By John Bulus
Rt. Hon. Inuwa Garba is the Speaker, Gombe State House of Assembly. He was recently sworn as Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria, otherwise called Speakers’ Conference following his election in Abuja .
In apparent appraisal of the Legislative Arm of Government and other sundry issues in the polity in the last one year, the young Speaker who granted interview to Journalists in Gombe says that Nigeria must win the corruption war. JOHN BULUS was there for Saturday Vanguard. Excerpts:
As the Chairman of the Speakers’ Conference, how would you assess legislation in the country in the recent time?
Generally, legislation has improved in the last couple of years because of the quality of the Honourable members and the quality of legislation. From the National Assembly down to the State Assemblies, we are doing very well in terms of legislation towards developing the economy, security and all endeavours that affect human lives.
May we know how many bills and resolutions that have been passed since you became the Speaker of Gombe State House of Assembly in the last one year?
We have successfully initiated or received and passed at least 23 bills and well over 20 resolutions passed into law. We have four to five bills awaiting our attention but the committees working on them will present their reports very soon.
What is Gombe state government doing about the Child Rights Act?
The Child Rights Act is a very good initiative and wonderful development. But for us in Gombe state, we want to do something which is modest regarding the Act.
We will have to consider our socio-cultural diversity and our religious difference in doing something of this nature because we in the northern part of this country thoroughly and truly believe in the norms and ethics of our religion and culture.
So we cannot do anything that will plunge our populace into a serious dilemma that there will be problem or disagreement between the children and their parents. So we’ll do something modest so that by the time we come out with the Child Rights Act, even the Federal Government will realize that it is good to copy from what we’ve produced.
It appears that there is so much cordiality between the Legislature and the Executive in Gombe as opposed to what is obtained else where. What is the secret?
The secret is very simple. Once you are ready to do the right thing and you are indeed doing the right thing, the three arms, including the judiciary will come to that understanding where there will be smooth running between the executive and the legislature while the judiciary will complement what the other two are doing. That is exactly what we are doing and will continue to do in Gombe state.
Does that mean that Gombe is keying into President Jonathan’s remark that we should be celebrating the collaboration between the executive and legislature rather than being at variance?
Well, I cannot speak for the federation; I can only speak for Gombe state. But as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he must know better than I, so I think whatever he says must be based on the reality he sees on ground. I have no reason whatsoever to agree with or disagree with him.
But I will rather agree with him because he is our leader and he knows far better than we do as regards the relationship between the National Assembly and the Federal Government.
The Presidency sometime allegedly accused the Lower House of not complying with most of the resolutions sent by the executive. As the Chairman of Speakers’ Conference, what is your advice on smoothening that kind of legislative harmony as regards to bills and resolution sent by the executive at the federal and state levels?
I don’t know why people are afraid of disagreement. Disagreement is part of the ingredients that will strengthen democracy. It is only when and if there is disagreement that stakeholders will come to agree based on reality and the best practices of the separation of power.
It is good the executive and the legislature sometimes have fracas on some issues because it is to the advantage of the public who will judge them on the bases of their activities at that very time. Besides, both the legislature and executive will become cautious because it has become a public issue.
So disagreement in democracy is good and better to some extent but it has to be realistic. I don’t see it as a problem because it keeps both arms of government up and doing in their responsibilities.
So, constructive criticism is good because it helps to improve productivity and the quality of leadership we are going to give to Nigerians. But what I will disagree with is to be selfish and to deliberately create unnecessary problems so that the system will be overheated or have the attention of both the executive and the legislature diverted. What they are doing will strengthen us all as leaders because it will gear us up to fruitful productivity in democratic governance in which we are privileged to be leaders.
Speculations were rife in the last administration in Gombe state that the legislature was pocketed then by the executive arm. Is that still the case now?
Independence is one very key issue to legislators. Independence is a relative term, but the most critical is financial independence, which is giving the legislators the power to control and man their affairs financially. We, the state legislators did not have the opportunity to have their independence then.
Not only in Gombe state; but in the whole federation. Nevertheless, our own responsibility is very clear – it is just limited to making laws, oversight functions, amendments and checkmating the activities of the executive and to collaborate where there is need, with the judiciary. We tried the best we could do at that time (under the last administration in the state) and where you see improvement, it is because we have the opportunity and enabling environment to improve. So we are improving.
The National Assembly has always been in the news for the bad reasons of corruption. What would you say in that respect over the last one year?
Corruption is a relative term. But the definition of the term by me is putting the right thing in the wrong place. If you put sand in pap for example, you’re corrupting that pap, if you have a very tasty and well garnished stew with meat and everything and you are putting sugar, you are corrupting it.
In any case, corruption is in Nigerians. Not only the legislators, the executive, the media, or farmers; everybody is involved in corruption in Nigeria . That is why you cannot point out a particular group and say these are the corrupted ones.
We are all corrupted. If you see a President in Nigeria now, in the last 30 years, he was a nobody; maybe his father cannot feed the house three times a day and from that initial days, gets rotten. So, if he has the opportunity of becoming President, we have an already rotten person as President.
Corruption is everywhere: in politics, economy, social circles, just name it. Ask the farmer, he’ll tell you he hired a labourer to work on his farm only for them to bury the weeds with sand; that is corruption. In school, some go into exam halls with prepared answers or even get leakages from the examination authorities, that is corruption. Corruption is corruption irrespective of the style and it has no bound.
If somebody could do this in the classrooms, they would do worse as leaders. Honestly, we are in serious trouble about this corruption. But we must not give up fighting it.
So what do you think is the way out?
The way out is that we have to give a very serious attention to the youths. We have to start changing things from the grassroots by encouraging the younger ones to become better people. We the old ones are already going. If we say we want to change now, it’s going to be very difficult. Corruption has become part of our tradition, part of our culture, and even part of our lives. So to change it means changing the people entirely. So it’s good to encourage and mobilize the younger ones that are coming up against the dangers of corruption.
Sometime ago, the Senate President spoke about financial autonomy for the State Houses of Assemblies, in your capacity as the Chairman Speakers Forum, how far have you gone with that?
The financial autonomy of state legislators is no longer the issue of the state legislators and the state Governors. It is an issue between Nigeria and the state Governors because financial autonomy is one thing that if achieved will definitely in no small amount strengthen the democracy itself as well as bring transparency and maturity in the polity generally. So if you (the media) will go back and start giving us names like rubber stamps, lame dogs, toothless bulldogs, bootlickers and whatever, I don’t think you are doing justice to the situation. Sustaining democracy, developing democracy, integrating democracy is supposed to be the yearnings and aspirations of all Nigerians.
So if that is true, the media has a very significant role to play in that light. We all should strive to pursue the achievement of our financial autonomy. The press as I said has a very important role to play in telling Nigerians the significance and the advantage this will bring to the polity. We the legislators are serious about it, we are on it and we will continue to pursue it until we achieve the autonomy of the legislators, by God’s Grace.