The struggle for the soul of Nigeria’s Democracy -By Lewis Obi

Filed under: Political Issues |

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An innocuous-looking report in last Sunday’s Thisday brought to the open what many Nigerians have always known: that the National Assembly has for 16 years been run like a cult, with its many activities shrouded in secrecy, including its finances and emoluments.

Now, a new Senate President has been elected who in his inaugural speech vowed to change the Senate into a democratic institution, not a secret cult. It was obvious that he was going to have to fight every inch of the way to actualize that noble ambition. Now, it is becoming clearer the true reasons why the cultists in the Senate were dead set against Dr. Bukola Saraki.

The gist of the story is that the Senate did set up an Adhoc Committee on Finance to look into the finances of the chamber. The committee was a mixture of older senators and freshman senators. Details of the committee’s report have not been made public but it is said to contain a provision which recommended that “making the records of finances of the legislative house open and transparent for anybody who is interested to easily access such information.”

The report explained that senators are divided on the report, not along the usual lines – Unity Forum versus Like Minds – as was the case on the controversial election of the top officers of the Senate. “Rather, the dividing line is between the group which wants the Senate to jettison the recommendation of the Senator James Manager-led Committee which states that in line with the transparency and openness promised by Saraki in his inaugural speech, details of the finances of the legislative house should be made more transparent.”

The older senators are opposed to openness and are said to have argued that public scrutiny was an “unnecessary concession which is a ‘mere public relations gimmick.’” Translation: the Nigerian electorate is not entitled to know how the Senate is spending the people’s money. Even if it is entitled, it does not need to know these details. Who are you trying to impress with opening the finances? Those ignorant voters?

“The ‘anti-openness’ Senators explained that the legislature’s funds are on first line charge which precludes them from any form of control by any executive body or agency, just like the fund budgeted for the judiciary. They further argued that the present position has been maintained since 1999 and it does not contradict any law. So, they wonder why the need to change a stable process. The group noted that the Senate would not achieve anything by opening up its financial books for public scrutiny and that the gesture will not change the position and general perception of the public that the legislature is a ‘money guzzler,’”

The above paragraph seems to capture the essential thinking of the National Assembly for the last 16 years. The Constitution invested the legislature with the power of the purse, but it could not have been envisaged that the Senate would utilize those powers for self enrichment. The emolument of judges is protected for obvious reasons which should not be compared with any other branch.

The Senate may not have contradicted any law but there is no law that empowers the senate to spend public funds as it pleases on itself. By so doing it has violated the most elementary of moral codes. The result is that it has lost public support as an institution. By awarding themselves the highest pay every earned by political office holders in the world, several times more than the earnings of an American president, the senators have clearly been guilty of abuse of office.

That this scandalous situation has existed since 1999 meant that the Senate has maintained a ticking bomb for 16 years. Every fair minded student of Nigerian history would readily agree that there was more corruption and malfeasance in 2011 and 2015 than in 1966 and 1983.

Dr. Saraki seems to have the right instincts. He and those who think like him might yet save the National Assembly and prevent its giving democracy a bad name. The ball is in the court of the Senate to either let the ‘cultists’ prevail or support the ‘transparencists.’ It is a kind of struggle for the soul of democracy in Nigeria. You would have thought that such a struggle would be a walk-over in an atmosphere of ‘change,’ in support of the copious protestations of integrity and openness and a ‘fight’ against corruption. But, here, sometimes, two plus two doesn’t make four.

DONALD TRUMPS THE GOP

Self-proclaimed billionaire, Donald Trump, acquired his bona fides as a Conservative politician mostly by vilifying President Barack Obama. He was one of those who couldn’t live down the idea of a black man being president of the United States. |And when Obama won a landslide in 2008 defeating John McCain, Trump was one of those who led the campaign to delegitimize Obama.

The Birthers, as they later were called, believed that Obama could not be President of the United States because he was not an American citizen. But if he (Obama) insisted that he was, he should produce his birth certificate. |Essentially, most Americans at first took it for a joke because Obama’s birth was actually contemporaneously reported in the local newspaper in Hawaii the day after it happened and the report was available in the Internet. Yet the Birthers insisted on seeing Obama’s birth certificate.

Now the Republicans are seeing Donald Trump a front-runner in what has been described as a crowded field of 15 politicians, one brain surgeon (the black man, Ben Carson) and Donald Trump, with the good old Donald a mile better than the pack. And the GOP doesn’t like it one bit. Serves them right. What goes around comes around. The GOP has a Hobson’s choice. They either nominate Donald or risk a Third Party Trump candidacy. Either way, the coast is clear for Secretary Clinton. This should be the easiest journey to the White House.

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