The legislative arm of government is undeniably the face of the people in a representative democracy. Better said, it is unarguably a shining example of and the bastion of democratic governance all over the world. This arm of government drew its strength from the mandates of the people and constituents the members represent. The acclaimed crucial role of the legislature makes it the only casualty in every unpopular change of government through coup-de-tat in Africa in times past. It must be noted that members of the legislature specifically work, move motions and present bills for the benefit of the people they represent not necessarily the country as a whole. In a nutshell, the success of every democratic practise is anchored on the legislature which invariably is the collective mace and representatives of the people. Those elected to represent the people are grass-root men and women who had worn the people’s shoes before and knew where it exactly pinches.
It is on this premise that one wonders if the National Assembly still genuinely represent the people and also remains the symbol of democracy in Nigeria. During the presentation of the 2020 Appropriation Bill and its assent by President Buhari, it dawned on all of us that the National Assembly has appropriated for itself a whooping sum of N37 billion for only the renovation of its complex. It attracted the overwhelming condemnation of Nigerians except for the National Assembly itself which tried effortlessly to defend the appropriation with little or no success. An online newspaper went as far as taking snapshots of the walls of the complex as evidence to show Nigerians and the world the vanity in appropriating such amount for issues that never worth it while education, health and other critical sectors of the economy remain in perpetual ruins. Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP) BudgIT and others had filed an action against the Federal government, NASS and others at the Federal Appeal Court from releasing the allocation until an impact assessment of the spending was carried out. Some argue that the approval of the sum by the President Buhari without raising any objection was a way of compensating the Assembly which has remained loyal to the executive while both arms ideally are primus enter peres and as such are to work in mutual respect and understanding following the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which they all swore to uphold. The 9th National Assembly under the leadership of Ahmed Lawan has done well as the latest baby sitter of the executive arm of the government.
There is no gain restating the fact that COVID-19 pandemic has cut short the expectation of peoples and nations. It has destroyed permutations in business deals and altered altruistic motives of governments and many sectors of the world economy. The expected annual earnings and incomes of individuals, businesses, organisations and nations are in total disarray. In Nigeria the price of oil which is the mainstay of the economy nose-dived in line with the global shock and trend. Consequently, the cost of goods and services especially essential commodities have soared astronomically. People are groaning under the condition with majorly government-imposed lockdown as measures to address the pandemic. The operational capacities and leverages of all and sundry were largely curtailed and adjustment was the only viable option for individual, groups, organisations and national survival. Nigeria has once again slid into recession.
The rich and well to do individuals, multinational organisations, banks, telecom brands and many others have come to the rescue. They raised huge funds to assist in ameliorating the situation. Some state governments and political appointees have taken monthly pay cuts while others went as far as deducting some percentage of staff salaries of certain grades in the state civil service as part of their contribution to helping deal with the pandemic. The matter has now snowballed into a contentious labour issue in the affected states.
The National Assembly was only able to pledge two months salary; not emoluments of their members to support the fight against the pandemic. Nigerians understood the arithmetic and the sum total of what emerged as the widows might of NASS to fight COVID-19. Having the interest of Nigerians at heart was far gone in the life of this 9th NASS.
As a painful measure for national survival, the federal government has reduced the 2020 budget from 10.59trn to 10.2trn. Education and health were reduced from 111.78bn to 50.76bn and from 44.4bn to 26.51bn respectively. One odd item which has occupied an unwanted space in the 2020 budget is the renovation of the NASS complex. It has now been pruned down from the initial N37 billion to N27 billion Naira. The Debt Management Office gave its own version of the reduced figure in the region of N9 billion. The percentage of reduction on that item is lower compared to slashes suffered by health and education combined. The renovation of the National Assembly has unfortunately remained relevant and a top priority to those pushing for the success of the idea more than health and education at this critical time. When will our national priorities reflect the needs of the people? The National Assembly since 1999 has become notorious for ‘budgetary selfishness.’ Year in year out, the National Assembly must add a controversial subhead which glaringly informs that; ‘this one is meant for the boys.’ The asphyxiating situation the nation and its people found itself calls for understanding, sacrifice and selflessness on the part of leaders who mouth same, especially from the NASS. Therefore, NASS should forego the anticipated pleasure and comfort of their offices and allow this N27 billion to be utilised for more meaningful things like funding of the critical sectors of the economy. The huge appropriation for office buildings is not only a ridiculous misplaced priority but an orchestrated fraud waiting to happen.
There are evidently hard times ahead. Therefore, we must have to resist profligacy in spending the available scarce resources at our disposal. We should all heed the call by the Human Right Writers Association (HURIWA) to pour out in large numbers in protest against this unimaginable legislative selfishness and indifference to the mood of the nation. Does a man whose house is on fire hunt for rats?
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a Media and Communication Specialist is the publisher: thenewinsightng.blogspot.com. He wrote via sunnyeze02 @yahoo.com and could be reached on 08060901201