28th January, 2016
Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo has criticized the national assembly for not opening its N115bn ($583.8m) budget to public scrutiny, accusing the lawmakers of sustaining a “culture of impunity, opaqueness and corruption”.
In a letter leaked to the media on Tuesday, Obasanjo described the national assembly’s budget of N4.7bn ($23.9 million) to purchase exotic cars for individual lawmakers as “insensitive” because it does not reflect the current economic realities.
Obasanjo was Nigeria’s military leader between 1976 and 1979. He was elected as two-term civilian president between 1999 and 2007, during which he claimed to have survived impeachment bids because he failed to release funds to satisfy “odious” demands of the parliamentarians.
He said most of the allowances earned by the lawmakers were “unconstitutional” because they were not provided for by the country’s agency responsible for pegging emoluments for public officials.
“The recent issue of cars for legislators would fall into the same category,” Obasanjo said, lamenting that such spending is indefensible at a time when one third of the country’s 2016 budget will be funded through borrowing.
“Whatever name it is disguised as, it is unnecessary and insensitive. […] The waste that has gone into cars, furniture, housing renovation in the past was mind-boggling and these were veritable sources of waste and corruption. That was why they were abolished. Bringing them back is inimical to the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians,” he said.
The national assembly is believed to earn about the highest pay in the world, has come under public criticism for not breaking down their budget and for living big in times of scarcity when oil prices have decreased to new lows.
Shortly after he took office in 1999, Obasanjo waged a fierce anti-corruption campaign which led to massive recovery of funds stolen by former and serving government officials.
However, critics say the war was largely selective, mainly targeting his political foes. Others accused Obasanjo himself of corruption. He has also been named in several unproven corruption cases.
Regardless, the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) by the Obasanjo administration is believed to have helped combat graft in public office in Nigeria.