International politics worsens insecurity in Nigeria – Lawan

Reps Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and Senate President Lawan

Ahead of the first year anniversary of the Ninth Senate tomorrow (Thursday), the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, spoke on a wide range of issues in the country. Taiye  Odewale brings excerpts.

Within the last one year unlike in the  past, relationship between the  executive and legislature at the federal level has been cordial. What is driving the relationship? 

The principle of separation of powers is what establishes and sustains the government especially in democracies that believe in that. I believe in it strongly that the legislature should always be there to provide the legislative intervention. But I also believe that separation of powers should always be considered alongside checks and balances, that’s what made the separation of powers more effective in terms of ensuring that there’s good governance.

That’s to say that there’s absolute application of the legislative interventions of parliament and particularly when it comes to checks and balances you will be looking at how the parliament oversights the executive arm of government so that it prevents or stops possible recklessness. That’s what we are doing and it’s something we fought for since the fourth session of the National Assembly, almost a year now.

But can the harmonious working relationship be sustained in the coming years? 

Yes, I think so because in order to sustain the relationship that enhances their productivity, the two arms of government have constituted a special joint committee that works behind the scene towards ensuring effective and efficient consideration of some legislations.

The Senate Leader, House of Representatives Leader, the Senior Special Assistant to President in both chambers of the National Assembly are members. Besides, the office of the Attorney General has a representation and the relevant committee chairmen of the two chambers are also members.

When there’s a bill that has to do with an area the committee oversights and could be significant, likely to cause misunderstanding, the executive should bring that bill, sit down and explain it to that committee, let them work on it. And where the legislature will feel no this is too obvious we cannot accept this, this what we think it should be, then we have a bill that will eventually come to the National Assembly and when it comes most of the areas that have the potential to cause friction would have been resolved.

Recall that there was a situation in some of the past sessions of the National Assembly where most of the time some important bills came and there was deadlock, due to serious misunderstandings because of the inability to create the environment for the legislature and the executive to resolve the issues. Such situations led to such bills either being stagnated or probably if they originated from the National Assembly, assent was withheld. 

We believe that this is a challenge for the present National Assembly and mistakes can remain costly only if no lessons are learnt from them. But if you’re able to learn some lessons then there would have been benefits. It’s our challenge and we’ve risen up to it very well.

What has been the delaying the 9th National Assembly legislating on the much expected Petroleum Industry Bill ( PIB) and should Nigerians expect its passage and signing into law  this time around?

The Petroleum Industry Bill is not yet in the National Assembly but I know the executive arm of government has been discussing with us on what they are doing about the Petroleum Industry Bill. The Covid-19 pandemic does not leave anything out and therefore the Petroleum Industry bill probably will be submitted within June, I am not sure but I’m optimistic.

It has not come to the National Assembly here because of the infraction we suffered from COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been talking with the executive especially those that are in the petroleum industry, the minister of petroleum and minister of state for petroleum resources, the GMD of NNPC, and others who are involved in this.

What should Nigerians expect from the ongoing constitution amendment being carried out by Ad- hoc Committees of both chambers of the National Assembly? 

We want to do constitutional amendment as well as amendment of the Electoral Act to further make the process better and we want to see a situation where all pre-election matters are determined before the elections, that’s to say that if there are issues regarding the primaries by political parties and their candidates, then such legal matters should be settled, before anybody is presented for election so that you don’t go with pre-election problems or matters into the general elections.

We want to ensure that in our constitutional amendment that local government autonomy is further entrenched because we had lost it, we don’t talk about local governments anymore like they don’t exist.

This is a tier of government that can do a lot to help us to deal with small and local issues. We believe that we should work to ensure that local government autonomy is protected by the constitution. We have a lot of interest in ensuring that we carry out constitutional amendment as well as working on the electoral act. 

For the electoral act, the emphasis will be to engage with major stakeholders. The INEC is the one that operates most of these things so we need to have a clear understanding of what they need so that we are able to give them that.

We also believe that we look at constitutional way of getting community policing, everybody says the police is over centralized, I think there’s a consensus now that we should have community policing. 

What about the e- voting INEC is planning to introduce in 2023

 I don’t want to comment too much on what INEC said because they need to explain to us what they mean by e-voting, the scope, what type of technologies they are going to deploy, how they are going to do it. I don’t want to comment further on that so that I don’t cause unnecessary debate about it.

The N37billion proposed for renovation of the National Assembly Complex in the earlier passed 2020 budget drew a lot of attacks from Nigerians. Is the vote sustained in the revised budget undergoing consideration in NASS now? 

The estimates have been reduced to N9.2billion in the revised budget. The planned renovation was misunderstood but sometimes you allow criticisms so that you give the people the feeling that this is democracy. When the people criticized it we took it very calmly. 

It’s not a National Assembly building, it’s an FCDA building. We need to ensure that something as important as an arm of government, the people’s complex, is not allowed to deteriorate. N37 billion was estimated by the FCDA to be expended to rehabilitate the National Assembly complex because they have the technical capacity and this is their building just like the Presidential Villa. They maintain it. So it’s not our own.

Another issue drawing criticisms against the National Assembly under your leadership from Nigerians is the usual expeditious approval of loan requests by the executive. What is your take on this? 

The question we should be asking ourselves is do we need the loans or not and not about approval. Based on realities on ground, we need the loans. 

For example, we have a shortfall of almost 14.2 billion dollars funding gap for 2020 budget and with COVID-19 came so many negative things that visited adverse outcomes on our people, we didn’t make hay while the sun shines. We didn’t diversify the economy or invest in the real sectors of the economy.

Now we’ve come to a point where we have to address the infrastructural gap that we have but the resources are so low, crude oil at one point was selling for 10, 11 dollars per barrel around when this pandemic started around March. 

We have very significant projects that we need to put in place, like the second Niger Bridge, Mambila Hydropower, East West road, Lagos – Kano rail line etc, but we don’t have the money. If you don’t have the resources and still need these projects, would you because you want to run away from taking loan say let me abandon all these projects. For us in the National Assembly, we are conscious of the fact that this economy, as affected by the pandemic, if it persists you could lose over 20 million jobs in this country. 

The economy will go into serious recession, so you need to have the resources to invest so that the economy doesn’t go into recession and ensure that people don’t lose their jobs. So we feel we should grant the request but we needed to scrutinize everything, and the conditions of the projects, which we did. We approved the loans to ensure that our infrastructural development continues.

The Senate and by extension, the National Assembly, had passed series of resolutions on the problem of insecurity in the country without any light at the end of the tunnel .What do you think is the way out? 

To some extent, we are suffering from international politics. I know that in our efforts to try to buy spare parts for combat jets from some foreign countries, it takes six to nine months while another country will write to the same government and maybe get it in one or two months. So, international politics is worsening insecurity here. So something is not right. But that’s to say that it’s now one of our challenges that we will continue to engage with countries that we feel don’t understand what we are doing here.

For security, we need more resources. By resources I don’t mean just money, we need more personnel for the Armed Forces; we need more personnel for the Police, Nigerian Immigration Service and almost all the agencies and paramilitary agencies as well. 

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