NATIONAL ASSEMBLY: A habitat for career criminals? By Yakubu Ahmed BK
When people insist that corruption has a way of fighting back, I always take it with a pinch of salt. And when in the course of his electioneering campaigns, President Muhammadu Buhari warned that if Nigeria refuses to kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria, the level of my adrenaline reached an alarming crescendo. I have always interpreted Buhari’s alarm as electioneering rhetoric laced with unnecessary bombasts aimed at appropriating as many votes as possible. Now we know better. Corruption is not only fighting back, but is doing it in a way it will kill and bury Nigeria. When you have institutions like the National Assembly enmeshed in actions that are clearly inimical to the growth and progress of Nigeria, then we truly have a mess in our hands, a mess with the potential to imperil our match to greatness.
Nigeria has contended with a number of hiccups along its tortuous journey as a nation. We have had situations where corruption was the main meal on the menu. There was never any doubt that Nigeria’s biggest enemy was its inability to nip corruption into the bud. Now, the National Assembly, an institution established by law to safeguard democracy and enhance national growth is, without doubt, at the forefront of undermining and stifling the country’s match to achieve development. It is not as if the National Assembly has been bereft of crooks and criminals whose agenda is to advance personal and group interests, but the 8th National Assembly under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki has broken all records of infamy and unpatriotic disposition. Of course the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as President had upped the ante in government’s zero tolerance level for corruption; his anti- corruption credentials and passion to deal with acts of corruption has aptly ruffled feathers of fraudulent elements across board. With an EFCC in its bloom and smarting from unmatched support from the Presidency, anti-corruption struggles in the country got their biggest lift in recent times. Perhaps, this must have accounted for the unprecedented searchlight that has been beamed on an inglorious and sad anti-development chapter in the nation’s history.
Upon all the legion of allegations leveled against the Bukola Saraki led National Assembly and in the face of nationwide angst against it by Nigerians, my own grouse is hinged on the face-off between the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing on one hand and the National Assembly on the other. The Ministry had complained that its own budget of estimates as passed by the National Assembly had been breached in a manner that has undermined its efforts to deal with issues that have been at the base of our infrastructural malaise in the country. According to fillers from the Ministry, the National Assembly has cut off significant allocations to projects that have direct bearing to national growth. Take the Ibadan/Lagos expressway, the Kano/Maiduguri expressway and the Mambila Hydropower project among many others listed to be completed by the Buhari administration. These are part of infrastructures that have been neglected by past administrations and we all know how critical they are to the development of the country. The point is that the cut in the estimates was affected by members of the National Assembly in order to accommodate funding for the contentious constituency projects under the direct auspices of the members. What are these constituency projects that are more important than the Mambila Hydropower project to justify undermining it? The members of the National Assembly would rather prefer having funds channeled to health centers and boreholes spread around their constituents; these are projects whose contracts they, as a rule, corner and handle themselves through proxy companies and companies belonging to their wives and children.
Are these health centers and boreholes worth our attention anymore? Are we not aware of the fate of such projects in our villages and cities? Is Nigeria’s landscape not dotted with abandoned borehole projects all over the country? What about health centers across the country? Are they not everywhere without drugs and personnel? Check around your village and you will see either a borehole or a health centre that has been constructed alright but is no longer dispensing. It looks to me that the profit margin is the only object of interest to the sponsors of such projects. To them, what become of these projects is secondary so long as they profit from them.
When we talk about key roads and electricity infrastructure in a nation whose economic progress has been stymied by bare faced corruption, then there is no way we would move forward when a key institution like the national legislature has also become a drag in the gamut. Institutional corruption as exemplified by the role the National Assembly is playing is today the most distructive yank in our history. This is so because the corruption induced mindset is from within the set up, from the lawmakers themselves. We are concerned because we risk turning the hallowed chambers into a habitat for all manner of criminals. Already, we have many of them there, but we risk having an all-criminal hangout for those who care more about their interests than national interest. When you have a powerful governor retiring into the Senate, having missed all the specs, I wonder what good you expect out of them. When you add this with the presence of drug barons, outlaws and career criminals, then the mix becomes more dangerous to the nation. The 8th National Assembly has become very dangerous not just because it is corrupt-laden only, but because we have people there that are dangerously ambitious. We have been hearing of attempts to declare the senate president as acting president on account of some phony technicalities or conjectures. Just sit back and imagine Bukola Saraki as acting president of Nigeria.