We have not abandoned Taraba ex-gov. Suntai, says Gbana
Istifanus Haruna Gbana, ex-Speaker, Taraba House Of Assembly and now Senior Special Adviser to the Taraba governor on Legislative Matters speaks on the allegation of abandonment of ex-governor Danbaba Suntai, President Buhari’s anti-graft war and others.
Is it true that some of you who stood solidly behind the former governor of Taraba, Danbaba Suntai has suddenly abandoned him to his fate especially now that he is bedridden?
I don’t think the rumour is true. There is nothing like that. We have not abandoned His Excellency, Danbaba Suntai. Why should we abandon him?
We have stood by him since he had plane crash, and we are still standing by him no matter his plight.
I don’t think it would be appropriate to say that he has been abandoned, or we have now forgotten him. We will never forget him. He is an icon and a very important figure in the politics of Taraba state. I cannot abandon him having worked closely with him as Speaker of the House of Assembly.
I know who His Excellency Danbaba Suntai is to me and also to Taraba people in general. During his administration, we had massive development in the State. There was cordial relationship between the legislature and the executive. We are solidly behind him, even in difficult times like this.
You may not be aware that that last year the administration of Arc. Darius Ishaku assisted in flying him back to US for further medical checks. Since then, he has been in US.
If Governor Ishaku is on the top of the situation as regard to his welfare and medical treatment, it goes to show that by extension all of us that supported this government are solidly with him.
As the former Chairman, Conference of Nigerian Speakers, what are your views on the developments at the National Assembly?
I am not particularly happy with the ongoing trial of the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki. Not that I don’t want corruption to be fought squarely, but whether we like it or not the truth remains that his trial is distracting him.
Instead for Saraki to move the Senate forward, his trial has slowed him down. I am of the opinion that the offices of the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, Speaker of House of Representatives, and the Deputy Speaker should enjoy constitutional immunity like the executive.
Such will reduce the kind of distractions the Senate President is experiencing now.
What is your take on President Muhammadu Buhari government’s anti-corrupt fights?
There is no sensible Nigerian who will expect the country to continue the way it was going before and make headways.
I am strongly in support of the fight against corruption. The President is doing his best to see that we change our ways of doing business in governance, change the way of doing things, and then see how this country can move from where it has been all these years. That is a very good omen.
The only area that calls for concern is the lopsidedness in the anti-graft fight of the Buhari government. It looks like a witch-hunt of some selected persons. It might not be the intention of the President, but some people along the line are trying to use the fight to harass some perceived political enemies. This crude approach is denting the good intention of the President in the fight.
What is your opinion on the controversies that erupted immediately after the presentation of the 2016 budget by the President?
As a former legislator, I was embarrassed when the Senate said the budget got missing, House of Representatives said, no, the budget is still there, then later on the President acknowledged the fact that what he presented was not what he intended to, and they have to doctor and amend one or few areas before sending it back.
That did not give a good impression actually. We have gotten over it, and the budget has been passed by the National Assembly.
I am hoping that the budget will be implemented because our problem has been the implementation of the budget and not the passage. Now that the budget has been passed into law, we would now see how it would be funded and how projects would be executed. We pray that maybe for once, we will witness effective implementation of annual budget.
What is your assessment of Buhari’s administration in the last 11 months?
Things have been actually very slow. Maybe because the budget has not been passed into law. There is a saying that you don’t effect a change without the people feeling the pains first. President has acknowledged the fact that the price of food items and the cost of living have increased astronomically. That has not been the situation before.
I think Nigerians are seriously accusing the Minister of State for Petroleum for not handling the fuel scarcity matter very well. I think the minister underrated a lot of things, and he thinks he is going to achieve certain things within a stipulated time, but that was not to be. It has been very difficult for him.
I am happy he has apologised and agreed to go back to the drawing board to see what can be done immediately to salvage the situation. Hopefully maybe when the budget is finally implemented, we would begin to see changes.
Recently, there has been series of controversies in the various State Houses of Assemblies across the country. As an experienced legislator, what would you suggest as the way out?
Activities in the State Houses of Assemblies across the country are being influenced by people outside the Assembly. As long as we have these influence peddlers from outside, we will continue to witness chaos there.
We pray and hope that in due course, the independence of the State Houses of Assemblies would be achieved. If this is not achieved, we will continue to witness crisis in the House of Assembly.
Is true you were among the House of Assembly Speakers who kicked against the independence of the State House of Assembly then?
I have never kicked against the independence of the House of Assembly. I have read in papers and I have seen some of my colleagues that did not know the facts on ground insinuating that when I was the chairman, Conference of Speakers, I kicked against it.
If you go to the National Assembly, the records are there, go to the office of the Conference of Speakers of Nigeria in Abuja, the details are there, and documents don’t lie. So go check it out there, you will see that Taraba State under my leadership voted in favour of the independence of the State House of Assembly.
We voted in favour of it. The records are there. So it is actually wrong to say that I once kicked against it. I was the chairman, and I stood by it. The constitutional requirement then was two-third which was 24 States, out of the 36 States. We were 22 States that voted for the independence. Two States that initially voted in favour and later withdrew caused the setback. If not for their last minute withdrawal, we would have achieved independence of the State House of Assembly.
Taraba State House of Assembly recently jacked the Appropriation Bill presented by the State governor from N68 billion to over N100 billion, as an expert in legislative matters, did you see that as a good omen for the State that depends mainly on monthly federal allocation for survival?
It is in order as long it was done in good faith, and there are resources to fund the budget. Mind you, when the executive presents the budget, it is not to say that the legislature should swallow everything that is submitted or presented by the executive.
The truth is that the legislators have the right to look into the presentation of the executive and see whether the money should be reduced or increased.
As the Special Adviser to the governor on legislative matters, what efforts have you put in place to enhance good working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature?
I was specifically appointed to advise the governor so that as much as possible we don’t run into crisis like other States.
With my wealth of experience, I intend to make sure that members of the Taraba State House of Assembly enjoy what is due to them, and the Executive, too, has a very conducive atmosphere to operate, so that whenever there are frictions, they can come to the round table discussion and resolve their differences for the betterment of the people of the State.
That you have also seen in recent times where the present speaker had problems with the tribunal and they ordered a re-run in his constituency after his seat was declared vacant. That would have degenerated into crisis if it were not well managed.
The Executive and the members of the House of Assembly quickly came together and took a decision and a former speaker who is now a member was drafted in. That shows that there is a cordial relationship between the legislature and the executive.
What steps will you suggest for total peace to reign in the State?
We may not have total peace because when you talk of total peace it means there will be no crisis again. It is our wish and our prayers that we have total peace, but you know in reality, there is no State that has total peace.
What we need is relative peace. You are in Taraba State, you can attest to the fact to what happened before this present administration came on board. Somebody came in and bastardised the act of governance. They infused religion into the fabrics of our politics. You can agree with me that since Governor Ishaku came on board, the crisis in the southern part of the State has reduced drastically.
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