By Okey Ndiribe & Emman Ovuakporie
The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Sam Tsokwa (PDP Taraba) heads a very vital committee which could be likened to the engine room of the Green Chambers of the National Assembly.
In this no-holds-barred interview he granted to a group of journalists, he postulated that the Farouk Lawan saga was contrived by the executive arm of Government to rubbish the report of the House Committee on Petroleum Subsidy which the embattled Lawan chaired.He asked why the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar who investigated the allegations against Farouk refused to charge him to court?
Don’t you think that being a House that is primarily designed to make laws, all this talk about fighting corruption and probes every now and then is an unnecessary distraction to the House?
Law making and oversight functions of the legislature are constitutional issues. The legislature is constitutionally empowered to legislate for peace and good governance of Nigeria. The legislature is constitutionally empowered to approve Mr. President’s budget; the legislature is constitutionally mandated to oversight the executive arm over the money it appropriates.
So the power to investigate is not the making of the legislature; it is a constitutional duty which the legislature must perform. So we are not doing a Father Xmas kind of job because there are so many MDAs to oversight. What we are doing is just a tip of the ice berg. So I think the Nigerian press and the Nigerian people should call on NASS to carry out more probes and investigations because it is our constitutional duty.
Many Nigerians are of the view that when you fight corruption you cover your own…?
(Cuts in) Can you give examples?
For instance, the Farouk and Hembe cases?
The Farouk and Hembe cases are the only two you can give in a House of 360 people. When you reduce that to percentage, it cannot give you up to 10 percent of the House. Take a corruption index of Nigeria; more than 60percent of those in position of trust are corrupt. Now when the Farouk issue came up, the man who gave him money claimed he did so in conjunction with SSS and the House subsequently suspended him from being the Chairman of House Committee on Education.
Now the SSS has distanced itself saying they know nothing about the sting operation. The matter is presently with the police. Please, ask the IG why he has not prosecuted Farouk. It is simple; there is no evidence. So we all take it that the allegation was made to rubbish the House report on Petroleum subsidy.
I told you from the beginning that the executive arm set up a committee to further investigate the issues raised in the House report and they confirmed that the House report was true. If anybody thinks Farouk has a case to answer let him go to court. The House is handicapped we cannot prosecute him.
In the case of Hembe, the matter is still in court. Now in what way is the House covering its members? We beg the press to help us and expose those we are covering up because we are not covering up anybody.
But the House Committee investigating the Farouk Lawan matter has deliberately refused to submit its report on the issue?
It is an inside kind of exercise and at the end of the day, the House cannot prosecute. We have our internal disciplinary mechanism via the Ethics and Privileges committee but where a member is found wanting we cannot prosecute; only the agencies responsible for that can carry out such actions. I told you earlier to ask the IGP why he has not prosecuted Farouk if he has evidence.
I am inclined to believe that there is no evidence to prosecute Farouk because they called it a sting and the SSS they claimed they used said they are not part of it. This obviously points to the fact that whoever made that allegation was telling lies.
So far since June 2011 that the Tambuwal led 7th Assembly took off how will you assess the performance of the House?
The 7th Assembly started off by designing and setting a Legislative Agenda which was properly debated on the floor of the House, approved and circulated to all members and Nigerians. The document became a pact. We committed ourselves to it by living and keeping faithfully to our duties as true representatives of the people.
I am not saying Nigerians are satisfied but speaking for myself and the House, I am saying that we have lived up to our own expectation. But it is left for Nigerians to look at what we have done and see whether we have really performed. You will recall that we have taken many firsts since the House was convened.
For instance, we had to cut short our Xmas recess in 2011 when the Executive arm gave Nigerians a New Year gift that was not accepted by the people. By that I mean the withdrawal of fuel subsidy. Our sitting on a Sunday was for the first time that happened in the history of the Nigerian legislature.
We did this to prevent the crisis that ensued which would have been more disastrous if we had not sat on that day. Although our sitting did not stop the crisis, but it went a long way in watering it down. In a nutshell we did a lot to avoid the disaster.
I will however give kudos to Mr. President who eventually reversed himself in accordance with the wishes of Nigerians. The Sunday sitting kick started the probe into the fuel subsidy regime. Our findings and resolution were that there was rot in that fuel subsidy regime.
As you are aware, the executive arm set up a committee whose findings confirmed that of the House.I therefore say at least we drew the attention of the nation to the fact that the oil industry needs drastic re-organisation and this opened the eyes of many Nigerians to other areas of governance. I will equally say that this kick started what is going on in various sectors of our economy.
What about corruption?
We have started confronting corruption headlong even though corruption has deep roots in our system and cannot be solved in one day. But I believe we have taken the right step in the right direction.
Why is it that every day people bring trivial issues such as presence of potholes on roads or collapsed bridges to your committee for listing on the order paper when there are more serious issues that need attention in the country?
Every member is elected from a constituency; each constituency in Nigeria has its peculiar problem and that is why I keep saying that if I am Mr. President, I will do my budget in consultation with the grassroots.
But if in my constituency, the only road we have has potholes and this has been killing people everyday, can you call that trivial? Yes it is trivial because you have expressways in your place. In Abuja here out of 24 hours electricity we have at least 12 hours. In my place in a whole month if we have light for 3 days that is Xmas gift. So if I come to the floor of the House to discuss it will you term it as being trivial?
Nigeria is such a big place; such an enormous place that the need of one area may not be the need of another area. So what is trivial to you may not be trivial to me. And what is important to you may not be important to me; that is why you have various motions. Actually that is representation? It is to represent what your people need in your constituency.
Concerning the issue of oversight, I saw a piece in a newspaper about theft at the Security Printing and Minting Company and I checked online to confirm. Immediately I confirmed, I sent a motion to the floor of the House and the matter will be investigated. Some people may consider it trivial.
You once suggested the Asian option which stipulates capital punishment as a way of dealing with corruption. Do you think that option can work in Nigeria?
Yes we will look at it and see how a bill can be sponsored in that direction; but you will see how people will condemn the move. But we will not consider the quantum of the crime when doing that. The offence of the politician who stole one dollar and the one that stole one million dollar will carry same weight. By the time two or three people lose their lives due to corruption, politicians will think twice before stealing government money.