NASS: A dark history (1)

Barely a week after the National Assembly was inaugurated in June 1999, it was discovered that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, not only forged his education certificates he had also falsified his age.  He claimed he had obtained a degree in Toronto.  He had not.  He deposed he was 30 years old.  He was not.  TheNews had printed the facts.  Speaker Buhari denied, denied, and denied.  But the facts caught up with him.
He resigned both the Speakership and his seat.  Rather than see him to jail where he actually belonged, the National Assembly invented a new legal fiction to shield him.  It was called “plea bargaining.”  Supreme Court Justice Kayode Esho, one of Nigeria’s most distinguished jurists, decried it as corruption and was emphatic that the concept of plea bargaining was alien to Nigerian jurisprudence. It was nothing but an escape hatch and Justice Esho cited the case of one former governor from the South-South Zone “who was alleged to have stolen billions and billions…  They asked him to plead to some most minor terms, there and then he was fined three million naira, which he picked out of his purse and paid there… It (plea bargaining) sent a notion that it had been prearranged.”
For a crook to hoodwink the Nigerian nation in such a cavalier manner as Speaker Buhari did and get himself to the No. 4 position of power and authority was, of course, a national disgrace.  Even so, Salisu Buhari was fenced off, protected and treated more like a prince instead of a felon.
The nation had barely recovered from the shock of the Speaker being a fraud before it was reported that the President of the Senate, Evan(s) Enwerem, was an ex-convict.  Tell magazine reported that the man had been jailed abroad for stealing.  He was further accused of forgery and age falsification.    The magazine reported that there were two versions of his name in different documents.  Mr. Enwerem denied, denied and denied.  But the facts caught up with him.  He was never granted the opportunity to account for his conduct and he remained in the Senate and served out his tenure in 2004.
His successor, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, a most articulate man, educated in some of the world’s most famous universities, and schooled in the theory and practice of politics, barely lasted a year when he, too, was removed for misappropriation of funds.  Okadigbo’s case was shocking.  He was said to have claimed N75 million for the purchase of Sallah rams for his 108 senate colleagues.  The figures didn’t add up, unless each ram could be made to cost more than N500,000.  His fall was most unexpected.  But it illustrates how widespread are the temptations to corruption at the National Assembly and why members can hardly restrain themselves, leading to the numerous financial scandals that have been the trade mark of the institution since its founding. Indeed, there were five presidents of the senate in seven years.
But it was in April 2003 that Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, the current Governor of Kaduna State, shocked the nation when he revealed that leaders of the senate had demanded bribes from him in return for his being confirmed as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.  He named the senators – Ibrahim Nasir Mantu, the deputy president of the senate, Jonathan Silas Zwingina,, the deputy senate leader.  They had asked him for N54 million in return for his confirmation.  It was an act of uncommon courage on El-Rufai’s part to expose corruption of the topmost members of the National Assembly, akin to the courage of Abdulmumin Jibrin who five weeks ago accused the leaders of the House of padding the 2016 budget. The 2003 senate after weeks of hand wringing decided to investigate el-Rufai’s allegations but the investigation ended up being a shameless cover up.
Then in April 2005 the Punch reported the case of the Education Minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji, who paid N55 million bribe to the Senate President, AdolphusWabara, and three senators in return for the approval of and a boost to the Education ministry’s budget.  The tragic aspect of this case was that Prof. Osuji had on occasions proved to be a man of integrity.  It was unclear how he was persuaded into paying bribes.  He did not readily have the money.  He borrowed N20 million from the National Universities Commission and made up the rest apparently through the ministry.  Being innocent of such things, he went about distributing the money with a retinue of education ministry officials.
Prof. Osuji was arrested and detained for four days by the EFCC and eventually dismissed by President Obasanjo.  His case has not been resolved in the court.  But the Senators came off at no cost.  The Senate President Wabara only resigned the leadership of the Senate but stayed to serve out his term of office.  He was, however, forced to refund the N20 million he took.  The Senate did not even deign to enquire into this allegation.  The government refused to prosecute the senators on the specious excuse that it would appear like an effort to undermine the legislative branch.
It was in May 2012 that Ms. Arunma Oteh, Director-General of the Nigerian Security and Exchange Commission had to face the House of Representatives Adhoc Committee on the Capital Market to answer questions pertaining to her organization.  But all hell was let loose when in responding to comments ridiculing her job performance, she disclosed that the committee chairman, Herman Hembe, and his deputy, Ifeanyi Azubogu, had demanded bribes from her twice.  The first demand was for N39 million and the second for N5 million.  Before then, she said, the committee chairman (Hembe) had collected some money and a business class air ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic for a seminar.  The chairman eventually did not go for the seminar but he neither returned the ticket nor the money. (Mr. Hembe has again been named by Abdulmumin Jibrin as one of the 10 committee chairmen who inserted 2,000 projects into the 2016 budget with the complicity of Speaker Yakubu Dogara.)  The committee ended the dialogue there and then, and began to question her qualifications and performance in a malicious and insulting fashion, brushing aside her weighty allegations.
When the committee was done picking on her, they passed a resolution recommending her dismissal by the President.   How dared she make public the demand for bribes by the members of the House?  The House added a rider that should President Jonathan fail to sack her, the House would cease to recognize her as the director-general of the SEC.  On return from its recess the House reaffirmed its resolution and sent a 14-day ultimatum to the President.  Not to be outdone, the Senate Committee also passed the same kind of resolution warning the President that if he did not dismiss Ms. Oteh the Senate would no longer recognize or screen members of the commission’s board.  It was brutal arm-twisting and a blatant abuse of power by the National Assembly.
But President Goodluck Jonathan did not oblige the National Assembly, and Ms. Oteh stayed till the end of her five-year tenure and was promptly snapped up by the World Bank.  Indeed, World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, in announcing her appointment as World Bank Vice President and Treasurer, eulogized her “tremendous expertise” saying “we are very fortunate to be able to recruit an individual of Arunma’s caliber.”