By Shaka Momodu
The Nigerian Senate under the leadership of Senator Ahmed Lawn has fallen. It has completely surrendered to Major General Muhammadu Buhari and needs to be saved from itself before it does irreparable damage to the meaning of checks and balances in a constitutional democracy. Since Senator Lawan emerged as the Senate President, he has left no one in doubt by his utterances and body language that the National Assembly, particularly, the Senate is an extension of the executive arm of government.
Not many paid attention then when some of his colleagues who knew him well cautioned Nigerians that he was a yes-man and a bootlicker who would pass laws that are anti-people and anti-democracy to please his alter ego, General Buhari, who routinely pooh-poohs the niceties and the processes of democracy. They had argued that it was dangerous to have such a man as the President of the Senate and Leader of the National Assembly and a ruthless dictator as head of the executive.
Just a few months in office as Senate President, Lawan in tow with his Deputy, Ovie Omo-Agege, is proving to be just what some of his colleagues had warned against: a Buhari lackey. Lest we forget, Senator Omo-Agege, who led thugs to steal mace from the Senate last year, was never charged to court, being a buharist, and has now even been rewarded with the position of Deputy Senate President.
Immediately he was elected, he paid a visit to the dictator whence he was down on all fours thanking his benefactor, General Buhari, for making it possible. This critical arm of government is a pathetic shadow of the 8th Senate and a rubber stamp for the dictator. Clearly, the atmosphere in the Senate is now dull, uneventful and enervating. Somebody recently described it as a low-energy environment; a clear reflection of an uninspiring, pliant and a never-do-well Senate leadership working against the interest of the people.
This Buhari’s lackey made it clear recently the Senate would approve any request it receives from the dictator because according to him, “He means well for the country.”
Like the general, Lawan detests debate. He overrules all objections and gavels everything through. Compare the nonsense going on in the Senate and House of Representatives with debates on issues in the US Congress or parliamentary debates in the UK, and you may see yourself shedding tears for Nigeria. As things stand, only Nigerians can save themselves from this reign of certificate forgers, school dropouts, amoral men and women, liars, corrupt politicians, and convicted criminals who converge on the hallowed chamber as our lawmakers.
The indecent haste he railroaded the Senate into passing the 2020 budget left no one in any doubt as to his determination to please his master. In the process, he sacrificed rigorous inspection and interrogation of the budget details and figures to set a record of timely passage of the budget bill.
No sooner had the Senate settled down than the leadership of the National Assembly went on a spending showy binge procuring luxury and operational vehicles for the lawmakers. At the end of that exercise, N5.5 billion of taxpayers’ money had been shelled out for things that added no value to the lives of the ordinary people. When some Nigerians protested about the reckless extravagance of the National Assembly with taxpayers’ money, the lawmakers yelled abuses and obscenities at them.
Then as if looking for what to do, it resurrected the Hate Speech Bill that had been put in abeyance, included even tougher penalty including capital punishment for some category of offences. Despite the intense opposition of the public to it, Lawan left no one in doubt of his insensitivity when he said recently that it would be passed into law. The truth is, discerning and right-thinking Nigerians never expected much from Lawan considering the circumstances of his emergence. But he has even confounded some of them beyond anything they had imagined by his total abdication and subjugation of the legislature to the executive arm of government.
On the raging issue of General Buhari’s request for approval to borrow a fresh $30 billion, Lawan has already stated he would approve the request without asking questions irrespective of the grave implications for the economy, for the future of the youth and unborn generations, who would bear the burden of repaying the huge loan and astronomical service charges on it. What specifically is this $30 billion meant for anyway? Which projects are the money tied to? It is just not enough to tell the people you want to embark on infrastructure development. What has the regime done with all the monies it has borrowed in the last four years?
Senator Shehu Sani, former Chairman, Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt in the 8th Senate, explained thus why the 8th Senate rejected General Buhari’s loan request: “We turned down the FG loan request for $30 billion to save Nigeria from sinking into the dark gully of a perpetual debt trap. We don’t want our country to be recolonised by creditor banks. Our external debt in 2015 was $10.32 billion and it escalated to $22.08 in the second quarter of 2019, which is 114 per cent increase. If we had approved that loan request, our external debt could have catapulted to over $52 billion and that is not sustainable. With the current escalation of borrowing, we will be walking into debt slavery and move from landlords to tenants in our country.
“They will always tell you that even America is borrowing and I don’t know how rational is it to keep on borrowing because another country is borrowing. If we keep listening to bankers and contractors, we will keep borrowing and burying ourselves and leave behind for our children a legacy of debt burden. Loans are not charities. Most of those encouraging more borrowing are parasitic consultants, commission agents, rent-seeking fronts and contractors.” But Lawan by his body language and actions seems to be telling Sani to keep his concerns to himself, and that the new National Assembly leadership is not interested in such monotonous epilogue.
Closely following Sani’s submission is the Guardian report which stated that with the fresh loan, “The yearly debt service provision in the budget would near N3.2 trillion, with worsening budget deficit, unless the revenue base increases significantly”.
Again, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) have also expressed concerns about the federal government’s ability to service its debts. They noted that in the 2020 budget of N10.5 trillion, debt service commitment and recurrent spending are beginning to crowd out capital expenditure. However, the Debt Management Office (DMO), the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed as well as other regime’s obedient mouthpieces are performing economic gymnastics, loudly trumpeting that the problem of Nigeria is not debt but revenue and that the regime has increased VAT to 7.5% and is also trying to widen the tax net.
I have serious reservations if all these measures will significantly raise the national revenue. I fully align myself with those opposed to the loan. If you are still in doubt as to the state of our economy, read the Economic Report released in November by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Maybe the scales will fall from your eyes.
Lawan and his fellow buccaneers have thrown caution to the wind. As long as Buhari is the one making the request, it must be good for Nigeria. Such shallow line of reasoning has brought upon us this dire straits of national regression.
Nothing underscores the stark contradiction and the reality of the moment like a newspaper lead story recently: While the National Assembly approved a paltry N22.89 billion for the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency’s capital expenditure in the 2020 budget, it allocated N37 billion or over $100 million for the repair of the National Assembly complex. Education and Health got N48 billion and N46 billion respectively.
The complex was built in 1999 at a cost of nearly $35.18 million and the contract was awarded to ITB Nigeria, on February 18, 1996 at a time it was less than N100 to the dollar. Lawan and members of the National Assembly want $100 million to renovate the complex that was built with $35 million? At a time of serious revenue shortfall with the regime embarking on $30 billion borrowing binge? At a time the regime is increasing the tax burden on its citizens to fill the revenue gap? At a time Nigeria is wearing the crown with the bold inscription, the Poverty Capital of the World, Lawan and his colleagues are more interested in their comfort?
Let somebody out there tell me this is not real. Well, it is real. Somebody asked me if they want to pull the whole structure down and rebuild it from the scratch. I answered, no, just renovation! The amount is curious and looks like a settlement largesse to the lawmakers from the general.
And despite mounting public criticisms, the leadership is unmoved and seems determined to enjoy the bonanza. It is completely insane. Take a look at the budget for education and health and compare it with how much these people want to just renovate the National Assembly complex with, and you begin to understand the mentality of our leaders. “It is all about them, their pockets, their comfort and kickbacks. Their children don’t attend public schools, they school abroad. They and their families don’t patronise the local public health system, they fly abroad to attend to their health needs.” So why should they care about allocating enough funds to public infrastructure?” a sparring partner asked rhetorically.
Make no mistake, I am not averse to the renovation of the National Assembly complex if indeed, it is in a sorry state of disrepair. The issue is the strange amount involved. There is a complete lack of transparency and the Buhari regime and the National Assembly are not doing much to provide clarity. Again, the questions that have since cropped up are: How did Lawan and his fellow travellers in infamy arrive at the whopping N37 billion renovation cost? Who did the work evaluation and costing? Is this how they will just be bandying outlandish figures about cost of contracts after borrowing $30 billion from foreign sources? Some Nigerians already have forebodings that, like those debts that were paid off during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, the country would not get value for the money.
The motivation of those pushing for the loan is not their love for Nigeria, nor is it provision of infrastructure. It is all about what’s in it for them. Sani’s submission earlier referenced is instructive here that “most of those encouraging more borrowing are parasitic consultants, commission agents, rent-seeking fronts and contractors”. This lawless regime is walking Nigeria into another debt trap, an economic basket case.