Former members of the National Assembly on Saturday weighed in on the controversy generated by a letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives, condemning plans to spend over N4 billion on choice vehicles for federal lawmakers amid the present economic realities in the country.
Mr. Obasanjo had, in typical fashion, hit the nail on the head in his letter by accusing the lawmakers of insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians, while accusing them of shrouding their financial activities in secrecy, contrary to democratic norms, which require openness and transparency.
He also urged the National Assembly members to return the path of honour and distinguished service to the country by jettisoning their plans to purchase the vehicles, which the lawmakers claim is for committees’ oversight functions.
The House of Representatives described Obasanjo’s letter as a distraction and misdirected while the Senate Committee Chairman on the FCT, Dino Melaye, accused the former president of “misplacement of anger”, even as he accused him (Obasanjo) of introducing bribery and corruption to the National Assembly.
However, some former federal lawmakers, who joined the debate on the letter, said ex-President Obasanjo simply spoke the minds of Nigerians on their perception of the National Assembly.
The Joint House Leader of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party during the Second Republic, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, in his reaction said, “Ex-President Obasanjo was expressing an opinion held by a vast majority of Nigerians. The current sets of legislators are showing some form of insolence or a kind of attitude that is not in the interest to the country.
“Because they have won elections does not mean that they own Nigeria; they don’t own Nigeria. It is not like ‘now (that) we are legislators, we can do whatever we like with the people’s money’. They don’t have that power”.
The former Reps member further noted that he saw no reason why what Obasanjo said should be the subject of any controversy, adding there is nothing controversial about it.
Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji, also speaking on the controversy, suggested that copies of the former president’s letter be mass produced and distributed to state and local government legislatures, as well as the judiciary.
Abba-Aji, who was a member of the 5th Senate and later served as Special Adviser (National Assembly Matters) to late President Umaru Yar’Adua, explained that, with today’s realities, it would be helpful if the three arms and tiers of government were on the same page on the issue of financial prudence.
“I agree with President Obasanjo that, just as the executive has cut its budget, the legislature and the judiciary should do the same, because we belong to the same country.
“I think Obasanjo’s letter should be extended to the other tiers of government because they spend more than half of all of the nation’s revenue.
“The change that Buhari is championing should get the endorsement of all the arms and tiers of government. We also have a duty as citizens to contribute our quota towards supporting the President to deliver on his mandate”, Abba-Aji said.
Speaking in the same vein, Senator Danladi Sankara, who served in the 7th Senate, said the former President did not speak in a vacuum.
Sankara noted that the National Assembly, which was saddled with the responsibility of serving as a check to the executive, owed Nigerians a duty to not only be transparent but also considerate.
He said, “Obasanjo did not lie in most of the assertions he made in his letter. We cannot play the ostrich because Nigerians know more than some of us give them the credit for.
“How do you explain the issue of people collecting constituency allowances yet they don’t have a functional office? What about those who tamper with the emoluments of their legislative aides and the avoidable scandals some of our colleagues have dragged the reputation of the legislature into?”