Dogara: For progress to be made there is bound to be frictions between executive and legislature
NASS Budget And Those Of Other Agencies Will Be Published
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara recently met with journalists, where he spoke on such burning national issues as relationship with the executive, Fulani herdsmen, militancy, National Assembly finance and compliance with legislative resolutions, among others. IGHO AKEREGHA, Abuja Bureau Chief was there.
What is your view on the perception that the Executive and Legislative are not on the same page?
As politicians, we sometimes don’t attack issues frontally. From the foundation of the principle of separation of powers, it was never anticipated that the Legislative and Executive arms would work harmoniously on a continuous basis. There would always be frictions. Where you have human and individual factors, even in a family, which is the minutest of unions expressed in humanity, there are bound to be conflicts.
So, in the relationship between the Executive and Legislature, there will be conflicts. The only problem is that we sometimes cast conflicts as intricately bad. Conflicts may not be bad. Indeed, conflicts are sometimes necessary for progress to be made. If you have a collection of conformists, chances are they will never make progress. 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. However, conflict can be a source of expression or release of energy that can lead to transformation.
In the 8th Assembly, we’ve had 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 these conflicts will continue, is that the man that propounded the doctrine of separation of powers saw clearly through the lenses of time that these kinds of interface would take place. So, he invented another mechanism of checks and balances, as he knew that if these departments of Government: the Executive, Legislature and 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.
For instance, if Parliament conceives a measure, the Judiciary has no powers to stop it from exercising its functions. It’s only when that function has been exercised that the Judiciary can now seize jurisdiction over whatever decision the Parliament has taken and pronounce it illegal, unconstitutional or otherwise. Similarly, the Executive cannot adopt a measure expressing that the Parliament shouldn’t do its work. The same applies to the Judiciary.
So, our only interpretation of this separation should be to cooperate more in the national interest, so we can deliver on promises made during elections. Nigerians sacrificed a lot. It has never been heard of in our history that the opposition defeated an incumbent party, but it happened. This means as a government, you don’t have the liberty to behave anyhow. We need to close ranks and deliver on promises that made people to sacrifice so much. Yes, we may have conflicts, but it shouldn’t degenerate to the level that it offsets the friendly relationship with the Executive, which is necessary to deliver on the goals of governance.
I cannot remember any serious measure the Executive brought and the House turned down, 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 will be blamed, we will also share in it. With this realisation, we have, indeed, bent backwards more than twice to accommodate the Executive. We have been working in that fashion, and 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.
By May 2017, this government will be two years in power, and we are approaching election year. Would you say your party has not disappointed Nigerians?
I wouldn’t say we have disappointed Nigerians. Before coming to that kind of conclusion, there are certain factors that must be taken into consideration. What did we meet on ground? What have we improved upon as a government? What is it we are seeking to do? I think it is only after looking at the whole gamut of these issues that you can decide whether we have disappointed Nigerians or not. You can’t talk of disappointment in a case that has to do with value judgment, because it depends on the expectation. It’s only when you have an expectation that you can be disappointed.
Personally, I believe a lot has been achieved, even though unsung in most cases. In our society, people want to see first-class roads and hospitals; they want to see the tangibles. But nobody places value on the intangibles. For those of us from the Northeast, even some of us that live and work in Abuja, we remember how dire the issue of terrorism was. The Police Headquarters here was bombed, U.N Mission in Abuja was bombed, while bombs also exploded in Kaduna, Kano, Jos and Nyanya. There was even threat of this mayhem being exported to the Southwest and other regions of this country, but we have exited from that. The biggest problem is that with violence, you cannot get the benefits of democracy. Presidential democracy has three promises: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.
The number one responsibility of government is the security and welfare of the citizens. That was what our democracy was failing to do, the basic and constitutional guarantee of governance, and we couldn’t provide security. We have gone very far in trying to tackle insurgency. As a matter of fact, all hostile spots have been liberated. This government, through various interventions, has been able to ensure that the terrorists are not holding unto any spot of land. I believe this is one major thing that has given some hope to Nigerians. For the very first time, we are in a position to overcome this problem, and it is critical, even if it’s for nothing else than that our citizens in the Northeast, down to Abuja can move around more freely. That is something. You can go to work and leave your family at home without fear that something may happen, while you are away or that your family is afraid you could be bombed, while at work. This is some progress.
Again, if you look at the battle against corruption, though some may say it is one-sided, but the good thing is that we have started. And we are beginning to have results. For the very first time, public officials, who have the opportunity to misappropriate funds, will question themselves: ‘If I take this money, where am I going to keep it?’ So, to some extent, that has prevented people from engaging in the kind of looting we experienced in the past; at least sanity is returning. The economy was at a level, where anything could have happened, and no doubt it was heading south. The signs were beginning to become apparent, even though the conditions that later became the result of what happened were not there then. Dollar wasn’t exchanging for N400 and prices of commodities hadn’t skyrocketed. But they were things just waiting to happen, based on the fact that the price of our economic mainstay was dwindling, coupled with the fact that there was no savings, and that there was nothing we could do as a nation to earn forex. So, the crises were just waiting to happen.
And we went into this crisis because there were no known preventive policies to apply. It was just the result of the choice we had made in the past, so, no one could run away from them. And though the crisis is here, but at least we can begin to see that those conditions are easing off, and by God’s grace, they will be off completely. As projected by most international financial institutions, we are going to exit this recession, which was very unfortunate in the first place. So, I think progress is being made on several fronts. Of course, there are issues we have not totally eliminated or dealt with, such as kidnapping, sundry criminalities and the Niger-Delta issue. Thank God, through some mechanism of intervention, we can begin to see peace. As at today, I think we are producing 2.1 million barrels daily, which is in line with our economic goals.
One thing our people must know, and which I believe can be channelled by the media, is that it is easier to destroy than to build. For instance, just one device can be used to destroy the whole of Abuja within minutes or hours. But consider how many years it has taken us to be where we are today in the Federal Capital. So, the fundamentals, the robust foundation has been laid. I believe all that is left is to raise the structure and complete it. I believe by God’s grace, by the time we are done with the execution of this year’s budget, every Nigerian will clearly see the direction we are heading.
The issue of corruption and absence of transparency in the finances of the Parliament is trending. How will you react to it?
With regards to herdsmen, we have made it very clear and I think the President also made it very clear that whether kidnappers, herdsmen or whoever are perpetrating terrorism, they should be grouped as one. Anyone causing war against innocent citizens of the country must be dealt with decisively, as if he is a terrorist, even if he is not one. I don’t see any distinction between whomever that is making war against Nigerians or unleashing terror on innocent Nigerians. Unfortunately, we have an extensive border, which is not helping the matter. How many Customs and Immigration officers do we have? If they were able to join hands and line up across our borders, they wouldn’t even cover a quarter. And most of these people coming to unleash terror aren’t Nigerians. These are serious security challenges that would be met with the same kind of force exhibited against Boko Haram and other terrorists. That is our position as a Parliament. We have said it frequently and we will keep re-echoing it.
I know we have promised to open the books, and we will definitely do so. However, let me say that Parliament is not something that exists outside of Nigeria. The issue of corruption itself is not something that can be eliminated completely from any community. It is just like prostitution and such other vices. But what can be done is to reduce it to the barest minimum. The advanced countries we are trying to copy or speak so glowingly of have not been able to totally eliminate corruption. We have seen this hydra-headed monster called corruption rearing its head, even in the elections of certain jurisdictions. But our collective effort should be to reduce it to the barest minimum. I lack the English word to describe anyone who thinks he can eliminate corruption. To totally eliminate corruption will amount to eliminating the totality of the human race, because no human being is perfect.
For instance, we have death penalty for such vices as armed robbery and so on. But as you are shooting convicted armed robbers, somebody is busy robbing somewhere. Sometimes, you can’t just fathom the nature of human mind. Just imagine, as they are executing drug traffickers in some countries, more people are still going into it. So, it’s a battle we’ll continue to fight. We must, however, discard the notion that one day, Nigeria will become totally free from corruption. If we are ever going to achieve that, then there won’t be need for such institutions as EFCC, ICPC and even the Police. The latter has been fighting crime and is as old as Nigeria, but there are still crimes. The National Assembly is part of the society, and I cannot say you won’t find any iota of corruption in its affairs. However, when we discover anyone doing such, they should be properly punished, not just by expressing dissent, but also by doing it appropriately. It should be punishment capable of deterring people.
As per the issue of budget, we all know that the National Assembly does not command more than two percent of the national budget. The budget for infrastructure is not included in National Assembly budget. About 98 percent of our nation’s resources are not spent by the National Assembly, but by other arms of government. Interestingly, Nigerians sometimes focus on that meagre amount as if it is the bane of our progress, as if that little amount can transform Nigeria into an advanced nation. It bothers me a lot. Nobody is looking in the direction of where the bulk of the money is. Or maybe, we have grown used to it, i.e. monies meant for housing, bridges, hospitals and agriculture could be misappropriated. I’m not defending the Legislature, since we represent the people, and they have said they want to know what we do with the entire budget that comes to the National Assembly. This is 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. So, we can end this discussion, and 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 go about it, as we want to improve on standards and the image of the National Assembly. It is through this we can make the National Assembly very effective. Presently, what we get is N115b. Hopefully, it will go up this year. Some simply aggregate the N115b 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! But 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 the N115b. The Senate President or Speaker doesn’t know what goes to them. Aside this, each sitting member has five aides. Senators have seven each. Just multiply 360 by five and see the number of aides, then 109 by seven. They draw their salaries from there, the trips and everything. By the last count made, when I was Chairman, House Services, we were budgeting N12b for Legislatives aides a year. Then we have the National Assembly Service Commission, which has its offices outside. Unfortunately, they don’t have permanent structures; they are paying rent where they are. I don’t know the number of staff they have, but they also take all this from the N115b. We have like 500 staff, with commissioners representing the geo-political zones and the chairman.
Then we also have NILS. Just go to where NILS is building its headquarters, with a facility that will also serve as a university, and see what they have been able to achieve. You’ll be shocked. Julius Berger is constructing it. NILS draws funds from the N115b and they will account for it. We are going to publish what they have done with the money given to them in the papers. There is the Public Complaints Commission, which doesn’t have any provision in the budget, except from the funds they draw from us. They will also give accounts of 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 it will be non-partisan in the analysis of annual budgets and provide members with timely tools for debate and engagement across board with the Executive, when it comes to budgetary matters. We didn’t have them in the past, but now we do, and they also draw funds from the N115b. At the end of the day, when we publish these details, a lot of people will be shocked. I hope that will put paid to the perceived corruption in the National Assembly.
In many instances, it is your members that raise the red flag. For instance, take the issue of padding by Abdulmumin Jibrin. When your people are talking, what do you expect from the public?
That is why it is good to engage in investigative journalism. We have so many journalist friends, who can ask questions. For instance, they say members are paid N10m monthly, but is this true? Jibrin was unable to bring forth any evidence. He is a member and should have brought his bank documents to prove that is the amount he was being paid. But there was no shred of evidence to back any claim, other than ‘I have said it.’ I can say anything and you know you can’t convict on the basis of one witness, except in the exceptional case of the confession of a dying man.
The Senate resolved that the Comptroller General of Customs is not fit to be in office and came out with a resolution to that effect. It promised to mobilise the House of Reps to make it binding. How comfortable is the National Assembly with the level of compliance to its resolutions by the Executive? It is also obvious that the House of Reps is more on the same page with the Executive than the Senate. Are the Reps trying to maintain a mediatory role between the Executive and the Legislature?
On the resolution concerning the CG of Customs, I can’t speak for the House on whether it is on the same page with the Senate or the Executive. The House will have to speak for itself through a resolution. However, I’d like to say we work closely with the Senate, because if we don’t, 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. So, 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.
I believe the matter relating to the circumstances leading to the Senate’s decision may come up on the Floor of the House and I cannot pre-judge what its outcome will be. We are lawmakers and we look at the books and sometimes, I’ve even encouraged that in most cases, we look at the laws and try to educate citizens as to what these are.
In Britain and the U.S, by the time a Bill is passed, so many newspapers would have analysed it, to the extent that the unenlightened or uneducated in the society will understand what it is all about. If there are such issues like that of the Customs boss, 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, and tell us what the law is saying concerning it. Could the Senate be misinterpreting the law? You can speak to some lawyers or judges on the matter and then render your own opinion.
The whole issue that gave rise to this conflict was that the CG should appear before the Senate in uniform, to discuss issues surrounding the policy of collecting duties on cars purchased long ago. But the CG said, ‘no, I need legal advice as to whether I must wear the uniform or not.’ Can I ask your paper’s view on this? And not what the Senate is saying, but what the law says about the CG wearing uniform or not? If we continue to have such 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 know and be educated. So, it will save this institution from clashing. As far as I am concerned, these are mere distractions, which are not supposed to be. The main issue is: what are we delivering?
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 called the Committee on Legislative compliance. The essence of it is to seek to compel compliance with resolutions of the Legislature. The Committee is working, has a record of the resolutions that have been complied with and those not complied with. 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 that will specifically indicate that these are the numbers of the resolutions we have passed, these are the ones that have been complied with and these are the defaulting agencies. And through the mechanism in Section 88 of the Constitution, the Parliament, as a whole, can then empower the Committee on Legislative Compliance to summon all those agencies that have not complied with the resolutions and ask them why? So, it’s something we are aware of and doing everything possible to ensure there is more compliance with the resolutions of the National Assembly through the instrumentality of that Committee.
On the issue of playing a mediatory role, I wouldn’t call the role of the House of Representatives mediation as such. I said earlier that our principle is cooperation with the Senate, so that together we can achieve more cooperation with the Executive. Where we need to disagree, we will do so, but in most areas, we should look for ways of cooperating more than fighting. And it mustn’t be just the House that mediates. It can be all the key players in the system, whether it’s the Senate mediating in an issue that concerns the House and the Executive or some other persons in the Executive mediating in the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. This is not even called mediation, but consultation and compromise, which is key, when you expound further the doctrine of checks and balance.
We must always meet, talk to each other, reduce areas of conflict and where there are such, we will overcome them. The House will go to any length, talk to anybody in the Senate, in the Executive, so we can forge a convenient atmosphere to work. So, it’s part of the work we do as leaders and as institutions of government, we should encourage more consultations, more dialogues, especially on issues.
One of the worrying issues is that of local government autonomy, with NULGE there should be autonomy for the Local Governments. Is it possible that under your leadership, there could be an amendment of the Local Government Law to ensure its autonomy is attained?
The current system is not working, and if we keep sticking to it and expecting it to work someday, I don’t know who termed it as the very definition of foolishness. For you to keep doing the same thing and expect different outcome, is not realistic. It has become a system, whereby some have constituted themselves into middlemen along the line. They grab the resources meant for development at the grassroots and appropriate it. And there is a twin evil, that of state independent electoral commissions that gave birth to this. It is a total mockery of democracy for elections to hold even in the local government and you say one political party won all the seats. I have never seen where democracy is mocked like in Nigerian local government elections.
So, I don’t know how we can continue to mock ourselves that we are practising democracy at the third tier of government. We all know the reason for the insistence that one political party will win all councillor and local government chairmen seats, so that at the level, where the middlemen are hijacking, though not all of them, there would be no single voice of dissent. If I were one of them, I’d mock democracy further or pretend not to be mocking democracy and take some of my boys and plant them in different parties and say, “decamp to this and cede the seats to them,” so that there is the semblance of democracy. We know why this system will not work, as long as it provides the resources at some level and these resources are being misappropriated. And this is the bane of development in Nigeria.
If we had more money, assuming we were able to clothe local government with autonomy, it would improve the pool of quality leadership at that level, and when you have that at the local level, the resources going there can better be managed. And at the end of the day, we can have an oasis of prosperity in the desert of nothingness. So, instead of all our people migrating to the cities, they will be able to find some kind of prosperity at the local level that can sustain them. But as it is, such opportunities are non-existent. That is why there’s pressure on the infrastructure of the cities and there is crime. Because when you work in the city as a “mai-guard,” with N25, 000 salary and you live in Keffi, you have to commute to the city to work. How will you even pay your transportation fee? So, that is where the challenge is and we have to free this system.
Sadly, in the Constitutional review, because the whole problem is in the provision of the Constitution, to reflect this in the Constitution, we did that in the last House, but unfortunately, it didn’t scale through and we all know why. If care is not taken, it will still not scale through. It will take a general resolve from Nigerians— the media, civil societies, community based organisations and the Local Government staff themselves to insist at the State Assemblies that when this Bill is submitted to them, they must pass it. If that doesn’t happen just forget about the three-tier of Government, because we don’t have anything at that tier and nothing good will come out of it, as it has failed.
And when we do this, we will be able to free members of the State Assembly from the near stranglehold control of the governors. It is only through effective oversight of resources that go to state and local government that we can make progress in this country. For instance, look at VAT, only 15 percent goes to the Federal Government, while the rest goes to states and Local Governments. And once you push it there, it’s as good as pushing it down the drain. So, a lot of resources are being wasted at this level and it is good that the President has spoken about this.
I remember he said in his inaugural speech that he would not have kept his own trust with the people, if he let the people under him abuse theirs. But now that some people are abusing this, Mr. President would have to come into the fray, to ensure that we free this local government system from the state. Because if that is not done, it is a massive failure of the state, which only God can help us exit from.
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