We need a strong team to be in charge of the economy, says Dogara

Yakubu Dogara

Yakubu Dogara

Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara spoke with journalists on several national issues including the President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft war and the trial of the Senate President and his deputy. The Guardian reports.

On Buhari’s anti-corruption war

You will recall that the fight against corruption is one of the cardinal promises that Mr. President made before assumption of office. He had course to say that we have to kill corruption before corruption kills us and I know he is committed to fighting corruption to a stand still. The process of doing that has become a subject of concern to some people. The EFCC is actually the agency, that is in charge of this fight and if you look at what it has done so far, there is even a discussion as to whether they are proceeding in the right direction and whether it is not time for us to sit down and do an assessment of how the fight has been in view of the fact that in the last one year I do not think there has been any major conviction.

And it has always been a case of this person has been arrested and detained and some things have been done or he has been charged to court and then the story ends there. Whether if we continue like this we will succeed in fighting corruption, only God knows. If the end is just to arrest people, charge them to court and thereafter nothing happens, no one is convicted; because conviction, even if you are not jailed, has a way of deterring people. The fact that you are carrying that negative appellation as a former convict has the potential to deter people from corruption in the future.

But if I am just arrested, charged to court and maybe some money recovered from me and at the end of the day, nothing happens, a lot of people may not be deterred in the future from engaging in corrupt practices. But if you look at the massive looting of the treasury, actually, I have been in government for quite some time, I never, never, could have imagined the scale of corruption that we are witnessing right now where people took lots of money running into billions, buried them in farms. As we are speaking now, they are recovering monies from someone’s farm somewhere around Abuja. It is very unfortunate where people stole money just for the sake of stealing. If you were the one who was in charge of fighting corruption, the scale of the problem would have even shocked you.

And I guess part of the problem we have is that the scale of the problem far outweighs the anticipation of the agencies, so, if care is not taken in the process, we may not get things right. They will have to keep their heads level to be able to be in charge of this fight and to do it effectively.

On alleged selective war against corruption

If we are talking about corruption, naturally, it will relate to those that had opportunity to serve in government. You will recall that the PDP has been in power for a number of years, more than a decade and if you were to weigh members of opposition that are in government now and had opportunity to serve, those that would have tendencies to engage in pilfering of resources, majority will come from PDP, except we are not been realistic.

Even though we can’t claim that all the members of APC are saints, you pointed out that APC spent money in the course of the campaign, but where did this money come from? Because as it is, we haven’t really had any had facts about government officials forwarding money to the APC campaign. Majority of the money that was stolen was channeled towards the PDP campaign.

You know that this arms purchase money, for instance, virtually everything was given for the prosecution of PDP campaign, I do not think a dime went to any member of the APC, we were all in government then. I can’t remember a discussion like that then but I knew when some of the funds were been given to some of our friends as well but I believe that no one that is of APC stock was given that money.

I don’t think the fight has really been one sided. If you recall, one of the closest aides to the president, I don’t want to name him, if you recall, when he was picked up, everyone was shocked that that man could be picked up. He had been one of the most dutiful, one of the people that is very, very close to the president, yet he wasn’t spared when evidence was adduced that he benefitted from it and he had to refund the money. And recently, one of the closest people to the Villa as well, was picked up, he has been detained and questioned, some recoveries were made from him and if the intention was that the fight should be one sided, I can guarantee you that if it were to be a case that would have sacred cows, these two amply qualify as sacred cows that should not be touched.

I sincerely believe that the problem is that of evidence. If there is anybody in the APC government that perpetuated corruption and didn’t get dealt with, it could be that there is no evidence before the government right now and I know that there will be more that will come under serious searchlight of the anti-graft agencies and it doesn’t matter where they are. One thing I will say is that in a civil society, what is important is the issue of justice. Justice comes first even before the issue of wealth, of power and everything. Following from justice is wealth and equality. Without that, you cannot even have democracy. So for us to succeed really, we have to apply the rules across board. It doesn’t matter if you are a member of the ruling party or in opposition, if you are corrupt; you have to be dealt with.

In Nigeria, politics is not a straitjacket approach; it is not that if I am in APC, I am going to remain in APC forever or if I am in PDP, I am going to be in PDP forever just like it is in other jurisdictions. In Nigeria, there are frequent cases of cross carpeting which will still happen but if the case were that if you are a member of APC you will not face prosecution, I believe that more members would have cross carpeted to APC right now. So it is a question of perception.

No human institution is perfect

Let me state this; there is no human institution or process designed by man that can be perfect, and so there is always this question of sitting down to assess how a certain measure is going; If the fight is one sided for instance, if the process is not too good, if an individual steals money and engages you to render professional service and you rendered it and earned your money without knowing where the resources came from and you are asked to refund the money and nobody looks at the value of the service you had rendered to that person, I guess these are questions that we can sit down and say no, I think we cannot cross certain lines.

But a lot of Nigerians are happy about the fight and have said there should be no off limits. So maybe that is the kind of discussion that is really pushing the agencies to do far more than they are expected to do. But I know we should not talk prisoners when it comes to the fight against corruption but we have to look at the process and if there are abuses, everything must be done in line with the provisions of the law since this is due process and the rule of law. So everything has to be structured and if there is anything wrong, if you keep pointing it out from the perspective of the media, I am sure that there will be intervention.

So whether the process is 100 percent perfect, I believe not, and we will never have it a hundred percent because it is a human institution and no one is perfect. If you get a perfect human being, he has become God and we will start worshipping him. And we do not have God in EFCC so there will certainly be imperfections that we are bound to correct from time to time.
On senate forgery case

So much has happened. By virtue of my training, when a matter is in court, I really do not want to offer an opinion on it because as we say, it is subjudice. But I must say that there is an importance attached to all these institutions of democracy, where you have the case of government’s power been carved out and vertically or horizontally shared. There are all for some purposes. I believe that the National Assembly in any country is the bastion of democracy. Where you do not have an independent National Assembly, you definitely will have some kind of totalitarian tendencies in the government. In the past, there has been stability in regards to the work of the judiciary and the executive because usually, during military regimes or intervention, the institution that was suspended was the National Assembly and for obvious reasons. The body that now makes the law is the executive body. Ours is a democracy that is still evolving, it is not as nascent as it used to be but we still have a lot to learn.

If the goal is that they want to strangle the parliament, then definitely, we are going to run into serious problems and that will be an affront, a serious affront, on democracy and that will be totally unacceptable. But since the matter is in court, it doesn’t mean that when allegations are made, that they are true. It doesn’t. A lot of people have been charged in courts before and at the end of the day, insufficient evidence is given. And in a case of forgery, forgery is a criminal offense and the standard of proof; the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt. The Senate has spoken, it is an issue that all of us including the Senate and the House of Representatives will have to really sit down and analyze.

As it is, I haven’t seen the charges, I don’t know whether they are grounded or not but I have asked, as a lawyer too, that I needed to see the nature of the evidence against the presiding officers that are being charged to court in a case of forgery. And if there is a compelling case, we won’t say he should be exempted because we are legislators.

I know that right now, there is an ongoing discussion about the propriety or otherwise of immunity being given to presiding officers of the National Assembly. If the view is that we are not entitled to immunity, then it will mean that we are conferring some kind of legitimacy to this kind of trial because in the future, we cannot stop any government that says it wants to proffer charges against a presiding officer and at the end of the day, if the goal is really to emasculate the National Assembly, that will easily be attained. But like I said, without an independent, effective National Assembly, there is bound to be problems in any given democracy. Lord Acton said this thing long ago, long, long ago, when he said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A lot of people ask why do we have the Senate and the House of Representatives, why can’t we even have one house? But like they say, if you think that education is expensive, why don’t you try ignorance? They are reasons behind the creation of all these institutions. Social scientists sat; they looked at the act of governance and said this is the best way to guarantee liberty. Their first task was that, a free person can engage in virtually everything, in wealth generation, he can use his freedom to advance democracy and they were careful not to compromise individual liberties and they crafted this system of government to make sure that leaders are made to be true to the oath of their offices. And when there is compromise or an attempt to strangulate these departments of governments, you will find out that the government does not function effectively.

So, if there is no serious basis, justifiable basis, for preferring the charge, I believe that the accusation by the Senate may ultimately be right. That is the situation as I have seen myself. The matter is in court, we will allow the judiciary to do their work.

In my own case, I cannot say that I have seen a situation where a cabal that sits in government can make a decision. I don’t know, but I believe that since he (Senate President) is the one that said it, he will be in a better position to throw light on this and I wish he were here so that he can better educate us on this government within a government.

Relations with Executive and the Executive not honouring invitations

In the last administration, there were instances where the National Assembly summoned an appointee of the executive to appear before the National Assembly like in the case of the former Minister of Petroleum, Alison Madueke. Now the Senate has summoned the Attorney General of the Federation and the man has refused to appear. This is a man that appeared before the Senate for screening and now, he is saying he is not answerable to the Senate that he is an appointee of the president. Have we returned to that era? And I have heard you say that if this APC government fails to perform, Nigerians will …

The provisions of the Constitution are manifestly and patently clear about powers in pursuance of a resolution published in a gazette. In the case of Diezani, what she did was a clever way of saying there was no publication in a gazette and so we had not complied with the Constitutional provision to compel her. That was neither here nor there but the Constitution was very clear that in pursuance to our resolution published in a gazette we can invite any authority in Nigeria or any place to give evidence in clear exercise of our legislative powers. It is manifestly provided for in our constitution. We will see what we can if it is necessary to approach the court again, maybe the Supreme Court, to say pronounce on this. By if you have a clear crystal definition of the law like that and someone who is a lawyer says he is not bound by that, maybe the same discussion will arise even if the Supreme Court says loo, you are bound to appear if you have been summoned before parliament.

What we should correct more in Nigeria is this culture of impunity. It is not a question of law, it is just a matter of when an individual feels that to some extent, I can manoeuvre my way through the system so I’m not bound by the provisions of the law. But like I said before, due process, rule of law is the foundation of democracy to the extent that it is not the government of men but the government of laws. Anyone who knows and believes in our laws will not have any difficulty honouring the invitation of the National Assembly except that person feels guilty.

The attorney general has had cause to appear before committees of the National Assembly in the past, especially when we were dealing with the issues of Kogi State, MTN and others. So it is a bit strange to say he is not going to honour Senate’s invitation because he is not answerable to them. It is left for him to explain but like they say in law, you cannot approbate and reprobate.

APC government achievements

Recently, we have been engaging ministers on diversification of the economy and that will take me to the last issue on the performance of the APC government. You can imagine if all the minsters had said no, we are not responsible to the House of Representatives or to parliament and we will not come. There can’t be that discussion. We had interfaced where for the first time, ministers were called upon to come to our plenaries and explain how they were doing in the targets they have set for themselves to ensure that it is not just talks because talk is cheap.

We have always had discussions about diversification of the economy, why is it that it wasn’t done? So this time around, we want them to tell us, through the instrumentality of the parliament, to speak to Nigerians about the goals they are setting for themselves, the targets, so that we can clearly hold them to their own targets or milestones that they have set. We will continue to press on that to ensure that at least they deliver. We are reviewing what they are doing; otherwise nothing will be done. For us to get to where we want to we have to do things differently and it is part of doing those things differently.

Fortunately, I am not Lai Mohammed, I don’t speak for the government, I am a legislator but I can’t run away from the fact that it is our government and whether I am speaker or not, I have to say my mind as a politician on what we are doing and whether we are getting it right.

I would say that a lot has been spoken abut the fight against corruption, which is very important to ensure that the meager resources that we have are not frittered with and there is an ongoing discussion as well as to the effectiveness of the war against insurgency in the North East which has helped to improve security in the land. In those days, there were even fears of Boko Haram making incursions into safe cities like Lagos. I think they even attempted. But right now, we don’t have that kind of situation, so security has been enhanced.

When you talk of the economy, it is something that we will have to look at closely. I sincerely believe we need a very strong team that will superintend our economy. Because we are faced with dire challenges like this, we have to do something.

When Obama came into government in the US, there was virtual collapse of the economy at that time, he had to look for serious minded people who sat and charted a way out of that crisis. I sincerely believe that in Nigeria as well, we are rich in diverse ways. If we can put together a solid team to manage this economy, it doesn’t matter, I don’t think under Obasanjo we had the oil boom, we were earning far less than what we did subsequently, but we were able to manage the meagre resources we had. So I sincerely believe its just a matter of management and if we are able to get the right people in place, we will be able to swim through these dangerous waters.

But as they say, we are in the waters, and everything seems to be heading south. Things seem to be defying the traditional way of resolving these kind of problems so we need new methods. We need a strong team to really be in charge of the economy.

In terms of progress, progress cannot be made without appropriation. If we recall, the budget was passed not long ago, and I had cause to talk about the Procurement Act yesterday. If you are to procure, by the standard of the laws that we have in place, it will take you, in some cases, minimum of six months. So we are looking at the possibility of amending the Procurement Act itself because this is the only way we can guarantee that money is pumped into the economy because right now, if you have the money, you want to pay for procurement, the procurement process is just on and it will get to November, judging by the standard that we have in place, for this procurement process to be complete. And before you start drawing out the money, it is almost December.

This has been the process and I think it is unacceptable. So very soon, we are coming up with an amendment to the Procurement Act in two respects. Number 1, to shorten the procurement process to a maximum of 2 months because now, there is virtually nothing that you cannot get on Google. All you need to do now is Google prices and it will give you virtually everything. I don’t see any reason why you will spend six months doing analysis, financial bids, technical bids and all those kind of things when you can sit down with your laptop and in a few hours you are done.

We want to reduce the procurement process and then the issue of payment of mobilization, which is another big problem. It is pegged at 15 percent and we believe it is unduly restricted, more so that we have this Ifex prices right now. If you have a contract with offshore element, 15 percent of your payment may not even procure a half or even a quarter of what you need. We want a situation where we will raise the bar to not more than 50 percent. The Procurement entity will apply its discretion in saying this contract has some offshore elements, let’s pay 40 percent, 45 percent or the maximum of 50 percent to the contractor or say everything will be locally sourced so let’s pay 15 or 20 percent. At least, we want to give procurement entities discretion with which to operate.

So I guess one year may be a small period of time for us to begin to assess the progress of this government. We have not even started implementing the budget in its true sense and that will be done after procurement processes are over. That is one of the challenges that we have on ground.
On Grazing Bill

We have had bills introduced on the issue of grazing and I know that it has become a highly contested matter in the body polity. I believe that as leaders, we have responsibility to halt discussions that are not healthy in the polity. That is not the kind of thing we should encourage but as to whether we should have the discussion at all, I agree that whether things are pleasant or unpleasant, like I said before, we just have to entertain them in a democracy. It is only in the course of entertaining them that it is adjudged to be unhealthy to the system that we can put them aside.

My take on this is very simple. I have had cause to talk to some of the promoters of this bill to say hey, there is this unhealthy discussion about these bills in the National Assembly, so let’s just halt and have a small group of people that will take a look at some of these issues from the contributions of Nigerians and let’s advice ourselves before moving on and as it is, that is where we are. We want to listen to opinions of our citizens and at the end of the day it is government of our people, we are going to do what majority of our citizens want and not what a few want to be done. As the House of the people, we cannot run away from it, so ultimately, it is the will of the people that will triumph in this matter. So right now, we have halted all further processes on these bills.

On amnesty programme

I don’t think the government has stopped the amnesty programme. The contention, as I heard, is that the funds appropriated were not enough. It is not the case that there is an outright ban on amnesty programme. All of us believe that this is the right way to approach this. We were in government when this decision was taken and we sincerely believe that it provides a great window for managing this crisis in the Niger Delta, so it is one of the things the executive can simply wish away without some dire consequences.

I believe that the only way out is engaging these militants. We have to do everything possible within government to ensure that we rein them in so that we can have the needed peace. Not even just for economy exploitation or economic benefit of the whole country, but to ensure that that region develops too, they need the peace. Development always flees from violence. Wherever you have violence, it will never develop. Development and peace and violence cannot cohabit. It has never been the case in history. So even in the interest of the people in that region, they need the peace for development to take root. As leaders, it is our responsibility to point that out to the stakeholders in the Niger Delta to ensure that there is peace and whatever can be done to guarantee this peace should be done.

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