Speaker House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara in this interview explained why the National Assembly and the Executive would never operate on the same wave length on a number of national issues. He argued that it is in the national interest for such relationship between the two arms of government to exist.
Dogara also spoke on a wide range of other issues including the corruption in the National Assembly, low compliance of MDAs to resolutions, Senate, Customs rift and the APC government.
The perception is that the Executive and the Legislature are not on the same page, what is your disposition on this?
As politicians, sometimes we don’t attack the issues frontally; let me say from the foundation of the principle of separation of powers, it was never anticipated that the Legislature and the Executive would work harmoniously on a continuous basis. There would always be fractions. Where you have human and individual factors, even in a family that is the minutest of the unions that is expressed in humanity, there are bound to be conflicts. In the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, there will be conflicts; the only problem is that sometimes, we cast conflicts as intricately bad. Conflicts may not be bad; as a matter of fact, sometimes conflicts are necessary for progress to be made.
By May, APC government will be two years in power, and by next year, we would be approaching election year, will you say that your party has not disappointed Nigerians?
I wouldn’t say that we have disappointed Nigerians; for you to come to that kind of conclusion, you’d have to take certain factors into consideration. Now, what was it that we met on ground? What is it that we have improved upon as a government? And what is it that we are seeking to do? I guess it is after looking at the whole gamut of these issues that you’ll be able to arrive at the decision whether we have disappointed Nigerians or not. You can’t talk of disappointment in a nature that is a value judgement, because it depends on the expectation; it’s only having an expectation, that you can be disappointed. For me, I can say that a lot has been achieved, even though unsung in most cases, in the context of our society, people want to see first-class roads, hospitals, they want to see the tangibles, but nobody places value on the intangibles. For us that come from the Northeast, even some of us that live and work in Abuja, remember how dire this issue of terrorism was, we were all living on the throes of violence. The Police Headquarters here was bombed, U.N Mission here in Abuja was bombed, bombs exploded in Kaduna, Kano, Jos, in Nyanya as well and there was even threat of this mayhem being exported to the Southwest and other regions of this country. If you look at it, we have exited from that. The biggest problem of democracy is that with violence, you cannot take the benefits of democracy. Democracy as we practice: Presidential democracy has three promises: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The number one responsibility of government is the security and welfare of the citizens. That was what our democracy was failing to do, the basic and constitutional guarantee of governance, and we couldn’t provide security. We have gone very far in trying to tackle this issue of insurgency, as a matter of fact, all hostile spots have been liberated. This government through various interventions has been able to ensure that the terrorists are not holding unto any spot of land. I believe this is one major thing that has given some hope to Nigerians, for the very first time that we are in a position to overcome this problem, and it is critical, even if it’s for nothing else that our citizens in the Northeast zone down to Abuja can move around more freely than before, that is something. You can go to work and leave your family at home without exercising any fear that something may happen while you are at work or that your family is afraid that you could be bombed while you are at work, at least that is progress. Now if you look at the battle against corruption, some may say it is one-sided, but the good thing is that; let’s start! And we have started, we are beginning to have results, and for the very first time, public officials who even have the opportunity or window to misappropriate funds, the question that comes to their mind is: by the time I have taken this money, where am I going to take it first? Because anything could happen, so that to some extent has prevented people from engaging in the kind of looting of resources that we experienced in the past, at least sanity is returning. The economy was at a level whereby anything could have happened; it was heading south, no doubt about that. The only thing was that the signs were beginning to be apparent even though the conditions that later became the result of what happened were not there then; dollar wasn’t exchanging for 400, prices of commodities haven’t skyrocketed, but they were just things waiting to happen based on the fact that the price of the mainstay of our economy was going down and the fact that there was no savings and there was nothing we could do as a nation to earn Forex, apart from just selling crude, virtually nothing we were exporting, so the crises were just waiting to happen. And we went into these crises because there were no known preventive policies to apply; it was just the result of the choice we had made in the past, and no one could run away from them.
You talked about government having done well in exterminating terrorists but how about herdsmen that are killing wantonly? Secondly, what do you make of the growing perception that the National Assembly is stinking as a result of corruption? Are you not bothered about the continued cross carpeting of members?
I know we have promised to open the books, and we will definitely open the books, certainly. I however don’t know in what form the corruption is said to be, but let me first say that Parliament is not something that exists outside of Nigeria, and the issue of corruption itself is not something that can be eliminated completely out of any community, just like prostitution and other vices, but what you can do is to reduce it to the barest minimum, to a level that is almost seen as non-existent. The advanced countries that we try so much to copy or speak so glowingly of what they have been able to achieve, it’s not that corruption has been eliminated 100 per cent; we have seen this hydra-headed monster called corruption rearing its head even in elections of certain jurisdictions. Clearly, the signs are there, but our collective effort is that we reduce it to the barest minimum; anyone who thinks that he will eliminate corruption, I lack the English word to describe such a person; to eliminate it totally will amount to eliminating the totality of the human race. Because no human being is clothed in perfection, all we can do is to reduce it to the barest minimum.
The Senate resolved that the Comptroller General is not fit to be in office and has resolved to write the House of Reps to make it binding, what is your take on this? Secondly, how comfortable is the National Assembly with the level of compliance to their resolutions by the Executive?
On the resolution concerning the CG of Customs, whether the House is on the same page with the Senate or the Executive, I can’t speak for the House, the House will have to speak for itself through a resolution of the House, but one thing I have to say is that we walk closely with the Senate and if we don’t do that, we won’t achieve any progress as an arm of government. The reason being that in a bicameral Legislature, an issue that dies in one Chamber is almost automatically dead in the other chamber. And if we do not find a common ground to work with the Senate, it means so many measures will either stagnate or die at the level of the National Assembly. I believe that the matter relating to the circumstances that led to the Senate’s decision may come up on the floor of the House and I cannot pre-judge what the outcome of the debate will be. If I do that, it wouldn’t even be fair and it won’t be right for me to preside over it. I would have to allow someone else, because I’ve formed an opinion.
Now the whole issue that gave rise to this conflict was that the CG should appear before the Senate in uniform, to talk about issues surrounding the policy of collecting duties on cars purchased even long ago. The only thing was that he should appear in uniform and then the CG said no, I need legal advice as to whether I must wear the uniform or not. Now can I ask you what the view of your paper on this is? Not what the Senate is saying, but what the Law says about the CG wearing the uniform or not? If we continue to have these kinds of debates, we may not even have to engage in the kind of fights we have in Parliament because by the time all the newspapers come up with their opinion, a lot of people will now know and be educated and know the position and it saves this institution from clashing.
So, you have to look at all these issues before you come to a conclusion. As far as I am concerned, these are mere distractions, they are not supposed to be; the main issue is delivery, what is it that we are delivering? That is it. But for a decision to be made in line with what the Senate proposed to the House, you can only wait till the matter comes before the House and that decision will be taken and Nigerians will know.
And to whether we are satisfied with the level of compliance with our resolutions, the answer is no, and that is why in the last House we established a Committee known as the Committee on Legislative compliance and the essence of that Committee is to seek to compel compliance with resolutions of the Legislature and the Committee is working. They have a record of the resolutions that have been complied with and resolutions that have not been complied with and for those that have not complied with the resolutions of the National Assembly, what we are trying to do is to give the Committee more bite. They will move a Motion on the Floor of the House specifically that will indicate that these are the numbers of the resolutions we have passed, these are the ones that have been complied with, these are the defaulting agencies and through the mechanism that is in Section 88 of the Constitution, the parliament as a whole can then empower the Committee on Legislative Compliance to then summon all those agencies that have not complied with the resolutions and ask them why? So, it’s something we are aware of and doing everything possible to ensure that there is more compliance with the resolutions of the National Assembly through the instrumentality of that Committee.
Is the House intervening in the seeming standoff between the Senate and the Executive?
I won’t call the role of the House of Representatives a mediation as such, but I said that our principle is cooperation with the Senate so that together, we can achieve more cooperation with the Executive, where we will disagree, we will disagree. But in most areas, we should look for ways of cooperating more than fight. And it mustn’t be the House that mediates. It can be all the key players in the system, whether it’s the Senate mediating in an issue that concerns the House and the Executive or some other persons in the Executive mediating in the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. This is not even called mediation, but consultation and compromise which is key when you expound further the doctrine of checks and balance. We must always meet, talk to each other, reduce areas of conflict and where there are conflicts, we will overcome them. Like I said however, there will always be conflicts, but what distinguishes us as leaders is whether we overcome those conflicts or we are overcome by those conflicts, and that is what we cannot allow. So, we try to do that, the House will go to any length, talk to anybody in the Senate, in the Executive, so we can forge an atmosphere that is convenient to work with, so it’s part of the work we do as leaders and as institutions of government, we should encourage more consultations, more dialogues, especially on issues.
Is it possible that under your leadership, there could be an amendment of the Local Government Law to ensure its autonomy?
The current system is not working, and if we keep sticking to it and expecting it to work someday, I don’t know who termed it as the very definition of foolishness for you to keep doing the same thing and expect different outcomes. It has become a system whereby some have constituted themselves into middle men along the lines, they grab the resources meant for the development at the grassroots and appropriate it the way they deem fit, and there is a twin evil, that of state Independent National Electoral Commission that gave birth to this, it is a total mockery of democracy for elections to hold even in the local government and you say one political party won all the seats. I have never seen where democracy is mocked like in Nigerian local government elections, so I don’t know how we can continue to mock ourselves that we are practicing democracy at the third tier of government. We all know the reason for the insistence that one political party will win all councillor and local government chairmen seats, so that at the level where the middle-men are hijacking, not all the middle-men though, there would be no single voice of descent, they are all my boys. If I were one of them, I’d mock democracy further or pretend not to be mocking democracy and take some of my boys and plant them in different parties and say decamp to this and cede the seats to them, so that there is the semblance of democracy.
There is the assumption that you can’t visit your State as you are on exile, that the relationship between you and your governor is not cordial because you are eyeing 2019. Why are you not working in harmony with your governor?
On this matter, I can give you a straight answer that I am not on political exile anywhere, I can go home any day, anytime that I like. I went home in December and very soon I am going home. So, I want to use this medium to announce to everybody that I am going home, so those who think I am already on political exile, that is not the case at all. As a Speaker, you know that virtually every week, members are having functions, and I have to be there every week, so it’s not easy to escape from those schedules. You need to fulfil your obligations to members and work closely with your constituency, but it’s something that is always in my mind, my constituents are very close to me and I am close to them even though I can’t be there every day, otherwise I won’t be the Speaker, the Speaker has so many other responsibilities.
On my relationship with the Governor, I don’t think anything has prevented me from working harmoniously with him, maybe he should be asked the questions. For me, he is someone I supported. Everyone in the State knows, if it was not for very few of us, with all modesty, I can say this, God uses people and God used us to put him where he is and we will be fools if we use the same hands we used in building him to this position to destroy him. Having said that, it doesn’t mean we will agree to work where we have no agenda. What bothers me is the people that we sold this agenda to, and I know how politically sophisticated Bauchi State is, it is one of the most politically sophisticated states in Nigeria. Since 2007, you can hardly rig elections in Bauchi; if you win elections in Bauchi, you have won it. So you can imagine the sitting 2007 governor wanted to be a Senator and he didn’t win. He won in only one local government out of seven. The immediate past governor, having governed for eight years wanted to run for Senate and won only one local government. So for us who are members of the political class, that is like a red flag warning, that you must perform. Even though I will never engage in confrontation towards the governor, I will never support a situation where we are not delivering the goods. That is just where the problem is, it doesn’t matter. Anybody who is delivering, who is fulfilling is my wonderful person, but if you are not doing that, I cannot be party to it, so that when the destruction comes as it is certain to come, I’ll be excluded, so that you know that it was not with your consent that this thing happened. And that is the problem we are having; it is not a matter of personality clash or people don’t want to work together; I can work with anyone whose agenda is the welfare and advancement of the people, but if it’s not being done, then there’s no point pretending that we are doing anything.
So the Governor is not doing well?
You have said I am on exile, you may go to Bauchi and do your own verification and see things for yourself.