by Japheth Omojuwa
The All Progressives Congress promised Nigerians change; now the party has power, it must show us that change in truth and in deed. One place where that change will be mostly needed is the National Assembly. It is supposed to be a public National Assembly but on matters of finances and spending, it is largely private.
From a budgetary allocation of just about N50bn during the Obasanjo presidential years, the National Assembly now spends some N150bn per year. Apart from this unjustified budget, no one knows exactly how this money is spent.
The National Assembly has been seemingly above the law and any Minister of Finance or government official who tries to stop it from playing well above the law on this one, the Assembly uses its oversight function to bully the same into line. Something has to give this time.
Nigerians cannot afford the N150bn/year currently being enjoyed by both Houses. It was never justifiable and it will not be justifiable under the current economic realities we now face. Nigerians who are privy to government information know that the state of the economy is worse than it is being made to look. The budget presented to the National Assembly is what you’d call an “election budget” as Nigeria cannot even fund such a project based on the projections with it. The Excess Crude Account is gone, the Foreign Reserves are the lowest in a decade, revenue from crude sales has taken a huge plunge and we continue to wonder how we will survive these trying times. Let me state that the reality of this trying time can only be fully appreciated when the new government is inaugurated. President-elect Muhammadu Buhari may be looking to give some people a soft-landing but by the time he and his people truly see what is left of the national treasury, they would not need an extra incentive to pursue everyone who’s stolen Nigeria’s money. This is why the National Assembly has to wake up!
As long as everything is negotiable to the leadership of the National Assembly as it has been under the current Senate President David Mark, we will not make process. The era of an appendage National Assembly ought to end with this administration. We know change when we see it and if the APC continues on the same nonsensical track as the Peoples Democratic Party did with the Senate especially, we will not keep quiet until they are either forced to do the right thing or they get booted out like the outgoing government rightly experienced.
The era of a “please, take a bow” National Assembly that’d allow even renowned election riggers to be passed as ministers, even if junior to a junior minister, will not be allowed. The era of the distant inaccessible Senate President is over. Senate President David Mark has a zilch presence on social media. You cannot even reach him through an assistant. On the contrary, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, has an active social media presence and his media aide is also always available to monitor issues and engage citizens.
This is where the likes of Femi Gbajabiamila, Abdulmumin Jibrin and Senator Bukola Saraki have an edge over their peers in the House and Senate. Those touting Gbajabiamila for the Speaker of the House of Representatives are doing the right thing; he has been a productive member of the House over the years and has opened the door of the House, not just to his Surulere constituency but to Nigerians from across. Jubril on his part would be a good Speaker too but for the geopolitical realities against him; the president-elect is from the North-West, a Speaker from that region would be hard to sell under the unwritten power rotation exigency. It would add a lot of credit, class and seriousness to the House if he ends up as Deputy Speaker though. A leadership of the House of Representatives comprising both men would be one to watch out for and be excited about.
As for the Senate leadership, we’d need to ensure we don’t let it go to just anyone. There is a reason Saraki has the support of most young people on social media; he has been involved with several issues these young people took to heart. The remediation of Bagega in Zamfara State happened because he put his influence to great use even as online citizens pushed the #SaveBagega hashtag as attention got called to the issue. He it was who first raised the fuel subsidy scam issue on the floor of the Senate. This eventually became the reason for the #OccupyNigeria protest. The kerosene subsidy revelations and his work in the Senate Committee on Environment stand him out. More than all these, he is accessible and he has agreed on social media at least that he’d help work at reducing the budget of the National Assembly. We want a Senate President we can tweet at. Other contenders for this office need to up their social media game.
The personalities of the National Assembly leadership will not matter if the same corrupt practices continue; the whole arm- twisting pre-budget hearing that eventually affects the size of the budget, has to stop. If the APC’s National Assembly does not offer a clear difference from the PDP’s current National Assembly, Nigerians will reward the APC the way they rewarded the PDP this year. It will not be enough for the Executive to succeed; we need a virile, responsive and responsible National Assembly. We cannot be running a jobless economy with over 100 million poor people yet expend huge national resources on the allowances of already privileged but underworked lawmakers.
There is a need for a new order in the National Assembly. The fresh faces must look to raise the ante from the get go. You cannot criticise Abuja people for so many years then finally come to Abuja and then become just like them. That would be a disaster. We voted for a difference, we voted for newness, we voted for change. If we don’t see that change truly play out, we would realise our mistakes quickly and work out a punishment plan in 2019. It may look far away but that was just how 2015 looked far away when President Jonathan uttered, “I don’t give a damn!” on national TV. You must give a damn about these issues; the budget must come down, because Nigeria cannot afford it and lawmakers around the world are earning far less anyway.
After all said, both Houses must be allowed to decide their leaders. The APC came to the 2015 elections on the strength of its peaceful, transparent, free and fair primary election. That must be in place as the lawmakers choose their leaders. The party and the different causes will obviously play their roles but in the end, the Reps. and Senators are certainly politically mature enough to choose their own leaders. Nigerians cannot wait to see a National Assembly that truly represents the interests of the Nigerian people. The onus is on the APC to deliver on this promise.
– Japheth Omojuwa is a social media entrepreneur and political commentator
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija