By Oke Epia
The National Assembly is in the news for the wrong reasons yet again. Whether it proves to be true or false eventually, allegations that members of the hallowed chambers are in a dollar rain over the electoral act amendment bill have further dented the badly battered image of the federal legislature. The Senate and House of Representatives have instituted investigations into the steaming accusations selling like hot cake in the media. Whatever the outcome of the probe, not much is likely to change about the ugly public perception of the law-making institution and its members.
The National Assembly is held in suspicion and derision most of the time because it has bumped from one scandal to the other since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999. And most of these have had to do with corruption and financial sleaze around passage of bills, battle of wits between the Executive and Legislature, and committee oversight and investigative hearings. We had seen days when (Ghana-must-go) bags of cash were displayed on the floor of the House of Representatives as evidence of bribery. In the heady days of then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term push, Abuja witnessed a competition of bribe exchange from both the pro and anti third term camps that some smart senators and (dis)honourable members of the House reportedly benefitted the illicit cash receipts from both extremes. In the Seventh Assembly, a chairman of an investigative hearing was accused on live television of soliciting and receiving inducements from the very government agency he was probing.
The impact of that thunderbolt rousing of Mr. Herman Hembe (who was the chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market) by Ms. Arunma Oteh (who was Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, that was being probed) has remained a definitive stain on the fabric of the legislature till date. Unfortunately, in the same assembly, Mr. Farouk Lawan spread the stain further with his ignominious handling of the subsidy probe instituted by the Aminu Tambuwal-led House. Mr. Lawan who is still in court over the famous (or infamous if you like) sting operation orchestrated by oil magnate, Femi Otedola, began his inglorious journey into political oblivion with that scandal.
The succeeding Eight Assembly has managed to keep the banana peels of sleaze out of the door until the current controversy over the legislature’s reordering of elections sequence as reflected in its amendment of the Electoral Act (2010). Although, there are other aspects of the amendment bill, the elections sequence item has pitted the National Assembly against the Presidency. Expectedly, President Muhammadu Buhari promptly vetoed the amendment, much to the chagrin of the lawmakers who have begun moves to override the veto. With the stage set for a titanic battle between pro and anti Buhari forces, a new dimension got introduced into the mix with the dollar bribes allegations. Media reports said between $30,000 and $50,000 had been negotiated to exchange hands in the battle over the controversial bill.
From the media to the public, the allegations were brought to the House of Representatives on Wednesday when Mr. Danburam Nuhu an APC member from Kano State, raised a point of order. According to Mr. Nuhu, the allegation was meant to discredit the House as an institution, citing worries by his constituents. Hear him: “I am beginning to worry that my constituents are now (sic) doubting my integrity. Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, in his contribution described the allegation as a defamation of the Parliament and canvassed legal action against the media organization that published the reports. “The House should take action on a suit for defamation. It is time for the House to nail the issue,” he said while another member, Mr. Hassan Saleh, also of the APC from Benue, took a swipe at what he called “irresponsible journalism.” At the end of the debate, Speaker Yakubu Dogara referred the matter to the Ethics and Privilege Committee for further investigation.
In the Senate, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, also referred the matter to the Ethics Committee after Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, a PDP lawmaker from Delta, brought the matter up in plenary. Nwabaoshi told his colleagues that “my constituents have been calling me; some of them have been asking me to bring their own money out of what I have collected and I know that I did not collect anything.” He argued further: “This Senate must, at all times, rise above board. It is unfortunate that many of us are being dragged into this unfortunate situation. I know that many of you did not collect that money. The front page of the Sun newspaper carried it, showing that monies are being shared and many meetings have been held. I want to move that this matter be investigated. Some of us who have no hand in it, and who did not participate and who will never participate in such act, should be cleared for our constituents to know that we did not participate in such a thing.”
While it is necessary to moderate commentaries until the National Assembly comes up with a report on the dollar rain allegations, it is safe to conclude that the federal legislature has done itself so much harm over time that public opinion is heavily weighed against it on this matter. Even if the allegations turn out to be false, many would hold tight to the impression that our legislators can hardly take their hands off the cookie jar of dirty deals and corrupt practices. Sen. Shehu Sani’s recent confirmation that senators take home a whopping N13million every month as ‘running cost’ is a clincher to the bad label tagged on them for long. It is such putrid stench coming from the hallowed chambers that have led some analysts to canvass for a part-time legislature for the country.
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