The National Assembly should sit up

The financial indiscipline within the Nigerian system has been further highlighted with the recent submission to the National Assembly of the report of the Auditor-General of the Federation. All the arms of government, from the Supreme Court to the Presidency and the National Assembly itself were indicted. And so were the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other important agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Besides, almost all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were indicted in the report which revealed that those without audited reports increased from 148 in 2014 to 323 in 2018.

Lamenting the growing number of government agencies that are violating statutory financial reporting obligations, the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF), Anthony Ayine, painted a disturbing picture of our public service. However, of concern to us is the fact that the National Assembly, which ordinarily should exercise oversight functions in matters like this, would be involved in unwholesome practices almost every year. According to the report, “A total amount of N7, 258, 922.17 was paid to an officer who was below the rank of a Permanent Secretary as contingency allowance contrary to extant rules. The details of the transactions that constituted contingency allowance could not be produced for audit verification.” At the Senate, N380 million was transferred from the salary vote in 2008 without any authorisation while three lawmakers – two senators and a member of the House of Representatives – were paid nearly N12 million to redeem pledges made to some foundations with no proof of acknowledgement to authenticate the payments.”

It is a shame that the National Assembly to which the report was submitted is also guilty of all the infractions the lawmakers are elected to check. 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. Since legislative oversight implies scrutinising and authorising revenues and expenditures so as to ensure that the national budget is properly implemented for the wellbeing of the populace, a National Assembly that is not transparent in its dealings cannot hold other arms to account.

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 itself deeply involved in unwholesome practices, there is a serious problem. The National Assembly has indeed been found to compromise its 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.

Since the National Assembly is expected to be the custodian of the treasury, that imposes a responsibility to live above board. But an assembly whose members are busy chasing contract papers or begging for sponsorships 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.