‘Only a balanced budget can bring development to Nigeria’
Ahmad Lawan has the highest-ranking status among Senators seeking to head the 8th Parliament of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic having been a member of the National Assembly since 1999. He spoke with NIYI BELLO on how the incoming Buhari Presidency can launch the country to greatness from the perspectives of a vibrant legislature that he hopes to head.
The menace of corruption
THE Nigeria of today needs serious anti-corruption fight because for whatever resource we have, until we are able to curb corruption, we would never be able to get the kind of maximum impact of what we have. We have been making a budget of N4.9 trillion, N4.5 trillion, but perhaps because of corruption, part of it or a large chunk of it has been going into private pockets and we don’t want this to continue. So, we need to need to identify those areas that we need to block leakages and ensure that there is minimum or no embezzlement of public funds. My public accounts administration will help me in doing that because I have worked to ensure that public funds are prudently utilized and those that were embezzled or mismanaged are reported to the Senate, and I believe that this is what the President-elect wants, this is what Nigeria needs, financial management of our resources. Fortunately for us, the President-elect of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would come into office, when we are experiencing dwindling revenue and therefore there is need for us to ensure that whatever we get, whatever we have is prudently utilised and those, who are found to go contrary to the provisions of financial regulations face the music.
Perceived graft in the National Assembly
Talking about anti-corruption, I think the National Assembly has public image crisis right from 1999, when the National Labour Congress (NLC) protested against our furniture allowances. Till today, we have not recovered from that. We have not done enough to make Nigerians, who voted for us understand what they should expect from us. I believe that we need to shed this toga of corruption and one way of doing that is to keep ourselves on the line of integrity. There must be transparency in what we do, and Nigerians must know exactly what we do. Sometimes, the anti-corruption charges are frivolous and you ought to allow these things to be investigated. We need a National Assembly that is led by incorruptible people so that within the system, the tendencies that go toward corruption would be minimised and I believe that I have that capacity and I believe that with the co-operation of everyone in the National Assembly, particularly in the Senate, we will do what Nigerians expect from us, to be credible, to be pro-people, and by the grace of God, we will achieve that.
Huge legislature’s budget
When you say lawmakers earn huge amount of money, I think we need to put it in perspective. The budget of the National Assembly for the last four years has been N150 billion from a budget of N4.9 trillion. You can work out the percentage, and in that you have the National Assembly management as part of it, the National Assembly Service Commission and the aides of members of the National Assembly. I am entitled to five aides. You have the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) and the capital budget of the National Assembly. When you look at the aggregate of the budget, what actually goes to the members of the National Assembly is not what we portray it to be.
So, when we propose a reduction in the cost of governance, it is not going to be for the National Assembly alone. What does a minister gets in his office, what does the Chief Executive Officer of NIMASA or NPA gets, these are issues that would have to be considered in a holistic manner. I think that Nigerians don’t have enough information about what the members of the National Assembly get. This N150 billion does not go to the members of the National Assembly alone; it is just part of it. If there is need to revisit the cost of governance and I believe there is, let there be a total overhaul of the entire system. All the ministries and all aspects of governance should be involved. How many vehicles does a minister or a chief executive officer of an organisation and others have officially?
How Nigeria can achieve financial buoyancy
We need to have a balanced budget and expand our revenue base to go beyond waiting for oil funds. Today, the prices of oil have gone down. So, we need to expand our revenue base. We need to block all the leakages and ask questions.
What is happening at NIMASA, how is FIRS
collecting funds? We need to know that. My experience about taxation and revenue generation counts here, I believe that we can interface with the executive; we can look at the taxation law. We can look at how FIRS is collecting funds and expand those areas that have not been exploited. Secondly, it is not only the collection of revenue that is critical but also how the revenue is being put into use. Here, the budgetary provisions would come in, so we would rework the way the budgetary provisions are done at the federal level. First of all, there must be increased communication between the executive arm of government and the legislature because we want a situation, where we must be able to sit on a round table and agree on fundamental areas of intervention. For example, you need to generate employment, whoever went round the campaign would have seen how a huge number of our youths would just be everywhere and have nothing to do. What they are waiting for is for this administration to come on board and provide a platform where their dreams would be realised. When someone trekked from Lagos to Abuja, that was a show of support for the President-elect, but it is also in expectation of what the government can do for him or her.
Perhaps, some areas of the country are better off, but the general things we need to provide is employment and generate wealth. I also believe that there is need for prudence on how we run our government. I would even suggest that our administration should consider reviewing Oronsaye Report; here you have so many government establishments taking funds for doing nothing or may be replicating each other. From my public accounts experience, I discovered that we have about 650 parastatals, many of them don’t do anything or some of them do the same thing and I believe that we need to review the government agencies that are not doing anything or collapsed them into practical number so that they don’t just take our funds and not provide the needed services. I believe that the National Assembly has a lot to do to work with the executive arm of government to reduce the cost of governance.
Crisis over constitution amendment
I think the crisis on the constitution amendment is the highest level of the exposure of the failure of the PDP. When you have a control of the legislature, your government should interface with legislature, and your party should interface with the legislature properly. I believe that they should have worked these things out for the major issues of constitution amendment. I believe that there is going to be continuous and fruitful deliberation between the legislature and the executive. You sit on a round table and say these are the major issues that are going for amendment, what do you think about them. When there were public hearings, they were nowhere to be found from the executive arm of government. After they failed to have a round table discussion with their legislature, they should have been available to do that at the public hearings. We held public hearings across the federal constituencies in the country. To me, it is the failure of the PDP, which is why they were voted out of office.
Agenda for Senate
First of all, I believe that my experience as a legislator that has worked in the two chambers gives me an added advantage of knowing how the House of Representatives works, what the sentiments, tendencies and workings of the House are. Having been in the Senate for eight years, I know how the Senate works and I know all the tenets of the Senate. These 16 years of experience have enabled me to work with six presiding officers, three speakers in the House of Representatives; Salisu Buhari, Umar Na’Abba and Aminu Masari and my experience in the
Senate that I moved to in 2007 has been remarkable up to date. I have watched these presiding officers conduct affairs in the two chambers. Secondly, I have been able to work across party lines with all my colleagues in the House and Senate. So, I believe that I have learnt to be a team player and I can work with all sorts of people regardless of their political affiliations. I always like to work on the basis of consensus, and what we need today is to ensure that we build and sustain consensus in the different political parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I have also learnt to work with the executive arm of government. I believe that today, we need a situation that good governance must be supported by the legislature and good governance means delivery of service to Nigerians. We must make our budget in such a way that it works for the benefit of Nigerians. A budget where only 20 or 25 percent is for capital and over 70 percent is for recurrent is not working for Nigerians. Perhaps, we can ascribe most of the crisis across the country to lack of investment in the people. So, I believe that the National Assembly and the Senate that I would lead should be able to balance the budget.
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