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Missing Billions In Hallowed Chambers

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Recently, the six-year old anti-corruption posture of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government took a severe bashing asTransparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report for the 2020 appeared in the public domain.
According to the report, which was published by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and circulated to newsmen, Nigeria ranked 149 out of 183 countries on the Corruption Perception Index for the year 2020 and was the second most corrupt country in the West Africa Sub region, scoring only 25 out of 100 points behind Guinea Bissau with 19 points.
The document which was jointly signed by CISLAC/TI Nigeria, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), and BudgIT, read in part: “The 2020 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released globally by Transparency International (TI) today shows that Nigeria, yet again, records a decline in the CPI in 2020.
“Published exclusively in Nigeria by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the National Chapter of TI, the index reveals that Nigeria scored 25 out of 100 points in the 2020 CPI, falling back by one point compared to last year. In the country comparison of this year, Nigeria ranks 149 out of 183 countries, three places down compared to 2019 results,” the report said, adding that “while the index does not show specific incidences of corruption, it is an indication of the perception of the Nigerian public about the state of corruption in the country.”
As if this was not disturbing enough, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) went to town with an open letter, calling on Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila to “use their good offices to urgently probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies allegations that N4.4 billion of public money budgeted for the National Assembly is missing, misappropriated, diverted or stolen, as documented in three audited reports by the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.”
In the letter dated January 30, 2021, and signed by Kolawole Oluwadare, Deputy Director, SERAP urged the NASS Leadership to exercise strong and effective leadership in the matter in order to “show Nigerians that the legislative body is a proper and accountable watchdog that represents and protects the public interest, and is able to hold both itself and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to account in the management of public resources”.
According to SERAP, “The Auditor-General noted in his 2015 report that the National Assembly account spent N8,800,000.00 as unauthorized overdraft, contrary to Financial Regulations 710. The National Assembly also reportedly spent N115,947,016.00 without any documents. Another N158,193,006.00 spent as cash advances to 17 staff between January and June, 2015, is yet to be retired”.
The vocal civil society body expressed concern that “these allegations of corruption, mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds amount to fundamental breaches of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and the country’s international obligations, including under the UN Convention Against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.”
Consequently, SERAP warned that “Any failure to promptly, thoroughly and independently investigate these serious allegations, prosecute suspected perpetrators, and recover missing public funds and assets would undermine public trust in the ability of the leadership of the National Assembly to ensure probity, transparency and accountability in management of public funds.”
Describing SERAP’s call for a probe into the alleged missing money at the National Assembly as a welcome development, a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner and public affairs analyst, Barr Arochukwu Paul Ogbonna urged the civil society group to press forward with their demand until the desired result is achieved.
Barr Ogbonna also urged the leadership of the National Assembly to resist the temptation of sweeping the allegation under the carpet as others in the past but rise to the occasion of being the people’s parliament and beam the searchlight on itself with the intent to clearing itself of complicity and taking up the position to lead, oversight and sanction other arms of government and institutions in the fight against corruption.
“If the Auditor-General which a state institution and the office that looks into government accounts has discovered that there’s a leakage somewhere, and that leakage is traced to the National Assembly, the National Assembly, as the people’s parliament, should look inwards and clear itself and come up with facts and figures accounting for the said amount of money,” he said, warning that “it must not be swept under the carpet.”
Barr Ogbonna who is also the National Coordinator, Civil Rights Council, insisted that the National Assembly which is vested with constitutional powers to probe into corruption allegations, sanction corrupt practices and oversight the activities of other institutions, ministerial departments and agencies of government cannot afford to be enmeshed in corruption itself, if it must continue to enjoy the confidence of the people as their true representatives with the mandate to project and promote their interest, welfare and well being.
“Now, if the parliament that legislates for the Federal Republic of Nigeria is discovered to have misappropriated, diverted or whatever, a whooping sum of N4.4 billion, then the leadership of the National Assembly should come forth to clear its name and should probe itself and make sure that money is accounted for or else SERAP should take every legitimate means to ensure that such developments are curbed, and elements or individuals responsible for the diversion of the money; for the loss of the money; or the misappropriation of the money should be exposed and, very importantly, punished,” he said.
To do otherwise, according to Barr Ogbonna, is to further increase the uncomplimentary image of the federal government as one that has failed or unable to adequately deliver on its lofty promises on anti-corruption.
“The National Assembly is a foremost state institution; it is the people’s parliament; it is the first of the three arms of government”, Barr Ogbonna pointed out, adding that for the federal legislature to appear to condone corruption is to show “that the anti-corruption posturing of the government is nothing but sloganeering of the ruling class; it shows that it is just a mantra-something that is repeated over and over again for its own sake.
“If any house (institution or agency of government) ought to be honourable, just as they are referred to as honourables, it should be the National Assembly. The parliament should be the one to probe the executive and the judiciary should they misappropriate or divert funds.
“So if a whooping sum of N4.4 billion is said to have been lost, misappropriated or stolen from the National Assembly, then the anti-corruption posturing of the government is absolutely nonsense, its’ rubbish and it doesn’t make sense”, he said.
In his own response, a veteran journalist and public affairs analyst, Dr Obidinma Obidinma, told The Tide in Port Harcourt that it was still the responsibility of the Auditor-General’s office to trace the said missing money and come out with the details of when, who and how the monies got missing.
Dr Obidinma said rather than ask the National Assembly to probe itself, all the anti-raft agencies in the country should be directed to move into the National Assembly to investigate the sordid allegation.
“I don’t believe that the National Assembly can probe itself and come out with something reasonable. There is the ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission); there is the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) they should be directed to go into this matter,” he said and urged the presidency to swing into action without further delay.
Dr Obidinma urged the Federal Government to seize the opportunity presented by this revelation to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against corruption and redeem itself, especially, in the face of its latest abysmal ranking in the Corruption Perception Index 2020 recently published by Transparency International.
As the National Assembly resumed plenary this week, Nigerians expect that one of the issues that should be on the front desk of the legislators is how to trace and locate the said missing amount of money within its fold, money that ought to be there to provide education, water, electricity, security and sundry social amenities that would make life more meaningful for the people. Such an exercise will also help the image of the country within the global community.

By: Opaka Dokubo

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‘Reps Passed 88 Bills In Two Years’

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The House of Representatives has passed 88 bills out of 1407 bills in the past two years, its spokesperson, Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia) has said.
The House clocked two years on June 11 and has two years left.
Mr Kalu had earlier  released  different data on the status of legislative activities. However, The Tide source  is yet to independently verify this latest data.
Mr Kalu had claimed that the House considered 853 bills and 41 of them passed, in the previous statement.
According to the new statement released on Friday, a total of 554 bills were introduced between June 2020 and June 2021. It was a sharp decline considering that the House introduced 853 bills between June 2019 and June 2020.
Although the decline could be blamed on the outbreak of Covid-19.
“The accurate number of bills considered by the 9th House of Representatives as of June 10, 2021 is 1407 out of which the House has passed 88 bills.
“Additionally, the accurate number of motions considered by the 9th House of Representatives as of June 10, 2021, is 730 out of which the House has made 98 resolutions on security issues.”
The data released by the lawmaker shows that while the introduction of bills has been easy, the progression of bills has been very slow.
A total of 942 bills are awaiting second reading, only 327 bills have been referred to committees, and 79 are awaiting committee of the whole consideration.
Within the same period, 730 motions were considered by the House. However, out of the 663 referred to committees, only 40 reports have been laid, and only six have been considered by the House.
Legislative activities suffered a great deal in 2020 due to the breakout of Covid-19. The National Assembly was shut down for about two months between March 2020 and May 2020.
At a point, the plenary was reduced to once a week.
However, the lawmakers did not help the situation by embarking on holidays at the slightest opportunity, thereby missing deadlines on passage of key legislation.
Also, a review of the legislative agenda of the House by The Tide source shows that the lawmakers are far behind in fulfilling their agenda.

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Accord To Contest In 12 LGAs

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Accord Party plans to contest only in 12 local government councils and 37 local council development areas at the July 24 council polls in Lagos State.
Its Publicity Secretary, Dele Oladeji, told newsmen in Lagos, yesterday that the party chose to contest only in its areas of strength rather than dissipate energy across the state.
He said Accord Party would contest chairmanship and councillorship seats in Somolu, Mushin, Odi-Olowo, Igando-Ikotun, Agbado Okeodo, Agege, Alimosho, Apapa, Lagos Mainland, Ikorodu, Oshodi/Isolo, and Ifako-Ijaiye LGAs/LCDAs.
Oladeji said that the party had a good outing in these councils at the last council elections in 2017.
“We are set for the election and we are competing in our local governments of strength where we won in 2017.
“We are set to repeat the same feat and even win more than the eight councillorship seats we won in 2017 to become the only opposition party in the local government administration in Lagos State,’’ he said.
Oladeji said that the party was ready to go to court wherever its mandate was stolen as it did in 2017 local government elections.
“As against 2017 when we went to court only in few areas to get back our rigged mandate, this year, we will go to court in any number of local government areas where our mandate is perceived to have been stolen through rigging.
“As the only opposition party in the local government’s administration of Lagos State, we have retained the abiding hope of Lagos residents as the alternative party.”

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Okorocha Cautions Igbos On Secession

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The Senator representing Imo West, Rochas Okorocha, has cautioned the South-East against their agitations for Nigeria’s breakup.
Okorocha warned that Igbos would be the worst hit if Nigeria breaks up.
The former Imo State Governor spoke in Abuja while addressing some women groups yesterday.
Okorocha stressed that the South- East should push towards fixing the country and not its disintegration.
The lawmaker stressed that Igbos are nationalistic in nature, hence they should dismiss the urge for Nigeria’s disintegration.
He said: “It is only an Igbo man that goes to a place and remains put in that place, buys a land and builds a house for his family without feeling insecure. The Igbos will lose more if Nigeria divides.
“Most Nigerian leaders who were successful had one thing or the other to do with the Igbos. It is either they married Igbo women or had some links with them. I can call names like, former President, Obasanjo; former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Buba Marwa, just to name a few”.
South-East groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereignty State of Biafra, MASSOB, have been agitating for the disintegration of Nigeria.
IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu has been in the forefront, calling for Biafra’s actualisation.

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