Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has launched a fresh attack on the national assembly, describing it as a “den of corruption”, which is occupied by “unarmed robbers”.
Obasanjo, who recommended that the ongoing anti-graft war in the judiciary be extended to the legislative arm of government, said the corruption in Nigeria’s parliament “stinks to high heavens”.
He said this on Wednesday during the First Akintola Williams annual lecture in Lagos.
“If the judiciary is being cleaned, what of the national assembly which stinks much worse than the judiciary?” he asked.
“The national assembly cabal of today is worse than any cabal that anybody may find anywhere in our national governance system at any time. Members of the national assembly pay themselves allowances for staff and offices they do not have or maintain.
“Once you are a member, you are co-opted and your mouth is stuffed with rottenness and corruption that you cannot opt out as you go home with not less than N15 million a month for a senator and N10 million a month for a member of the house of representatives. The national assembly is a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers.
“Most of them conduct themselves and believe that they are not answerable to anybody. They are blatant in their misbehaviour, cavalier in their misconduct and arrogant in the misuse of parliamentary immunity as a shield against reprisals for their irresponsible acts of malfeasance and/or outright banditry.”
He wondered why the legislative arm of government had chosen not to be transparent with the nation’s budget.
Obasanjo also condemned the “gang up against the whistleblower”, obviously making reference to Abdulmumin Jibrin, former chairman of the house of reps appropriation committee.
Jibrin had accused the leadership of the 8th assembly of padding the 2016 budget, calling for the probe of principal officers.
He also petitioned anti-graft agencies, but the house eventually handed him a 180-day suspension for alleged misconduct.
Obasanjo appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene, and purged the parliament of corruption.
“Budget padding must not go unpunished. It is a reality, which is a regular and systemic practice. Nobody should pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians,” he said.
“Ganging up to intimidate and threaten the life of whistle blower is deplorable and undemocratic. What of the so-called constituency projects which is a veritable source of corruption? These constituency projects are spread over the budget for members of the national assembly for which they are the initiators and the contractors directly or by proxy and money would be fully drawn with the project only partially executed or not executed at all.
“The national assembly budget process is not only carried out in opaque and corruptive manner but also in grossly unconstitutional manner. Hence, our lawmakers are lawbreakers. They are the accused, the prosecutor, the defenders and the judge in their own case.
“We should not continue to live with the impunity and corruption of the national assembly. Yes, I believe that something can and should be done. The president should ride on the crest of the popularity of what is happening in the judiciary to set up a highly technical team of incorruptible investigators to look into the so-called constituency projects of the past and the present and bring culprits to book. The president has overall responsibility and accountability for any fund appropriated under his watch.
There would be many of such projects and the national assembly would try to frustrate such necessary investigation. But the project sites are known and magnitude of funds voted for them are known. The investigation will reveal the true situation.”
Obasanjo said when he was in office, he attempted to audit the account of the assembly but he was frustrated.
“Once, when I was president, I asked outside auditors, both normal and forensic, to audit the account of the national assembly, they frustrated it on the basis of separation of power,” he said.
“They claimed they had oversight responsibility for their corruption and misdemeanour and nothing can be done. It is like asking a thief to watch over himself. There must be full disclosure of all relevant fiscal information in a timely and systematic manner at all levels,” he said.
He commended the federal government for its effort to “save the judiciary”, recalling an experience he had with a retired public officer.
“Three weeks before the first three judges were arrested for corruption, I was talking to a fairly senior retired public officer who put things this way, ‘The judiciary is gone, the national assembly is gone, the military is sunk and the civil service was gone before them; God save Nigeria’. I said a loud Amen,” he said.
“Three weeks later, the process of saving the Judiciary began. And if what I have gathered is anything to go by, there may be not less than two score of judicial officers that may have questions to answer. That will be salutary for the Judiciary and for the nation.”
This is not his first attack on lawmakers. In a letter dated January 13 and addressed to the president of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives, the former president specifically accused the lawmakers of fixing and earning salaries and allowances far above what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission approved for them.
He also alleged that most of the 109 senators and 369 members of the house of representatives were receiving constituency allowances without maintaining constituency offices as the laws required of them.
Efforts to reach spokesmen of both chambers of the national assembly for a reaction to the latest allegations did not yield any result as the telephone line of Aliyu Abdullahi, senate spokesman, was unreachable, while Abdulrazak Namdas, house of reps spokesman, did not answer his call or respond to the text message sent.