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What APC fears most about 2019 – Ghali Na’abba 

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Ghali Umar Na’Abba

In this interview with Leo Sobechi, the former speaker of fourth plenary of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’abba examines the prospects of democracy and the legislature in Nigeria in the past three years under APC

Most people express worry that the current government and the ruling party may not dispose itself to peaceful poll in 2019, do you share similar concerns?

Well, I will definitely not like to sound presumptuous. But, what I believe is that the current leadership will be haunted by the kind of things that they put members of the PDP through and therefore not likely to relinquish power.

And this is what in politics we call the dilemma of disengagement, you let out horrible things against your opponents and with time the prospect for you to leave is staring at you, you become apprehensive.

So this is the fever that will catch the leadership and that’s why I will always advice people to live by the adage that says ‘do not do unto others what you won’t do unto yourself’.

So if people live by this principle, humankind would live more peacefully with one another and that’s why in spite of feelings, former President Goodluck Jonathan did well by succumbing to defeat against all odds and I believe that what he did must be commended and must be recognized further.

Because, if he did the alternative nobody can predict what would have happened to this country.

As such, anybody who loses election must prepare to leave and whoever wins must be magnanimous.

This should be the principle that should abide in any circumstance.

Do recent suggestions for abrogation of the legislature in the last three years worry you?

We lived without a legislature in this country and everybody saw what happened.

The absence of legislature means no democracy, because there must be lawmakers and its best when you have law making body distinct from those who execute.

I think that anybody who is suggesting that legislature be removed should have a rethink.

But, 19 years of Nigeria democracy and three years of a former opposition party in power, what do you make of the progress of democracy, especially the legislature?

I have mixed feelings about our democracy. I cannot in all honesty say Nigerians have benefited much in this democracy that I have seen in the last 19 years. Like I say many times, democracy is supposed to empower the citizens.

This empowerment is supposed to be economical, consequently, political and social development of the country come about as a result of the economic empowerment of the people.

Today, majority of Nigerians cannot claim they are better off than they were in 1999 and that’s inspite of the enormous amount of money that came into coffers of Nigerian between 1999 till date.

It is 19 years today and when you compare the period between 1960 to 1999, about 40 years, if you compare the quantum of money that came into Nigeria after 1999 and the quantum of money that Nigeria earned between 1960 and 1999, you will find out that in the latter of 19 years the quantum of money has of course been higher by so much.

And it’s a sad commentary on the life of this country that not much can be shown as achievement in spite of that quantum of money.

There has been no infrastructure and no economic development and our people are impoverished with the possible exceptions of some certain politicians and their cronies.

Nobody can claim that they are economically advanced in this country and this is a sad commentary on our politics.

In the part of core democracy itself when I say core democracy, I mean internal democracy and democratic attitude. We have failed to imbibe democratic attitude, particularly our leaders and there is no internal democracy within our political parties.

This is a contributing factor to the fact that leadership quality has been going down by the day, because no election takes place from within the party.

From those who run the party to those who will contest for election, governors sit down and decide who become what and most often, for their own personal interest, as they determine that. So, this is the state of this country unfortunately

Talking about quantum of money in the past 19 years, the current refrain is that your former party, the PDP, is to blame for frittering it away. How do you approach that?

Look at it this way. We operate a federal system. Of course, the PDP controlled the center for 16 years, and with regards to the states, we had states that were PDP, we had states that were AD, later AC, ACN and APC; we had states that were APP, then ANPP then CPC and then we had states that are APC.

So, this lack of development is not restricted to the federal government alone it is also the problem in the states ran by different parties. As such PDP alone cannot be blamed.

So, I always refrain from blaming political parties, because political parties are operated by a certain group of people and these people happen to be our presidents and our governors.
 
It is not the wish of the political parties that they were run badly by the successive presidents and governors. What used to happen is that because there has been no internal democracy and both the presidents and governors started recruiting people that will do their bidding.

That was what happened, each party has its own manifestoes and programmes, and left to the party themselves and officials who are elected democratically, I am sure this state of affairs would have been different.

But, we have presidents some of whom don’t even understand the concept of democracy and they mistake civilian rule for democracy.

Between 1999 and 2007 President Obasanjo didn’t understand democracy and today the current president doesn’t understand democracy.

The two presidents in between that were imposed on Nigerians by Obasanjo both of them were provincial people, who didn’t know much about the country before they became president. And they when they were governors operated the same way.

So, democracy wouldn’t have been furthered by these amalgams of people and circumstances.

Still on the quantum of money available, the finger pointing now is on the legislators; how far has the budgeting process from the legislature helped to ensure the money benefits the people?

Of course, the legislature approves the budgets after much scrutiny.

What I know when I was Speaker between 1999 and 2003, was that we did our best in the legislature to hold the executive to account, when we started in June 1999, the price of crude oil was $9 and by the time we started our first budget in September 1999, which was supplementary budget, the price of crude oil was $18.

In early 2000, it went up to $27, and it kept going up after the time I left in 2003.

What we did in the legislature given the extra funds that came in was to adopt a system of constituency projects.

We were the first set of legislators that introduced the constituency project and that was because we held some surplus in the budgets.

We worked with the ministries of power, water resources and health.

What we did was to ask the power ministry to embark on rural electrification, which was substantial; we also worked with the water resources ministry to construct boreholes all over the country, which was substantially done.

We also worked with the health ministry to construct health centers in all the federal constituencies, which was substantially done.

Constituency projects that time were different from what is happening today. We don’t know what the legislators are doing.

There have been accusations that the legislators are colluding with the MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) that no projects are done yet the money is signed for and given away to the legislators.

That is the story we have been hearing so in the past four years. But between 1999 and 2003 I am sure the legislators worked hard enough to ensure that money was well spent.

Of course the executives misused a lot of the money allocated to it.

For example about N10b was allocated towards poverty alleviation, the House of Representatives under my leadership had to employ an investigative hearing in order to ascertain how the N10b was wasted that way.

Did your regime put up institutional mechanisms to check funds wastage, how did you feel when former INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said the National Assembly is a citadel of bribery and corruption?

It’s very said that these are the kind of things going on with this legislature.

Even myself I have three executives of government parastatals, who came and reported this kind of activities to me, taking place in the legislature.

This is wrong and I don’t think these things should happen in a legislature, its not possible to say that all legislators are bad, even though the system that brings them today is polluted, most of them were just manipulated to come by their governors, its not as if they have interest in the legislative work.

Some of them don’t even know it, when their governors minute them to come its because their governors want to use them and for them it becomes an opportunity to make money and not work, because its not the kind of work they are interested in.

That accounts for why today you will see that the legislative chambers are almost empty when they are sitting.

So what is important is for the system that brings the legislator to the legislature to be rejuvenated, in such a way that those who want to be legislators must pass through party internal democracy.

Unless that’s done the legislature will continue to be populated by people with questionable character and that will be unfortunate.

Your party’s national convention came after much attempts to manipulate the system. Do you think the convention preserved the cause of democracy?

To be honest, I don’t see internal democracy taking place in any of our parties. In most of the states there was no election during the just concluded congresses.

I know of a state where the forms that were supposed to be bought and completed by those interested in contesting for various party positions were bought off by the governors then distributed to whoever they liked.

So, I didn’t even have the opportunity to buy not to talk of completing the form and not to engage in any election.

So there was no election in most of the states in the parties, so what happened in the convention was be a case of putting in garbage and producing garbage.


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