sad that with the severity of the problems plaguing the country, our legislators can think of nothing better than how to line their own pockets. Our roads are dilapidated, healthcare is begging for attention. Education is in shambles. Electricity is available in fits and starts and industries are groaning on account of this and the high cost of diesel, which is now about N170 per litre. Kerosene is scarce and unemployment is rife. Poverty is a bedfellow to a growing number of Nigerians.
Under these circumstances, the least the people expect from their elected representatives is empathy, and concrete action to redress the situation. But we got none of these. These issues should be the concern of the newly inaugurated 7th National Assembly.
As for the Bankole case, little might be heard of it beyond this time considering that the loan in question was allegedly shared by virtually all the lawmakers, with newly elected Speaker, Tambuwal, and his Deputy, Ihedioha, being major beneficiaries. Now wonder, legislators were reported to be up in arms against EFCC over Bankole's arrest.
The import of this is that the case is likely to end up another 'internal affair' of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while the legislators continue on their treasury devouring roller coaster!
The question is: who will save Nigeria from the grip of her self-serving legislators and this quietly acquiescing executive? As long as legislators and other political office holders are given free rein of the treasury, desperation for political office will continue to deepen, with only the worst specie among our population venturing into the political fray. This can only endanger our democracy, as it will alienate those who have the interest of the country at heart.
The issue of jumbo pay of federal legislators is a ticking time bomb we must resolve in the best interest of the country.