BY JOSEPH ERUNKE
SENATOR Suleiman Adokwe represents Nasarawa South Senatorial Zone in the Senate and he is the Chairman, Senate Services Committee, the committee which looks after the welfare of senators. In this interview, he speaks on hsi duties among other issues
what have been your challenges as head of the Senate Services Committee?
The Senate Services Committee, like any other committee, deals with oversight functions. The major job of any committee in the senate is to oversee departments and ministries. The Services Committee is not different. It is just that in this case, it is an in-house committee that oversees the welfare packages of the senators.
We oversee the management of the senate. The budget of the National Assembly comprises the senate, the House of Representatives and parastatals of the National Assembly such as National Assembly Commission, among others. We are to ensure that whatever is due for the senate is properly executed. That is the major assignment that we have and on that note, I believe that or job is mainly to ensure that senators have comfortable atmosphere within which to work.
And to that extent, we have tried as much as possible to make the place as comfortable as it can possibly be. You will note that in the last two years including this year, the budgetary allocation to the National Assembly has remained stagnant, so it is a miracle that we are able to retain the basic welfare needs and requirements of the senators. We are even trying to cut down on areas that we can and possibly improve on other areas.
What is your position on the argument for the outcome of the National Assembly Committees on Constitution Review be subjected to referrendum?
The democratic structure today is governed by the constitution and it is a written constitution. Under the present circumstances, the manner in which you can amend the constitution, has been clearly spelt out. And so, it is going to be very difficult for us to now unilaterally decide that we will carry out a referendum. I think the first thing to do if a referendum is desirable, is to amend the constitution to provide for it.
What are you and other Nasarawa public officials in Abuja doing to calm the spate of ethnic unrest in the state?
I want to say that the ethnic clashes that have been going on in my state are not new. When the State was created in 1996, we inherited some crisis like the Toto/Bassa/Ebira crises. Then, I was Director of Protocol and I know quite a lot of details about what happened. After that, there were other ethnic clashes. And to the best of my knowledge, there has never been an ethno-religious crisis in Nasarawa. It is usually a clash between shepherds and farmers or between one ethnic group and the other. I cannot put the blame squarely on the present governor because these things existed even before the present administration. Those of us at the National Assembly tried to put our heads together with him.
But once you are elected, you should go beyond politics to become a statesman. I do not want to go into criticizing the governor just for the sake of it. The crisis affects everybody, whether you are in CPC or in PDP or any ethnic group. That is why I recommend that when you are faced with crisis, your political platform should not become an issue. Initially, the governor, coming from the private sector hardly understood the nuances of dealing with crises but he had his baptism of fire and I believe that now, he is beginning to understand that government means that there are institutional breakdowns.
The judiciary is suspected, the executive is suspected, the legislature is suspected. Everyday, people say you have constituency allowance that is not taken home. Nobody has shown me that constituency allowance. Most of you here who are journalists covering the National Assembly should help us to educate the public on this. As far as I know, what you call constituency projects are projects you suggested should be cited in your constituency.
For instance, if I want a bore-hole to be done in my constituency, it will be taken to the Ministry for Water Resources, I don’t award the contract and many of our constituency projects, suffer like other projects that are executed by the executive. It is either it is executed or it is not executed like any other project.
If for instance, I am entitled to constituency projects in my senatorial zone to the tune of N250 million and you give me that amount, then you can expect me to account for it. But if they are measured in terms of specific projects in the relevant ministries, I can hardly account for it. Most of our constituency projects for 2012, for instance, were returned and everybody is crying because the ministries did not execute them.
If they don’t execute them, there is nothing you can do. If an MDG project is cited in your constituency and a legislator claims it, maybe because he suggested for it to be cited there. Let me say on record that my MDG projects have been executed up to 60 percent and I have never claimed that I am the one who brought them.
Many were shocked that the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC was able to overcome the incumbency factor to win the governorship in 2011? What happened?
The election was conducted and PDP lost. That was what happened. Whatever anybody says will just be a mere speculation. He will just say it is because of one reason or the other, but to the best of my knowledge, the previous governor tried his best. He is the only person who can explain why he lost the election.
Proximity to Federal capital
One thing I can tell you is that Nasarawa State is so close to the Federal Capital Territory, so our elections are closely monitored, there is no room for anybody to rig or manipulate. We are always watched very closely. That is to say anybody that won election won it and anybody that lost it, lost it.
There are calls for laws to be made on what constitute the take-home of lawmakers, what is your opinion on that?
There is already a law in place on how much a senator can earn. That is as stipulated by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission. And it is there that you have your salaries and allowances such as domestic allowances, fuel allowances among others. What you call allowances, I don’t know. Like any other organization, there is overhead expenditure and if that is what you are referring to, it is not part of the allowances of a senator. Like you rightly said, it is still in the realm of speculation, because a senator’s salary is clearly defined by law.
Recently, the Chairman of Abuja Municipal Area Council,AMAC, accused Nasarawa State of being partly responsible for environmental disaster in the FCT, As a stakeholder in the state, what can be done in that regard?
This is an issue that I have even raised on the floor of the National Assembly, it is a matter that I dealt with when I was the Chairman of Karu Local Government and as a commissioner in Nasarawa State, I know the extent to which we tried to negotiate with AMAC and also the Federal Capital Territory Administration on what should be done. Abuja is the only city where the inner city is dominated by the elites while the outskirts are dominated by the ordinary people. Usually, most cities are for the ordinary people while the outskirts are for the elites. The problem of Mararaba was compounded by the administration of former FCT minister, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.