Simon Kolawole Live!: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Assembly is always in the news. I’m not surprised. As the largest collection of elected representatives of 160 million Nigerians, they are saddled with huge powers and responsibilities. If they fail to exercise these powers, we will tag them a “rubber stamp”. However, in an attempt to prove that they are up to the task, there is always the temptation to go overboard. Finding a balance between powers and responsibilities is always going to be difficult as we pull the lawmakers from all directions in our quest for better life.
The legislature performs three basic functions: lawmaking, appropriation and oversight. That is, they make laws; they authorise expenditure of public funds; and they “oversee” ministries, departments and agencies. By far the most controversial of their functions is oversight, which they do every day. This has been misused by many lawmakers for extortion. Some lawmakers are in the habit of calling for public hearing and seeking “sponsorship” from the same agencies they want to probe! Some have turned extortion, through probes, to a full-time job. Some probes are instigated sometimes under the pretext of public good, when indeed the motive is something else.
The Femi Otedola/Farouk Lawan affair is a case in point. We are still awaiting the outcome of various investigations into the allegation that Lawan collected a “marked” $620,000 “bribe” from Otedola in order to give the businessman a clean bill of health in the probe of the oil subsidy affair. The face-off between the House of Representatives and Otedola took a different turn again recently when the lower chamber set up an eight-man panel to probe Otedola’s settlement of N142 billion indebtedness to the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON). Of the 500 or so deals done by AMCON so far, it is only the Otedola one that the House is after. This was unmistakably a continuation of the Farouk Lawan Affair, which had clearly embarrassed the House. It is revenge time.
I had lamented recently, while commenting on the blacklisting of debtors by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), that some “big men” blatantly refuse to pay their debts. I later heard that Otedola had decided to settle his debts, giving up over 10 assets, mainly landed property. He withdrew his court cases against the banks. I was a bit surprised that he decided to go for a “clean sheet” when he could have used the courts to stall the repayments for the next 10 years. You know what “big men” do in Nigeria, don’t you? Nevertheless, this deal has given the House a very good opportunity to get back at Otedola. They are hoping to find something “untoward” in the deal. It’s either the House now wants to be scrutinising every AMCON deal or they are just going after Otedola as a “return match” for the Lawan embarrassment. Your guess is equal to mine.
If it is what I’m thinking, then the House is just wasting our time when there are more important matters to attend to. Am I surprised though? I wrote this in July when the saga started: “Whatever the case may be, Otedola has murdered sleep. The Nigerian elite class has a way of protecting itself; it never exposes itself to public ‘ridicule’... As the mafia mantra states, injury to one member of the family is injury to all. House members are seething with fury. They will get back at him. As long as Otedola continues to do business with the state, they will be waiting for him somewhere someday.” Am I right? So, watch out for the vendetta and other related matters.
A bigger issue that affects all Nigerians, currently, is the 2013 Appropriation Bill. Both chambers of the National Assembly are angry that the executive, represented by President Goodluck Jonathan, has never been faithful to the budgets passed by them. On this, the lawmakers are right. Let’s be clear about it: the Appropriation Act is a law. If the president wilfully breaks it, then he has committed a grievous offence. So when the lawmakers are complaining about the way and manner the executive treats the Act, they have a very good point.
However, there are several issues that need to be ironed out between the two arms of government to avoid this perennial confrontation. One, the executive must carry the legislature along in the preparation of the budget. They both have several avenues of regular meetings. They need to strike an understanding in order to have a common purpose. The key inputs and comments of the leadership of the National Assembly must be noted and accommodated by the executive. By the time the president presents the Appropriation Bill, therefore, sufficient ground would have been covered. There would be no major disagreement.
The economy suffers from this sort of crisis every year.
Two, budget, by definition, is a statement of estimates. Check your dictionary. It is a plan based on assumptions of revenue, expenditure and savings. It is not cast in stone. That is a global truth. If the executive budgets, for instance, that it would spend N500 billion on fuel subsidy, and crude oil price falls drastically thereby making imported fuel cheaper, are we saying the executive must still go ahead and spend N500 billion because the Appropriation Act is a law? No. Therefore, the budget remains an estimate. Day-to-day circumstances can alter the figures. However, the National Assembly must also be informed if circumstances change. It is about carrying everybody along throughout the budget year.
In the end, we have to bear in mind that it is not in all instances that the National Assembly is wrong, as many Nigerians are wont to believe. The executive also behaves badly many times. The two arms must, therefore, pocket their pride and work together for the good of this country. But more than ever, the National Assembly must worm its way into our hearts by focusing on issues that will make life better for us, not some “oversight” and “probe” duties that are just for selfish or vendetta purposes.
And Four Other Things...
MOTIONS AND EMOTIONS
The National Assembly is unhappy that President Goodluck Jonathan has not been implementing its resolutions. But the executive believes some of the motions are an infringement on the principle of separation of powers in a presidential system. Truly, resolutions are opinions of the legislature; they do not carry the force of law, expect in extending the president’s tenure during a war. However, the president cannot afford to ignore the resolutions. The legislature can hit back by refusing to entertain bills from him. This shows clearly that they need each other. Mutual respect is the real deal.
Should the crude oil benchmark for the 2013 budget be $75 per barrel (as proposed by Jonathan), $78 (as the Senate wants it) or $80 (as the House thinks it fit)? I am not interested in the argument, honestly. I am just worried that our lives are forever tied to the price of crude oil. We cannot pay salaries without crude oil. We cannot build roads without crude oil. We cannot breathe without crude oil. We want to create more states to share crude oil money. We don’t even want to save for tomorrow, for future generations who also have a right to this oil. Let’s be honest about this: we are in trouble.
Now that suspects have been charged to court over the dastardly lynching of four Uniport students, there is only one solution I seek: an end to extra-judicial killings in Nigeria. The dead young men cannot be brought back to life, but we need an assurance that crime suspects would now be getting fair hearing and justice. Nigerians do not believe suspects are safe with the police, who they accuse of collecting bribes to set them free. Even when cases go to court, they are there forever. The police also kill suspects extra-judicially, also because of the failure of the justice system. Aluu must get all of us thinking.
EKWUEME AT 80
Former Vice-President Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme would probably have succeeded President Shehu Shagari in 1987 if the military had not terminated civil rule in 1983. Maybe he would have been elected president in 1999 if the powers that be had not made up their mind that Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was the man for the job. Whatever, we would never know. Nevertheless, as Ekwueme marks his 80th birthday today, we should continue to celebrate the man who has been a firm believer in one Nigeria, a good political thinker and an exponent of politics without bitterness.