It is scandalous that the National Assembly is once again indicted for unwholesome practices

Discrepancies of about N3.3 trillion in the remittance of funds by various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) as well as foreign missions are some of the revelations contained in the 2014 Annual Audit Report recently presented to the National Assembly by the office of the Auditor General of the Federation.

Although the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has disputed the claims that it did not remit N3.2 trillion to the Federation Account Allocation Committee in 2014, the allegations against the corporation are not just weighty, they are mostly the same charges that have been levelled against NNPC in recent years.

Not suprisingly, most of the other agencies and departments of the federal government did not fare better either. For instance, the report also alleged, among other things, that N36.4 billion was released to the Office of the National Security Adviser, then under the headship of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) for the rehabilitation and construction of dams.

Besides, the report stated that N2.9 billion was spent on procurement of hand sanitisers for schools and critical public places to tackle the Ebola epidemic. Of course, as it happens every year, there will be several denials from many of the agencies indicted by the audit report after which there will be silence. But we believe that President Muhammadu Buhari should take interest in the issue.

However, what we find most irritating is the fact that the National Assembly was indicted in the report. What we find particularly disturbing is that it is now almost an annual ritual that the National Assembly, which ordinarily should exercise oversight functions in matters like this, would be involved in unwholesome practices on a yearly basis. According to the latest audit report, the management of the National Assembly, headed by the Clerk, made payments of N9.5 billion without raising vouchers!

Legislative oversight, we dare say, implies scrutinising and authorising revenues and expenditures so as to ensure that the national budget is properly implemented for the wellbeing of the populace. The essence of what is glibly described as the “legislative power of the purse” is for the lawmakers to expand their democratic leverage on behalf of citizens by serving as watchdogs in the way and manner in which national resources are utilised. But this function can only be properly undertaken by a transparent and accountable legislative institution which unfortunately our National Assembly has not been.

Fiscal irresponsibility begets more irresponsibility and where a body that is constitutionally empowered to have its eyes at every sector of our national life is in itself deeply involved in unwholesome practices, then we have a serious problem. The National Assembly has indeed been found to compromise its time-honoured duty of ensuring that propriety becomes the order of the day in the art of governance. It has been found wanting to the extent that it seeks to place itself above measures that would enthrone accountability, all in the name of separation of powers. This is clearly unacceptable.

Since the National Assembly is expected to be the custodian of the treasury, that imposes a responsibility to live above board. But a National Assembly whose members are busy chasing contract papers or begging for sponsors for international conferences as well as compromising its elevated standing in the hierarchy of governance, will sooner or later lose the moral authority that surrounds its constitutional power. That exactly is what is happening today.

We are therefore constrained to ask our lawmakers to begin to take their integrity much more seriously as they exercise their constitutionally guaranteed powers of oversight over the nation’s finance. For them to earn the respect of the populace, they have to take their oversight responsibility much more seriously.