‘Ninth Assembly will take Nigeria to higher heights’
Peter Ohiozojeh Akpatason, a third term lawmaker, representing Akoko-Edo Federal Constituency, Edo State, is Deputy Majority Leader, Federal House of Representatives. The former President of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) told RALPH OMOLOLU AGBANA that the ninth Assembly is poised to take the nation to greater heights.
What should Nigerians expect from the ninth Assembly?
Basically, the indication for serious business in the ninth Assembly was the composition of its leadership, which was a clear departure from that of the eighth Assembly, in the sense that the ruling party’s position was adhered to by party members. Consequently, the leadership that emerged was endorsed by the party.
From that, we’ve been able to find a synergy between the party, party representatives and the executive. So, unlike the eighth Assembly where the team that emerged was different from the one the party endorsed. This resulted in a frosty relationship between the parties and Assembly members, as well as between the executive and the legislature, leading to suboptimal outcomes, most times.
We had a series of budget cycle crises beginning from the proposal to the eventual passage of the appropriation act, up to implementation. But what we have now is synergy among all the parties involved. The budget estimate that was recently presented showed how positive the symbiotic relationship between the executive and the legislature can be.
For the past three years, we did not have a situation where a President presents estimate without issues between the opposition and ruling party members. It had always been turbulent, but we have a seamless process this time around. Moving forward, it is believed that we are going to have more positive outcomes. Now, when it comes to the quality of work, I think that is too early to judge.
But there have been criticisms that the ninth Assembly is actually a rubber stamp. Is that what you call synergy?
The understanding of many Nigerians is that the legislative and executive arms of government are supposed to be watchdogs, fighting each other, rather than making efforts to get the best out of the processes. But that is not how it is supposed to be. Those holding the view that the teams of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and Senate President Ahmed Lawan are rubber stamps are those who believe that antagonism should be the definition of the relationship between the executive and the legislature. It is not true.
There is need for cooperation at all times between the two arms. However, that is not to say one arm should mortgage its freedom in the process of that cooperation. Rather, the cooperation should be in the interest of Nigerians that we represent. It should be cooperation that induces very positive outcomes.
For instance, such cooperation should ensure that the legislature and the executive work together to reverse past chaotic budgeting experiences to one where what the two arms want can be agreed upon through consultation, rather than fighting. Differences can be narrowed down through executive meetings, for instance, without necessarily washing dirty linens in the public.
When there is cooperation and people are consulting and respecting each other, you are able to produce better results through better processes. The executive wants the budget cycle to return to January to December. Nigerians also want it. So, it is the duty of the legislature to ensure that that desire is met.
Even if the budget has not been passed, we are determined and have worked out the process. And I can assure you that before the end of December; the budget will be passed by both Houses. A rubber stamp will collect the documents from Mr. President and just go ahead and say okay, fine, it is alright. We have given the committee two weeks to look at the document critically, make its inputs and ensure completion of the cycle and return it to the House, which will now look at the differences.
Both the Senate and House Committees are to come together, work out their programmes and then invite the executives, maybe the ministers or heads of parastatals and all of that and have a meeting with them. Where it is not possible, and if for whatever reasons they have to hold different meetings, they also have to look at how they can work it out with the executive. Maybe one group will meet them in the morning, while another group meets them in the afternoon, as against the past when the House and Senate met separately. That did not augur well. But we have worked out a workable arrangement, which is capable of producing better results.
Are efforts being made to ensure that no MDA is left out of budget defence in the proposed January to December budget cycle?
What we have done is to draw up a timetable, which has been announced ahead of time. The Speaker and the Senate President also made clear statements to the committee leadership, as well as the ministers and heads of parastatals that anybody who misses the allotted time will have himself or herself to blame. Mr. President also corroborated it, when he warned the ministers not to embark on frivolous trips during the period, so that they can concentrate and defend their budgets to allow the legislature to speedily complete the process. Personally, I think this is working in a cooperative and synergistic manner. That is the arrangement on ground, and I assure you that we are going to experience a new dawn.
Will the committees actually carry out their threat of not appropriating funds for MDAs that may not meet up or are unavailable for budget defence?
I doubt there is any MDA that will not be available.
The National Assembly recently expressed concerns about the security situation in the country. What practical steps is the House taking to tackle the issue?
The current security situation in the country is actually worrisome. It has become hydra-headed and requires concerted efforts. The issue requires cooperation among all arms of government at all levels, including the citizens in terms of information to assist intelligence combat what is going on. It equally requires new policies and new laws.
On our part, we are willing and determined to do everything possible to provide the necessary legislative frameworks to support whatever efforts are being made to address the situation. The Speaker was in Zamfara for instance. It was the first time in the history of Nigeria’s legislature that a leader of an arm of the National Assembly would go into communities having security issues to engage the people directly, to the extent that bandits repented and surrendered. Representatives of Zamfara communities gave testimonies of how the situation has changed since that visit by Rt. Hon Femi Gbajabiamila. I am sure that more of such intervention and cooperation will come in the future.
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