President Buhari, on account of what many have come to regard as his mindset on many national issues, is an image maker’s nightmare. He speaks without inhibition even in circumstances where restraint or introspection is required. As candidate Buhari, he made an odious comparison between Boko Haram- insurgents hiding under the cover of religion to perpetuate evil against Nigerians, and Niger Delta militants- a self-actualisation group protesting despoliation of their resources by the state.
At his inauguration following a victory after three earlier failed attempts, he had thundered “I belong to no one, I belong to everyone”, an unnecessary display of audacity by a political novice which prompted a perceptive lawyer, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa to point out on a Channels TV programme that ‘but some people provided the resources and the aircraft he used to junket around the country while on campaign trail’. He forgot the expectations of miracle seekers who wanted all the nation’s problems solved overnight and others that expected him to restructure the country by working out an acceptable compromise relationship for peaceful coexistence of diverse nationalities with divergent cultures.
One cannot but imagine the nightmare of image makers of a president who after tongue-in-cheek asked David Cameron who had described Nigeria as ‘fantastically corrupt country’ to prevail on his fellow European custodians of Nigerian looted funds to return same, still standing by his canonization of Abacha as saint even after a clear proof the repatriated funds was what Abacha stashed away in banks across Europe and the Bahamas.
They must have felt the same way last week following the president’s decision to ‘blame Nigerians for perceiving National Assembly members as being overpaid’ during last Wednesday’s launching of the Green House chamber magazine. According to him: “Hitherto, the public perception of the National Assembly is that of a bicameral legislature where overly comfortable and highly-overpaid members merely stuff wads of currency notes into their pockets for little work done.” He blamed the wrong perception “on lack of understanding of the enormous work of lawmakers”.
The President talks of perception ignoring the overwhelming evidence that support the parasitic nature of our National Assembly. It is on record that no sooner they were sworn in at the onset of the fourth republic that they publicly declared their intention to recoup their expenses claiming they sold their properties to contest the election that brought them to power.
They immediately created artificial fuel scarcity and passed a bill setting up a PPPRA, an instrumentality through which N1.7trillion was stolen in the name of dubious fuel subsidy. They mismanaged the handling of the World Bank privatization policy. They awarded the bungled rural electrification projects’ contracts to themselves. They cornered choice properties they inherited including the senate president and the House speaker’s mansions through monetization policies. They then awarded themselves salaries that would make lawmakers in Europe or America green with envy.
It is perhaps only President Buhari who, after calling on the National Assembly to hasten work on the Special Crimes Court Bill during a recent presentation of ICPC report on constituency projects that confirmed that ‘in the past 10 years, N1 trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects,” without the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians, who would insist the lawmakers deserve their outrageous salaries.
But it is just as well that not many Nigerians share the president’s sentiments. For instance, not too long ago, former governor, Gabriel Suswan of Benue, and a two-term member of the Lower House during a lecture at the University of Abuja, admitted a good number of the members are “uneducated” and “immature” and that less than 20 of the members make useful contributions at plenary session, sponsor motions or bills”.
Before him was Sanusi Lamido who as Governor of Central Bank had as far back as December 1, 2010 during a lecture at the University of Benin lamented that the federal legislators gulp about 25% of federal government overheads. According to him, it works out simply thus: “If the overhead of the federal government of Nigeria stands at N536.2 billion and the National Assembly, NASS, gets N136, 259, 768, 102 (N136.2 billion), what does it constitute? Is it 25.41% or 3.5%?
Ex-President Obasanjo had similarly during the public presentation of the autobiography of Justice Mustapha Akanbi, in Abuja, in November 2014 ridiculed the National Assembly, as “largely an assemblage of looters and thieves”. As if to validate Obasanjo’s thesis, instead of denial, the assembly members insisted no one can demonise them for taking after their father who allegedly tried to bribe the National Assembly members with “Ghana must go bags” stuffed with raw cash in pursuit of his doomed third-term agenda.
And if Nigerians were to choose between Obasanjo who celebrated sacking of not a few erring National Assembly leaders including Salisu Buhari and Adolphus Wabara and President Buhari who many Nigerians rightly or wrongly feel is too weak to discipline his political appointees and has in fact been accused by Shehu Sani, one-time member of his own party, of ‘fighting corruption among his friends with ‘deodorant and among political foes with insecticide’, they will in all probability pitched their tent with the former.
And precisely because nothing has changed, for many, the president’s assessment must have been a product of his mindset. PDP and APC have shown they are the same with no ideological differences. The leaders of both parties often speak and act not like leaders of political parties but like commanders of Niger Delta militant groups. Oshiomhole who probably forgets political party is a serious affair told us the difference between him and Secondus is that “he is Adam, the first man and his PDP counterpart, Secondus, doomed to always take a second position”.
More than this, our lawmakers remain the highest paid in the world. The senate like its predecessor was reported to be considering the purchase of Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs toys for its 109 members at an estimated cost of N50m each or about N5.5B.
Devoid of a mindset of ‘my friends can do no wrong’, canonization of a National Assembly which like its predecessors is made up of military baked ‘new breed’ politicians, who suffer same military affliction of looting conquered territories cannot but be sacrilegious.
Little has changed under Buhari government of change. As late as December 2, 2018, Sanusi Lamido, former CBN governor and now Emir of Kano had asked: “Where is the change?’ adding that “change should start with the National Assembly. A senator receives N36 million monthly. If this is divided into two, it comes to N18 million. The second half of N18 million can be used to create jobs for 200 Nigerians, each earning N90, 000 monthly”;
The President recently confirmed during presentation of ICPC report on constituency projects that “The first phase report of tracking these projects by the ICPC confirms our worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms commensurate with the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception”.