Speaker Yakubu Dogara recently hosted some editors in Abuja. At the parley, the number four citizen speaks on issues bordering on the executive/legislative relationship, the recent Customs CG/Senate face-off, the seeming corruption in the legislature, and his grouse with his state governor, among others. ABDULRAHMAN A. ABDULRAUF reports
Your disposition on the public perception of the executive and legislature not being on the same page
As politicians, sometimes, we don’t attack the issues frontally. Well, let me say from the foundation of the principle of separation of powers, it was never anticipated that the Legislature and the Executive would work harmoniously on a continuous basis. There would always be fractions. Where you have human and individual factors, even in a family that is the minutest of the unions that is expressed in humanity, there is bound to be conflicts.
In the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, there will be conflicts; the only problem is that sometimes we cast conflicts as intricately bad. Conflicts may not be bad, as a matter of fact. Sometimes, conflicts are necessary for progress to be made. If you have a collection of conformists, chances are that they will never make progress.
Even if they do; it will always relate to an existing order that is sustained over time. For you to have innovation and progress, people must be free to disagree, and it is only in disagreeing that progress is made. When the Legislature disagrees with the Executive, it is viewed as conflict, in most cases that is the interpretation. Conflict however can be a source of expression or release of energy that can lead to transformation.
In the 8th Assembly we have had issues, certain issues that have pitched the Executive against the Legislature and we will continue to have them.
But the point is that as leaders, how do we interpret these issues? How do we overcome these issues in such a way that they lead to progress and advancement instead of retrogression? My own take even as I’ve said that these conflicts will continue, is that the man who propounded the doctrine of separation of powers, saw clearly through the lenses of time that these kinds of inter-face would take place. He invented another mechanism of checks and balances and he knew that if these Departments of Government; the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary are separated in a water-tight fashion whereby they don’t relate, they don’t check each other, then the entire architecture of that system of government is bound to be static and there wouldn’t be progress. So, he invented the mechanism of checks and balances.
For instance, if Parliament conceives a measure, the Judiciary has no powers to stop it from exercising its functions.
It’s only when they have exercised that, that the Judiciary can now seize jurisdiction over whatever decision the Parliament has taken and pronounce it either illegal, unconstitutional or thereabout. At the same time too, the Executive cannot adopt a measure that entails that the Parliament shouldn’t do its work. In the same vein; if the Judiciary is about to deliver on its job; the Parliament cannot sit and say they are passing a legislation that alters the status quo or seeks to arrest the judgement.
Conflicts yes, we may have conflicts, but it shouldn’t endure to the level that it offsets the friendly relationship with the Executive which is necessary to deliver on the goals of governance, that is key.
In the House in particular, I cannot remember any serious measure that the Executive has brought which the House has turned down. None, because we don’t want to take the blame for being the stumbling block. In most cases, we overcome party differences and work together as one, because at the end of the day; if we fail, it’s not only the President that is going to be blamed, even we will share part of this blame. So, in realization of this responsibility that we owe to our people, we have indeed sometimes bent more than twice backwards in order to accommodate the Executive.
We have been working in that fashion. If there are difficulties or frictions, we leverage on our training as leaders to overcome them for the general good and not just to promote ego, personal interests or sentiments which will always lead to clashes among individuals and Arms of Government, thereby preventing us from delivering on the dividends of democracy. So that’s my response to that.
APC ‘ll soon be two years in office. Will you say your party has not disappointed Nigerians?
I wouldn’t say that we have disappointed Nigerians. For you to come to that kind of conclusion; you’d have to take certain factors into consideration. Now, what was it that we met on ground? What is it that we have improved upon as a government? And what is it that we are seeking to do? I guess it is after looking at the whole gamut of these issues that you’ll be able to arrive at the decision whether we have disappointed Nigerians or not. You can’t talk of disappointment in a nature that is a value judgement, because it depends on the expectation, it’s only having an expectation, that you can be disappointed.
For me, I can say that a lot has been achieved, even though unsung in most cases, in the context of our society, people want to see first-class roads, hospitals, they want to see the tangibles, but nobody places value on the intangibles.
For us that come from the Northeast, even some of us that live and work in Abuja, remember how dire this issue of terrorism was, we were all living on the throes of violence. The Police Headquarters here was bombed, U.N Mission here in Abuja was bombed, bombs exploded in Kaduna, Kano, Jos, in Nyanya as well, and there was even threat of this mayhem being exported to the Southwest and other regions of this country. If you look at it, we have exited from that. The biggest problem of democracy is that with violence you cannot take the benefits of democracy.
Now, if you look at the battle against corruption, some may say it is one-sided, but the good thing is that; let’s start! And we have started, we are beginning to have results, and for the very first time, public officials who even have the opportunity or window to misappropriate funds, the question that comes to their mind is: by the time I have taken this money, where am I going to take it first? Because, anything could happen, so, that to some extent, has prevented people from engaging in the kind of looting of resources that we experienced in the past, at least sanity is returning. The economy was at a level whereby anything could have happened.
Perceived corruption in the National Assembly
I know we have promised to open the books, and we will definitely open the books. I however don’t know in what form the corruption is said to be. But let me first say that Parliament is not something that exists outside of Nigeria, and the issue of corruption itself is not something that can be eliminated completely out of any community, just like prostitution and other vices, but what you can do is to reduce it to the barest minimum, to a level that is almost seen as non-existent.
The advanced countries that we try so much to copy or speak so glowingly of what they have been able to achieve, it’s not that corruption has been eliminated 100%, we have seen this hydra-headed monster called corruption rearing its head even in elections of certain jurisdictions, clearly the signs are there, but our collective effort is that we reduce it to the barest minimum, anyone who thinks that he will eliminate corruption, I lack the English word to describe such a person, to eliminate it totally will amount to eliminating the totality of the human race. Because no human being is clothed in perfection, all we can do is to reduce it to the barest minimum.
You can imagine a situation where we have the death penalty against vices like armed robbery, as you are shooting them somebody is busy robbing somewhere. So sometimes you can’t phantom the nature of the human mind, because you think that by the time you apply the maximum punishment, people will run away screaming if they catch you; they are going to kill you, I won’t do it.
But as they are executing armed robbers, some people continue without care. Even when they are executing drug traffickers in some countries, more people are still doing it. So you see it’s a battle that we’ll continue to fight, there won’t come a day when Nigeria will sit and say: we have eliminated corruption, this is a perfect society, let’s move on. That is one notion we must discard.
If we are ever going to achieve that, then there won’t be need for institutions like EFCC, ICPC, even the Police, they have been fighting crime since the age of Nigeria, but there are still crimes. So, the National Assembly is not an institution that exists on its own, it’s part of the society and I cannot say you cannot trace any iota of corruption into the affairs of the National Assembly. Honestly speaking, there could be cases, but the point is when we discover them, they should be properly apportioned punishments not just to express dissent but apportion punishment that is appropriate, punishment capable of deterring that.
And for us as per the issue of budget, we all know that the National Assembly does not command more than 2% of the national budget. Budget for infrastructure, whether they are for bridges or building of hospitals, whatever it is, is not embedded in National Assembly budget. The entire, about 98% of our nation’s resources is not spent by the National Assembly, but by other Arms of Government.
But sometimes, the focus of our citizens focuses on that less than 2% as if that is the bane of our progress in this country, as if, if we use the money for National Assembly, Nigeria would just become an advanced nation. It bothers me a lot, where you have 98% resources, nobody bothers about it, or maybe we have grown used to it, that, as a matter of fact, monies meant for housing, bridges, hospitals and agriculture can be misappropriated, but it’s just that 2% they give to the National Assembly that nothing must happen to it.
I’m not defending the legislature. I’ve said if we detect corruption, we try as much as possible to apportion the kind of punishment that is capable of speaking loudly that we detest it and that we don’t want it to happen. For us, since we represent the people, we get their opinion and represent them here. The people have said they want to know what we do with the entire budget that comes to the National Assembly, it’s not a problem, we have directed the management, and hopefully with the 2017 budget, this issue will come to a rest.
Each agency that draws from the money appropriated for the National Assembly has been mandated to bring its budget and at the end of the day, when we are done, everything will be published. I can guarantee that 100%, so we can end this discussion. When people see it, even if we are getting it wrong in any section, we will not run away from wise counsel. This is how best to do it, because we want to improve on standards and improve on the image of the National Assembly, because it is through that we can make the National Assembly very effective.
When people have high regard for the institution, and we are aware of that responsibility, we will not shy away from it. Some people even claim that the entire money, like now, what we get is N115billion, hopefully, it will go up this year, I’m not too sure, but it’s N115 billion now that is given to the entire National Assembly and National Assembly is an arm of government.
Some aggregate this N115 billion and divide it by the number of Senators and Members and say that is what we take home as our allowances.
They call it jumbo! Is that the case? They fail to look at the bureaucracy; we have over 3,000 people working within this bureaucracy who are paid salaries, claims and entitlements all from this N115 billion, so no one accounts with what happens to their money. The Senate President or Speaker doesn’t know what goes to them. Apart from that, we have the aides, each sitting member has 5 aides each, Senators have 7 each, so multiply 5 by 360 and see the number of aides, then 7 by 109. They draw their salaries there, the trips and everything.
At the last count when I was Chairman, House Services, we were budgeting N12billion for legislatives aides a year. Then, we have the National Assembly Service Commission, it’s an agency not even here, they have their offices outside, unfortunately they don’t even have permanent structures, they are paying rent where they are. I don’t know the number of staff they have, but they also take rent and all from the N115billion, we have like 500 staff, we have commissioners representing the geo-political zones, plus the chairman, all of them draw funds from here.
Then, we have NILS, I’ll employ you to go to where NILS is building their headquarters, with a facility that will also serve as a university, go and see what they have been able to achieve, you’ll be shocked.
Then, we have the Public Complaints Commission, they don’t have any provision in the budget except from the funds they draw from us, so they will account for themselves.
Then, we have the National Assembly Budget and Research Office just like you have the Congressional budget office in the U.S. Our goal is that they will be non-partisan in the analysis of annual budgets and they provide Members with timely tools for debate and engagement across board with the Executive when it comes to budgetary matters.
Then we didn’t have them, but now we have them and they also draw funds from this N115billion, so they will bring their budget and tell the world what they do with their money.
At the end of the day, when we publish these details, a lot of people will be shocked, but it will be published. And I hope that will put paid to the perceived corruption in the National Assembly.
For the herdsmen, we have made it very clear and I think the President made it very clear that whether kidnappers, herdsmen or whoever is in the act of terrorism, they should be grouped as one. Anyone making war against innocent citizens of the country must be dealt with squarely as if he is a terrorist, even if he is not one.
Reps position on Comptroller General
On the resolution concerning the CG of Customs, whether the House is on the same page with the Senate or the Executive, I can’t speak for the House. The House will have to speak for itself through a resolution of the House. But one thing I have to say is that we walk closely with the Senate and if we don’t do that, we won’t achieve any progress as an arm of government. The reason being that in a bicameral legislature, an issue that dies in one chamber is almost automatically dead in the other chamber. And if we do not find a common ground to work with the Senate, it means so many measures will either stagnate or die at the level of the National Assembly.
In Britain and the U.S, by the time you have a Bill passed, you’ll see that so many newspapers will analyse the Bill, in fact to the extent that the unenlightened or uneducated of the society will understand what the Bill is. They will bring out everything and break it down to pieces for people to understand. And if they are issues like this one concerning the Customs, you don’t bother too much about what the Senate is saying or not, what should bother you is the law.
Do your own research as journalists, what is the law saying? Could it be that the Senate is misinterpreting the law? You can speak to some lawyers or some Judges on the matter and then render your own opinion.
Now, the whole issue that gave rise to this conflict was that the CG should appear before the Senate in uniform, to talk about issues surrounding the policy of collecting duties on cars purchased even long ago. The only thing was that he should appear in uniform and then the CG said no, I need legal advice as to whether I must wear the uniform or not.
Now, can I ask you what the view of your paper on this is? Not what the Senate is saying, but what the law says about the CG wearing the uniform or not? If we continue to have these kinds of debates, we may not even have to engage in the kind of fights we have in Parliament because by the time all the newspapers come up with their opinions, a lot of people will now know and be educated and know the position and it saves this Institution from clashing.
So you have to look at all these issues before you come to a conclusion. As far as I am concerned, these are mere distractions, they are not supposed to be. The main issue is delivery. What is it that we are delivering? That is it. But for a decision to be made in line with what the Senate proposed to the House, you can only wait till the matter comes before the House and that decision will be taken and Nigerians will know.
Level of compliance with National Assembly resolutions
And as to whether we are satisfied with the level of compliance with our resolutions, the answer is no, and that is why in the last House, we established a Committee known as the Committee on Legislative compliance and the essence of that Committee is to seek to compel compliance with resolutions of the Legislature and the Committee is working. They have a record of the resolutions that have been complied with and resolutions that have not been complied with, and for those that have not complied with the resolutions of the National Assembly, what we are trying to do is to give the Committee more bite.
They will move a motion on the floor of the House, specifically that will indicate that these are the numbers of the resolutions we have passed, these are the ones that have been complied with, these are the defaulting agencies and through the mechanism that is in Section 88 of the Constitution, the Parliament as a whole can then empower the Committee on Legislative Compliance to then summon all those agencies that have not complied with the resolutions and ask them why? And as to whether sanctions cannot be applied, as provided for under the Legislative Powers and Privileges Act. So it’s something we are aware of and doing everything possible to ensure that there is more compliance with the resolutions of the National Assembly through the instrumentality of that Committee.
Peace Corps Bill
On the Peace Corps Bill, like I said, we mustn’t agree always with the Executive, when they are talking about funding. National Assembly was convinced that within the structure for the funding of the Police, that was the same argument when the Civil Defence Bill was before the House, that it could not be funded, that they were divulging some of the powers of the Police to the Civil Defence, that it would never work and at the end of the day all these were surmounted.
Now , we have the Civil Defence that in some cases some citizens have said they are more dependable than the conventional police, I don’t know, it’s a value judgement that I’ve not gone into. So, I can’t tell, but I know they are doing a good job. I see them everywhere I travel to and they have become a pride of the society.
Now the main consideration as regards the Peace Corps, all these considerations in terms of crises across communities, it was found that if they had these, they’d be able to compliment the work of the civil defence and police and providing security.
And as I said, the protection of security of and lives and property is the first responsibility of government in guaranteeing the welfare of the citizens. So, we cannot overspend on the issue of protecting the lives and the properties of our citizens, we cannot. It was after the passage of the Bill that we begun to hear that a chunk of the work of the police would be taken by the Peace Corps as well as oppositions from different levels of government.
The Bill is still there, it’s before the President for his assent, if he doesn’t assent it for whatever reason, we are at liberty to recall it back to parliament and muster the 2/3 in the House and Senate and pass in spite of Mr. President’s veto.
But right now, that is not the discussion, so I’m not sure where it will be from here. For now that is where we are, but we believe that if we escalate the issue of safety of lives and properties in our communities, we will have to get more people looking after the welfare of our citizens as to whether that job can be done convincingly by the Police and civil defence alone is not too clear to us.
On Bauchi, your home state, are you on political exile and why are you now working in harmony with your governor?
On this matter, I can give you a straight answer that I am not on political exile anywhere. I can go home any day, anytime that I like. I went home in December and very soon, I am going home. I want to use this medium to announce to everybody that I am going home. Those who think I am already on political exile, that is not the case at all. As a Speaker, you know that virtually every week, members are having functions, and I have to be there every week, so it’s not easy to escape from those schedules. You need to fulfil your obligations to members and work closely with your constituency, but it’s something that is always in my mind. My constituents are very close to me and I am close to them even though I can’t be there every day, otherwise, I won’t be the Speaker, the Speaker has so many other responsibilities.
On my relationship with the Governor, I don’t think anything has prevented me from working harmoniously with him. May be he should be asked the questions. For me, he is someone I supported. Everyone in the state knows, if it was not for very few of us, with all modesty, I can say this, God uses people and God used us to put him where he is and we will be fools if we use the same hands we used in building him to this position to destroy him.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean we will agree to work where we have no agenda. What bothers me is the people that we sold this agenda to, and I know how politically sophisticated Bauchi State is. It is one of the most politically sophisticated states in Nigeria. Since 2007, you can hardly rig elections in Bauchi, if you win elections in Bauchi, you have won it. So, you can imagine the sitting governor in 2007 wanted to be a Senator and he didn’t win. He won in only one local government out of seven.
The immediate past governor, having governed for 8 years wanted to run for Senate and won only one local government.
For us, who are members of the political class, that is like a red flag warning, that you must perform. Even though I will never engage in confrontation towards the governor; I will never support a situation where we are not delivering the goods.
That is just where the problem is, it doesn’t matter. Anybody who is delivering, who is fulfilling, is my wonderful person. But if you are not doing that, I cannot be party to it, so that when the destruction comes as it is certain to come, I’ll be excluded. I can work with anyone whose agenda is the welfare and advancement of the people, but if it’s not being done, then there’s no point pretending that we are doing anything