Former Speaker, Honourable Dimeji Bankole
Last week’s request by members of the House of Representatives for an increment in their quarterly allowances brings to mind a similar situation in the last session of the House that led to the ongoing trial of former Speaker, Honourable Dimeji Bankole and his deputy, Honourable UsmanNafada, writes OnwukaNzeshi
Last week, the House of Representatives was again in the news for a curious reason. Some of its members reportedly demanded a raise in their pay package during an executive session. Sources at the meeting said a group of legislators championed the cause and whose ultimate goal was to raise their pay with about N7million per quarter.The demand, it was learnt, also came with a subtle threat to sack the leadership of the House in the event of its failure to meet the demand for more money for the lawmakers.
Since the return of democracy some 12 years ago, salaries and allowances paid to members of the National Assembly had remained controversial. An average legislator in Nigeria is considered rich and believed to earn more than their counterparts in neighbouring countries. Although, it is not known yet what the exact figures are because of a seeming conspiracy of silence amongst the lawmakers on the issue; the Revenue Mobilisation Fiscal Allocation Commission, the body responsible for fixing the wages of political office holders has also not helped matters either as it would usually give out the statutory monthly pay package or disown the jumbo quarterly allowances.
But the House has denied the reports that some of its members were demanding higher wages and plotting to impeach the Speaker, Hon. AminuTambuwal and the entire leadership. Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, who addressed these issues at the weekly media chat, said there was no iota of truth in the purported impeachment plot. Mohammed insisted that the House remained united and in support of its current leadership. The House spokesman disclosed that contrary to some media reports, there was no attempt to move an impeachment motion during the executive session held last week.
“As far as I am concerned, I attended the executive session and when we rose, I came to the Press Centre and told you what transpired and there was nothing like impeachment at that meeting. But maybe some of you went in search of a scoop and it is now left for you to prove that such a thing took place.
“I stand by what I told you transpired at the meeting. We are still the 360 members who elected our leadership and the unity of this House is not negotiable,” Mohammed said.
The alleged arrow- head of the plot, Hon. Mohammed SanniKutigi, has also denied habouring any intention to lead a rebellion in the green chamber.
In a separate chat with THISDAY in his office, Kutigi described his being linked to the plot as a malicious attempt by some persons to smear his name and that of his family. He expressed dismay at the flood of calls and messages he had received on the matter, saying that it has been very embarrassing.
Kutigi admitted to sending the controversial text message but maintained that some persons misconstrued the message and its intention. According to him, the text in question was sent as a bulk message to the 360 members of the House but was actually meant for the fresh members who joined the House in June 2011. He disclosed that whereas the new members worked together as a group prior to the inauguration of the House, their union fizzled out shortly after and there was a need for a reunion.
“The truth is that impeachment is a process. When we came into the House last year, we had an association called ‘The Seventh Assembly’ but after the inauguration, the group died down. The text sent to members was supposed to be for a reunion. It’s been happening- sometimes you find old secondary school mates coming together after a long time.
“The text was an open thing and the meeting was supposed to have held last Thursday and it did not hold again. So, where are people getting all these malicious allegations of an impeachment from? If we want to impeach, we would not have made the meeting open and we would have been collecting signatures and drawing up a list of impeachable offences,” Kutigi said.
On why the meeting was aborted, the lawmaker explained that the leadership apparently thought that the group had some other hidden agenda and convened the executive session held last Wednesday.
The swift denials have however cast a shadow of doubts on the initial story. For instance, sources in the House hinted that there were indeed plans to move against the speaker and that the move was orchestrated by the Presidency. Sources in the House believe the Presidency is still doing all within its reach to get rid of the Tambuwal leadership and that the latest of many of such attacks to come was the needless request in the raise for lawmakers.
A member of the leadership caucus said much as the leadership was not perturbed because it knew the leadership was one installed by the generality of members, it is also not mindful of the fact that those members who had offered themselves to be used as cannon fodder by the Presidency are considered enemies within and would be dealt with. The source informed that series of meeting had preceded the development last week, all in the bid devise their own strategies and fence off offensive from the presidency.
The source also said the latest development was also an eye-opener for the House that it should not get unduly close to the Presidency in the name of reconciliation except for official purposes. He said the handwritings are clear that the Presidency would not desist from chasing after the Tambuwal leadership and as such, it would also not taking blind chances for whatever reasons.
It is imperative to recall that a similar incident took place during the Sixth Assembly. The story was told then of how some lawmakers mounted pressure on the leadership of the House during the regime of Hon. OladimejiBankole, to raise their pay package. The argument then was that an enhanced pay would assist the lawmakers to finance their 2011 re-election campaigns.
The pressure was so intense that the House went borrowing from some commercial banks to meet the financial needs of its members. The House also took all funds it originally earmarked for capital projects and converted them to recurrent expenditure just to satisfy the wishes of its members.
This was how the House under Bankole got itself trapped in a huge debt burden that has continued to haunt the green chamber till date. Even with what was termed “collapse” of all funds and the sharing of same among members of the House, the leadership ran into a lot troubles, culminating in the arrest and prosecution of Bankole and his deputy, UsmanBeyeroNafada. What the duo achieved in the House in three and half years was rubbished by the jumbo pay saga.
But the current leadership has reiterated its stand against any borrowing or the collapse of funds to enrich the accounts of its members. Tambuwal has reportedly thrown open the books as a way of demonstrating transparency and accountability. He has also explained to his colleagues the full implications of diverting funds meant for specific legislative assignments into extra allowances for lawmakers.
Perhaps, the current leadership is not completely oblivious of history. The House, observers say, must remember that whatever it does recklessly might boomerang sooner than it ever could imagine. Thus, Tambuwal, particularly must remain firm and deploy the benefit of hindsight to avoid the pitfalls of the past, more so that he was a major player in the Sixth Assembly.