By Adetutu Folasade-Koyi
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo came down hard on the National Assembly, the Judiciary and the military, yesterday, when he alleged that those institutions have been tainted with corruption.
In a keynote address, Nigeria yesterday, today, and tomorrow: Governance and accountability, delivered at the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture, in Lagos, yesterday, Obasanjo declared that not only does Nigeria’s National Assembly stink, he said the institution is run by a cabal and gang of unarmed robbers.
For the Judiciary, the former president said information at his disposal indicated that, at least, more than 20 Justices have corruption allegations round their necks.
Turning to Aso Rock, Obasanjo urged President Muhammadu Buhari to be resolute in his anti-corruption war, even if he is threatened with impeachment, as he was, when he was president.
Obasanjo slammed his former military leaders who diverted money meant to purchase arms for soldiers fighting insurgency in the North East. He also disclosed in his address that more than 20 judges could still be picked up on graft charges.
“Let me comment on recent issues concerning corruption and accountability. Three weeks before the first three judges were arrested for corruption, I was talking to a fairly, senior retired public officer who put things this way, ‘The Judiciary is gone, the National Assembly is gone, the military is sunk and the civil service was gone before them; God save Nigeria.’ I said a loud ‘Amen.’
“Three weeks later, the process of saving the Judiciary began. And, if what I have gathered is anything to go by, there may be not less than two score of judicial officers who may have questions to answer. That will be salutary for the Judiciary and for the nation.
“If the Judiciary is being cleaned, what of the National Assembly which stinks much worse than the Judiciary?
“Budget padding must not go unpunished. It is a reality, which is a regular and systemic practise. Ganging up to intimidate and threaten the life of the whistleblower is deplorable and undemocratic. What of the so-called constituency projects which is a veritable source of corruption? These constituency projects are spread over the budget for the National Assembly for which they are the initiators and the contractors, directly or by proxy and money would be fully drawn, with the project only partially executed or not executed at all.
“The National Assembly cabal of today is worse than any cabal that anybody may find anywhere in our national governance system at any time… Once you are a member, you are co-opted and your mouth is stuffed with rottenness and corruption that you cannot opt out as you go home with not less than N15 million a month for a Senator and N10 million a month for a member of the House of Representatives.
“The National Assembly is a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers.
“Like the Judiciary, the National Assembly cannot clean itself. Look at how the recurrent budget of the National Assembly, with the so-called constituency projects, has ballooned since the inception of this democratic dispensation. What were their budgets in the 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015? The revelation was both alarming and scandalous. Once, when I was president, I asked outside auditors, both normal and forensic, to audit the account of the National Assembly, they frustrated it on the basis of separation of power. They claimed they had oversight responsibility for their corruption and misdemeanour and nothing could be done.
“It is like asking a thief to watch over himself. There must be full disclosure of all relevant fiscal information in a timely and systematic manner at all levels.
“The National Assembly budget process is not only carried out in opaque and corruptive manner but also in grossly unconstitutional manner. Hence, our lawmakers are lawbreakers. They are the accused, the prosecutor, the defenders and the judge in their own case.
Obasanjo urged Buhari to investigate funds appropriated for constituency funds adding that the president should stop giving federal lawmakers funds for such projects.
“We should not continue to live with the impunity and corruption of the National Assembly. Yes, I believe that something can and should be done. The president should ride on the crest of the popularity of what is happening in the Judiciary to set up a highly technical team of incorruptible investigators to look into the so-called constituency projects of the past and the present and bring culprits to book…Nigerians will be shocked with what such enquiries would unearth.
“The National Assembly stinks and stinks to high heavens. It needs to be purged.”
Obasanjo also said the blood of military men who died in battle in the North East will be on the hands of their leaders who misappropriated funds meant to purchase arms for them.
“When the military is corrupt, it affects its fighting ability in many ways. Poor, used and inappropriate equipment and materials are purchased by the military for the military at the expense of the lives of fighting troops in the warfront. In some cases, nothing at all is purchased. How callous, for a General, an Air Marshall or a Naval Admiral to be so cruel and unpatriotic as to buy such inappropriate weapons, equipment, ammunition and materials for men facing the rigour and ruthlessness of an enemy force like Boko Haram!
“Whether they are alive or dead, their family members should also be ashamed of them. And, what is more, the blood of those men who died because of their nefarious and sordid acts and actions would be on their hands. The anti-corruption war in the past has landed some governors in jail while some still have their cases pending in courts. ..”
The former president also advised Buhari against a proposed $30 billion foreign loan, insisting that one reason adduced for the loan, that some of the projects would be self-sustaining was not true, using his experience as examplke.
“We immediately need loans to stabilise our foreign reserve and embark on some infrastructure development but surely not $30 billion over a period of less than three years.
“That was about the magnitude of cumulative debt of Nigeria which we worked and wiped out ten years ago. Before that debt relief, we were spending almost $3 billion to service our debt annually and the quantum of the debt was not going down. Rather, if we defaulted, we paid penalty which was added on.
“The projects listed for borrowing are all necessary in the medium- and long-run for our economy but we have to prioritise. Railway is a necessary service but it is not profit-making anywhere in the world today. We need steady and continuous but manageable funding on the railway project. Mambilla hydro is the same; necessary but it cannot pay itself, especially with the global energy sector of shale revolution, hydrogen fuel and increasingly cheap renewable energy such as solar.
“Telling us that those projects will pay themselves cannot be the whole truth. We were told there was rainy day when we lavished our reserve and excess crude on frivolities. When we now have the rains beating us, there is no umbrella over our heads.
“Again, now, we are being told the projects will pay themselves when we know damn well they will not. If we borrow some $30 billion in less than three years, we would have mortgaged the future of Nigeria for well over 30 years to come.
“A careful scrutiny of the projects with prioritisation and avoidance of waste and taking into account avoiding bunching of debt service in future especially when no one can accurately forecast the global and national economy, will indicate less than thirty per cent of the foreign loan being requested as prudent.
“We must not be unmindful of internal borrowing either. It impacts somewhat differently on the economy but it must not be allowed to crowd out the ability of the private sector to borrow to grow the real economy which is to lead us out of the recession.
“Corruption is corruption and it cannot be explained as the proceeds of sale of rice and gari by a judge nor can millions of dollars be explained as medical fee or gifts without identified sources by a public officer or spouse of such a public officer.
“All in all, everybody must be held accountable.
“There should be no sacred cow or witch-hunting or untenable excuses to let the camel through the needle eye. Those who must be made accountable must be made accountable with stick and carrot…”
We must be hard and harsh on those who stay outside, whether they are Nigerians or expatriates, and piece inside our economic house through smuggling, dumping and cheating on duty payment and lying on custom classification. We must make our neighbours realise that encouragement of acts to undermine our economy by allowing their countries to be used a smuggling route and dumping grounds for entries of unwanted commodities into Nigeria will be treated as an act of hostility. We must be ready to close our borders with such neighbours to protect our economy. We must also empower customs to close the shops and factories of cheaters and immigration to deport hostile expatriates within our midst. The act of underpinning and destroying our economy should be regarded as an act of hostility and treated as such.
If we do not fix the economy to relieve the pain and anguish of many Nigerians, the gain in fighting insurgency and corruption will pale into insignificance.
No administration can nor should be comfortable with excruciating pain of debilitating and crushing economy. Businesses are closing, jobs are being lost and people are suffering. I know that President Buhari has always expressed concern for the plight of the common people but that concern must be translated to workable and result-oriented socio-economic policy and programme that will turn the economy round at the shortest time possible. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect things to change. That will be a miracle which normally doesn’t happen in normal national economies. We have people inside and outside who can be brought together to help device the right economic policy and programme to get us out of the pit before we fall over the precipice into a dark cave. Economy requires a great element of trust to get it out of the doldrums let alone out of negativity. That trust and confidence has to be created.
Coming back to the issue of corruption, there is always need for institution reform to go along with recovery to make gains from fight against corruption last. Such reforms may have to be strengthened by legislation like the military procurement I mentioned earlier. But where the guard is the thief like we have seen in recent times, it makes things difficult, if not impossible.