The work of the National Assembly can be measured from its legislations. The case of the Hameed Ali Bill is a case in point. The Senate was so obsessed with Col. Hameed Ali’s dressing that even a committee of teenagers would have shown better discretion and demonstrated greater maturity than the Senators. On the contrary, the Senate went overboard, drafted and passed a bill which with all intents and purposes was designed to show the Colonel where the power resides. By so doing they made a mockery of the National Assembly and the act of law-making and further exposed the country to greater corruption.
The Senate beef was that the retired Nigerian Army colonel appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) did not appear before the Senate in Customs uniforms. They ignored that the President went outside the Customs service to appoint this Comptroller-General in an apparent attempt to reform the service. They also ignored the fact that the colonel’s appointment received nation-wide acclaim because he had established a reputation as a goal-oriented administrator, a purposeful man with a well-known ability to infuse Spartan discipline in public organizations. The hope was that with his gifts and discipline he might turn the NCS around from being perhaps the most corrupt organization in Nigeria to something less despicable or per chance into something that is not regarded as incorrigible, which is the way the public currently thinks of the Customs Service.
The Senate “ordered” Col. Ali to dress up in Customs uniforms. The old colonel explained that he wore Army uniforms for decades and did not see how his not wearing the Customs uniform would hinder his performance. But the National Assembly is the most tyrannical of the three branches of the Nigerian Republic. The senators declared the colonel as being disrespectful and recalcitrant and sought every opportunity to humiliate him as they have done to many Nigerians who ever dared to disagree with them. The last victim was the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), who last week went for his own dressing-down if not humiliation. But Colonel Ali was unbowed. So the Senators returned to the well-known practice of Nigerian dictators – to enact decrees, this time, a bill, to retaliate against subjects of their anger or frustration especially when they could not catch them any other way.
The most notorious of such of decrees was the “Public Officers Protection Against False Accusations (Decree No. 3) of 1976.” It was then known as the “Ohonbamu Decree,” because it was enacted as a response to Dr. Obarogie Ohonbamu, the fiery University of Lagos Law lecturer, who had the temerity to accuse General Murtala Mohammed of corruption at a time the general was being served up in saintly colours. Both men never met in court as was highly anticipated – both died, the general, through an assassin’s bullet, the lecturer, of unspecified natural causes.
It was therefore no surprise the Senate passed Hameed Ali Bill which it titled “A Bill for an Act to repeal the Customs and Excise Management Act, to establish the Nigeria Customs Service, reform the administration and management of Customs and Excise in Nigeria.” It was not lost on observers. As Fred Itua put it in the Daily Sun of June 1, “two months after a face-off between Senate and Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali, the upper legislative chamber has passed a new law which compels the president to appoint an insider (as opposed to Ali, an outsider) as the CG. With the new law, the CG’s appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.” The colonel did not need senate confirmation when he was appointed.
The Senate, to put its stamp firmly on Customs, scrapped the NCS Governing Board and replaced it with a Commission, which will oversee the administration of the NCS to be headed by a chairman, who will be a retired career Comptroller-General or Deputy Comptroller-General. The appointment of the chairman of the commission will also be subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Thus with its powerful pen, the Senate has tied the hands of future Nigerian presidents in perpetuity from appointing anyone who is not a serving officer from heading the NCS. The Senate by so doing has decreed there can be no changes in the Customs Service. By so doing the Senate has created more avenues and, indeed, has invented three more additional senate confirmation loopholes for bribery and corruption in the polity. The confirmation hearings have been dogged by bribery scandals, reported or muted, since the Fourth Republic. In 2003 the N54 million bribes demanded of Mr. Nasir El-Rufai by the Senate leaders Ibrahim Mantu and Jonathan Zwingina burst into the open. In 2005, the N55 million bribe shared by Senate President Adolphus Wabara and other leaders of the Senate made colourful headlines. Nor can Nigerians forget the 2010 $620,000 bribe asked for and received by Farouk Lawan and his associates or the Herman Hembe and Arunma Oteh affair in which the lady was subjected to verbal assault in the House because she explained that Hembe had asked her for bribes on two occasions. In none of these cases was there any accountability. Now in 2010 the two Otedola companies, Zenon had received foreign exchange for $232,975,386.13; Synopsis had received $51,449,977.47 from the Central Bank to import fuel for the country but they both failed to do so. Farouk Lawan was content to collect a $3 million bribe and let the country lose $285 million to Chief Otedola, which gives an inkling of how the rich make money in Nigeria.
It is not for nothing that the National Assembly has cut the image of the biggest stumbling block against the fight against corruption. The Senate President and the House Speaker ridicule the efforts. The Senators’ determination to oust the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, seeing that he is “effective, determined and incorruptible” is well known. The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay has been emphatic that “in fact, the National Assembly has constituted itself into an opposition to the anti-corruption struggle. It has mounted a war against the anti-corruption struggle. It has decided to obstruct it at every stage.”
When in 2010 Ms Oteh came out of the House chamber she shook her head and said: “when I took this job, I was warned that when you fight corruption it will fight back but I did not know the fight would come from the House Committee on Capital Market.” The anti-corruption fight has been lost where it should matter most – in the National Assembly.