It is now a historical fact that on the night of Tuesday, March 22, 2005, Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, the ruler of Nigeria, dismissed his Minister of Education, Fabian Osuji, via a public broadcast because, according to Mr. Obasanjo, the Minister paid a total sum of 55 million Naira as bribe to some Nigerian National Assembly members “to enhance the education vote in this year’s budget’. This act, Mr. Obasanjo believes, is a disregard to his directive to the ministers not to offer any form of gratification or inducement to anybody in the course of discharging their ministerial responsibilities.
On the third day, the leadership of the Nigerian senate acknowledged the efforts made by Mr. Obasanjo in fighting corruption. However, “the senate believes that a public broadcast of incidences of corruption affecting the National Assembly, where no such broadcasts were made on more damaging allegations against members of the Executive, creates the impression that the National Assembly is being targeted for public and international ridicule”. At the press conference where the Deputy senate president expressed the quoted statement, was Senator Emmanuel Okpede, “one of those accused in the 55 million Naira scam, admitted that he attended a meeting at the residence and instance of the Chief Adolphous Waraba, the Senate president”. At another forum, the indicted Senate president vowed to continue in office in spite of Mr. Obasanjo’s broadcast because he saw no money and he collected no money from anybody.
On Thursday, March 24, 2005, the dismissed Minister of Education, Professor Fabian Osuji, took the Federal Government and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to court, claiming through his lawyer that he did not offer bribe to anybody. In another breath, he admitted “his ministry gave Public Relations Lobby Fund to the National Assembly for budget defense.”
The trend of development following Mr. Obasanjo’s broadcast laid bare certain obvious conclusions. One of them is that what Mr. Obasanjo and other Nigerians referred to as bribe is called “PUBLIC RELATIONS FUND” by members of the National Assembly and members of Mr. Obasanjo’s cabinet. Second, it is true that certain amount of money exchanged hands between a minister (and by implication, between all the ministers) and members of the National Assembly to facilitate the smooth passage of education budget for year 2005.
The views as expressed here is not joining issues with those who are weighing the truth or untruth of the allegation. They are not examining the depth or seriousness of Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo in combating and eliminating corruption from the Nigerian political terrain. The concern hare is to explore the implications of the “Honourable” member’s action on the Nigerian polity.
It is very sad that is spite of the rate of underdevelopment in the land, growing unemployment, falling standard of education, poor health service, dismantled security system, deplorable power generation and supply, lack of faith in the polity, mutual suspicion and general disorientation among Nigerians, the law makers could only be interested in chasing bribes at the expense of the duties they swore in God’s name to execute for the betterment of Nigerians.
What is even more disturbing is the unwritten, unseen but felt message being passed across to the Nigerian growing elite. What kind of leadership quality and dispositions do we expect from our future leader if we have planted money-grabbing seeds in their young minds? What moral justification do any of the current law makers have to blame them if in the next decade they ask a minister to hand over the entire ministry’s budget as “PUBLIC RELATIONS FUND.” Must the palms of the committee members of the National Assembly be greased each time a budget is to be considered? If a ministry pays as much as 55 million Naira as bribe, it means the National Assembly collected as much as 55 million Naira multiplied by the number of ministries we have in Nigeria!
By their implicit admittance that they took the bribe, corroborated by the dismissed minister’s that the 55 million Naira bribe “was not such that would warrant the treatment meted out to him”, the National Assembly members had sent a negative signal to the entire Nigerians. It is akin to asking the policemen to continue demanding and collecting money from motorists, the judiciary should allow judgment to be in favour of the biggest spender; the teacher should hawk his grades, the military should demand gratification from the president before it defends the nation against external aggression.
Already, Nigeria is at the mercy of the corruption virus. The National Electric Power Authority man in the billing department is ready to manipulate the computer to reduce a huge tariff debt to zero for an agreed fee. The local contractor is willing to connive with the supervisory councilor to inflate the cost of a contract, the difference is shared among the collaborating council officials. The teacher at both the secondary and the primary schools, the lecturer at the tertiary level are all compromised partners in the ugly manifestation of the phenomenon called corruption in Nigeria. One would think “brown enveloping” is restricted to the journalist alone, but the truth is such slogan as “blocking” “scooping”, “runs” and “settling” are pseudonyms for bribes in form of cash, tires for the lecturer’s cars, shirts and trousers and what have you. The secondary school teachers (in active connivance with NECO and WAEC officials) actively get involved in examination malpractices these days. Anyone in doubt should visit any public examination center when exam is in progress. For goodness sake, what is the meaning of that hamper a parent packaged and sent to his son’s kindergarten teacher? Is it meant to enhance the pupil’s garden? Many State Governors have not been able to clear their names from certificate forgery, money laundering, stealing and allied crimes.
With this ugly scenario gradually unfolding before our very consciousness, must the National Assembly members accentuate the already battered image Nigeria has acquired over the years? Must they continue to assault the sensibilities of Nigerians with their ridiculous and outrageous Naira – excapades while the producers of the money they embezzle wallow in abject poverty and want? It is sad, very sad indeed.