Abdullahi: Ninth National Assembly has been transparent on budget, constituency matters
Hon. Saidu Musa Abdullahi (Gorozon Nupe) is Deputy Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Finance, representing Bida/Katcha/Gbako Federal Constituency of Niger State. In this interview with LEO SOBECHI and AHMADU BABA IDRIS, the lawmaker said the Ninth National Assembly has been transparent on the issues of Budget, including constituency projects. Hon. Abdullahi also explained the rationale for his bill for the establishment of University of Medical and Health Sciences in his constituency.
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The issue of appropriation and National Assembly budget have remained thorny, how has committee tried to grappling with them?
We try as much as possible not to treat the budget of the National Assembly in isolation, we appreciate the fact that we have first line charge on the national resources, but at the same time we also try to treat it collectively with the others.
A lot of searchlight has been beamed on the budget of the National Assembly and I think for the first time, the National Assembly leadership has been so transparent with it. All the components of the National Assembly budget has been publicised. So, it is something that is in the open, something that you could easily have access to.
What I encourage Nigerians to do is, we can lean on freedom of information Act and whatever information we need, we can easily get it. If you are better equipped, you can better appraise, engage in discussions as far as some of these things are concerned.
Look at it this way, when they say the National Assembly has N130billion in the budget, people tend to mirror it to just the members of the House of Representatives and Senators alone, not minding the fact that we have management, National Assembly Service Commission, Institute for Legislative Studies in there.
And so, if you bring all these together with the legislative heads that we have and also contract staff, even the general maintenance of the National Assembly, if you bring all together, you will appreciate the fact that it is nothing compared to the whole national budget. Talking about one hundred and thirty something billion naira, where you have a budget that is in excess of over N13trillion.
Again, if you look at it, vis-à-vis what other arms of government are getting, you will appreciate that it is really nothing. I also try to bring it in terms of the responsibilities that the members of the National Assembly are shouldering. Look at the Senators, look at the members of the House of Representatives, we are about the closest to the people, we have become more like the government to the people. You take care of their basic needs, their healthcare needs, educational needs and even some macro needs of the people.
The people have access to the members of the House of Representatives than the governors and people at the executive arm. So, if you put all these together, you will appreciate that it is really nothing compared to the noise being made outside.
Most of the time, people look not just at the quantum of appropriation, but the buy-in of the people. Critics say that there is minimal public input to budget conception not to talk of implementation…
I think that it is something that we should take back home. I tried to look at it from where you are coming from, but I think it has to do more with the representatives of the people; it has to do with the executive that prepares the budget.
We know we have a critical role to play as far as the budget is concerned, but the executive usually prepares the budget. So, the responsibility is more on the executive to open up its space and get input from the people.
You are just reaffirming my disposition on the necessity of having constituency projects and it takes government closer to all the constituencies that make up the country. I am sure before making input to the budget; we go back to our constituencies to really appreciate what their needs are. And those things form the basis of our input to the budget document. But, like I said, the responsibility should be more on the executive, they should open up the space in engaging the people so that there will not be disconnect between what the people need and what the government is churning out in terms of project for execution.
When it comes to constituency consultation, there is no synergy on projects in a bottom-up approach, for projects that have direct impact on the welfare of the masses, how do you solve this?
I want to differ a little from that because if you look at most of the projects handled by members of the National Assembly, they are usually tilted towards the needs of the people. We try to look at empowerment programmes that will enhance the economic activities of the people and ensure that the people are self-reliant.
I think the problem majorly is with the way our constituents receive and manage some of these empowerment materials given to them. What we try to do differently is to relate with some of the professional associations in our constituencies, they know their members that have need. Let us take for instance, the tailoring association, if I have any sewing machine to give to my constituency, it should go through the tailor association, because they have record of their members and know those that are in need of sewing machines.
The same goes to other empowerment materials, if you do it in an organised form by relating with cooperatives and professional associations, you tend to be able to get more out of it than just handing it to constituents and persons who do not really have need of it. These are some of the things we are trying to do differently.
Like you said, in some instances, empowerment materials are doled out to people and they do not really appreciate it. These things are geared towards ensuring that they can stand on their own. When we talk about empowerment, we consider the general rate of unemployment in the country. You appreciate the fact that government does not have the capacity to mop up the unemployed in the country.
So, the honest thing for us is to be targeting how to harness the potentials that each environment is endowed with, expose the people to such potential and give them the right skill-sets that they can stand on their own so that instead of been employed, they can be employers of labour.
From the serious and crucial nature of committee work, you found time to sponsor a bill on establishment of a Medical College. What informed that?
I think the key and primary responsibility of legislators is law making and even though there is kind of misconception and misinformation about what our roles are, we try as much as possible not to neglect the core mandate given us by our people.
I always say that whatever roles you come up with must be directly correlated to the problems of the people, you must be able to establish a need or problem before you can come up with the solution. We tried to look at it from a broader scale and then mirror it down to my constituency and my state.
Today, across the country, we have just about 50,000 practicing doctors against an estimated population of over 200 million. We also have record that shows that between 2015 and 2018, over 520,000 Nigerian students applied to read MBBS, but the system could only accommodate 19,000 plus, that leaves a huge gap.
We are not a country in isolation; we try to do things based on global best practices. If you look at some countries that are supposed to be at par with us, India for instance, has as at today, over 400 medical schools. The yearly intake into the MBBS is in excess of 60,000, that is more than the total number of registered practising doctors in Nigeria.
If I bring it closer home to my state, today, Niger State is the only state that does not have any institution offering medical sciences using the catchment area, but today, those things are no longer feasible. We have a situation where our children will go all out with all the documents to the required schools, but unfortunately, they are not given the opportunity to read some of these courses.
I have a particular case, where the student had over 300 in JAMB and I also tried to facilitate it, but unfortunately the student was offered admission to study environmental management. We tried to look at the leverages within our immediate environment, that is Niger State, today, we have a federal medical centre.
Why we came up with such proposal was because of such leverage. We appreciate the fact that government does not have enough resources to set up these needed institutions, so we tried to come from the perspective of the leverage that we already have, which is the Federal Medical Centre, Bida, which we feel can be upgraded to a teaching hospital.
Fortunately, the state also has a school of nursing, one of the oldest in the North, which is in Bida. So, putting these infrastructures together, coupled with the fact that the existing manpower for these institutions makes it easy for us to sell it to government to upgrade the facilities into a teaching hospital and have a University of Medical and Health Science.
What we intend to achieve is to close that manpower gap in the healthcare sector. We are not in any way close to the standard of World Health Organisation in terms of doctor-patient ratio, but I feel we must be deliberate in proffering solutions. We must close our eyes to some of the cost elements attached to some of these things and look at it from the perspective of necessity. And, if we do that, we are able to appreciate the need to put some of these things on ground. That is why we are not asking for a conventional university, but a specialised university in medical and health sciences.
Like I said, it will come with a lot of burden for the government in terms of cost, but it should be seen from the perspective of necessary cost, which we must incur today for the betterment of tomorrow. So, putting this together, we decided to come up with a proposal, we are through with the first reading and the second reading, the public reading and the report have been considered. It has been passed in the lower chamber, so what we are waiting for is concurrence from the Senate and after that we would also push to get presidential university proposal assent. In summary, that is how far we have come with respect to the university proposal.
Does this proposal entail state and federal government synergy?
The synergy will come by the time the university takes off, but the state will be generous enough to donate it to the Federal Government and even outside the state. My state governor is very much involved and the power behind the vision and he has given me all the necessary support across the state.
You talk about our retired generals, the state House of Assembly members, some critical stakeholders, we tried to involve them for the actualisation of the project, it is beyond my constituency, it is beyond Niger State, to own it as a state and push it to actualisation and so far, all the necessary support has been given to me.
Our former governor was also there, we are from different senatorial zones and I am happy to achieve that. Our intention is broader than Niger State and like I said, we can overlook the cost aspect and look at it from the perspective of necessity.
During need assessment what do you usually fall back on, since research is not very easy in this country?
I have a very active team. I am a trained manager and a trained team player. I worked in the bank; I worked with Zenith Bank and my orientation tilted towards appreciating people via networking. So, some of the things I cannot do, I push it to my team to assist me in doing it. I also take my time to do some research. So, I am better equipped with information and with that, I am able to engage people and talk to people based on information and to actually appreciate better what you are trying to sell to the state.
From your background as a former banker, when it comes to risk assessment, especially against the backdrop of contracting economy and asset depreciation, what should be the answer to avoiding abandoned projects and other risks associated with deployment of public funds?
I think the major problem is from both sides; from the leadership and the people. Anyone that comes into position of leadership comes with the lust and drive to create an impression of a doer and in so doing, they feel that if they do not start something new that will be identified with us, you do not get the glory and people do not see you as doing anything.
I think we need to do away with that mentality. We must be able to entrench the culture of continuity in the system. Government business should be treated as a going concern, soldier go, soldier come, barracks remain.
We need to approach the business of government from that perspective. There has to be a vision to continue and it comes with having a plan. If you have a master plan, anyone that comes follows it and where this person stops; the other person comes to continue it.
That is what you see unfolding in Lagos State. Our leader Bola Ahmed Tinubu started it and successive governments have carried it through. It is a vision, which successive governments have keyed into and that is why you see that Lagos is progressing consistently. We need to develop that same culture across the country.
From the Federal Government, we need to have the culture of continuity. Somebody would start, look at the viability of the project, and look at the funds that have been sunk into a project and naturally that should make you think of the completion of the project.
We have a committee in the House of Representatives, even though they are yet to submit their report, they took stock of abandoned projects across the country. A lot of billions not even in naira, but in dollars, have been sunk into some of those projects and so the onus is on us to be able to continue with them and ensure that they are completed.
That is what the House of Rep under Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila is out to achieve. By the time we have stock of the projects, we will now begin to appreciate some of these projects and then allocate resources to some of them that are viable and thereby make a mark in our nation building drive.
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