Ms Adrienne Owens

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National Assembly - The Leadership Question 

Lagos, Sep 17, 2007 (Daily Champion/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) -- The cost of maintaining them is stupendously high. It would still have been high if it were only a uni-cameral assembly. but it is not.

Being a bi-cameral assembly, the National Assembly has both the Upper House, Senate and the Lower House, the House of Representatives. Altogether, they number 529 Honourable members with the Senate having 109 and House taking the balance of 360. This may have heightened the cost of maintaining them and running government generally in the country.

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Yet, most Nigerians would not have minded, if the National Assembly were to be peopled by sincerely serious membership, truly honourable members.

Now, consider that 100 days had passed since the Assembly was inaugurated by the president, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who despite his critics, accusation had, at least, shown some steady brilliance of a leader, who knows what is expected of him. To Mr. President's credit, the militant cultic revolt in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, was brought to check. Despite surreptitious attacks, which appear to be more political than social and economic, the good people of Rivers state are beginning to relatively enjoy the liberty that goes with democracy. Sadly, the National Assembly did not see it proper to cut short their holidays to pass a motion that could have mandated the president to call out the army to assist the police in the combat of the dare-devilry of the cultist militants of Port Harcourt.

Today, even though the use of solders to quell the rebellion in Port Harcourt is uncivil, moreso, done without legislative approval, Nigerians are, no doubt, grateful to Yar'Adua for doing so.

Consider also that the president had earlier directed the re-opening of Ibeto Cement Company Limited, Port Harcourt and the cancellation of the sale of Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries carried out by his immediate predecessor and benefactor, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the stoppage and review of the contentious Federal Civil service reforms as well as his successful mediation in the industrial actions by both the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU and the organized labour.

Granted that these issues fall in the domain of the executive, a perceptive National Assembly would have intervened, especially when the interest of their constituents is involved. For instance, the National Assembly would have earned some honour and respect if it had passed a motion urging the president to cancel the sale of the refineries, the invalidation of Ibeto Cement and the late hour increases in value added tax (VAT), petroleum products prices and the repudiation of the 15 per cent pay rise given to federal workers, as carried out by Obasanjo.

Perhaps, they are yet to appreciate the other side of their oversight functions, beyond the level of seeing how appropriated funds are being implemented. No doubt, part of that function should include and, indeed, include the checkmating of the executive to ensuring that good governance is delivered through carefully thought out plans, policies, programmes and projects. By doing so, they would be able to closely mark the executive and in particular, the presidency to ensure that private, primordial and clannish interests which typified the Obasanjo era, are not elevated to statecraft or official policy.

We must note however that Senate president, David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs Olubunmi Patricia Etteh, both spoke during the strike that greeted the fuel and VAT jerk up.

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They appealed to Nigerians to accept the increase. To them, the economy would be better for it, moreso, as the increases were done by the past regime.

Anyway, many believe that their position was a product of their capacity to reason and a blind allegiance to a benefactor, whose second name is mischief.

Now, having failed to meaningfully intervene and interface in the progressive running of the country, what do we hear of the National Assembly?

Shortly, after the inauguration, the legislators gleefully awarded themselves jumbo allowances, indeed, mind-boggling sums running into N12.3 billion for furniture, housing and car. Out of the volume of money, each senator would receive N53.7 million while each House member would receive N47.9 million or thereabout.

A further breakdown of the salary package showed that each senator would be receiving N126, 000 monthly for car maintenance, while each House member would get N124, 075 for some purpose. Whereas wardrobe allowance is N500, 000, constituency allowance amounts to N5 million for each senator and N2 million for Representatives. In addition, they would be paid a yearly utility allowance of N400,000, entertainment allowance of N600,000 and severance pay of N6 million. In all, a senator would annually receive N8 million in allowances alone with a Representative receiving nearly N6m.

To say the least, this is as scandalous as it is vain and open brigandage of the national tile by a people, who should show greater sacrifice and sensitivity to the national imperatives of transparency, accountability and prudence in the conduct of public affairs.

Meanwhile the National Assembly would be disbursing another N1.billion to enable its members procure committee cars. Altogether, about 200 cars would be bought in the first instance. Although the senate had earlier denied a report that it was planning to give its members a car each, the unfolding spending spree in the assembly may have put a lie to the denial. The chairman, senate services committee, Senator Effiong Bob, who make the denial, had noted that the monetization policy of the Federal government had taken care of that, thereby making it impossible for senate to give its members cars.

But perhaps, the greater worry for most Nigerians is the financial perfidy that has characterized the affairs of the National Assembly.

At present, Madam speaker, is battling to defend herself from a seemingly financial scam of N628 million deployed to renovate her official residence and that of her deputy, Alhaji Babangida Nguroje. Many, a Nigerian had continued to ask what the lady speaker needed to do in a house that does not belong to the National Assembly and which owners, the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) renovated in 2005.

The same Nigerians, some of whom, have not had their salaries or pensions paid in the last few months, are equally worried that madam speaker allocated six official cars to her office. These are outside the ones her aides would use. And each of them cost several millions of naira. Simple opulence, no doubt, but what about performance?

According to Alhaji Balarabe Musa, former governor of old Kaduna state, the behaviour of the speaker is not different from the others. Therefore, even if she is impeached, there is no guarantee that her replacement would be better. They simply want to be rich like those before them.

In the same vein, the senate is also battling to free itself from a festering controversy that it spent nearly N450 million on its president's official quarters!

Again, the quarters belong to FCDA. These are the petty issues that had occupied the productive period of our honourables in the last 100 days. Where then are the motions on issues of national interest? Where are the private members' bills? Where are the painstaking and sensitive oversight functions that would keep civil servants, ministers and other appointees on their toes?

While the quest for greedy lucre and financial perfidy in the National Assembly may not be peculiar to the present crop of legislators, most analysts are however pained that the present leadership does not appreciate the mood of the nation and its people.

Here is a government, whose legitimacy is being disputed because of the fraudulent general election, that ushered it in. Here is a National Assembly, whose members are product of the same fraudulent poll, that has impaired the image of Nigeria before the international community. Could it be that these legislators are not aware of the submissions of the European Union Election Observation Mission, the Commonwealth Election Observation Team, the United States-based Observer Group and the local groups which faulted the April poll conducted by Prof Maurice Iwu-led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), describing it as "fraud, gravely flawed and failure to meet acceptable international standards of democratic rule."

If, indeed, these legislators know where they are coming from, maybe, they would have become humbler and more inclined to the demands of their duties and responsibilities.

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Given these unsavoury developments, political watchers have already concluded that the present National Assembly would be worse than the previous ones. Mr Gani Lookman, a lawyer and analyst believes that much. According to him, the quality of leadership of the National Assembly in the present circumstance falls short of national expectation.

Another political analysts, Mr Nnamdi Uzondu thinks that the National Assembly may have to wade in the years ahead at a time the Nigerian state needs the sagacity, articulation and competence of a Dr Chuba Okadigbo and the brilliance, erudition and the shenanigans of an Umar Ghali Na'Abba. Perhaps, the National Assembly would very early re-discover itself, some analysts intoned, last week.