Nigeria: This Democracy And You! By SOC Okenwa
The Nigerian former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Alhaji Maitama Sule is one blunt statesman I hold in high esteem for his patriotic candour and eloquence. Sule had won my admiration few years ago when he engaged in a 'prayer' for a new Nigeria passionately asking God to make it possible for him to see in his lifetime a Nigeria of new-breed politicians who would deliver services to the masses by caring more for the people and less for their percuniary gains. He had asked God to send forth to Nigeria "leaders and not rulers" who would lead by example and turn Nigeria around! The prayer is yet to be answered but we keep our fingers crossed!
Alhaji Sule, Dan Masanin Kano, was in the news recently when penultimate week he frowned at the cost of running the National Assembly and passed a damning verdict: "It is too outrageous". The submission was made by the retired Ambassador at the awardees night of the House of Representatives Forum comprising the upper and lower legislative chambers. Noting that in the First Republic only three percent of the national budget was used in servicing the parliament the old decent man lamented the present wasteful system in which a huge budget is annually devoted to servicing indolence and unproductivity in the various chambers.
The Dan Masanin Kano called for a downward review of the cost of maintaining members of the National Assembly insisting that he was "very comfortable with the old parliamentary system" which "merely had three sessions in a year". Continuing Amb. Sule declared that "the system we are operating today is very expensive. We cannot afford it". Sule was merely adding his voice to the general concern by concerned Nigerians about the huge wages the Assemblymen are drawing from the national purse while involving themselves in scandals and embezzlement of resources.
But beyond this important declaration against the present prohibitive cost of maintaining the Nigerian 'legislooters' Alhaji Maitama expressed disaffection over the state of insecurity in the country admonishing Nigerians to see love as the only worthy religion. He said: "All religions of God are based on love. Love is the greatest. Love is my religion. I see myself as a Christian and a Muslim and also as a Jew". With that particular statement full of wisdom and divine reverence Amb. Sule had won over my heart! God is one and His religion is Love! Whoever loves his neighbour as himself has endeared himself to God whether he be a pagan, a hindu, a muslim or a non-church-going Christian.
This twisted country must only exist and prosper on the democratic terms that suit our status as a big rich but blind country with the minority controlling and stealing the resources of the silent abused majority. We can no longer continue to pretend that our democracy is working and developing well when few men and women are being pampered and over-fed by scarce resources that are not enough to break the cycle of darkness in the landscape. Nigeria does not need a legislature that sits full-time; she needs a part-time downsized legislature (as Amb. Sule rightly pointed out) that convenes two or three times in a year.
The Nigerian National Assembly is perhaps the most expensive legislative arm of government in the world. But the greater worry here is not the outrageous budget devoted each year towards its maintenance; it is the fact that the representatives and senators out there are not only lazy but corrupt and incompetent. Barely a week or a month passes by without Nigerians being treated to one awkward fiscal scandal or another emanating from the hallowed chambers in Abuja. And in this circumstance no serious effort is ever made to further democracy in the positive sense by enacting laws capable of changing our primitive democratic culture and holding the executive to account.
While the Senate led by Mr telephone-is-not-for-the-poor, David Mark, is not 'immuned' from the various financial scandals that had rocked the legislature in recent times the House of Representatives seems to be more of a 'House of fiscal horror!'. Remember former disgraced Speaker Dimeji Bankole? Though soundly educated in the West where democracy functions normally he came back home and decided to criminally enrich himself by inflating contracts and taking kickbacks running into billions of Naira. He has had his day in court but now free as a bird -- enjoying the looted funds.
Remember 'Hon.' Ndudi Elumelu? 'Hon.' Herman Hembe? And 'Hon.' Farouk Lawan? These are men elected to make good laws that would help improve the democratic space in Nigeria but they turned around and sought to exploit the system for their greedy selfish interests. The various probe panels headed by these dishonourable men ended up throwing more stench of corruption into the air than what they had been mandated to probe. In a country where every institution that ought to consolidate democracy (especially the judiciary and the legislature) is corrupt then the system is bound to fail and it has so failed in Nigeria!
You may not be wrong if you decide to call the House of Representatives as a house of fraud and fraudsters, "rogues and armed robbers" (apology to 'Baba' himself). We have said it before that more scrutiny should be done before any man or woman is allowed to be a candidate for membership of the Nigerian House of Assembly. Even today we do not need Obasanjo to tell us the obvious truth we know all along: that the NASS is inhabited by 'rogues and criminals' without conscience -- out to milk the nation dry while pretending to be 'honourables' and senators. Honourables and Senators my foot!
The Farouk Lawan/ Femi Otedola latest $3m subsidy bribe scandal has exposed the house members to national and international ridicule. The shameless game of 'if you Farouk me I will Otedollar you' continues unabated with those charged with investigating and prosecuting the criminals not doing enough to nail them judicially. For me it is not important whether Farouk sought the bribe first or he was set up by the business mogul; what matters most here is that the two are criminals who should by now be cooling their heels in prison in a decent society that frowns at issues of this kind.
While Otedola as a successful businessman in Nigeria with his hands in many prosperous business interests has his high points his rise to fame and power is not without crime and deals that left patriotism high and dry! Today like the richest African and billionaire cement magnate Aliko Dangote Otedola is a good friend of President Jonathan and he wines and dines with those at the pinnacle of state power. How do we now ever imagine or expect that his shady deals to maintain the flow of oil will be jeopardised by a 'little' Farouk and his hungry subsidy probe panel members?
You see, I pity Hon. Farouk Lawan for falling into the hands of the Mafians! The report his probe panel released caused a national 'commotion' and stirred a hornet's nest. In a co-ordinated and well-planned and financed attempt to 'kill' the far-reaching conclusions of the panel and its high-profile indictments Farouk sadly fell to the trap of the bad boys in the system -- thus falling 'mugu' to the masters of the game! Now we are no longer hearing much about the panel and what to do with its recommendations but how Farouk went to Otedola to collect bribe and how Otedola invited over his friends in the SSS to monitor and bear witness to the criminal act of desperation by those rocking the system.
One must warn here in the interest of truth, fairness and justice that 'Hon.' Lawan, even though he has 'fucked up' must not go down alone. This case will definitely test the resiliency of the Nigerian judiciary and the law enforcement agencies. It is beyond comprehension that a bribe giver will be allowed to go scot-free while the bribe taker will be jailed. Even if in Nigeria we all know that nothing is impossible (including fixing elections with Tony Anenih as the HOD and commissioning murder) those responsible must ensure that justice is done without any hint of dancing naked at the sight of the Ote-dollars!
Whilst Otedola has argued that he meant to expose Farouk's greed (upon his alleged demand for dirty money in order to remove Otedola's oil company from the list of shame) by inviting his secret police friends to witness the pocketing of the marked dollars by 'Hon.' Lawan it is a crime to try to set up a legislator on a serious investigative mission for the state. Yes, you don't try to compromise a lawmaker doing a legitimately-assigned business of exposing the subsidy scam. Or worse still seek to tarnish his image or attempt to destroy his integrity in the process of holding you or your company to account.
Femi Otedola, the oil magnate, is the 'undertaker' sent by the oil cartel to 'bury' the embattled dimunitive lawmaker in his ignorance. Though Farouk Lawan has little of my sympathy he remains, in the reckoning of discerning Nigerians, the glorified 'victim' of this mindless oil politics in Nigeria. Otedola, much like the reticent reclusive Glo boss Mike Adenuga (who is acting as a front for the business concern of the disgraced ex-dictator Gen. Ibrahim Babangida), is an economic terrorist in Nigeria exploiting the loopholes in the system to further his economic interests.
While Nigerians have collectively expressed their opprobrium in the 'Farouk-ing' business we are reminded of how corruption as a monster has refused doggedly to be fought to a standstill with an inept government at the centre. This issue of 'i-gave-you-the-money-to-expose-you' and 'i-took-the-money-to-expose-you' between Farouk and Femi distracts our attention from the fuel subsidy fraud exposition. Lawan ought to be 'crucified' because he allowed himself to be used to kill a sharp smart report detailing the sleaze in the petroleum sector. And he must pay dearly for it!
'Hon.' Ndudi Elumelu before him permitted the root of evil (money) to get the better part of him few years ago when a probe panel was launched to unearth the mind-boggling squandermania superintended by Olusegun Obasanjo in the comatose power sector. Like him and Farouk Herman Hembe's hypocrisy was equally exposed by the DG of SEC Ms Arunma Oteh who accused him and his other official of collecting princely sum for a trip abroad which they never used for the purpose. Her appearance before the committee became a 'soap opera' in which the beautiful woman sought to control proceedings with her bombshell of corruption and kick-back.
'Hon.' Hembe and his co-accused are now standing trial. (Thank God they are being tried but we refuse to hear about the so-called 'plea bargaining' or whatever!) And the Capital Market probe report is now nowhere to be found! The suspended and recently recalled Ms Oteh (whose "incompetence and fiscal recklessness" has been denounced by the House probe for having mismanaged her official brief and blown millions of Naira on food alone in a 5-star hotel!) has been alleged to have godfathers and connections inside Aso Rock! You can never tell with the 'power' under Ms Oteh's corporate suit skirt!
We therefore hold that if Farouk is guilty then Otedola is guilty as well, in equal measure! It takes two to tango! Using the illicit proceed of crime which the fuel subsidy scam represents to blackmail a house member(s) in order to be seen by the Nigerian public as engaging in a legitimate oil enterprise is reprehensible enough! Otedola and Farouk are guilty in the public court and no matter the executive intervention the magic of pulling off this one and presenting same as 'Faroukgate' can ever stand scrutiny.
Between this (nascent) democracy and you, fellow Nigerians, a clear case of conflict of interest has emerged unfortunately, a crisis of confidence and misplaced priorities. We must, therefore, collectively, intensify efforts to radically restructure and deepen the democratic structures on the ground and put mechanisms in place to turn the current defective federalism into an effective true federalism. We can never be satisfied with the status quo; we must rise in unison to challenge bravely the old unproductive order by trying to do something more, something new, something different and by continuing to mobilize our people for a new dawn.
For our God and our country we owe this as a duty -- a patriotic historic duty in honour of a motherland raped. There should be no greater honour! And in this wise Nigeria can be made to work again to the benefit of our abused teeming population -- those hungry, homeless and jobless millions who have thus far borne the brunt of the criminal undemocratic tendencies of politicians operating, like thieves in the night, from Abuja.