•A few bad eggs should not lead to blanket condemnation of lawyers, NBA replies ex-president
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja and Laleye Dipo in Minna
The House of Representatives has responded to accusations of corruption levelled against the National Assembly by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, describing him as the grandfather of corruption who introduced corruption into Nigeria in the Fourth Republic.
The House said the former president introduced corruption into the National Assembly after the return of democracy in 1999, by bribing the legislators of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) to vote against the majority candidate of the PDP, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, and electing Senator Evan Enwerem as the Senate President.
The spokesman of the House, Hon. Namdas Abdulrazak, briefing newsmen yesterday, also accused Obasanjo of attacking President Muhammadu Buhari because his cronies were not appointed into government by the president.
Obasanjo at a lecture on Wednesday had accused the legislature of corruption, budget padding and said it had threatened the life of a “whistle blower”.
Namdas however noted that Obasanjo’s grouse with the National Assembly stemmed from the foiling of his third term bid in 2007, after trying to corrupt the members with bribes of N50 million each.
“Have we forgotten that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo used his position as president to extort money from businessmen and contractors with his government to build his presidential library? The list of his corrupt acts while in office is endless.
“Unquestionably, he is the greatest corrupt person ever to hold office in Nigeria. He remains the grandfather of corruption in Nigeria and lacks the moral authority to discuss corruption or indeed abuse of office in Nigeria as he remains the most corrupt Nigerian on record,” Namdas said.
Continuing, the House asked: “Have we forgotten the sacks of money displayed on the floor of the House of Representatives, being bribe money paid by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to some honourable members to impeach the speaker, Rt. Hon. Ghali N’abba?”
Namdas also addressed the issue of the budget padding allegation, insisting that there was no crime committed in the 2016 budget.
“It is most unfortunate that a former president of Chief Obasanjo’s stature would allow himself to be hoodwinked and procured by a renegade member of the House, who embarked on massive propaganda and lies just because he was removed from office,” he said.
The spokesman further accused the ex-president of always working to bring down governments, particularly when presidents refuse to listen to him.
“It is unfortunate that he has started his very familiar method of bringing down governments. He did it to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, he did it to General Buhari, he did same to General Babangida, he attempted to bring down General Abacha before he imprisoned him for treason; he made frantic efforts to derail the government of President Yar’Adua when he couldn’t use him.
“He supported President Goodluck Jonathan but when he refused to take dictation, he turned against him. He supported President Buhari, but since he has sensed that Nigeria is having economic difficulties under him, he has pounced to derail his government,” he said.
Part of the spokesman’s address read: “Our attention has been drawn to a statement credited to former President Olusegun Obasanjo at a lecture he delivered recently, wherein, in his characteristic manner accused everybody but himself of corruption.
“He ventured to accuse the National Assembly of budget padding, accused the House of criminal activities, of threatening the life of a ‘whistleblower’, lampooned constituency projects which he approved as president, and ventured to discuss the budget of the National Assembly which is highly underfunded?
“The House of Representatives would ordinarily not join issues with the former president as he has held an office that deserves respect and reverence. However, because of the material misstatement of facts, outright lies and falsehood, and mischievous innuendo introduced in his statement, we are left with no option but to correct him.
“We have repeatedly maintained that there was no ‘padding’ of the 2016 Appropriation Act, which is a legitimate document passed by the National Assembly, authenticated by the Clerk of the National Assembly as provided in the Acts Authentication Act and assented to by Mr. President.
“It is most unfortunate that a former president of Chief Obasanjo’s stature would allow himself to be hoodwinked and procured by a renegade member of the House, who embarked on massive propaganda and lies just because he was removed from office.
“For the avoidance of doubt, there is no crime that was committed by the National Assembly by exercising its constitutional function of appropriation. If Chief Obasanjo has an issue with the execution of the 2016 budget or indeed other Appropriation Acts, he should direct his anger elsewhere.
“He claimed that the National Assembly budget is very high, when by all standards, the National Assembly is grossly underfunded and is hampered from effectively and legitimately carrying out its constitutionally assigned functions. The National Assembly budget funds a bureaucracy of about 5,000 civil servants. It has some other agencies under its purview such as the National Assembly Service Commission, with its own staff of about 500; even the Public Complaints Commission is now a parastatal of the National Assembly.
“The National Assembly budget also funds the National Institute for Legislative Studies, which is a legislative think-tank and highly rated academic institution that serves both national and state Houses of Assemblies and even international legislators.
“All these agencies also have their capital budgets including development of their headquarters, procurement of office equipment, procurement of regular items for running their offices
“The National Assembly maintain legislative aides of about 3,000 in number that aid the work of the Assembly; it also conducts regular public hearings involving the media and stakeholders and oversight activities, involving huge sums of money.
“The cost implication of running the National Assembly is high because of the nature of our presidential democracy. Then of course, there are 109 Senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives that require proper equipment to function effectively.
“They require adequate travel and transport support to carry out legislative functions. The National Assembly also has buildings and offices to build and maintain. National Assembly staff and members attend conferences, training and seminars to keep abreast of legislative developments worldwide. The activities are very encompassing and expensive.
“It is also unbecoming of a former president to quote figures of sums of money that are factually incorrect. No member of the House of Representatives receives N10 million every month. The salaries and allowances of members of the House are as determined by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
“Of course further sums of money are spent such as running costs, that is, the cost of running the office of a member. If a minister, chief executive or director in a ministry travels on official duties, for instance, do you include the cost of his ticket and accommodation as part of his salary or allowances?
“Does the cost of stationery and maintenance of equipment like computers used in their offices form part of their salaries and allowances? These are some of the costs that must be taken care of by the National Assembly and the media calls these costs ‘jumbo pay’.
“For goodness sake, the National Assembly is an arm of government, not just an ordinary agency of government. The budgets of many agencies in the executive branch are indeed higher than the current budget of the National Assembly that is an arm of government.
Examples abound: CBN, NNPC, NCC, etc. Allowances paid to even junior staff of some of these government agencies cannot be compared to what members of National Assembly enjoy.
“The way Chief Obasanjo talks gives the impression that he is a lifetime opposition leader who has never held any office. What did he do about the issues he raised in his eight years as president?
“This is a man with unlimited access to President Buhari. Or is it because he has not appointed all his cronies as requested? We may never know. His stock in trade is blackmail, subversion and treachery… We wish him well.”
In the same vein, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) yesterday reacted to the former president’s criticism of lawyers and judges in the judiciary for corrupt practices, saying that the presence of a few bad eggs in the legal profession should not lead to a blanket condemnation of the entire members of the profession.
The NBA said it was aware that the profession currently parades some unscrupulous members and that everything was being done to flush them out and bring them to justice.
The NBA’s reaction was made on the sidelines of the National Executive Council meeting of the association in Minna, the Niger State capital.
The President of the NBA, Mr. Abubakar Balarabe Mahmood (SAN), said: “The allegations of corruption against the bar and the bench should not undermine the significant contributions of the judiciary and the legal profession to nation building. A few bad eggs should not lead to the total condemnation of the profession.
“NBA will always co-operate with the federal government to flush out bad eggs but this should be done in accordance with due process and the rule of law.”
While conceding that there are problems in the judiciary and the legal profession that need to be addressed, the NBA president said the association was working round the clock to address these problems.
“NBA is making effort to ensure the integrity of the profession and for the judiciary to be restored and improved upon.
“The allegations against members are under investigation, if the allegations are established, NBA will come out with disciplinary measures against those concerned.”
Mahmood called on the public to continue to respect the legal profession, which he maintained had played a vital role in the nation’s political and economic trajectory.