Abdulmumin Jibrin, former appropriations committee chairman of the House of Representatives, has become the first political exile in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. He was driven out of Nigeria, not by the “usual suspects,” but, shockingly by the National Assembly. This tells a lot about where, this time, the systemic rot is most concentrated.
He fought gallantly against corruption. But as he was quick to admit, the corruption in the National Assembly is systemic, it is institutional and, from all appearances, it is terminal. Thus, he was the one man who took on corruption right at corruption headquarters. It was not going to be a fair fight. And in the end it wasn’t. He was taking on the 1% who own 96%. For three months, everyone feared for him. Last week, he walked.
The irony of the National Assembly forcing a member into exile should not be lost on anyone. Assembly members are so quick to recite that “we are democracy. Without us there is no democracy.” Jibrin is now Exhibit ‘A’ of National Assembly’s ‘democracy.’ He is now in exile for fear of his safety.
I have never met Abdulmumin Jibrin. But anyone who thinks of him as a coward knows nothing about courage. Indeed, Jibrin should quote Macbeth’s response to his wife’s “Are you a man?”
“Aye, and a bold one, too, who dared to look at what might appall the devil.”
Jibrin looked at what might appall the devil in the House and refused to keep quiet. He blew the whistle. Those who ought to pick up from his whistle dropped the ball. And that has been the pattern since the beginning of the Fourth Republic. Before there was budget padding, there were forgeries, false pretences, bribery and all manners of malfeasance, which no one dared to look at. A speaker of the House of Representatives who forged his academic certificates and falsified his age ought to go to prison, not because he forged certificates and falsified his age. He ought to go to prison so that certificates may not be forged and age not falsified. A senate president who was an ex-convict certainly was guilty of grand larceny and probably ought to do some more prison time so that ex-cons don’t wind up as No. 3 citizens of Nigeria.
Many bribe takers and bribe givers got away including senate presidents, their deputies, other senators and House committee chairmen and members. They got away because those who ought to set standards, including Presidents, law enforcement agencies, did not have the balls to ‘look at what might appall the devil.’ And after a while it came to be accepted as conventional political wisdom that members of the National Assembly are above the law. That’s how impunity was born and nurtured and budget padding became the norm instead of a crime.
Senator Rufai Hanga, the founding chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change who represented the Kano Central Senatorial Zone gave an insight into the padding and the hyped constituency projects. “I was a member of the House of Reps and I was in the Senate, so I know the leadership there. Not every member of the National Assembly was carried along, so not all of them are guilty. The worst of all is that these monies allocated for constituency projects are normally siphoned; the projects are not done. I said in a programme recently that I have evidence of one such project. That project was supposed to be a constituency project. Money was paid, but the job was not done. That is how they operate; they will think out a project, put it in the budget, help it scale through and get it approved. Later, they will go and arrange with the executive, remove the money, give out a phony contract, but no job will be done.”
It is not as though Jibrin had no options. Having been dismissed as appropriations committee chairman, he could have retreated to his own little corner and quietly, just like the rest, sat back and enjoyed the national bazaar that is the National Assembly. Not Jibrin. He was able to look into the camera of Channels TV to admit that the National Assembly is corrupt, that the House of Representatives is corrupt. He made the distinction between regular corruption and institutional corruption. The National Assembly, he emphasized, is institutionally corrupt. He was not the first to say so. Former President Obasanjo uses even more colourful language to describe the corruption in the National Assembly. He may be wrong on one or two things but it must be given to Obasanjo that, more than any other Nigerian leader, he is in a better position to know the National Assembly.
Jibrin seems to understand the frustrations of Nigerians on the performance and integrity of the National Assembly – its Ogboni society secretiveness about its salaries, its 17 different allowances and its super extravagant expense accounts. He has offered rational, well thought out reform suggestions, how to inoculate the budget process against padding, how to make the National Assembly begin to look like a parliament, which now it is not, how to reduce the cost of the assembly and how to get the most out of members.
The tragedy of ejecting Jibrin from the system is that it is impossible to reduce corruption without whistle-blowers. That is why in other parts of the world they are accorded protection and personal safety guarantees. Jibrin has answered questions on why he did not levy his accusations against the House leadership until he was fired. It is a legitimate question but one that misses the point. The effect of such questions is that few, only the truly revolutionary, can come out to expose corruption in high places. That is why we have not had much luck with fighting corruption.
In 2003, even newspapers which ought to understand the predicament of the whistle-blower had the gall to write editorials raising doubts on Mallam el-Rufai’s accusations that Senators Ibrahim Mantu and Jonathan Zwingina, deputy senate president and deputy senate leader respectively, had asked him for a N54 million bribe to make sure he got “cleared” in the Senate as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Even after el-Rufai had explained how the senators had “employed all the suspicious tactics in the book. They were evasive, scarce to locate, difficult to deal with and unrelenting in their demands,” as David Ihenacho reported, el-Rufai was still being asked to provide “documentary evidence.”
What happened to el-Rufai in 2003 also happened to Jibrin in 2016 almost word for word. In 2003, the senate set up a kangaroo committee known as “Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions” chaired by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora. In 2016, the House of Representatives also set up the same kind of kangaroo committee “Committee on Ethics and Privileges” chaired by Nicholas Ossai. The National Assembly has given ethics committees a bad name in global parliamentary history and practice. As in 2003 when the committee exonerated its members and turned the victim into the accused, the same scenario was re-enacted in 2016 as the accuser Jibrin became the accused leading finally to his one-year suspension from the House and his eventually being forced to flee for his own safety.