by Femi Macaulay,
A curious two-day conference will be held in Abuja on October 18 and 19. It is curiously called “National Conference on the role of the legislature in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.” More curiously, it is organised by the Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Anti-Corruption and the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC) in collaboration with the European Union, The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and the Africa Development Studies Center (ADSC).
Among the curious high-profile participants expected at the conference are Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara. Others are the Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Chukwuka Utazi, the Chairman, House Committee on Anti-Corruption, Babajide Akinloye, and the PACAC Chairman, Prof. Itse Sagay.
It is unclear whether the forum is intended to school the country’s federal legislators in the fundamentals of anti-corruption. It is worth noting that the Director General, Kenya School of Law, Prof. P. L.O. Lumumba, is expected to shed some light on the subject.
Without doubt, it is one thing to be taught and another thing to be teachable. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the targets of this training programme of sorts is not their learning capacity but their capacity for unlearning and relearning. It has been observed that knowledge is incomplete without values, and the lawmakers have continued to demonstrate to the public that they may indeed be irredeemably challenged in that critical department.
To give a striking illustration, consider the loud and clear voice of the beleaguered former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who has been singing about the alleged rot and stench in the House of Representatives. Who is listening to Jibrin?
In an interview published on October 9, Jibrin declared: “The corruption in the House of Representatives is massive. I have not exposed more than 10 per cent of the corruption going on in the House of Representatives. It is that bad.”
Jibrin continued: “I have said a whistleblower is not necessarily a saint. But people often support him (a whistleblower) because what he reveals is usually beneficial to all. This issue is beyond Jibrin. If someone has any issue against Jibrin, he should write a petition and take it to the anti-corruption agencies. I will go to the agencies and respond to the petition. Nobody among the 359 members of the House has written a petition against me to the anti-graft agencies. I had written a petition against the Speaker and three other principal officers in the House. I am talking about people who committed budget fraud of N40bn, another budget fraud worth about N20bn and there is another budget fraud with a cumulative sum of N284bn. I am talking about a person who diverted Federal Government projects to his farm; short-changed members in the N10bn Sustainable Development Goal projects of 2015; used subterranean means to create a new House rule that is the subject of litigation; and a man who collects rent from multiple sources. I have also exposed the fact that members are collecting votes for running costs. I am not saying money should not be voted for lawmakers’ running costs. The point is that this money is (sometimes) diverted to private pockets.”
Is anyone listening to Jibrin? It is food for thought that those on the receiving end of his accusations are likely to be at the planned anti-corruption conference in the capital city this week. The accused have done little or nothing to prove that Jibrin does not know what he is talking about. Those who should investigate Jibrin’s weighty allegations have done little or nothing to disprove his scandalous claims. With the move by the House of Representatives to tame Jibrin through a controversial long-term suspension, it would appear that the battle has been lost and won, even though the hurly-burly is not over.
Jibrin’s response to his 180-day suspension: “The constitution is clear: you can only get a member out of the House through recall and the constitution is supreme. The Legislative Privileges Act only allows the House to suspend a member for one sitting day. The House rules stipulate that you can only suspend a member for only 14 days. Therefore, legally, there is no way this can stand. They only suspended me because they wanted to save face. I raised allegations, but they have not responded.”
Evidently, the anti-corruption fight cannot be fought by fighters who are themselves pro-corruption. On the question of the incompleteness of knowledge without values, another striking picture reinforces the failure of values in the federal legislature.
A September 19 report on cheating by members of the National Assembly said: “NAN gathered that some of the lawmakers, especially principal officers, have more than the statutorily approved number of aides in their employ, who also draw their salary from the assembly’s funds…It was also revealed that many legislators draw the emolument of their aides from the assembly’s funds but pay them fractions. Some of the lawmakers employed only one or two aides but are collecting the full salary for the five they are entitled to.”
The report continued: “This act was discovered to be perpetrated more by the members through their constituency offices, which they are mandatorily expected to have in their areas, but deliberately failed to do so. They submit names of non-existent staff in the constituency office to the national assembly service commission and collect their entitlements directly.”
It is noteworthy that these are the characters expected to play a positive role in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. What will they learn at the coming conference? What can they learn? How will the results of the teaching be measured and monitored?
In the end, this publicised conference may be no more than another stunt to create the impression that corruption is unwelcome in the National Assembly when there are enough signs that corruption enjoys a warm welcome in that supposedly honourable space. Indeed, it is not far-fetched to observe that corruption usually gets the red-carpet treatment from members of the National Assembly. What the fight against corruption needs is not a conference but conscience.