How Nigerian Lawmakers Underdevelop Nigeria


In any given democracy, the legislature performs three functions: lawmaking, appropriation and oversight of the executive. I bear the Nigerian legislature witness that they actually make laws, especially the ones that would not upset the applecart. They do a lot of appropriation—and carefully jack up the budget to accommodate their own interests. Oversight function? Of course, they do perform it excellently, as long as the agency or ministry or parastatal they are overseeing would “support” public hearings and give committee members tickets and bundles of dollars to fly to some unknown republic to attend “capacity-building” conferences. And so it goes.


The legislature, I want to declare today, has contributed immensely to the underdevelopment of Nigeria. We often look at the clueless executive branch of government as the source of our woes. I suppose we are correct to a large extent. After all, the executive is responsible for policies and the implementation of law and order in the society. The executive runs the machinery of government day to day. But there is the principle of separation of powers and checks and balances. The judiciary serves as a check. While it has not been perfect in any way, the judiciary has certainly helped stabilise this democracy with timely interventions that have checkmated anarchy and diluted dictatorship.


But to effectively put the executive in check, however, we need a very active and proactive legislature. We need a legislature that puts the executive on its toes through oversight functions. I am going to use the current House/Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) scandal to illustrate my point on the diabolical legislature today. The House Committee on Capital Market recently decided to probe the fatal crash of our stock market, once regarded as yielding the most profitable returns globally. I am usually sceptical when our lawmakers suddenly want to investigate something for public good. I am very, very sceptical.


I am sorry to be so cynical, but since when did the lawmakers love Nigeria so much that they want to do something for our progress? Since 1999, they have been investigating and probing all kinds of things and we never got any result. There was so much noise over the probe of power projects in 2008—excuse me, what was the outcome again? I seem to have forgotten. Recently, there has been a lot of noise and public posturing over the probe of petroleum subsidy management. Discerning Nigerians know very well that nothing would ever come out of it, if our past experiences could serve as a guide. I can list a thousand probes and a thousand no-outcomes. So, pardon my scepticism.


And so the House Committee on Capital Market decided to probe the stock market crisis. The crash has led to the erosion of the wealth of millions of Nigerians. It has led to the death of banks and stockbroking firms. Many investors have developed incurable health problems as a result. Some have died from high blood pressure and stroke. Thousands of jobs have been wiped out. Probing the immediate and remote causes would ordinarily be to the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians and perhaps help us come up with policies to be better prepared for future volatilities. From every indication, this should be an excellent exercise.


The Hon. Herman Hembe-led committee then wrote to the market regulators, SEC, inviting them to the public hearing. But what happened next? The committee attached to the same letter a list of its expenditure, totalling N39,844,490. The list includes snacks and drinks, as well as “official reporters” and “computer consumables”. Even without uttering a word, the motive of the committee was clear: bring some coins to the table to “support” the public hearing. I won’t be surprised if the same letter containing the “requirements” was also sent to other invitees to the public hearing. You can have N39 million from as many willing sponsors as possible. And don’t forget that the House has a monumental budget for public hearings. If you doubt me, please go through the budget of the National Assembly. So we are faced with a situation where the lawmakers eat the same cake two, three times. Who says you can’t eat your cake and have it? That’s an outdated proverb.


What happened next? SEC chose to play ball. The decision makers at SEC decided that the probe would be good for the market and opted to support the committee with “not more than N30 million only”. Look at it again. SEC could be culpable in the crash of the market. In fact, a thorough probe could reveal that the body shirked its responsibilities and was mainly responsible for the crash that nearly ruined the economy. So by the time SEC decides to “support” the probe with N30 million—in addition to an early favour done to Hembe to fly to Dominican Republic—what would be the outcome of the probe? Let me guess: a clean bill of health for SEC! And so, we keep destroying Nigeria in the name of probes and public hearings.


Of course, the “sponsorship” deal went awry along the line. SEC insiders claim that the money was to be paid directly, electronically, into the committee’s account but Hembe requested, through an intermediary, that N5 million should be paid to him personally (Hembe has denied this allegation). SEC pulled the plug on the deal. The hearing started the following day. Hembe let all hell loose, questioning the SEC DG, Ms Arunma Oteh, in the most condescending way possible. The woman, in failing to respond to the questions satisfactorily, quickly adopted the well-tested strategy of hunting the hunter: she alleged that it was because she failed to pay bribes totalling N44 million that Hembe was harassing her (can I add that she only agreed to part with N30 million?).


Fellow Nigerians, we would never have heard of these shady dealings if the monies had been released and collected. All we would hear is that the House Committee on Capital Market had probed the stock market crash and absolved SEC of all blame and declared that the collapse was caused by the global economic crisis which—in this age of globalisation—no economy is insulated. That would be the end of the matter until the committee members are broke again and decide to probe the sale of one listed company or the other. And then a letter would be written to SEC summoning them to the public hearing. And the list of “requirements” would be attached. And so it goes.


The latest scandal is perhaps one of the smallest. It is common knowledge that committees of the National Assembly engage in this unholy act on a regular basis. It starts with appropriation. A ministry would say it wants to spend N100 billion in 2013; the committee would call the minister aside and promise to help him jack up the budget in exchange for a few billions. A deal is struck. Professor Fabian Osuji would forever regret agreeing to serve this country. In 2004, some members of the National Assembly allegedly told him to bring N50 million so that his ministry’s budget could be passed. The deal went bad and the man was publicly humiliated. Also, I was told that when the House committee started probing power projects, a member called one of the contractors and asked that if they would raise some amount of money to be distributed to committee members, the panel would turn out a favourable report.


These evils are perpetrated not only at the federal level but also in the states. It is an open secret that in many states, members of the House of Assembly are put on special monthly allowances by the governors. Some monies are not to be accounted for at all. We would not have the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) running after governors today if the state lawmakers were alive to their oversight responsibilities. The laws of the land empower only the House of Assembly to probe a governor and remove him or her from office if found guilty. But this is just on paper. They’ve gladly surrendered their independence to the executive.


In more ways than one, the legislature is contributing its own quota to the underdevelopment of Nigeria. How can the lawmakers be accepting flight tickets and bales of dollars from the same people they are expected to put in check? How can they be colluding to jack up the budget in exchange for contracts and kick-backs? How can they be sending a list of “requirements” to the same body they want to probe? What are we turning this country into? Is there a way out of this conspiracy to keep Nigeria perpetually down through abject greed, crass incompetence and crude selfishness?


And Four Other Things…


Has FAAN Gone Mad?

The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) on Friday night, commando-style, entered the data centre of the airport operations concessionaire, Maevis, and destroyed the doors and assets as well as detained and molested the staff. There has been an attempt to terminate an existing agreement—which I can testify has led to the better logistics at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos—because somebody wants to bring in another concessionaire, Nigerian-style, to man the airport. This ugly development is worrisome because there are court injunctions which FAAN has decided to ignore and violate, even though we are supposed to have parted with military regimes 13 years ago. There are decent and civilised ways of handling disagreements if any existed. This must not go unchallenged.


…Jonathan Beware!

President Goodluck Jonathan has said it a million times that the government cannot provide all the resources needed to transform Nigeria. He wants private sector investment. In fact, a major plank of the administration’s policy is public private partnership. If FAAN gets away with the molestation and murder of MMIA concessionaire, Maevis, I don’t think Jonathan should be disappointed if private investors continue to shun us. We are already viewed as a country where agreements are not worth the papers on which they are written. We are being ridiculed home and abroad, and now the security of our premier airport is being compromised because of some selfish individuals. If the contract with Maevis is going to be terminated, it should be done properly and legally. Over to you, Mr. President…


Ngozi vs Kim

There is going to be a major vacancy at the World Bank in June when the incumbent president, Mr. Robert Zoellick, completes his five-year tenure. Developing countries are rooting for a change, so they want the position to go out of the Western world for the first time in history. Nigeria’s finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose aides initially said was not interested, has now agreed to give it a shot. US President Barack Obama has nominated a Korean-American, Dr Jim Yong Kim. Now this is the politics: US holds the World Bank presidency, while Europe produces the MD of International Monetary Fund (IMF). For US to lose World Bank presidency in an election, that would be a disaster for Obama. Meanwhile, votes in the World Bank and the IMF are weighted by financial contribution. The US alone has nearly 16 per cent of the vote. EU countries, which usually ally with the US, have 29 per cent. Plus other US allies all over the world! Okonjo-Iweala has a big mountain to climb…


Play for Muamba

I used to be a fan of Arsenal FC and used to follow the career of Fabrice Muamba in the youth team. Big and tall, he was touted as the next Patrick Vieira, more so with his box-to-box ability. He eventually left as first team opportunities eluded him. At 23, his potential has not been fulfilled but he has become a regular at Bolton and seemed to have a great future ahead of him. Who knows, his collapse from cardiac arrest last weekend may have effectively ended his career, but I have never seen so much mention of prayers in the UK! Everybody was saying: “Pray for Muamba. He was effectively “dead” for 78 minutes, the doctors said, but they didn’t give up until he came back to life. That’s a miracle. Now to the other footballers, I ask them not to be discouraged by this traumatic set-back. They must keep playing the beautiful game—for Muamba’s sake.


Simon Kolawole via THISDAY

Nigerian Lawmakers are a threat to its democracy

Allegations of corruption are rife in the house