by Dare Lawal
There’s no such thing as an unambitious politician. But among the lot, there are some whose unbridled ambitions ooze more than a skunk’s stench. It can’t be missed. Many will agree that three men who fall in that category are: Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State; Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and Bukola Saraki, the President of the Senate.
Unsurprisingly, with the next general elections about two years away, those three are in the middle of the latest packaged joke in the polity.
At the closing ceremony of a retreat for the Management of the National Assembly in Kaduna last Friday, El-Rufai who was a guest at the event challenged lawmakers to #OpenNASS in reference to the long-running demand by Nigerians for the legislature to release details of the line items in its budget.
In an ideal world, El-Rufai shouldn’t have had to prompt lawmakers to #OpenNASS, not just because transparency on how public resources are to be spent is the right thing to do, but also because Dogara and Saraki who lead the National Assembly today made repeated promises to do just that while they campaigned for the positions of Speaker and Senate President. Up till now, they have not.
Yeah, El-Rufai was very disingenuous in the way he framed it, by saying the entire NASS budget is for the 469 members of the National Assembly alone. The governor knows that is not true. NASS has a bureaucracy with staff. It has the National Assembly Service Commission, as well as the National Institute for Legislative Studies. Lawmakers also have aides who are paid from the budget. Are these things worth the N115 billion allocated for the assembly? We cannot be sure until the details are released.
In an ideal world, when Dogara spoke after El-Rufai, he should have begun with an apology. He should have said that he knows he doesn’t deserve to be listened to by right-thinking human beings anymore and expressed fears that his words now have as much value as the 50 kobo. He should have bowed his head in such complete shame that his disappointed look over his failing would have made front page news. But that’s not what Dogara did.
When he opened his mouth to speak, here’s what came out: “I will like to challenge him (El-Rufai) to champion this cause for transparency in the budgetary process from the National Assembly to other arms of government. We want to see clearly how Chief Executives of States… how they are paid. What do they spend monthly as security votes. And if they can publish what happens to local government funds under their jurisdictions.” Those are the words of a man whose instinctive mode is to deflect rather than reflect.
This is not to say that the calls for transparency on how governors spend their security votes isn’t a proper call. The spending of security votes by state governors is as opaque as the entire budget of the National Assembly. So in a sense, Dogara’s attempt to create an equivalence between the two is in order. However, Dogara who promised in his inaugural speech as speaker to ensure “transparency and accountability on the issue of Salaries, Allowances and Running Cost of the Legislature” but has continued with the secretive culture of his predecessors, is not the right vessel to convey the message of transparency.
In an ideal world, El-Rufai should have have released a proper statement in response to Dogara. The statement released by his media aide, Samuel Aruwan, was notable only because of the excessive bile in tone. Otherwise it rang deeply hollow. El-Rufai should have published how much of his budget is earmarked as “Security Votes,” not how much his state allocated for security in the budget. Everyone knows there is a difference. The governor was attempting to be clever by half. Security votes refer to those shady allocations which governors draw without making public or accounting for. The fact it is called “security votes” doesn’t mean it is used on security, just as “brown envelopes” are not necessarily brown or even placed in envelopes these days. So El-Rufai said nothing about the issue of security votes.
In an ideal world, El-Rufai should not have published that sweet nothing he called his payslip which showed he earned about N470,000 monthly. The answer to how much governors really earn is not in their payslips. It’s not even in their allowances, even though those are a major drain on resources. The answer to how much a state governor earns begins with a shady allocation called “security vote.”
In an ideal world, Dogara should have responded to El-Rufai by saying, “Even though you chose to be sly and refused to release details of your security votes, here are details of the line items in the National Assembly’s budget.” Since he did not do that, his words remain worthless. He is what some will describe him as a hypocrite. What Dogara chose to do was play the El-Rufai game by releasing payslips as well. It is important to remind everyone of the first paragraph of this piece – these are ambitious men; they take everyone for fools. Dogara also tried to justify the hundreds of billions allocated yearly to the national assembly by claiming that there are government agencies in the executive which have higher budgets. Perhaps, he could help us explain how much revenue lawmakers generate? Let’s not even talk about the general feeling that the 469 people in legislature are among the laziest anywhere in the world, working for far too few number of days; showing far too little initiative; espousing far too many senseless ideas; and wasting far too much of everyone’s time.
So let’s all take a step back and go back to basics. Dogara (and Saraki), should have some self respect! Their words have to mean something. A simple promise made two years ago that requires just a directive from their lips to the National Assembly staff should not take this long to accomplish. #OpenNASS, do it now!
And Gov. El-Rufai, please stop playing us. That payslip, that security budget… please give us a break. Let us see the “security votes”. Just do it. Or at least don’t pretend like you’re exhibiting some high form of transparency by releasing what means so little.
And Nigerians, we shouldn’t be this gullible. Stop swallowing every stray nonsense these men send your way. Enough!