‘National Assembly, executive rift over budgets unnecessary’
Hon. Kehinde Odeneye is a two-term member of the House of Representatives. He represents Ijebu Ode/ Ijebu Northeast/Odogbolu federal constituency of Ogun State. In this interview with Adamu Abuh and Otei Oham in Abuja, the All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmaker, also a chartered accountant, speaks on the various committees he belongs to in the lower legislative chamber, public perception on the National Assembly and the incessant misunderstandings between the legislature and executive over annual budgets, among others.
Experiences as National Assembly member since 2007
IT has been a combination of ups and downs, especially for someone like me who was not until lately in politics. I have always been in the private sector as a chartered accountant. At the initial stage, it was a bit challenging, but later on, it became much easier. One good thing about it is that, even when I was not in politics, I knew that when I get there, I will be able to add value. By the time I got elected, by God’s grace, it wasn’t too difficult for me to put things in practice because I understood the challenges. But I think I have become a veteran now.
Challenges of a legislator
Before I came here, I knew the needs and aspirations of my people because I live with them. Unfortunately, many people do not know the difference between legislature and executive. Those in executive have a lot of opportunities, in terms of project execution, while lawmakers are basically in the task of making the laws. However, you cannot make laws for people who are angry. No matter how effective your laws are, when the people are hungry and angry, and don’t see future in the things you do, they care less about the laws that you make. Therefore, I believe that if you are making laws, you should be caring for the people. And that has helped me in managing my position as a lawmaker. We must empower the people. We must do things that will better their lives. For people to agree to campaign and vote for a lawmaker, they must have convinced themselves that the lawmaker will not disappoint them. So, when he get eventually gets to office, he should not hesitate to add value to the lives of those ones.
Misconceptions about the National Assembly
As I earlier said, many don’t know the difference between the legislature and the executive, in terms of their responsibilities. Many still think that as soon as a politician is elected into the National Assembly, he collects money; and if he does, such money must be shared. That is the mindset of the people. There are so many rumours out there regarding what legislators receive. So it puts a lot of pressures on the lawmakers. On the other hand, a minister, for example, has a budget. Whether he goes home or not, it does not matter because people think he was not voted but selected. For him, needless to carry out consultations, and this has been responsible for many not to know who the ministers are, their names and sometimes where they come from. But for National Assembly members, people know you; you campaigned. Even without seeing you, they know you. You cannot hide, unlike members of the executive. Sometimes we use our allowances to fill their personal needs. This requires balancing these pressures and through this way, I have personally benefitted from the support of the people, especially of the Ogun West axis, who reelected me, making me the first to be reelected into the National Assembly.
Issues in 2017 budget
Unfortunately, the issue of delayed budget is being over flogged. And it’s political. Political in the sense that the executive believes that it’s the owner of the budget and so could manipulate the process. Constitutionally, we are the owners of the budget. We are the ones to determine what is to be done for the people because we know our people. So if not for legal requirement, we should have been the ones to initiate it, consider it and pass it to law. So, in trying to consider the budget, and tailoring it to the real needs of the people that we know too well, there will definitely be some misconceptions. One, the executive wants to be seen as performing and wants to be returned to office, while the National Assembly, on its part, want to also be seen as performing, and members want to return. It becomes a political war. Everyone has interest in the budget: The National Assembly, the executive and the judiciary. With this, it brings up issues. If the 2016 budget was padded, and the president assented to it, it means that, however it was, it was done to achieve what it is intended to achieve. I would have ordinarily seen a situation where the budget was rejected and not signed. If you leave it for the government alone, it would no longer be holistic and accommodating the generality of all interests. There will always be disagreement.
Relationship between National Assembly and executive
What we have been doing with the executive in terms of oversights and budget defenses is a wish washy thing. I am not excited about it. There is need to bring about synergy between these two arms of government by ensuring that we coexist and build understanding. The executive should not consider the National Assembly as a rubber stamp on the budget. We must be seen as working together, regardless of political camps. Nigeria is neither APC nor PDP, or any other party. Nigeria is one country. If there is no Nigeria, there can never be executive; if there is no Nigeria, there can never be legislature. Of course, there has never been a place where the executive and the legislator are total friends, even when all are in the same party, because we all have diverse interests.
Enhancing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
SDGs are closely linked to budget. This is because, in achieving these goals, money has to be budgeted for, spent and accounted for at the end of the day. SDGs are targeted goals that are used in measuring development, not only in Nigeria, but globally. All countries are in agreement with the goals. These are specific goals that are meant to be achieved within a period of time and each government is enjoined to make funding available in achieving them. If such goals are not achieved by any of the governments, it sends negative signals to the world, not just the government involved. If the goals are met, on the other hand, it brings about development to a country and its people.
Achieving housing for all
The government has responsibility to meet basic needs of the people, and housing is one of them. Successive governments have attempted to provide low-cost housing. It’s a good idea. We should never think that we will be able to groom people to be good citizens if they live under the bridges. If this happens, it can generate negative signal for the country. Housing is a major responsibility of governments at all levels. This is not to say that governments should build houses for people for free; but saying that governments should try to provide accommodation for its citizens and also encourage housing schemes.
Supports for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
If you have been following activities of the House of Representatives, you will see that the committee on IDPs is doing its best to sanitize the system. It is this effort that led to the suspension of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal. It was the national assembly that unraveled the mismanagement of IDPs funds under the administration of Alhaji Lawal. If we had not done our job well, that impunity would have continued. However, there is still much to be done in caring for the IDPs. I am not saying that we haven’t tried. No one ever expected the magnitude of insurgencies’ challenges that we had in recent times. It is for this reason the issue of IDPs was almost becoming unmanageable. I think the government still has a lot to do. We need to know where our IDPs are and how many are they? If we don’t know where they are and how many they are, we’ll not be able to make adequate provisions for them. As a parliament, we are doing all we can to support the government in ensuring that the IDPs are taken care of and to beam our searchlight on every fund that has been budgeted for, in caring for the IDPs.
How illiteracy affects education
We all know that the standard of education in Nigeria has been falling. Yet, it is globally recognized as a key to success. For you to be able to distinguish the right from the left, you must attain a considerable level of education. Unfortunately, we are always having educational policies that are not sustainable. Every administration brings up his. It’s affecting education. Our schools are mostly substandard. Therefore the governments at all levels are expected to pay attention to it, as it’s the gateway to the development of every society.
Strengthening public accounting system
The public accounts committee of the National Assembly is a statutory committee. It main aim is to review queries of the auditor general of the federation as it affects all agencies of government, in ensuring that budgeted funds are judiciously spent to avoid impunity. As a committee, we have tried as much as possible to checkmate this financial impunity, despite that what we are doing is postmortem review. We have succeeded in letting agencies of government know that they are responsible for all expenditures. Not just that. We also bring about corrective measures to ensure that government funds are well spent.