The National Assembly is in decay

If you are paying close attention, the concept of a legislative arm of government ought to give you great concern.  In everything but name and form, it has essentially collapsed.

In the latest indication, the House of Representatives last week asked its so-called Ad hoc Committee on Arms to investigate a report in the current report of the Auditor-General of the Federation that a scandalous 178,459 arms, including AK-47 rifles, disappeared from various police formations nationwide during the reporting period.

The decision followed a motion in the plenary on Thursday by the Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu), who reportedly lamented the poor record-keeping of the police, which could not account for the items.

In principle, Mr Okechukwu is right.

The problem is that the reason, the only reason, that the House has chosen this course of action is that the report of the missing arms and ammunition appeared in newspaper reports.  But those news reports are based on the 2019 Auditor-General’s report which was submitted to the National Assembly (NASS) in August 2021.

The constitution vests each House of NASS with the authority to deliberate on the report as received from the Auditor-General, in which case the issue of the missing firearms ought to have emanated from legislature itself.

What is happening here is the clearest explanation of the governing elite, that none of them even reads the report of the Auditor-General, which is loaded with scandalous revelations.  That clearly includes members of the NASS, which has the constitutional obligation to review the report.

But suddenly, something happens, and the same indolent and irresponsible body appears to wake up, as in this case, vowing to do something out of character.  For this purpose, the House has fired up another fictitious Ad hoc Committee on Arms.

If you did not know, an ad hoc committee is an excuse, an unloaded weapon deployed in the manner of a toothless bulldog for the purpose of making its master look good.  Let me remind you of one such ramshackle outfit that I described extensively in May last year during a period of increasingly loud questions concerning accountability for recovered Sani Abacha loot.

Out of the blue, a contraption of the House of Representatives had suddenly emerged called the Ad hoc Committee on the Probe of Recovered Looted Funds and Assets of Government (2002-2020).

The committee was getting an earful about the anti-corruption pretensions of the government, including:

  • Zainab Ahmed , the then and still Minister of Finance, admittedthat the Federal Government had manipulated the recovered loot and—without legislative authorisation—”borrowed” from it.
  • Tosin Ojaomo, the Prosecutor of the Special Presidential Panel on Asset Recovery (SPPAR), alleged that the NNPC stashed$60 billion in public funds in the US, and that Attorney-General Abubakar Malami had frustrated the panel’s efforts.  AGF Malami had also confiscated the panel’s case files and many others.
  • Mr Ojaomo submitted over 20 documents in support of his claims.  He further told the committee of the discovery of an expensive hotel in Enugu State which belonged to an official of the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) who also had N2.2 billion in his personal bank accounts.
  • Ojaomo also testified that in one instance, the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF) withdrew N10bn in two tranches from the coffers of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), one of those cases that was allegedly also frustrated by Malami.
  • Ahmed Idris, the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) could not explain “discrepancies and other infractions” in the remittances of recovered funds made by his office to the Central Bank. One of those sums was said to be of about €5 million.
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  • Idris, it was alleged, had approved the disbursement of funds from the recovery accounts without the authority of NASS.
  • Malami was said to have received N2bn from some recovered loot from the CBN, for which the panel cited a CBN letter for the release following Malami’s request.

As I wrote my article to close out that remarkable month of May, the committee announced that it was inviting Malami and others to come and defend or clarify the allegations against them.  They included Zainab Ahmed and Uche Orji, the Director General of Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority.

Bolaji Owasanoye, the ICPC chieftain who had disclosed that his commission held N2.1 billion in recovered funds, was also due back, as the committee wanted to see some documentation relating to his testimony.

In other words, across the executive arm of government as of last year, everyone seemed to have had a tranche of funds in their playpen, sometimes in the billions of dollars even as the government was going around the world purveying the worst 419 scheme.

But the ad hoc committee, like its ad hoc but extremely important work, disappeared from the headlines into fiction.  No continuation, and no report.

It is into that vacuum that another ad hoc committee was manufactured last week allegedly to investigate the police for police arms that simply and consistently disappear, leaving the police to complain that it lacks arms to secure Nigeria.

I predict that the committee will disappear, just like its predecessor.  It is an after-thought because it is not grounded in any commitment to making Nigeria work.  Had there been such a commitment or strategy, the two houses of the National Assembly would consider the report of the Auditor-General every year as constitutionally submitted and mandated, and not simply those snippets from them that happen to make it into newspaper headlines.

It turns out then, that my question as to whether the House was for sale or rent was the wrong one.  Anyone with a critical eye who looks at the NASS website would see through the Assembly.  It has neither character nor substance, as you would immediately observe should you look at the US Congress, the South Africa Parliament, or many others.

On its site, there are elaborate photographs of NASS members, of course, each of them struggling to embrace a borrowed title that does not exist in the constitution.  On the site, most links are empty, they have no official telephones by which their constituents might reach them, and there is no comprehensive archive of the work NASS has undertaken in the past 23 years.

“Will the House complete this assignment?  Or will it sell out?”

Those questions were wrong.  Nigeria’s legislative branch is a caricature, merely mimicking the legislative idea and process.  That its members are elected makes it the most tragic arm of the government.

This explains why there is no report of the probe of the use of recovered loot.  And why there will be no report detailing the nation’s booming industry in disappearing police equipment.

If any legislator wishes to challenge my conclusions, I am right here.  We can begin from the reports of the Auditor-General of the Federation in the last six years.

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