The oversight function of the National Assembly has become an avenue for members to corruptly enrich themselves, Daily Independent findings have revealed.
The power of oversight is conferred on the National Assembly by the constitution to enable lawmakers expose corruption, inefficiency, or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement and administration of funds appropriated by the Acts.
However, checks by Daily Independent revealed that in the discharge of their duties many of the lawmakers take undue advantage of the powers conferred on them to intimidate the agencies or organisations they are required to oversight.
The investigations reveal that their major victims are ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) of government.
In an interview with Daily Independent last week, Hon. Ari Mohammed Abdulmumin, a member of the House of Representatives and deputy chairman, House Committee on Youth Development, said legislative oversight was yet to bring about the desired change that Nigerians want to see in governance.
According to him, most oversight functions in the National Assembly are mere formalities. He said: “It is one thing to oversight, but it is another thing to influence changes that are required.
“It’s not only about going for an oversight. We went for oversight; of course, televisions have shown it, papers have carried it, but what are the results? Do we really actually achieve what we want? So, most of the oversights that we are conducting in the National Assembly are mere formalities. The question is: what is the result?”
Though most ministries contacted by Daily Independent refused to speak on the development, the few that spoke said they were at the mercy of the lawmakers and, as such, had to make provisions for them whenever they came for oversight in terms of financial packages and other benefits.
Others also said members of the committee overseeing a particular ministry or agency of government are usually given special preference when it comes to recruitment exercises as they are given slots, which are in turn given to their loved ones.
Lawmakers are also said to solicit and accept contracts from ministries, parastatals, government agencies and departments as well as private organisations, using proxy companies.
They added that any minister or head of agency who refuses to cooperate with the lawmakers are usually visited with hostilities, especially when it comes to the passage of their budgets.
Speaking with Daily Independent, a senior official in a company jointly owned by the Federal Government and a group said the oversight function is a burden to them.
“We’ve not had any visit by the committees this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but to be frank, the oversight function is a burden to us because of the demands of these lawmakers. It has become a norm. In fairness, most of the lawmakers don’t demand for it but you can sense it through their body language”.
“Most of us don’t call it bribery, it is called honorarium. The lawmakers come on oversight and we usually appreciate them with honorarium as our guests, at least to fuel their cars. If you are trying to form holier-than-thou or a man of integrity, that may land you into trouble as they will be hostile.
“A good example is the Arunma Oteh vs Hon. Herman Hembe’s public altercation in 2012 and the visit of the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Economic Waste in the Nigeria Customs Service to Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), in 2018.”
Speaking with Daily Independent on the matter, pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, said the National Assembly could not do a proper oversight as they had turned the process into a money-making venture.
Yinka Odumakin, the organisation’s National Publicity Secretary, said: “The oversight function has become a meter play thing as the lawmakers have turned it to cash play with the executive arm. Only a dignified chamber can do a proper oversight. A chop-chop legislature cannot have the weight to do oversight in a proper manner as they would put what they would eat above every other thing and make the whole legislative process a joke.”
On his part, Monday Ubani, a former second vice-president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said oversight functions by the National Assembly had been turned into a corruption circle.
“They have turned oversight functions into a corruption circle where they make their money. They are not doing oversight in order to save Nigeria of funds or to investigate those agencies and then expose them. Anytime you hear of oversight functions or committee work, it is all about their pockets. They want to enrich themselves.
“Over the years, we have found out what these oversights are all about. If anybody fails to cooperate with them, they will come out with a hostile report even though those reports usually don’t go anywhere. When you bring your budgets, they will wait for you at the budget defence and they will make things difficult for you. Nigeria is in a big problem because almost everyone has a mentality of corruption, including those who are religious.”
Also speaking, Tanko Yunusa, a former presidential candidate and National Consultative Front’s (NCF) Head of Public Affairs Bureau, said: “The truth of the matter is this, right from the beginning of the submission of the budget, the ministries and the agencies make budgets that are over-bloated and have high expenditure rates.
“When they are bringing these budgets to the National Assembly committee for scrutiny, the committee will also parley with these ministries to add more monies to these already over-bloated budgets. When they go back to do the oversight functions of checking how the monies budgeted were utilised, that is when corruption takes place. So, it is either you do the bidding of the lawmakers or don’t come back to the National Assembly to demand more money.”
Yunusa, however, blamed the actions of the lawmakers on the pressure by their constituents who make various financial demands from them. Failure to honour these demands, according to him, may cost them their re-election as they would be labelled as ‘stingy’.
“But let us look at it from the other way. These lawmakers who are representatives of the people have to go back to their constituencies. When they go back empty-handed, the people who voted for them will start asking them for financial assistance or gifts, failure of the lawmakers to accede to their demands may cost him his re-election. This is how the vicious cycle continues,” he said.
In its submission, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) called on all affected agencies and ministries to approach the appropriate channels if they believe that the lawmakers are abusing their privileges.
Kolawole Oluwadare, deputy director, SERAP, told Daily Independent that the fact that the National Assembly members are lawmakers doesn’t imply that they are above the law.
“The power of the National Assembly to do oversight is not in doubt. It is clearly provided for in Sections 86 to 88 of the constitution. If anyone is making allegations against the National Assembly committees for any kind of impropriety in the course of their duties, then there are normal channels to undertake that”.
“If any of those MDAs being investigated has any proof or record of any wrongdoing, they know the appropriate channels to go to. While all these claims are allegations which should be proven, the fact that the National Assembly is a lawmaking body doesn’t imply that they are above the law.
It is a matter of due process, transparency, and accountability,” he said.