4th Republic: NASS and its baggage of scandals
Assistant Editor, Dapo Falade, takes a retrospective look at the myriad scandals rocking the National Assembly since its inauguration on 3 June, 1999.
AT the threshold of the current democratic dispensation, the Fourth Republic, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, on June 3, 1999, proclaimed the National Assembly. The proclamation thereby ushered in another moment of legislative business in the country after 15 years of relative obscurity (relative in the sense that there was a National Assembly put in place by former Military President Ibrahim Babangida between 1991 and 1993 during the aborted Third Republic).
Indeed, the inauguration of the fourth national legislative body since the attainment of political independence in October1960 was seen as a bold statement about the place of the legislature in the process of democratic governance.
Various shades of characters were elected into the National Assembly in 1999 as it was peopled by individuals who had credibility problems and were therefore lacking in the moral character required of people involved in the making of laws and public policy at that level. While it is a truism that there men and women of integrity in the two legislative houses at the national level, there was also the presence of persons of questionable integrity who were also associated with criminal activities such as Advanced Fee Fraud (419) and drug trafficking. A clear pointer to this is that it is on record that some members of the House of Representatives were arrested, detained and put on trial in relation to different financial crimes. One of such is the late Maurice Ibekwe, an elected member of the House of Representatives who died in detention. Indeed, and as noted by an analyst, “Since 1999, one consistent stigma that has continued to dog the National Assembly is scandal of different proportions. And the more the leadership of the two chambers tried to cover up, the more the crisis degenerated.”
Senator Evan Enwerem, the late Ikeduru, Imo State-born politician who elected to the Senate in 1999 to represent the Imo-East Senatorial District, beat his chief rival, the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo, for the Senate Presidency on June 3, 1999. With the support of the presidency and Obasanjo’s allies, among others, Enwerem was able to garner 66 votes as against Okadigbo’s 43. However, hardly had the euphoria that greeted his inauguration died down than the second arm of government became enmeshed in a vicious circle of scandals that always ended up consuming its leadership.
Enwerem did not hold the post of President of the Nigerian Senate for very long as a committee of the Senate, moment after assuming office, commenced an investigation on him over allegations of corruption in 1999. He was alleged to have falsified his name; this caused a big controversy in the polity as regards his real name, Evan or Evans. In the thick of the scandal, Enwerem was eventually removed from office on 18 November, 1999, in an ouster spearheaded by allies of his main traducer, Chuba Okadigbo, who succeeded him. Enwerem however remained a member of the Senate until 2003.
Okadigbo was in turn removed from office as the Senate President on 8 August, 2000 and he was replaced by Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the incumbent Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), after a shadow election conducted by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senators in the Senate Hearing Room One. The life of the first National Assembly came to an end on 4 June, 2003 following the valedictory speech of the Senate President on that day and that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’abba, a day earlier.
Senator Adolphus Wabara took over the baton of leadership from Ayim in 2003, but in what has turned out to be a sort of the proverbial banana peels, Wabara also vacated the Senate President seat unceremoniously following a move by some senators in May, 2004 to investigate over alleged financial misdeeds. The senators accused Wabara of exceeding his authority by handing out various contracts without the knowledge or approval of the Senate committee responsible for such. Wabara however said he was ready for the probe, saying the allegations were falsely raised by some senators who wanted his position.
In April 2005 Wabara resigned from his position after allegations were made that he and others took a $400,000 bribe from the then Minister of Education, Professor Fabian Osuji, who had been fired the month before for allegedly bribing Wabara and six other members of parliament to facilitate passage of his annual budget. But after extended legal battles, the charges against Wabara were dropped on 1 June 2010 as the court held that the charges were bogus and failed to disclose prima facie cases against the accused persons. The court held that the action of the federal government on the allegation was most embarrassing, barbaric and uncivilised because the accused persons had not even made statements to any security agents before the broadcast trial and finally pronounced guilty. Justice Mary Odili, the judge in charge of the case, said that “the accused persons had no case to answer in law and consequently have to set them free.”
Senator Ken Nnamani became Senate President from April 5, 2005 to 2007, after the resignation of Senator Adolphus Wabara. He was at that position until the end of the fifth Senate and was succeeded by the incumbent, Senator David Mark who not only was able to steer the ship of the Upper Chamber to the end, but was also returned as the Senate President at the commencement of the current tenure, the seventh Senate. So far, David Mark holds the record of being the longest serving Senate President and his tenure has been described as scandal-free as it is devoid of the usual proverbial banana peel and the tempestuous storm that swept off his predecessors from the exalted seat.
These ugly negative legislative traits that appeared to have become ‘normal’ occurrences in the Senate were also replicated in the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly. In the early life of the Fourth Republic, the leadership of the Lower Chamber was enmeshed in certificate scandal. Soon after he was elected Speaker, it became public that Alhaji Salisu Buhari had a case of perjury to answer, having made false claims regarding his age and degree certificates. In his submission to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Buhari claimed to have obtained a degree certificate from the University of Toronto in Canada. As a result, he lost both his position as Speaker and member of the House. Buhari, who resigned his position as the Speaker on 21 July 21, 1999, was later convicted on 28 July of forgery and perjury, having pleaded guilty of falsifying his educational qualification and age. However, as it turned out to be, the Salisu Buharigate saga was a mere tip of the iceberg as several other members of the National Assembly had similar credibility problem. He was replaced by Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Aba as the Speaker.
While the Salisu Buhari’s case appeared to be sui generis, as the norm in Nigeria is the tendency for one to reduce his/her age, the House of Representatives, during the second phase of the Fourth Republic (2003-2007) had a stable leadership under the speakership of Honourable Aminu Bello Masari. However, the House returned to its ugly trend when the first female Speaker, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, was forced to resign and was replaced by Dimeji Bankole because of the accusation of “inflating the contract for the renovation of her official residence to the tune of N628 Million.” Mrs Etteh was cleared of the allegation during the Valedictory session of the House of Representatives during which the House unanimously adopted the motion that she was never at any time during her speakership of the House of Representative, or at any other time, indicted for any scandal or corruption. Coincidentally, the controversial removal of Etteh in October, 2007 was championed by members of the Integrity Group in the Lower Chamber, led by the man now in the eye of the storm, Honourable Farouk Lawan.
Reacting to Lawan’s present predicament, Etteh, in a newspaper report on Wednesday, said that the confession by the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Fuel Subsidy Regime has justified her innocence. “Now, Nigerians know who is corrupt and who is not. It is a big shame; it has further ridiculed the image of the House. Basically what we read in the newspapers does not come as a surprise, having had relationship with him (Lawan) for a very long time. He is the leader of the cartel.
“I did not steal any money. What happened when they were calling for my removal was a mere anticipatory spending, no money was missing. Dimeji Bankole (former Speaker), whom Farouk installed, spent over N400 million to renovate his official quarters, which I wanted to renovate with just N40 million, and sold it to himself for N100 million. I was removed not for stealing money but three groups sacked me for their selfish reasons…”, she was reported to have said.
Honourable Etteh’s immediate successor, Dimeji Bankole, also fell ‘victim’ of the banana peel as he, towards the tail end of the last dispensation, was accused of personally misappropriating about 40 billion naira. The man was dramatically arrested and was made to face court trial over the alleged financial sleaze.
Meanwhile, fresh facts are emerging as to why members of the House of Representatives wanted their embattled colleague, Honourable Farouk Lawan, to face the music all alone over the alleged $3 million said to have been paid to him by the oil magnate and owner of Zenon Oil, Femi Otedola. The lawmaker is believed by many of his colleagues to be living a larger-than-life lifestyle in the Lower Chamber since 1999. Among many of his other ‘sins’, it was said that he single-handedly sponsored elections of some of his colleagues and ensured that they got juicy positions. It was also said that his political influence had in recent past caused the Speaker, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, to take decisions that would always favour Lawan. They were also said to have been miffed by the contradictory statements made by the embattled lawmaker since the lid was blown off the lid of the latest financial scam rocking the House of Representatives.
The fact that these negative legislative traits continue in the National Assembly up to the commencement of the fourth phase of the same Republic in 2011 is becoming quite worrisome as there have been recirculation of members of the National Assembly over the years and the expectation is that attrition or remorse on the part of these members would have helped to reduce or completely remove the values of corruption and corruptive tendencies from the legislative arm of the nation’s democratic governance process, given the fact that legislators with such shabby political inclination must have left the Assembly through electoral defeats. However, the reverse is the case as the continuation of the scandals, crises and corruption in the National Assembly over these periods paints a terrible picture of the nation’s political culture and its practitioners. This has clearly shown the level of the nation’s political decadence and retrogressive political development in terms of the poverty of acceptable ethical standards, democratic values and ethos all of which have contributed to the rapidity of leadership turnover at the National Assembly over the years.
written by emmanuelbfakorode, June 20, 2012