By Johnbosco Agbakwuru and Joseph Erunk
THE Senate, at the peak of the crisis in Rivers State House of Assembly, passed a resolution directing the Inspector-General of Police Abubakar Mohammed to redeploy the state Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu, following his alleged role in the crisis involving the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Governor Chibuike Amaechi. But about two months after, the CP still holds sway in the state. In an interview, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang, says the Senate has not received formal information on compliance with the directive. He also speaks on other issues. Excerpts:
The Senate recently took over Rivers State House of Assembly due to the crisis there. How far has the upper chamber gone with legislation in that state?
Legislation in respect of Rivers State would only arise if, one, there is a matter in that state requiring legislation. Two, the three senators representing Rivers State have become the legislators for the state and we have become the legislature. If there is any matter arising from there, they will draw our attention fast. Secondly, if the governor of the state has a matter in which he needs legislative backing, he will write to us.
But, as at now, we have not received any information seeking either a budgetary approval or an amendment to any law or a bill seeking to amend the law or a bill seeking to appoint a commissioner or any other bill. So, if you do not send a bill seeking to approve the appointment of a commissioner, we cannot consider such a commissioner. If there is no bill seeking for a budget to be passed, we cannot pass it. If you have not sent a bill that is requiring the amendment of any law, we cannot originate it because we have not found anything wrong in the way you run the administration of the state to which we are the legislature.
Do you have a time frame as the legislature in that state?
We have a time frame under the Constitution. When it is over, it will be over. But, as at today, we are the legislature for Rivers State. I will not go into the details of that but the Constitution says six months in the first instance.
What is the National Assembly doing to ensure that there is no repeat of what led to the taking over of the Rivers State House of Assembly?
Well, I think we will ensure that, that does not happen and, of course, we gave the Senate President the mandate to interface and I believe he may be interfacing at that level with the governor and the political party (PDP) to bring about peace.
At the height of the Rivers’ crisis, the Senate came up with a resolution mandating the Inspector General of Police to transfer the state Commissioner of Police, Mr Joseph Mbu, out of that state but the man is still there in that capacity…
By our regulations, we made a resolution and we asked somebody to do something. We are not yet aware because nothing has been reported to us that it has been effected or not effected. We are yet to have a formal situation; but when we have a formal situation, we will be able to speak and act on it.
Does that mean that you don’t follow up on your resolutions?
When we pass a resolution, we communicate to the executive. It is for the executive to react and we have heard about the reaction. We follow up; it is not all resolutions that are not implemented.
Is the National Assembly not worried about the situation in the Kaduna State House of Assembly where the Speaker was impeached by 18 of 33 lawmakers?
At that stage, it remains the internal affair of the Kaduna State House of Assembly; it has not come to us yet and so we cannot speak on it. I will not speak because I have not seen the Standing Order of the Kaduna State House of Assembly. Of course, that is what is reported in the media. I have not confirmed that, that is what happened on the floor of the Kaduna State House of Assembly because I have not seen the votes and proceedings of that House.
Nigerians are becoming worried about the relevance of the National Assembly in view of the fact that many resolutions are being passed but not implemented. What is the legislature doing to give bite to its resolutions and to disabuse the minds of the people that it is not a mere rubber stamp of the executive?
I’m sure you have seen many actions we have taken which showed our independence and I’m sure that no state House of Assembly can do up to what we have done to show the independence and relevance of the legislature. We are not only relevant because we have certainly been able to deliver under the law and the Constitution. In fact, for example, if we don’t pass the budget, you don’t implement.
What do you think should be done to restore sanity in the aviation sector, given the increasing incidences of crash of aircraft?
We need a complete overhaul of the aviation sector by asking for a technical audit of each of the airlines and aircraft by foreign experts, not manufacturers of these aircraft, as to the state of the aircraft, because I have problem believing that they are being honest about the actual state of most of the aircraft that are flying in our airspace.
Earlier in the year, when the PIB was passed by the Senate, Nigerians were full of expectations that the bill would go through all other processes without much delay. What is happening now?
I think you know that the bill has been passed on the floor of the Senate and you saw that we held a public hearing on the bill. We are now at the stage of considering the report on the hearing and the chairman of the committee on the bill, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, is of the opinion that we should call and discuss with more persons. At this stage, I am sure that you know that we have met with the Minister of Petroleum Resources; we have met the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and other interest groups. They made their submissions and, having made the submissions, we will be considering them.
The fear being expressed in some quarters is that some interests are not allowing the bill to see the light of day…
It has seen the light of day by passing through the second reading. What we are doing right now is to bring out and look at the reports of the committee immediately we resume from Sallah vacation. And that was one of the reasons that we have adjourned, seeing that there are many reports pending in some committees and the number of people required in those committees, sometimes we cannot form quorum on the floor and in those committees.
Like the PIB, there are four committees involved; one committee on petroleum upstream, petroleum downstream, committee on judiciary and committee on gas. In each of these committees, by the time all of us are in that committee, for example, I chair one of these committees but I cannot be absent from the floor of the Senate. Therefore, that is why we have adjourned and concluded that, come fire, come sun, we should go and sit and tidy the reports.
What about the areas of contention in the bill?
That is why the committee meets; that is why the committee is asking, what do members say about this provision? Of course, given what we have and the reality of the law and the interests of Nigerians, what should we do? That is the essence of the committee. We are taking it clause by clause now to say no to some of them and we are going to see a tidy bill that will be acceptable to Nigerians.
How soon do you envisage that to be?
I am believing that as soon as we resume from Sallah vacation. That is why we are saying that we are to proceed on vacation so that at that time, most of our colleagues must have proceeded on hajj. But we said, ‘look, let us go on break so that these committees will be meeting and then those of us, our Muslim brothers, that will be proceeding on hajj will be back by 15th and 16th, and, by 18th, the Sallah celebrations will be over. By 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st, the committees will be meeting and then, by the 22nd, the report will be ready and they will lay it before us.
So, by then, Nigerians should be expecting a people-oriented PIB?
Yes and let Nigerians not be worried about the PIB because it is not as if there is no law to regulate the oil sector. It is only that we just want to put all the laws together in one instrument so that it will be easy when you pick up one volume of law containing everything about the petroleum industry,about gas, the upstream, the downstream, the service companies, the IOCs, marketing, subsidy, the Petroleum Technology Development Fund and all of that; you will see one law in one instrument and in one document.
Some of the Senate committees appear to be busy now, undertaking some oversight functions. But we are in the fourth quarter of the year now, how have they been turning in their reports?
If you see the Order Paper and the Notice that I published two weeks ago, I gave the list of the committees and the days they will lay the situational reports on the floor. For a committee to be able to lay a situational report before the Senate, it has to go on oversight to see what is happening in the respective ministries. It is to comply with the situational report, that is why they have to go on oversight to see the projects on ground, see the contractors, see the ministries, find out how much money has been released for each of the projects, find out how much is remaining for that project and find out whether it needs more money in next year’s budget. Therefore, it is necessary for them to do the oversight now and part of why we adjourned is to give these committees enough time because most of them that want to write reports must see what is on ground before they write.