To Catch The Grandfather

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is used to getting a beating from his children. His son, Gbenga, once tried to strip him publicly with a rather nasty accusation of in-family wrongdoing.

Not long after that, his daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo, followed with a letter that sold her father down the river at a time when the old man thought his own open letter had dealt a major blow to the broken government of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

This time, the fire is not coming from his biological children. It’s his political offspring, who even call him grandfather, that are giving him the stick.

After Obasanjo’s politically charged speech at the first Akintola Williams lecture, the chairman of the House committee on media, Abdulrazak Namdas, came for the former president.

The lawmaker from Adamawa and 1998 graduate of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism didn’t hold anything back. In response to Obasanjo’s attack that the National Assembly is a den of “unarmed robbers,” Namdas threw the kitchen sink.  “Obasanjo,” he said, “is the grandfather of corruption.”

To support his allegation, Namdas went into the past.

Have we forgotten how Obasanjo paid off the 1999 Senate to get the Senate presidency for Evan Enwerem, instead of Chuba Okadigbo who was the senators’ preferred candidate?

Have we forgotten how Obasanjo distributed bribes in the National Assembly; how he paid the House to remove Speaker Ghali Umar Na’Abba, but failed to buy their support?

Have we forgotten that under Obasanjo’s presidency private businessmen took bags of money to him and funneled the change to build his private library in Abeokuta?

And how can anyone forget the biggest scam of all – Obasanjo’s failed attempt to secure a third term through the backdoor and the billions of naira in bribes lost in the bid?

And the same Obasanjo is accusing the National Assembly of corruption?

I understand how emotional family issues can be. But if Namdas can suspend his emotions for a moment, he’ll find that this is an issue on which many ordinary people outside the comfort of the Green Chambers agree with Obasanjo.

No need to shoot the messenger.

Nothing makes the point about public perception of the National Assembly more clearly than Namdas’ own modest career as a 47-year-old first-time Federal lawmaker and former Adamawa State correspondent of the latter-day Daily Times.

Since he did not deny that he now earns N10m monthly – and no other lawmaker has denied it yet – it is reasonable to assume that he has earned at least N160million or the minimum wage of nearly 8,900 workers in 17 months.

To bring it home to Adamawa where Namdas comes from, what he has been paid so far is 12 percent of the N1.9billion monthly salary paid to civil servants in his state.

And to put it in the language of recession, Namdas’ pay can buy a loaf of bread for the 26,500 civil servants in his state, and he’ll still have change.

Namdas can hang Obasanjo by the next pole, if he wishes, but can he look at Nigerians with a straight face and say what he has done since he left NIJ in 1998, to deserve a monthly pay of N10m?

Sure, the guy deserves his lucky break and those who voted for him to represent them obviously believe in him. But the first time his voice was heard was not during the debate on the Gender Equality Bill or during discussions about the House publishing what members earn.

Instead, we heard Namdas loud and clear during the debate in the House to buy cars for committees, and then again when he said, with great pleasure, that House members had just taken delivery of the first set of new cars worth N3.6billion.

Of course, never in short supply of words when there’s mess to clear, Namdas also spoke to justify immunity for the leaders of the National Assembly at a time they are facing charges of corruption.

When Obasanjo accuses the lawmakers of corruption – and he’s not doing it for the first time – it’s not enough for Namdas and co to ask him to remove the log in his own eyes. They can remove it for him, by shining the light on his tenure.

Unfortunately, Namdas’ reply suggests that the House agrees that it is corrupt, but less corrupt than Obasanjo.

We’re really not interested in the debate about which member of the family is more corrupt – Obasanjo or his grandchildren in the National Assembly. We’re fed up with that rotten past and demand answers and accountability, not name-calling and blame shifting.

If Namdas and co have evidence of corruption against Obasanjo, which shouldn’t be difficult for them to find for a man whose imprints are all over the map, they should bring it on. Nigerians have a right to know and demand that this grandfather should be held to account for what happened on his watch.

But we will not let name-calling deflect attention from the specific charges Obasanjo made against lawmakers. Is it true that a Rep collects N10million monthly and a Senator collects N15m?

Is the National Assembly enjoying remuneration outside what is approved by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission?

In short, why have lawmakers refused to publish the full details of their earnings?

Namdas should be particularly interested in helping to provide answers. He’s not just a lawmaker; he was one of the 50 reported by the former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, to be collecting “illegal allowances.”

By the way, Jibrin, another Obasanjo offspring, is alleged to have cornered N9billion in constituency projects, which he’s not talking about.

It’s been said, quite often, that the public does not sufficiently understand the difficult and complicated work of lawmakers or the fact that they’re the weakest and most vulnerable link in our relatively young democracy.

That may be true. But the way to strengthen the legislature is not make it another commodity market. It can only earn respect and public confidence by openness.

Namdas can put a nail in the grandfather’s political coffin by leading the campaign to publish what lawmakers earn and asking the House to pass a resolution for President Muhammadu Buhari to act on the Halliburton report, for a start.

This grandfather, like the proverbial beast that grazes in spite of the hunter’s bullets, has seen too many wars on too many fronts to be dented by mere name-calling.

Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and board member of the Paris-based Global Editors Network

The Interview Editors

Written by The Interview Editors

The Interview is a niche publication, targeting leaders and aspiring leaders in business, politics, entertainment, sports, arts, the professions and others within society’s upper middle class and high-end segment in Nigeria.