In this interview with Jacob SEGUN OLATUNJI, the member representing Yagba Federal Constituency of Kogi State in the House of Representatives, who is also deputy chairman, House Committee on Customs, Joseph Abejide, bares his mind on burning national issues.
WHAT is your take on the increasing rate of insecurity in the country?
Everyone is worried. The speaker, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, is more worried. If you watched the news penultimate Friday, he was visibly angry with the absence of the service chiefs from a security meeting convened by the leadership of the House to put heads together on how best to tackle the menace, because the security situation is degenerating and everybody is concerned. Nobody’s life is safe anymore. You can even see within Abuja how members of the Islamic Movement Nigeria (IMN) are destabilising everywhere. They came to the National Assembly. They wrote to us ahead that they were coming and they came. So also are the kidnappers and Boko Haram insurgents. They would write; they would forewarn you, asking you to prepare for them on this day and at this time. And they would actually come exactly at that time without being challenged; there is no opposition. To us in the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives, it is as if the security situation is degenerating. Maybe those people managing it have reached their peak. You know what we call the law of diminishing returns; that when you get to the optimum level, then, you nosedive. So, I think something like that has happened.
I think if new bloods can come in, there will be changes. Look at what happened in the case of the Nigeria Police Force. Can’t you see that the new Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, is more pragmatic now, because he came and he wanted to show that he could perform. But when you are left in a position for too long, certain shortcomings would be showing up.
Even in the bank, in those days, you see when someone is on one seat for long, he would become an oracle. So, he could do anything he wanted, because he knew he could not be challenged. A lot of corruption would come in.
So, to me, if I were in the shoes of the president, if you are a service chief and you have spent two to three years, you will give room for someone who has more energy to come on board.
Invariably, are you calling for the change in the nation’s security apparatus?
Yes, exactly; this is long overdue.
One of the perceived sins of the Eighth National Assembly was the crisis between its leadership and the executive, despite the fact that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled the majority in the two chambers. How do you think things can be improved upon for people to enjoy real dividends of democracy in the Ninth National Assembly?
This Ninth Assembly is lovely. You can see that whenever there is any correspondence or any request from the president, we attend to it with dispatch. We don’t delay any longer. I can swear by the Almighty God that in the next four to five months, Nigerians will begin to see the difference and begin to reap the dividends of democracy, because for example, now that we are trying to return the budget cycle to January to December, it means we will pass the budget before we go for the Christmas break and I believe the president will give assent to it and start its implementation immediately. We are working hand-in-hand. There will be no padding issues or rejection. You will see that on December 31, when the president will be addressing the nation, the budget will be signed into law.
What gives you that assurance?
I have the assurance, because now that we have good understanding, things will change drastically. He sent us a letter on the MTEF 2020-2022, you understand. So, we will work on it very fast and we will send it back, because that is what they will use for the budget proposal.
So, I’m sure that any moment from now, the budget proposal will be here and then, we are going to work day and night to make sure it is completed and we will tell the president to keep to that promise; by December 31, let the budget be signed so that by the January 1, implementation starts. You will see that if we have 12 months to implement the budget, tell me why it will not be implemented by 100 per cent. It will be 100 per cent, because all of us as lawmakers will be happy to go home to see our people and our people too will be happy to receive us, because they would have been seeing what government is doing.
By now, we are in the beginning of October and the budget of 2019 has not been implemented. It is not a good system and it›s not the fault of the Mr President. It is the fault of the Eighth Assembly, the unending crisis between the two arms of government. Let us be objective with ourselves. If you say you are representing people and you put your own personal interest ahead of the peoples’ interest, you are going to crash and that was what happened to some of them. They ought to have looked at the masses, instead of the fighting that characterised that session. Refusing to look at the project for a long time is not a good thing for democracy. Now, this Ninth Assembly is going to show what is called excellence in democracy. You shall see. It is not as if we will not disagree on some things, but we will resolve our differences in favour of the masses. It is not something we take to the public to see and start shooting. We will not do that. If you call it rubber stamp, so be it. If it is rubber stamp and the public benefits better than the one that is not rubber stamped and the public suffered, do the comparison.
Is that why you are seen as a rubber stamp National Assembly in some quarters?
To me, the rubber stamp is better. To be rubber stamp for the public to be better is preferred to being confrontational and public suffers. For Instance, whatever is given to me for my constituency, if I take it home on time and my people see it and they enjoy it, are they going to say it is rubber stamp? No, but when they don’t see anything, they will tell you that rubber stamp person is better than you.
Now, tell me, what is even rubber stamp? See the way the speaker spoke penultimate Friday to the members of the executive and told the service chiefs that were invited but didn’t come that he would report to the president and he did. Twenty-four hours later, the service chiefs marched in; all of them came. I was there for over five hours and all of them came and from the way they talked, it was not as if they did it deliberately. But you see, we are to oversee them. The constitution empowers us to oversee their affairs. It is not that we are just doing it for show sake. The constitution says we should check them. That is what we call check and balances, because you cannot approbate and reprobate yourself. You cannot be a judge in your own case. That’s what happened.
Because the security situation in the country is not ok, they will go back and sit down to work. If we see that they are not working, we will report them to the president for necessary action.
Should Nigerians expect more dividends of democracy in the next few months?
Yes. I am an economist and by training, if you have your budget running for 365 days, that’s the number of days in a year, tell me why the public will not benefit. Between a rubber stamp National Assembly with good public impression and a confrontational National Assembly with bad impression and bad records, which one is better? Tell me. Moreover, I have said it is not a rubber stamp Assembly. We will resolve our differences whenever the need arises in the interest of the members of the public. We are supposed to complement one another and not otherwise. But tell me what the Eighth Assembly did. Was it good? Can you mention one thing good they did? I am sure you are a seasoned Journalist. The four years was a monumental waste and it will not repeat itself in this Ninth Session. Tell me what they achieved. If we continue like that, people will die. The whole Nigeria will die and that will be the end of democracy.
Are you saying that the coming in of the Ninth Assembly is a saving grace for democracy in Nigeria?
Yes, it’s a saving grace for democracy in Nigeria and that’s why we have God-chosen ones in person of Honourable Gbajabiamila and Senator Ahmed Lawan as the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate respectively. God has given them wisdom and they have the experience. That is why you see that both chambers are very peaceful.
Gbajabiamila carries everybody across the parties along in the House. I believe the Senate president is doing the same thing at the Senate. They are together. Even those people that were initially against him are now for him, though that’s what I gathered. I am not in the Senate.
If we work as a team, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, it is one thing that will move Nigeria forward. It is the best for us.
You are a member the Action Democratic Congress (ADC) from Kogi State. The governorship election is coming in November. What are the chances of your party and your view about the performance of the incumbent APC governor, Yahaya Bello?
Democracy is government of the people by the people and for the people. If actually people want change, it is in their hands; the power is in their hands. If the government in power is actually not doing well, it will reflect in the outcome of the election. But if someone is telling you that he is doing well, we will see on that day.
You’re talking in parables.
No, I’m not talking in parables. It happened in the state Assembly election. The people were trying to say they were having problem, but at the end of the day, it is the same candidate they voted for. I believe that some of them owe other people. When they pay them salary, they don’t want the people they owe to know. That is why they are saying they have not been paid. Now, look at it, if you’re genuinely not being paid, you know what to do. I cannot dictate to you. And I am going to do my party, the ADC’s work. I am in ADC. I have not changed; whether our candidate wins or not, I am going to work for the party.
There is a rumor doing the rounds that you’re on your way out, that you are meeting with the ruling party behind doors. This has been on for a very long time. How true is it?
Go and ask very well, we are the original APC in Kogi State. We are the real APC in Kogi State. I was the leader of APC in my side. I was the one leading people to confront the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which was in power then. I was the leader; I was the one spending money and then, we wrestled power from the incumbent. You know how difficult it was, but the day the election results were to be announced, our leader, the late Prince Abubakar Audu, died and our hope was that the next person, Honourable James Faleke, was going to be given the opportunity, but he was cheated.
See, I am a human being. Nobody gave me money in that election. I contributed heavily to that election, but I feel that Honourable Faleke was cheated. He is my brother; we are from the same place and that’s why we left the party for them.
But I have friends that are still in APC; even Honourable Faleke himself is still in APC. So, I have a lot of friends, a lot of people in government that are members of APC. So, it is not politics that brought us together. Why is it that I won’t relate with them? I normally go into politics. I have friends that we always have something in common, and that is why people are peddling the rumour. It is because they see that I am very close to the governor of Jigawa State, Badaru. People are seeing that at the federal level and are saying that I have moved. I have not moved. I’m still in my party.
I held a meeting last Friday with my stakeholders and very soon, we will hold another one on the way forward. I am not against anybody becoming governor, but what I want is good governance. If Governor Bello starts paying salaries, doing projects, and people are no longer suppressed, why not. I am not against anybody becoming governor, but let there be good governance.
Now, I’m looking for money. I’ve not done my budget here. I’m looking for money to pay this year›s West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination fees, because last year, I paid for public schools, all public schools in Yagba federal constituency. All the students, not only the WAEC fees; I paid their administrative charges for each school, running to about N45 million. This year, because the private schools came in, there is no how it won’t be up to N70 to N80 million. Am I supposed to be spending this kind of money? It supposed to be government’s responsibility. If I have a government that comes tomorrow and starts doing this, I will be relieved.
Can you estimate the number of students that are going to benefit from the scheme?
We are still capturing them. They are going to be more this year. They will almost double and there’s no party consideration in my programme. Ask them in my constituency. In fact, the children of the opposition parties benefited most from my programme, because they have more members as of the time I did the last one. But now, people prefer to come to me as their last hope. Whatever I say is what I will do.
So, now may be this time around, we will be expecting like 5,000 or more students. It is close to N200 million. It is not a small project. Not only that, I have over 7,000 widows that by December, I must look for their food and clothing and give them money for Christmas and New Year celebrations. This is the kind of governance I am bringing on the table in my constituency. And I will make sure all the roads are worked on. The roads that open up communities and enable people to go to farms and get whatever they want to get faster will be done.