Tuesday 13 May 2008

Nigeria: A National Assembly fudge

It is a fudge

It is a fudge, if I ever saw one with influence peddling gaining the upper hand over a straight-forward legislative process.

The ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was supposed to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Power and Steel yesterday to answer questions which he did not.

Apparently, the ex-President had prepared a presentation and sent a letter through his Special Assistant stating that he was slightly indisposed after preparing the presentation and hoped that his presentation would suffice without holding up the committee in its work.

The ex-President had earlier agreed to appear before the committee but some advisors prevailed upon him to wield status, demand privileges and consequently he questioned the manner of the invitation and never appeared.

Refusal precedes withdrawal

In what is quickly becoming a farce, the committee then withdrew the invitation, but this was after the invited had failed to appear – so where they should have flexed muscle as a constitutionally constituted organ with the mien to invite any Nigerian citizen to a sitting, they caved in to pandering and compromises that in my view has diminished the standing of the legislature.

Like I noted yesterday, the Nigerian Bar Association had said the invitation was exercised within the legal remit of the legislature, that is, the committee can invite any citizen; an ex-President is a citizen first and then any other dignities and achievement are beside the point of being first a citizen.

Who is the President today?

There might however be a case for preserving the mystique of the office of the President, as the report indicated; the withdrawal was to avoid desecrating the office of the President.

One would think the office the President is the preserve of the incumbent rather than previous holders, else that would mean a perverse order of precedence exists that places ex-Presidents above the law and possibly beyond the survey of the incumbent.

The question then becomes; who is an ex-President answerable to?

I cannot believe that ex-President Obasanjo is being accorded these courtesies when he himself does not accord the President any courtesy – I noted at a gathering to honour the elder brother of the President (Shehu Yar’Adua), ex-President Obasanjo singularly and prominently did not rise for the President when he took the podium.

A quoted source says, “It is not about Obasanjo. It is about the office and stature of a former president of this country. It would set a bad president (sic) [precedent – ThisDay try proofreading your copy] to put him in the dock at the National Assembly and subject him to the kind of questioning that former ministers have been subjected to in the last few months nothing has changed on the investigations, but something has changed in the way the matter will be approached.”

An untenable situation developing

In my view, this elevates intransigence and truculence to a subjective variable that now has prominence when men fear to stand in the power of their office to seek the truth in the name of Nigerians.

The ex-President would not now appear in the chambers of the National Assembly but he would be interviewed in private – it offers unprecedented latitude for the ex-President to dictate the whole proceedings.

He can refuse to provide evidence or answers under oath, he can require none of the proceedings be on record and he can decide he has no further time for the legislature.

In fact, when he was President he showed scant regard for the separation of powers and this attitude seems to have followed him out of office.

In the end, I am disappointed by the way our democracy has been subsumed to the cult of personality, regardless of the protestations of the quoted source – if an ex-President can be selective about giving account for his tenure of office, we have potentates that would continue to riddle Nigeria with bad governance and get away with it.

It does not augur well at all.

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