By Emman Ovuakporie
Zakari Mohammed is the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs. In this chat, Mohammed speaks on the activities of the 7th Assembly. He also gives an insight into the frosty relationship between Mr President and the Green Chamber. Excerpts:
How do you assess the 7th Assembly in the last 12 months of Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal leadership?
The 7th Assembly came to restore the hopes and aspirations of all Nigerians and we proved this point in January when we convened a plenary on a Sunday to quickly address the almost state of anarchy during the protest against the sudden withdrawal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government.
This development gave rise to the constitution of an adhoc committee on fuel subsidy monitoring regime that exposed the shoddy deals in that sector of our economy. Also, one glaring fact Nigerians must have realized by now is that this Assembly did not come with a barren mind. We came with a strong resolute via the 7th Assembly Legislative Agenda to make laws that would promote Nigerians.
Input into constitution
We did not stop our campaign of ensuring Nigerians are freed from the shackles of poverty. That is why when the Central Bank of Nigeria wanted to introduce the N5000 note, we halted it immediately it was made public. The CBN had told us that a cashless economy was in vogue, but the sudden introduction of the N5000 note ran contrary to that policy and we stopped it because we knew it was not sustainable. The House took all these issues with all seriousness because we are equally accountable to those who sent us to represent them here and anything that runs foul of the rule of law had to be checkmated.
Also, for the first time in the history of this democracy, we took the issue of constitution review to the grassroots where all stakeholders made input into our constitution. This marked a watershed in the annals of constitution amendment in Nigeria.
The 360 constituencies in the country had a feel of it and issues like state police, insecurity,abrogation of state INEC, autonomy of state assemblies, autonomy of local government areas, state creation, our educational system, empowerment of women and other various national issues were exhaustively discussed. We equally made it clear that the issue of referendum for now cannot be discussed because we have the National Assembly that is constitutionally empowered to carry out legislative functions. As you know there is no document in this world that is perfect, all we can do is to periodically review it.
There is also the issue of the 2012 budget that was abysmally implemented, we stepped in to ensure that 100 percent implementation is attainable to serve as basis for the 2013 budget. The House also strengthened its oversight function as all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government were made to stand on their feet. We made sure it was not business-as-usual. Rather, we focused on business unusual to achieve results from the MDAs.
The Committee on Public Accounts this year alone treated the Auditor General’s annual reports in the last four years. The House did all of these despite the limitations that faced us particularly when we had to slash our earnings by over 63percent. We went on a self-cleansing mission to send a message to all and sundry that we are here to work. This has given rise to different insinuations from several quarters that the House is broke. But we are not complaining, rather we have made laws for the betterment of Nigerians. Remember that we swore to on oath to protect the interest of all Nigerians. This oath of allegiance is the bond we have with our constituents.
The House would do anything to ensure that we do not derail in carrying out our primary function of making popular laws. This year, we embarked on a nationwide oversight tour of all Federal Government projects. This tour of opened our eyes to so many things that are not being properly done. As you aware also, it was the first of its kind to the extent that journalists were incorporated into it for proper reportage.
Do you think the Tambuwal Legislative Agenda is still very much on course?
It has not derailed, rather, it is waxing stronger on a daily basis. It is the social contract we signed with the people of Nigeria. Tambuwal has done everything possible to live above board. He has exhibited exemplary leadership. Our legislative agenda is like the Bible and the Koran, we religiously follow it.
The House adhoc committee report on fuel subsidy did not portray the 7 th Assembly in good light. What really happened?
You do not have to be told, the House committee report exposed the illegalities in that sector perpetuated by a selected few to the admiration of all Nigerians. You also know that we went a step further by ensuring that the erring officer at a time was suspended pending when investigations into the allegations are cleared by the House committee in charge of such matters. And you also know that there were a lot of under table dealings that the report exposed.
But like I said earlier , there are people out there that do not want this report to see the light at day. The House made all the necessary background that led to the whole noise. Look at what is happening to the Ribadu-led committee report; is it not generating the same reactions today? Both reports are pointers to the fact that all is not well with the sector and we cannot be cowed by cheap blackmail from those who have plundered our country.
At a time, the House invited President Goodluck Jonathan to come and brief legislators on how he is handling security in Nigeria, but, till date, the president has ignored the invitation. How does the House take it?
The president of the United States every now and then briefs the Congress on key issues, ours should not be an exception. We are equally accountable to our constituents and we can never allow Project Nigeria to fail, there is need for us to synergise to allow Project Nigeria to survive. We have a right to ask Mr President questions on behalf of our constituents. Mind you we did not summon him, we simply invited him to come and rub minds with us and give account of what has been happening to security in the country.
The whole essence of his invitation is to see how we can collaborate with him to ensure that the lives of Nigerians and our properties are secure. For instance, when he (president) requested for soldiers to help during the Edo State election, we supported him despite the fact that some of our members kicked against the deployment of soldiers to the state. We had no option but to throw our weight behind him because lives and properties are involved.
There is this general assumption that the House is at war with the Executive arm of government.
We will definitely ask Mr President questions on behalf of our constituents or what do we tell them when we go back home to them? It is our constitutional right to ask questions that affect Nigerians. To put the records straight, we are not at war with Mr. President, rather, we are protecting everybody’s interest including his own interest.
How will you rate the House in the last one year?
We have been keeping our heads above water and, honestly, we have not done badly, we are the hope of Nigerians, we will not be cowed by anybody. Nigerians should continue to pray for us. We cannot afford to disappoint Nigerians who elected us into the House.