Obasanjo And A Parliament Of Rascals

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Obasanjo And A Parliament of Rascals, By Charles Anyiam

Nigeria is a nation without heroes. As a matter of fact, Nigeria kills her heroes. Conversely, this is a nation that glorifies perfidy and perfidious elements. That is why the Nigerian parliament in both the upper and lower houses harbours persons of questionable personage as tenants, some of who are either recycled despots, political jobbers or criminal masterminds who in a free and fair election will have no business representing their present constituencies.

During the week, it again took the courage of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to call out members of the hallowed institution. This followed the bickering over allegations of corrupt practices in the National Assembly. In his characteristic no-holds-barred style, the former president said the parliament is filled with rogues and armed robbers.

Speaking to members of the State House Press Corp after visiting President Muhammadu Buhari, Obasanjo cautioned Nigerians against voting persons without credibility into the parliament, while calling on his host to beware of the lawmakers. “Well, if you said I have said it in the past and if there are people who didn’t believe what I said in the past, then you can now say that what has come out confirms what I said in the past, then you can say what I said in the past is what I will say now.

“It’s not a question of investigation, we should get men and women of integrity into the place and the president should be very vigilant. Whatever should not pass should not pass.”

And in another interview with Premium Times‘ Sani Tukur, the former president advised President Buhari not to release any money in the name of constituency projects to the National Assembly and called on Nigerians to continue to protest the move by federal lawmakers to use the budget to illegally enrich themselves. He opined that the president should only make funds available for expenditures that were legally budgeted for.

“This is criminal and they should be held accountable for it. There should be a showdown between what is right and what is wrong. After such a showdown, what is right will definitely prevail and the criminals put to shame. They (the lawmakers) are the contractors, the jury, the judge and the prosecutors.

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“They put the projects in the budgets, and they do the projects by themselves or through contractors they nominate. Where is integrity? Where is honesty?” Obasanjo asked. “Who supervises the job? Who ascertains that the job has been done? It is not in their place to execute projects. It is illegal. I have always held the view that they are thieves, can you all see it now?”

Describing the “so-called constituency projects” as a waste of public funds that should not be condoned by any leader, the former president continued in what I consider as a well-reasoned analysis of the true state of affairs in a Nigerian parliament of rascals whose claim to office is that they bribed and schemed their way into the National Assembly: “The question to ask is: assuming they execute the contracts, although we know they don’t, they usually pocket the monies. But assuming they execute the contracts, what becomes of the projects in future when they cease to be in the National Assembly? Who maintains them?

“When a project is not built by states, local governments or federal governments, they do not have a future. Integrity is necessary for all systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly. What sort of laws will they make?”

Hate him or like him, former President Obasanjo is no ordinary Nigerian. He is a Nigerian hero. And he has has earned the right to have his opinion and comments on the affairs of the nation taken seriously. A two-time president, military and civilian, Obasanjo understands the way the game is played. And he understands Nigeria and Nigerians. Above all, he truly loves Nigeria. His record and strategic relationships speak for themselves.

With the National Assembly, he has had running and gunning battles with at least five of them. His contempt for most of the members of the Nigerian legislature (not the institution) is well known. He has made no secret of his desire to have men and women of integrity elected to make our laws. And he is spot on.

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At a book launch in 2014, he accused the lawmakers of corruption and ineptitude. “Apart from shrouding the remuneration of the National Assembly in opaqueness and without transparency, they indulge in extorting money from departments, contractors and ministries in two ways.

“They do so during the visits to their projects and programmes and in the process of budget approval, when they raise budgets for ministries and departments, who agree to give back to them in contracts that they do not execute. They do similar things during the inquiries.”

Obasanjo’s detractors accuse him of duplicity but have often failed woefully to prove any of the allegations. And something tells me that those who criticise and want to “kill” this Nigerian hero have no locus standi. If they did, they would have exhausted their options in nailing him.

Don’t get me wrong. Obasanjo is no saint. And who is? He has his frailties and foibles, as do all mortals. But, I will wager a bet that Obasanjo is no thief! That is not something we can boldly say for most Nigerian leaders, living or dead. I stand to be contradicted. And I can take the criticisms that may come with this assertion, if I am proven to be in the wrong.

As for the allegation that he craved a third term as Nigeria’s President, I supported the idea. Not because Obasanjo was irreplaceable, but because it was politically expedient at the time, for a country that was still recovering from a long, tortuous and divisive military rule. At that time, Nigeria deserved a strong political leader (like we have today in President Buhari) just like we have seen in some other African nations.

I am a strong supporter of strong leaders for Africa – ones who can build strong institutions for their people. That is why I admire the work and leadership of benevolent dictators such as Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and the late Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia) in the tradition of the legendary Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who once said: “I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, we wouldn’t be here, we would not have economic progress, if we had not intervened on very
personal matters – who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.”

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It is on record that some of the African nations that have chalked up remarkable growth not only on their GDP rates but in making tangible and positive impacts in the lives of their people are those with strong leadership such as Rwanda with Kagame, who by sheer will power and purposeful leadership literally snatched his country from the precipice of destruction to a ranking as one of the fastest growing economies in Central Africa, with an eight percent GDP growth between 2001 and 2004. In Uganda and Ethiopia, despite the spirited challenges of the opposition, both countries are acknowledged internationally as good successes under Museveni and Zenawi respectively.

In conclusion, I submit that Nigeria is still better off with an Obasanjo rather than without one. As things stand today, Nigeria’s weakest link in the chain of prosperity and well being remains the quality of representation in the nation’s parliament where we have been unfortunate to have had a bunch of rascals running wild, spewing ignorance, and taking us all for one jolly ride. At our expense.

To the former president, I say, give them hell!

That is my position. And I stand by it.

Charles Anyiam is Editor-In-Chief, The African Times-USA.

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