These are not the best of times for the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
It is battling with an integrity crisis brought upon it by some allegations of malfeasance from certain quarters. The hallowed chamber is currently rattled by a report published by Sahara Reporters, alleging that the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and an unnamed group in the chamber, collected the sum of N2billion from Professor Mahmood Yakubu to facilitate the confirmation of his appointment as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for a second tenure.
Although the publication did not give details of how, where and when the bribe was allegedly given or taken, it has sent tongues wagging and raised suspicions.
Bribe for confirmation?
As expected the Office of the President of the Senate has debunked the report, describing it as a ridiculous work of fiction that exists only in the imagination of its fabricators. It has challenged the publishers of the said report to prove their allegations.
It also urged Nigerians to disregard the publication as it was meant to blackmail the leadership of the red chamber. Like the Senate rightly observed, it is the President of Nigeria who has powers to nominate or appoint the Chairman of INEC and the constitutional responsibility of the Senate to screen, approve and confirm or reject such a nomination.
Usually, the parliamentary process for the confirmation of such nominations is conducted in the open and before the full glare of all parliamentarians. If this were truly so, one wonders where the bribery comes in and how those who might be involved want to help the nominee. While the bribery report remains an allegation, it is a matter of concern that it ever arose.
This is because the National Assembly has had a high corruption perception index for many years.
As a result of acts of omission or commission, it has had a poor public image as not a few Nigerians believe that the average parliamentarian is ‘fantastically’ corrupt. Beyond this perception, the National Assembly and in particular, the Senate is not a stranger to allegations of corruption.
In 2003, a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasiru El-rufai made a similar allegation after he appeared before the Senate for screening and confirmation of his appointment as minister.
El-rufai who is currently the Governor of Kaduna State stunned Nigerians when he disclosed through a media interview that: “When I was nominated for ministerial appointment, a couple of legislators called me and said I made money as Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and so to make sure I get cleared I have to pay N54million.”
No doubt the allegation raised a lot of dust with the media putting El-rufai under pressure to name those who demanded the bribe and the Senate to clear its name. In the heat of the controversy, the Senate debated the issue and passed a resolution referring the allegation to its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions for a thorough investigation.
When the committee opened its investigations, El-rufai bravely named the then Deputy President of the Senate, Ibrahim Mantu and Deputy Leader of the Senate, Jonathan Zwingina as the culprits.
Of course the investigation triggered denials and even more revelations of corruption in the system.. Similarly, there was the bribe for budget scandal which became one of manifestations of the proverbial banana peel on the floor of the red chamber. In April 2005, the then President of the Senate, Adolphus Wabara, resigned from the exalted position after allegations were made that he and others took a $400,000 bribe from the then Minister of Education, Prof Fabian Osuji to facilitate the passage of the ministry’s budget for that year.
A month before Wabara was forced to resign, President Olusegun Obasanjo had also fired Osuji for allegedly bribing Wabara and six other parliamentarians to facilitate the passage of the same budget.
The matter later became a subject of prolonged litigations as those accused of giving and taking bribes chose to seek legal redress to clear their names. They succeeded to varying degrees but the stigma has remained like an ugly scar on the face.
Hoarding COVID19 palliatives
While the Senate is still grappling with the bribery allegation, the echoes of the #ENSARS protests have refused to fade from the hallowed chambers as another media report has accused the parliamentarians of complicity in the hoarding of palliatives meant for distribution to Nigerians in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Incidentally, this second allegation might be considered a friendly fire as it came from one Engr. Kailani Muhammad, Director, Media and Publicity of the Muhammadu Buhari 2019 Presidential Campaign Committee.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Ajibola Basiru, described the allegation as wicked lies and deliberate misinformation. Basiru said that contrary to the allegations that parliamentarians were involved in the hoarding of palliatives, the lawmakers actually sacrificed half of their salaries for the purpose of supporting the government in cushioning the impact of the pandemic on the citizenry.
He said that the lawmakers also played their part by purchasing and distributing palliatives to people in their different constituencies in the wake of the pandemic.
Basiru however, cautioned against “deliberate falsehood’ designed to paint federal lawmakers in bad light for whatever motive. The denial was swift and timely considering the experiences of some former and serving legislators during the #ENDSARS protests and the widespread arson and looting that followed it.
Although the Senate has put up a stout defence against these allegations, it is now the responsibility of the media as the watchdog of the society to remain vigilant and avoid any cover up.
Ideally the parliament is the guardian of democracy and should be a beacon of transparency and hope but when it comes under so much pressure to prove its integrity, the media must not go to sleep