By INALEGWU SHAIBU
Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume represents Borno South Senatorial District in the Seventh Senate. Ndume comes with a high legislative pedigree having transited from the House of Representatives to the Senate. In this interview with Vanguard Politics, Ndume is characteristically forthrigth in his assessement of contemporary issues. Excerpts:
Nigerians believe that public corruption is on the rise because the National Assembly has not been able to effectively carry out its oversight responsibilities. What is your reaction to this belief?
We need to put these things in the right perspective. The National Assembly or the legislative arm is the only arm of government that marks the difference between democratic and military administrations yet it is the arm of government that is not given the space to perform its roles. The executive do whatever they like with fiat and sometimes with flagrant abuse of the laws of the land.
The judiciary is free to interpret laws and issue judgment the way they deem right. It is only the legislature that is not allowed to do its job. Why I say so is that when the legislature starts doing its job, for instance in the area of oversight investigations, Nigerians including the press will begin to input other motives.
They will begin to accuse us of pursuing our selfish interests. What I am trying to say is that the support and encouragement we should get from Nigerians to do our job is not there and the understanding of the power and roles of the legislature is not there. So we are yet to get there.
Nigerians need to support us in our oversight duties. That is the only way we can hold the executive responsible and accountable. Let me also confess to you that we are not given the necessary tools to perform. As a legislator, I don’t even know the extent of the implementation of the 2011 budget and I am supposed to know.
The National Assembly is supposed to be informed quarterly by the executive on the performance of the budget but they don’t do it. When we inserted in the budget that there should be a quarterly report to the National Assembly, some people kicked against it. So these are the issues.
But the powers to make laws are in your hands, can’t the executive be called to order?
Yes, but some people will not want to respect the National Assembly. When you invite a Minister to come and explain something he will send a director. How many people will you continue to issue warrant of arrest on? I am telling you that some people in the executive, despite the fact that they are not elected by the people don’t respect the Legislature and that is the problem. I advocated that before you are made a Minister, you should be a member of the House of Representatives or a Senator.
That is the only time you know that you are responsible to your people. If you have to contest election to be a Minister, you will always respect the people. Most of these people will just come from overseas not knowing our environment and how the people are suffering and they will be speaking through the nose and when things collapse they will run back abroad. That is the problem.
Could it be a problem of lack of capacity on the part of National Assembly to properly oversight the Ministries?
We have the capacity, but you people, including the press are not allowing us to do our job.
You say we earn a lot of money and…
Now that there is a reduction in your overhead budget, would it affect your performance?
Well, this is a sacrifice we have to make and unfortunately, the executive is not making the same sacrifice. Let’s look at the issues critically. The recurrent budget account for 74 to75 percent of the budget and the recurrent expenditure of the National Assembly is not more than 13 percent of the whole budget and it is supposed to be 33 percent because it should have been 33 percent apiece for the three arms.
We are taking less than 15 percent yet we are demonized. The recurrent expenditure of the executive will never go down. In this year’s budget only N1.9 trillion was earmarked for capital budget. The entire recurrent budget is with them there, yet they keep pointing accusing fingers at the legislature.
But the National Assembly has the power to work on budgets?
Even if you work on it, they don’t implement.
Can’t the National Assembly do something to check the abuse?
We can do a lot if we have the necessary support from Nigerians.
What do you make out of the 2012 – 2015 Medium Term Fiscal Framework and Medium Term Expenditure Framework presented by President Goodluck Jonathan?
As far as I am concerned, it is for now a theoretical exercise because they are conflicting things. They will come up with slide shows, Nigerians do not need slides. They want basic human needs to be addressed. They want you to address the issues of security, food availability, jobs, shelter and better living standard. So many Nigerians are living in abject poverty. There are no jobs, we don’t have power.
I advocate that instead of these medium term issues, the President can transform this country by addressing the issues of power and protection of citizens. We are not protected and this is not good. If we have protection and power we are alright.
Do you support the government’s moves to remove fuel subsidy?
The problem is that people know what the problems are but they tend to run away from them and that is unfortunate. There is subsidy in every country.
Even in America that we are copying there is subsidy on agricultural products. Why would we want to remove subsidy on fuel if it is not the wish of the citizens that it should be removed? Why? They have never complained that subsidy is bad.
All they are saying is that subsidy is not benefitting those it is supposed to benefit. Why don’t we make the subsidy benefit them instead of taking it away from them?
You say that there are some people mismanaging or diverting the subsidy, why not use your powers to get them arrested and prosecuted to serve as a deterrence? I don’t believe in their argument. I am going to be the last person to support the removal of fuel subsidy unless my people come and tell me that they want subsidy removed. They are not in support of that and so I am not.
I do not see the removal of subsidy as government policy. It is individual policy. If you are taking a major policy decision like this and you did not involve the people through the National Assembly then it is not government policy. We are the representatives of the people. How come we are not being carried along? The main duty of government in the Constitution is security and welfare.
Even the Constitution provides that the people must have a say in government decisions and that includes issues such as fuel subsidy. So what they are trying to do is unconstitutional. As far as I am concerned, they should forget about it because Nigerians have clearly rejected it.
I don’t think it is right to remove fuel subsidy now that we don’t have power, the refineries are not working, most businesses and homes depend on fuel to power their generators. To remove subsidy now is to create confusion and create problems in the country.
But the President talked about provision of safety nets for the poor?
I don’t believe in the so called safety nets. In fact, they have not come out to tell us exactly how much they are going to save and the exact things they are going to do with it.
Even at that, they don’t have the right to do so and that is the position of the Constitution. So, the government should have just opened up on its challenges in handling the subsidy and consult and allow Nigerians to make contributions.
It should subject it to national debate before they take a decision. You cannot just wake up and say you will remove subsidy in January. I don’t think that is good but I am glad that the President recently amended his position by saying that it is a proposal.