Loose lawmakers – The Nation

  • Why should the National Assembly sell off an official vehicle of N26 million for one million?

Very often, analysts of the presidential system have cavilled at the cost of running it. But others have noted that it is not the system that offends but the practitioners who undermine it.

The economics of transition from the eighth National Assembly to the ninth has exposed some of the footloose morality not only of the country, but also those who govern it; or shall we say, who legislate it.

The reports have it that the authorities of the legislative bodies decided to sell off their official items at ridiculously low prices. How does a sports utility vehicle, a Land cruiser, that was purchased on tax payers’ money for N26 million go away to an unknown buyer for a mere N1 million? How again do we explain how television set that sold for N2 million each go away for much less? In fact, the reports say that a legislator’s two television sets, one in the office and the other in the home, as well as photo copiers, desktop computers and a big refrigerator all went for a paltry N360,000.

The normal breakdown of the television sets would amount to N4 million for the two. If each of the television sets cost N2 million in 2015, how did the authorities calculate the depreciation value? How come a functional television of that calibre cost so excruciatingly low? But the story of the office and household items may be less invidious than that of the sports utility vehicle. It meant that the value in three years fell by over 200 percent. It is a scandal.

The painful thing about this is that some of the buyers are legislators. These legislators will also get new items, or money for new items as members of the ninth assembly. Again, some of the members of the ninth assembly were members of the eighth.

There was another scandal pertaining to the repainting of the offices. It was a new definition of double jeopardy. The authorities secured contracts for the repainting of offices while lawmakers who were impatient with the process had their own repainting contracts. This did not delete the contracts from the National Assembly from the accounts. So, while lawmakers painted their offices from their personal money, the law makers still paid off contractors for the same work.

This is a common practice, according to those familiar with the system. Even at that, this year’s episodes were unparalleled in their decadent liberality. It implies that if the items are regarded as below the taste of a succeeding lawmaker, there should be a standard for determining the depreciation value of the items. That way, a controversy or scandal such as this may be averted.

Again, this story explains why the so-called charge of the expensiveness of the presidential system fails to take cognisance of the lack of financial discipline of the lawmakers. Our legislators, by all accounts, are some of the best paid in the world. Most of them are idle all year. In spite of the new cars and television sets, they are entitled to allowances that boggle the mind. A member of the eighth National Assembly, Senator Shehu Sani, testified to it in a well-publicised confessional indictment of the body. The lawmakers did not deny it. Neither did they even repent.

Law-making in Nigeria is an exercise in receiving pock. It has not shied away from scandals because it always survives them. They are the Teflon institution of our democracy. Few ever get prosecuted because it is consumption by committee, and all their sins are covered.

This democracy and its protagonists have developed no checks on the excesses of the National Assembly. And it seems we have surrendered to their iniquity.

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