- It’s the height of insensitivity to Nigerians’ plight – Opposition chieftains
- They’ve worked hard, they’re entitled to it – Cletus Obun
- He should have maintained his first proclamation, says SDP chieftain
- HURIWA calls for Akpabio’s impeachment
BY NSEOBONG OKON-EKONG & BENEDICT NWACHUKWU
Nigerians expressed anger on Wednesday over a viral video in which the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, purportedly spoke on the disbursement of funds to senators for holiday purposes.
Two months into his leadership of the National Assembly, Akpabio has again committed another blunder which has beamed the spotlight on him for the wrong reasons.
Rounding off plenary on Wednesday, the Senate President unintentionally made a disclosure of supposed monetary gifts to the 109 senators, without disclosing the size or type of “token” which the Clerk of the Senate sent to their bank accounts.
The “enjoyment money” blunder by Akpabio was received with anger by a cross-section of Nigerians who are going through very difficult times, owing to the removal of petroleum subsidy and other economic measures adopted by the President Bola Tinubu administration.
Akpabio was unmindful of the fact that he was live on camera when he made the indicting statement.
Clips of the awkward moment were in circulation on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, showing how the Senate President tried to remedy the situation when his attention was drawn to the mistake.
His attempt caused even more difficulty. “The Clerk of the Senate will send prayers to your boxes,” he tried to correct himself.
But this could hardly erase the condemnation ignited by his incriminating statement: “In order to enable all of us to enjoy our holidays, a token has been sent to our various accounts by the Clerk of the National Assembly.”
A couple of weeks ago, in the heat of the heated discourse that followed the removal of petroleum subsidy, the organised labour and civil society organisations had mobilised dissenting opinions around the theme, “Let the Poor Breathe.”
However, this became a subject on the floor of the Senate, during which the Senate President was believed by many to have made light of the matter, which was interpreted by many Nigerians as a mockery of the poor.
Nigerians are filled with shock to learn that their representatives in the Senate, particularly those from the opposition Labour Party, People’s Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party and All Progressives Grand Alliance accepted the “enjoyment money” without protest at a time the populace is being placated to make sacrifices.
Volunteering a contrary opinion, a former member of the House of Representatives and All Progressives Congress Chieftain, Cletus Obun, said the Senate President’s statement was not a gaffe.
“Whether he said it or not, the money will still enter their accounts. They are entitled to it, it is in their books, it is in the Constitution that they should enjoy their allowances when they are on recess even by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, it’s not an unappropriated sum.”
Obun maintained that the money was appropriated; saying how much should be paid to a Senator is already in the books.
“That he announced it publicly, does that make it an offence? Didn’t they publish how much each Senator takes home? This is part of it. What has he said that is wrong? Go to beer parlours today, are Nigerians not drinking beer and taking pepper soup?
“I want to know if the senators are elected to suffer because they are representing the people. They sat from Monday to Saturday deep into the night; they only had Sunday to rest until the confirmation of the ministerial nominees. Are they not humans?”
Lending his voice, a Chieftain of the Labour Party, Yunusa Tanko, described it as the height of insensitivity to the plight of suffering Nigerians
“It’s a high level of insensitivity to the plight of suffering Nigerians. If the Senate President made reference to the fact that they are now making money available to almost all Nigerians for them to enjoy their lives, this would have amounted to inclusivity but you are talking about a selected few Nigerians from among the Nigerian people you were elected to preside over their affairs. I think it’s a very sad comment or mistake on the part of the Senate President.
“Whether it’s their right to vacation and accrued allowances does not make any difference because it’s the right of every Nigerian to enjoy vacation which the ruling class has denied the common Nigerians. This should be the focus of the Senate who are there to represent the people.
“So anybody, particularly those in government, that is making comments should make it with the interest of the Nigerian people. Probably the reactions will guide them so that they will make amends. What are the provisions they are making for the Nigerian people? They need to be cautious about what they do and what they say to Nigerians.”
A former Senatorial candidate for the Social Democratic Party in the FCT, Olanrewaju Osho, while commenting on the reactions of Nigerians, said, “This is happening because of the economic hardship bedeviling the country. I don’t believe that Nigerians would have frowned at it because even in a normal public service, level 10, level 8, level 5, even level 3 officers, when they are going on their vacation or leave or whatever it is called, there’s a need for an allowance based on your level.
“Traditionally, if there is a manual on something like that for these Senators, there’s nothing wrong with that. But where it becomes a problem is because the National Assembly on their own have been fixing jumbo salaries for themselves and Nigerians are suffering. So there’s a bottled up anger against the National Assembly members. The worst is that the senators don’t even realise that there’s a bottled up anger or they pretend not to know there is a bottled up anger of Nigerians against them.
“Their salaries and allowances are paid from taxes that people pay. They can’t continue to shroud it in secrecy. This is on the one hand and on the other hand, there is nothing wrong if they are going on leave and collecting what is due to them based on the manuals of entitlements. Another thing is that you know Akpabio is jovial and would always say it as it is not minding that he was on national television but he should not have withdrawn his first pronouncement because the withdrawal did not stop the payment of the said money to their accounts.”
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria described the Senate under the leadership of Akpabio as sleepy, rudderless, cash conscious, unpatriotic and anti-poor Nigerians.
It asked the Senate President to step aside and subject himself to investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission for violating the relevant laws on lawful allowances or be impeached without further waste of time.
The Rights group also warned Nigerians to be ready for a long drawn battle to safeguard democracy, saying that as it is, the legislature and the Judiciary are now both captives and political hostages of President Bola Tinubu.
HURIWA in a statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, demanded transparency and accountability by urging the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the ICPC to summon the Senate President for a thorough explanation.
HURIWA noted that public outrage and scepticisms had trailed Akpabio’s comment and therefore demanded that the Senate President provide comprehensive clarification regarding the source, purpose, and amount of the funds disbursed.
With a firm call to action, HURIWA emphasised that if Akpabio failed to provide the needed information, Nigerians would be left with no choice but to believe that the funds were, in fact, payments for ministerial clearance.
HURIWA further said, “The timing of this revelation is deeply concerning, especially in the wake of the controversial ministerial screening process. If Senator Akpabio doesn’t want the people of Nigeria to think aloud about the cash largesse he announced for Senators, then let him surrender to ICPC immediately for investigation.
“Failure to do so should be taken as an affront to constitutionalism and therefore should be impeached or recalled by his constituents.”
HURIWA also criticized the opacity of the ministerial screening procedure, likening it to an exclusive secret society enlistment programme, despite being televised.
It specifically questioned the transparency of the entire process and raised concerns about undue influence from the executive arm of the government.
HURIWA further asked, “Are National Assembly members entitled to holiday allowances? If so, how much are they entitled to, and have they met the duration of service required to start earning allowances?
“Furthermore, is the holiday allowance included in the approved payments under the revenue mobilisation structure?”