National Assembly: A criminal enterprise?


By Emmanuel Umohinyang


That the National Assembly, despite its pride of place in our democracy, has been a significant embarrassment to the nation on many occasions is not in doubt

The unfortunate scenario did not start today, as the law-making arm of government has worn a toga of indecency many times, from administration to administration.

Neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives is immune to controversy, mainly corruption.

During the sixteen years of democracy under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), many thought they had seen the worst embarrassing drama.

Have you forgotten the Ghali Na’Abba era, when tons of cash were displayed on the floor of the House as the proceeds of crime from the presidency?

Do you remember the Patricia Etteh scandal, in which Dino Melaye hounded the first female Speaker over alleged corruption?

There are damn too many filthy stories of criminality in that era that researchers would spend years unravelling were it to do a review of that era. While all these lasted, law-making took the back seat, and reason took the fight from the chambers.

In the interim, all antics, including tons of cash, were deployed to sway those who appeared to stay on the fence.

For instance, the now rested, highly respected Tell magazine, in the cause of its investigation, discovered that the cash displayed by Na’Abba’s foot soldiers to nail OBJ was indeed from a commercial bank in Kano, where the former Speaker hailed from.

Such is the level our lawmakers can descend to to show that they can do and undo anything, no matter how highly placed.

Ask Funke Egbemode, the former Commissioner for Information in Osun State who worked for Etteh then as a Spectral Adviser on Media.

Egbemode, who was more than convinced that her former boss committed no crime, rose to her defence. Still, the propaganda machinery of Etteh’s antagonists was too much for her to confront, and the former Speaker lost her seat to the rampaging army.

Years later, those who planned that coup, using all the armoury in their arsenal, including blackmailing the National Assembly bureaucracy, have since begged Etteh.

The scenario has always taken the same shape, leadership after leadership, as lawmakers at the national level have consistently demonstrated that their interest is about themselves and themselves alone. Many have attributed the crises in the National Assembly to the unseen hands of the presidency, especially during the Obasanjo administration, when we saw the Ebola breath down the neck of the National Assembly.

So terrible was the situation that many considered the era a dark period in Executive- legislative relations, as the National Assembly then kowtow to the whims and caprices of the presidency

It was, therefore, unsurprising that the Senate under Obasanjo had three senate presidents of south-east extraction in quick succession.

Indeed, the late Chuba Okadigbo, fondly called the Oyi of Oyi, would never forget the humiliation he suffered under that dispensation.

In fact, OBJ was so strong that even though he operated in a democratic setting, many saw him as the three arms of government combined.

Unfortunately, the messy waters in which the National Assembly has found itself cannot be divorced from lawmakers with inordinate ambition, corruption, and disdain for the rule of law, which they have sworn to uphold.

This could be seen in every crisis that has engulfed the House of Representatives or the Senate, as the clash of interest has never been about Nigeria but primordial sentiments. Moreover, without prompting, the Senate and the House continue to wear the toga of rubber stamp, administration after administration, because they rarely uphold their independence.

Former Senate President Ahmad Lawan even told the world that the Senate, under his leadership, would approve any request brought by the former president. Today, Lawan criticizes the ways and means approved by the Senate under his leadership, which is currently under probe.

Even the dust generated by the alleged padding of the 2024 budget by suspended senator Abdul Ningi follows the same trajectory we have eventually seen.

Using the alleged padding as bait, the PDP chieftain and close ally of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar only tried to use the issue to discredit the budget and, by extension, the presidency and the Senate.

As chairman of the influential Northern Senators forum, he intended to bring about a crisis between the North and the South, a strategy deployed by politicians who take pride in dividing the country along tribal and religious lines.

However, Ningi’s odious and vexatious plans failed, as many of his colleagues from the North saw through his antics, and the strategy was dead on arrival.

Recall that the same strategy was deployed in the last general elections but met a brick wall through the support of northern governors who kicked against the plot. The presidency under Senator Bola Tinubu deserves commendation for coming out on time to deflate Ningi’s balloon of lies with facts and figures.

According to presidential spokesman, Bayo Onanuga, “Contrary to the strange view expressed by Senator Ningi, there was no way the Senate could have debated and passed N25trn budget that was not presented to the National Assembly.

“We don’t expect a ranking Senator to pay due attention to details before making wild claims. On the uncharitable claim that the 2024 budget was anti-North, we found Senator Ningi’s position too farfetched and unbecoming of a leader of his status.”

The Senators must be commended for handling the matter by using facts and figures to puncture the lies Ningi pounded in his BBC interview.

Partisanship, which has always been an issue, was set aside, even as the Northern Senators’ Forum openly dissociated itself from Ningi’s despicable behaviour.

However, I find the Senate President’s postulation that the allegation by Senator Ningi has damaged the reputation of the Red Chamber very laughable because it is either Senator Godswill Akpabio is playing to the gallery not to have known that the National Assembly has no reputation before the moral public not to talk about a reputation to be damaged.

Senator Agom Jarigbe’s observation suggests that the Senate could have done better in distributing constituency projects across the country, leaving much to be desired. The upper chamber also needs to abide by its own rules, as Ningi’s three-month suspension is a slap to the Cherish values of the rule of law and a mockery of the courts’ decisions in the Ovie Omo-Agege and Ali Ndume cases.

Therefore, the challenge before the National Assembly is to rise to the occasion by ensuring that it serves as the authentic voice of Nigerians instead of being an appendage of the Executive or other interests.

The Senate and the House of Representatives ought to be the people’s consciences, but this National Assembly differs from the People’s Assembly. Rather, it is an Assembly of characters that send prayers to their email boxes while the people ask them to bear with the excruciating economic situation.

The Senate should arrest this unfortunate retrogression to indecency and rebrand itself by working truly for the people instead of continuing to reel in the culture of impunity, corruption, and lawlessness that seems to have become its second address.

The Senator Godswill Akpabio-led National Assembly must not eat the bone that was given her to keep, as they were not elected to enjoy themselves on behalf of poor Nigerians.


Umohinyang, a Public Affairs Analyst, wrote from Abuja.


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