After about 13 months in office as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, has opened up on a number of knotty issues that surrounding the present political dispensation, including the relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly, the APC administration, war against corruption. Our man brings excerpts of the interview he had with newspaper editors.
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 cause to say that we have to kill corruption before corruption kills us and I know he is committed to fighting corruption to a standstill. The process of doing that has become a subject of concern to some people. The EFCC is actually the agency, as we all know, 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.
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. Only God knows whether, if we continue like this, we will suceed in fighting corruption. 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 could never have imagined the scale of corruption that we are witnessing right now where people took lots of money running into billions and buried them in farms. As we are speaking now, they are recovering monies from someone’s farm somewhere around Abuja.
It is very unfortunate that people stole money just for the sake of stealing. If you were the one who was in charge of fighting corruption, you would have even been shocked by the scale of the problem. 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 take charge of the fight and to do it effectively.
On alleged selective war against corruption
On the question of one-sided approach, 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 being realistic. Even though we can’t claim that all the members of APC are saints, you pointed out that APC spent money in the cause 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 cause of the campaign.
The majority of the money that was stolen was channeled towards the PDP campaign. You know that this arms purchase monies, 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. The whole thing was scripted.
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—when he was picked up, everyone was shocked. He had been one of the most dutiful; 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. If the intention was that the fight should be one sided, 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. 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.
On Senate forgery case
On the 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 being 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 was 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 really seen the papers, 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. I have had attacks on the social media and the conventional media. A lot of people have expressed divergent views. So if the view is that we are not entitle 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. This thing was said long ago, long, long ago by Lord Acton, 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, look, 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 it myself. The matter is in court; we will allow the judiciary to do their work and I sincerely believe that if they are guilty as they are alleged, that the proof of evidence will disclose any material allegation against them, then they will be free and we will continue to do the work we do in parliament without fear of any intimidation.
On achievement of APC government in one year
Now, the achievement of APC in the last one year, 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 apply my mind as a politician to 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 their 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 and 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 is 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 it, 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 the traditional way of resolving this 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, it 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. 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 close 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 one, to shorten the procurement process to a maximum of two 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 disgression 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 disgression with which to operate.
Grazing reserve bill
On the issue of Grazing Bills, we have had bills introduced on the issue of grazing and I know that it has become a highly contested matter in the polity. I believe that, as leaders, we have responsibility to halt discussions that are not healthy in the polity.
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 the opinions of our citizens. At the end of the day, it is government of our people, we are going to do what the 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. Right now, we have halted all further processes on these bills.
On calls for restructuring of Nigeria and adoption of confab report by constitution review committee
Like I said, there shouldn’t be any off limits discussions on restructuring. It is healthy, it is going to lead us to a destination but I don’t want to prejudge the issues because I know that these issues will come very soon to me as an arbiter and if I let the cat out of the bag, it will be too obvious that I have taken a position.
So I don’t want to say this is my position in this, I want to maintain neutrality, even though I have my own sentiments about the issues. The House committee has said they have adopted the conference report as a working document and that is only because they are the ones responsible for crafting bills that will lead to alteration to the constitution.
It is only when those bills are crafted by the committee and transmit to the larger house that the debate will take place and that is why I am saying I do not want to have an opinion as it is, even though I cannot run away from the fact that as a citizen, as a politician, I have to see things from the angle of an enlightened person and so if I I say I don’t have a position, I will be lying.i just wouldn’t want to just put it there so that it doesn’t serve as a clock to the debate will soon take place. Let’s wait for the debate and see, I am sure that proposal is going to come before the House of Representatives. I wish the Senate had done the same so that when we are arriving at a decision it is not going to be difficult. But if the Senate passes a different passes a different version and we in the House pass a different version, the job is going to be left in the hands of a very few people called the Conference Committee. So at the end of the day, it is the conference committee’s will that will prevail and you don’t know who and who will serve in that committee. But if it is done in the Senate and done in the House, it means that we would have set the issue to rest. So that is where the challenge is. I sincerely believe that we have to do something differently in this country because if we continue doing the same things as we have been doing before, we cannot run away from the same outcomes. The outcomes can never be different, that is the truth.