How PDP can produce next Senate President —Urhoghide
Reelected Senator Matthew Urhoghide of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is the Chairman Senate Committee on Public Account in the Eighth Senate. He speaks with HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE on intrigues ahead the inauguration of the Ninth Senate on June 11, how PDP may spring a surprise, if lawmakers from the All Progressives Congress (APC) don’t put their house in order, among other issues. Excerpts:
AHEAD of the inauguration of the Ninth Senate, what are your expectations?
I expect that the next Senate should be able to discharge its responsibilities to Nigerians, especially in the areas of lawmaking for good governance, doing its oversight functions, supervision of all agencies of government, blocking leakages, but again, giving our constituencies effective representation.
Outside of these, I think we should be able to intervene for the people of this country to ensure their interest is represented at each levels of governance, to ensure that we as citizens actually have a sense of belonging. You know that the constitution is very clear what the responsibilities of every government is, the welfare of the citizens, protection of the citizens. If the parliament is able to live up to its responsibilities, then, we will know we have a Senate.
No matter the beauty of the laws we are going to initiate, if the quality of the people’s lives is not enhanced, if their safety is not guaranteed, of course, we will say we do not have a Senate and legislature. This is my dream; that the Senate should be able to fill the gap between government and the people. The Senate should stand its grounds to ensure that the quality of lives of the people is enhanced.
What is your take on the independence of the Senate, compared to state Houses of Assembly and councillors?
We have the Senate at the National Assembly, states legislatures and the councillors at the local governments. All of us are discharging the same functions, but you find out that the councillors are cowed by the executive chairmen and, of course, at the state levels we have seen majority of the state governors completely enveloping the state Assembly that they cannot make choices or take decisive decision. They have been rubber stamped.
At the national level, the Senate, being the upper chamber, should give direction. So the Senate being the upper chamber of the parliament, should be able to provide leadership, set the pace.
I am the chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts I chair all the states Houses of Assembly, 36 of them including the House of Representatives they are all under me. So, if the Public Accounts Committee is to ensure there is probity, accountability and transparency in governance, it must be the one to show example.
So, in every sphere in all other divisions as legislature business, it is the Senate that should provide the direction. If we are able to do that, I think we would have done better and put in place a better Nigeria.
What does this imply? It means we are able to elicit good governance. But the way we have done in the last few years, the Senate has been trying to develop itself as an institution in line with international best practices, that is, what is supposed to be-independent-that is why there have been clashes here and there. The Eighth Senate was able to give itself direction and if you look at it today, if you look at the last National Assembly election, the leadership paid the price of trying to determine the independence of the National Assembly.
So, if you look at Bukola Saraki today, they tried to disgrace him for daring to see that institution is free. If the Ninth Senate is going to come and leave all we have achieved in trying to make the institution independent, the gains we have achieved in trying to make the legislature independent, independent because that is what democracy is; each arm of government is independent of the other. So, if you are independent of the other, you should go and treat your leadership. But for the Senate to say no, which is what happened in the Seventh Assembly while the Eighth Assembly did a whole better. So, if the Ninth Senate allows itself to be cowed, it is its own cup of tea. But for some of us, we are going to strengthen the institution. Indeed, the Senate like the other advanced democracy they operate on their independence.
The tussle for the next Senate President is once again heating up the polity. What is your take on this?
l have the right to make a choice. It must be somebody that is the best amongst equal, irrespective of which political party the person belongs. Serious parliaments are driven by the leadership that the people want. It is what we have to do and we must do it in the best interest of Nigeria. So, the best should be in the greater interest of our people, party affiliation. If you make a choice amongst your party’s contestants and you are making a wrong choice and you feel you can impose a wrong choice, then we shall see. Allow us to make the choice because that is what happened in the Eight Senate when two or more contestants wanted to be Senate President. We know they will decide to fight and present more than one candidate. If they present more than one candidate, we have the right to choose. If the three of them share their votes and we decide to vote for one who the party never supports, by the time that one wins, the fight will start again. So, if they want to avoid crisis, the All Progressives Congress (APC) must be properly prepared to run a democracy with all its arsenals. They must be a master of the game, go and settle their matter at home. They must peep into the other camps to see what is happening there so that their choice must not be a wrong choice for us. If they are divided, then we can throw up one because any of us can become the Senate President. Section eight is very clear and nobody says it must be APC. It could also be the person coming from the Young Progressive Party (YPP). It does not matter.
What is your opinion on the widely held view that it is only the president and the ruling party that determine who becomes the next Senate President?
Nobody is a house boy to anybody in this business. Anybody that wants to subordinate the legislative arm to the executive arm, such person or persons should have a rethink. In the Eight Senate, those that were appointed by the President Buhari were even the ones that were saying we should not operate independently. People like the former Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal, an appointee, insisted that Saraki must go. He was the first to be shown the way out. Have you forgotten the president has people in the opposition parties who are in the National Assembly? So, if they say it is what the president wants they will do, when we get there that day we will make our choice.
During the last governorship/House of Assembly election in some states particularly in Edo, the message was vote for those who can cooperate with the governor instead of competent hands. What does this portend?
That is the sorrowful state we have found ourselves in Edo. It is a sorrowful state. How can somebody be campaigning for those who can work with you and not those who can represent the people? Is it not those the people want that can work with you? If what you are doing is not what the people want, they will not support you. Members of the state. Assembly should represent their people. At the Senate, I represent the Edo South people not the president. In the last four years I don’t think I have ever met with him, but when he needs me, he will let me know. I have been able to do my work well, sponsor bills, move motions, represent the people. But it would have been better if we had interaction. But the president is not disposed to seeing anybody who is not from his party. So, I decided to keep him at arm’s length and that is why any day, I will work against him.
What are those things you want the next leadership of the Senate to change?
The leadership of the eighth Senate, early enough, could have understood the position of the Executive. Going by the number of bills passed by the Eighth Senate and the resolution from our motions, the 2011-2015 Senate did not pass such all together. The president did not assent one quarter of these bills. So, that is a problem. Look at all the adverts, public hearings that were done, you can see what they are. So, that deflated the zeal. When these bills are being considered, it would have been better for the Executive to peep into them. That is why the parliamentary system is a little better because the ministers and segment of the executive are part of it. So, in the description of our work, we should let the Executive know what it really entails. Parliament everywhere in the world is a conservative entity; the Executive must sit up so that they can appraise the efforts of other arms of government in the best interest of our country.