Constitution Amendment Crisis, PDP’s Biggest Failure – Lawan | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Constitution Amendment Crisis, PDP’s Biggest Failure – Lawan

Posted: May 24, 2015 at 12:04 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan was elected to the House of Representatives for the Northern state of Yobe in 1999 and later the Senate in 2007. In 2008, he was a member of the National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Constitution Review and has been Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts. He is one of the three major contenders for the position of Senate President. In this interview with journalists, including AUSTIN OBOH, he discusses the agenda for the next leader of the National Assembly. Excerpts…



We understand that you want to be President of the Nigerian Senate, why?

The North-Eastern part of Nigeria as a political zone has been ravaged by insurgency. For so long, we have been marginalised and we believe that this Senate Presidency can be more practical and symbolic in terms of welcoming us back into Nigeria. I thought we were removed from Nigeria by the Boko Haram, when they declared a Sultanate, after they took over Mubi. Having said this, as someone who is spending the last 16 years in the National Assembly, having worked there as a member of the House of Representatives, having stayed in the Senate for eight years, and having chaired the Public Accounts Committee for the last eight years, I think I know what we need to do to turn around the economy and I want to provide a 21st Century Senate leadership – a leadership that would work with all the segments of the senators in the chamber, a leadership that will have bi-partisan approach to issues, and a leadership that will work with the executive arm of government such that we would ensure the independence of the Senate and make our independence possible. I also believe that I am bringing into the leadership incorruptibility and credibility. Nigeria needs an incorruptible administration. The President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, was elected on the basis of maybe three major issues – anti-corruption stance, resolve to fight insurgency, and address the economy that has been comatose or stagnated. I believe that I can complement the anti-corruption fight of the President-elect. So, we can be sure that what we are presenting to you is what Nigeria needs. 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 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.

You talked about the incorruptible stance of Muhammadu Buhari, but the two chambers you have represented from 1999 to date are known for corruption. So, how do you want to support the administration in fighting corruption?

Talking about anti-corruption, I think the National Assembly has indeed 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.

What of the issue of zoning?

Zoning is for our leaders to decide. We don’t have a say in it. What is expected of us is to show interest. I am from the North-East and there are about two or three people from the North-East who are vying for the same office. Two people from the North-Central are vying for the office and I believe that it is our duty to tell our leaders that we deserve to have the Senate Presidency in the North-East and not the North-Central. As I have enumerated here, for a long time, the most marginalized areas in Nigeria are the South-South and the North-East. The South-South somehow has been liberated, for long, in the last three or four years, no capital project was undertaken in the North-East. Even when budgetary provisions were made, contractors would say they would not go there because of the insurgency. So, our land in the North-East, our people and our states are stagnated. In fact, everything there has collapsed, public infrastructures burnt down by Boko Haram, our people dislocated, our businesses don’t exist anymore, and people even moved out of the place. We believe that when we are able to have the Office of the Senate President, we would be able to help the government, particularly the President-elect, to understand all our issues. We will be there to tell him as it is, I am from Yobe State and I know what Boko Haram is, we have lost people, we have lost everything and I believe that this is one thing for us. Secondly, our vote for the APC is second only to that of North West. If your votes count and when you are rewarding such, we are next in ranking in the North, and if the North West has the presidency, we should have the Senate Presidency. We are ahead of the North Central because we gave over 78 per cent of our votes to the APC, whereas North Central gave only 57 per cent, which places us above them. North Central itself has produced three Senate Presidents from Dr. Iyorchia Ayu to Ameh Ebute to the current Senate President David Mark, and three deputy senate presidents from the late Wash Pam, Abubakar Haruna and to Ibrahim Mantu. The North East never had any opportunity; we believe that our party can trust us and test us to lead the Senate this time. We also have people, who can fill the office because you don’t zone into a vacuum. I am available.

How can the incoming senate assist the in-coming government in reducing the cost of governance?

Earlier, I made it clear that we need to have a balanced budget. We need to expand our revenue base, we have 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 look at the leakages. 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 from who and expanding those areas that have not been exploited. Secondly, it is not only the collection of revenue that is critical, but how the revenue is being put into use. Here, the budgetary provisions would come in, so we would rework the way 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 would 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. Perhaps, some areas of the country are better off, but the general thing we need to provide is employment and generation of 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 the 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 also 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.

The North-East Senate caucus has said they would not endorse you. Why do you think they took this position?

The North-East Senate caucus did not say they would not endorse me. I was endorsed by the North-West recently, about 20 senators, and the North-East Caucus felt I was hijacked by the North-West caucus, and there are about two or three other people that want to run for the Senate Presidency from my area. It was not like they did not endorse me, but they said they did not endorse anyone from the North-East caucus, and that is fair enough. I don’t think the North Central has endorsed anyone, no one has been endorsed. I am still seeking that my brothers and sisters would endorse me, just like two others from the area want to be endorsed, but thank God that I have been endorsed by two caucuses now: the North-West and the South-West. We are still working to ensure that we are endorsed by even the North-Central.

What of the South-East?

I held a meeting with the South-East caucus and I believe that the South-East has every reason to endorse me. I have worked with the South-East senators and even members of the House of Representatives before I entered the Senate, and those that we met in the Senate have been very good friends. People like the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, is quite supportive as a presiding officer, as a colleague and as a friend to all of us. So we had a session of the caucus and I believe that at the appropriate time, the South-East would endorse me. I have been working with the PDP senators and I believe that at the appropriate time, they would support me. In 2003, I was the Co-ordinator of Masari for speakership even though I was in the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) and Masari was in the PDP. So that tells you the extent we can work across the divides. So, I don’t have any difficulty working with the PDP senators.

The hope of amending the Constitution by the Seventh National Assembly has been dashed with the refusal of President Goodluck Jonathan to assent to the bill. Now the matter is before the Supreme Court. If you become the Senate President, what would be your position on it?

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. There should be some measure of understanding because the PDP controls the National Assembly, they didn’t do that. 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 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. And I believe we have learnt from them. When we have issues like this, whether it is a Bill or whatever, once the National Assembly expires, it does with the outstanding works; you cannot carry it forward in this case. But there is need for the Supreme Court to make a pronouncement, because the case is there now, whether the National Assembly has the right to do what it did or whether the executive arm of government has the right to reject it. That will clear the air for us in the future.

What is the assurance that under your leadership, the Senate would not be a rubber stamp of the executive?

I believe in the independence of the legislature and in my first tenure we fought for the independence of the legislature, when former president Olusegun Obasanjo was in power. At that time, what we wanted was a legislature that would not be taking orders from the executive arm of government. I am sure APC is a different player in this, our party is a progressive party, our president believes in the rule of law. In fact that is the stand of our party and our leaders, and while we have independence of the legislative arm of government, we also have to collaborate, co-operate and partner with the executive arm of government to work for the benefit of Nigerians. What we need is good governance for the benefit of Nigerians; so, I don’t see how we can become a rubber stamp. When you become a rubber stamp, you would not function properly and we don’t want what happened to the PDP that they were booted out to happen to us.

What would you say about the huge amount of money earned by lawmakers in Nigeria?

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 would be involved. How many vehicles do a minister uses or a chief executive officer of an organisation and others have officially?

Are you not worried that if you are successful that the polity may be tilted toward the North-East, having number three and number four positions of the country if a northerner becomes the Speaker of the House of Reps?

I don’t know, but the party is wise enough to take the right position at the right time. I believe that such a situation would not arise. It is unconstitutional to have a preponderance of a certain people from a certain part of the country in such positions. There is no way you can have the President, Speaker of the House of Reps and the Senate President from the same geo-political zone. It is not possible, whatever it is, our leaders would solve the issue.

What about your relationship with the PDP members in the Senate?

My relationship with them has always been cordial. I have been a cosmopolitan legislator. In the House of Reps, I was in charge of the House Committees on Agriculture and that of Education and these are committees that I should not hold ordinarily and when I got to the Senate in 2007, I was made the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the highest committee that any opposition could hold in the two chambers and I have been working together with my colleagues in the Senate, who are PDP. We are doing fine with cordial relationship.

Is Muhammadu Buhari or Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu behind your candidature?

It is very practical and realistic that when you run for this kind of office, you go to every leader that you have access to and ask for their blessing and support and you remember that the leaders of the then All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), have very strong individuals before APC evolved. So, we must give them due respect, we must go to them and ask for their blessing. Where possible, if you can get the support of any, it would go a long way; no leader has come out to endorse anyone. I am not anybody’s candidate; I am seeking continuously for their support because they deserve that respect.

In an open race, do you stand a chance of winning?

The arithmetic is simple: out of the four zones that produced APC, I have got two. We are 60 senators in APC, North-West has 20, South-West has 13, which are 33, which is already a winner. Ask anyone what my relationship with the PDP senators in the chamber is, and ask the same question about the other senators aspiring for the Senate Presidency. For me, all the aspirants are brothers. If any of us gets it, I would work with them; if I get it, they need to work with me and we belong to the same party and we don’t want to rock the boat.

In the 7th Assembly, Aminu Tambuwal emerged as the Speaker of the House of Representatives against the party’s choice. How do we avoid a repeat of that event?

I believe that our party is wise enough to understand the implications of having unnecessary fragmentation of senators. I want to tell you very clearly that our party would not allow that to happen. The APC would sort this issue out. The PDP understands that we are supposed to constitute the leadership of the Senate because we are the majority just as we have allowed them to form the leadership of the Senate over the last 16 years. I believe that our leaders would do something before we reach such a situation. We would not fall into that trap, we will resolve it.