•’Defected lawmakers may still lose seats’
Leo Ogor, Deputy Leader of the House of Representatives, is a major stakeholder in the ruling People’s Democratic Party. He can be counted as a member of President Goodluck Jonathan’s kitchen cabinet. In this interview, he chides the opposition for trying to create crisis in the House and warns that PDP can successfully run the business of the House without the All Progressive Congress, APC. Excerpts:
By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North and Emman Ovuakporie
Given the way things are going in Nigeria, are you worried?
If you want me to take a general perspective, I am a bit concerned about the crisis that has emerged in the northern part of the country, especially Borno, coupled with the fact that some people are hoisting flags that are alien to our country. Indeed, it bothers me because events of this nature are quite alien to our system. We are brothers of the same family and, when you see the challenges of this nature, I think every citizen of this country must be worried and we need to come together to find a lasting solution to the crisis.
Don’t you see the crisis as failure of leadership and the absence of appropriate laws to deal with violence in the land?
First I say capital No! What you are seeing today is even something that is a global phenomenon.
It is true but what helped those countries is how they responded to the challenge.
I also want to say that we in Nigeria never experienced this type of terrorism and we lack the experience to fight such war. If it is crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping, you can see how effective the police have been able to handle them.
But I think, gradually, we will get to the stage where the Americans have reached in tackling terrorism. But let me say that we have more than enough laws to tackle whatever situation that may arise. But as it borders on terrorism, which is alien to us, we will overcome it if we work together as a united nation. I believe that the time has come for collective effort to tackle the rising crime in the land. The terrorists are not ghosts but humans, who live and work among Nigerians.
Do you think the National Assembly has lived up to expectations in making laws for this country?
We keep making laws to address the challenges that rear their heads in the country. If you are objective, you will appreciate the number of laws that we have made for the good of this country, among them, the Same-sex Bill, recently signed into law by Mr. President; Appropriation Law is one that we have never toyed with, knowing its importance to the nation and the people. We have done very well so far.
But are you worried that almost all the resolutions of the NASS are generally ignored by The Presidency?
Let me say that resolutions of the NASS are persuasive and not binding.
So, why do you adopt a resolution in the first place?
It is more like the coming together of about 360 people and two heads are better than one. So, the resolutions of the House are persuasive. But the resolutions of both chambers of the NASS have something close to the force of law. And, if you look clearly, first, there are resolutions that the Executive has accepted and implemented.
Can you mention one of them as an example?
I am aware of the Single Window Project that the government awarded in respect of the management of the ports and, when we adopted a resolution stopping it, the President immediately respected our position. But there are also many other resolutions that have not been implemented by government and I don’t think it is important to mention them here. Having said so, sometimes they may have one or two reasons they have not implemented certain resolutions.
But like I said earlier, it is wrong for any government not to respect the resolutions of the NASS because the two organs are partners in progress and must work hand in hand to achieve the collective objective of government in meeting the welfare and security of the citizenry.
Where are we regarding the amendment of the Constitution?
We have almost concluded the review process of the Constitution amendment. The only thing we need to do to move the process forward is to take it to the states Houses of Assembly to concur. We have taken time to do a very good job, putting a lot of checks and balances to give the country a good Constitution at the end of the day.
In amending the Constitution, did you take into consideration the six-year single tenure proposed by the Presidency?
The proposal for a six-year single term was never part of our deliberation. There was nothing of that nature, which was a mere proposal by The Presidency but was not sent to us. There was no attempt to change the present tenure system in the Constitution.
There is so much tension in the House of Representatives arising from the claim by the opposition APC that it is now in the majority there. What is the true position regarding your party, the PDP and other parties?
You have given us the opportunity to tell Nigerians the truth. The issue of rancour in the House is a non-issue. It is a storm in the tea cup. I think there are some people who are interested in coming into the House through the backdoor. They want to avoid the main entrance and enter the House either through the ceiling or the balcony.
What do you mean?
On the 17th of January, some 37 members of the PDP went to court to seek an injunction against the clear provision of Section 68 (G) of the 1999 Constitution, which says that a member should vacate his seat if he crosses over to another party if there is no crisis in the party. But because these members are aware of this provision of the law, they went to court to seek an injunction over an action they have not taken.
They came with an interlocutory injunction against the Speaker of the House of Representatives so that their seats might not be declared vacant. This is because an Abuja High Court had earlier ruled that there is no faction in PDP in the matter concerning Abubakar Baraje and the National Chairman of the party.
You are not correct. What the court ruled was that it did not recognise Baraje but Tukur as the PDP Chairman but did not say there was no crisis in PDP.
But what does that imply?
The court did not say there was no crisis in the party. It said it only recognised Tukur, who came through an INEC organised convention. Does that not tell you that there is no faction in PDP?
It shows clearly that there is no division in the party. I think it is important that I draw reference in the case between Amaechi and the PDP, where the Supreme Court ruled that the seats occupied by any office holders belong to the party and not the individual. These 37 members went to court knowing that their seats belong to the PDP. That matter is still pending in court.
The issue therefore is that if they vacate their seats and go for election, we are still in the majority. It is important to get this clear. Now the question is, if for any reason, they decide to go to APC and the court rules that they must vacate their seats, they must have caused us irreparable damage. So, what we are saying here is that as democrats, who believe in the rule of law, let them wait until the court concludes the case before they defect to the other party. Until that matter is concluded, we cannot allow them to change the leadership. We have to be careful.
But the PDP has been excitedly taking lawmakers and governors from other parties into its fold without raising the issue of vacating seats. Why are you talking about vacating seats by defecting PDP lawmakers?
Self-interest is very important in politics. Let me also add that the only thing that is permanent in life is change and we are not scared of any change, but we insist on due process. I am giving you an assurance today that I am a democrat to the core; if tomorrow the court rules that the members of the PDP have the right to move over to the APC without vacating their seats in line with constitutional provisions, I would move the motion for the APC to take over the leadership.
But until the court pronounces otherwise, we will not allow them to take over the leadership of the House through the backdoor because we did not ask them to go to court.
But they are saying that they are already more in number than the PDP in the House
That is a pure joke because you know that the only persons who have defected so far are the 37 members and the last two members. As things are today, anybody that defects from APC to PDP is welcome because of the merger of many parties into APC and nobody can question us in PDP. But until a competent court of law rules that there is a faction in PDP, any member who leaves will have his seat declared vacant.
But PDP will also have to await the court pronouncement on the defection.
The 37 members were smart because they went to court to seek an interpretation of the position of the law on defection. But now that they are in court, they want to vote for APC and no reasonable leadership would accept that. We lead the party. I run the business of the party as the Deputy Leader of the House. It is my responsibility and in my interest to protect my party interest on the floor of the House. I will not carry out an illegality but they themselves are power-thirsty. They want to take power at all costs.
They know the truth but they are trying to run away from it and it bleeds my heart. You saw the motion they came with on the Rivers crisis: they wanted the Inspector General of Police to be sacked without giving him fair hearing, when our laws stipulate that no man should be dismissed without being heard.
But what has the House done about the crisis in Rivers or do you think that it is not a serious problem?
It is a very serious problem. The matter is before competent committees in the House and we will come out with our findings and send our resolutions to the Executive for necessary actions.
What is the difference between the NASS and the impending National Conference? How are you going to locate the conference within the work of the National Assembly?
There is need for Nigerians to talk. It is necessary for Nigerians to air their views because there are a lot of tribal and religious crisis going on. Let me also say that the President, in his wisdom, has stated very clearly that whatever decision taken at the conference would be subjected to the NASS for ratification. It is a very wise decision. It is now left for the NASS to look at what will come out of the talk-shop and filter in line with the powers vested on the NASS and use them as laws for the good governance of this country.