House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, in this interview speaks on his experience leading the House, the enactment of the Not Too Young To Run Bill and how to deepen democracy among other issues. Excerpts:
By Emma Ovuakporie
In what way has the House of Representatives helped to strengthen democracy and the ease of doing business in Nigeria?
It boils down to how elected leaders employ their institutional prerogatives; by this I mean how the coercive instruments of State are deployed.
This is exemplified when leaders treat the opposition as friends, and not as enemies. So once these are lacking, you don’t have a robust democracy, it is now for you and I to determine whether these are present in the context of democracy that we practice in Nigeria.
The one thing I can, however, assure you is that in the House of Representatives, we stand for the truth at all times in line with the Oath of Office we took which is to defend the Law and Constitution of the country. We are by that obligated to pay obeisance to anyone in authority. We have however been able to stamp our foot and when the Government is wrong, we say it is wrong.
This is the right direction to follow. When the Government is however right, we apportion the appropriate praise for that. To that extent, we have been able to maintain a very delicate balance, as you know all democracies are fragile.
Relating to the ease of doing business, we had a technical committee on exiting recession which we just exited. The committee made far-reaching recommendations and we’ve always worked with the Executive in relation to the ease of doing business and I’m glad you raised that.
From the World Bank ranking of 2017, Nigeria moved 24 points upwards and was placed among the top 10 countries that have improved their business environment, so in the global ranking of the ease of doing business, Nigeria has moved upwards by 24 points. That is due to the efforts of the Parliament coupled with the leadership that the Vice-President is giving as the leader of the Economic Management team in Nigeria.
How has it been for you as speaker given the initial doubts raised by some?
I don’t know if the discussion was that I didn’t have what it takes to lead the House, it was a value of personal judgment. All I remember was that for certain reasons, someone else was preferred by the party to be the Speaker.
Talking about capacity, however, I think it was King Solomon, undoubtedly the wisest King who ever lived, that said he had looked under the sun and realised that the race is not for the swift, nor the battle to the mighty, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill, but that it is time and chance that happens to them all.
So ultimately, I’m deeply thankful to members of the House of Representatives for putting me there as the Speaker. For me, every day has been a learning curve in this position.
You know it is not easy for anyone to say he is coming prepared to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Nigeria. This is for a variety of reasons; number one, you’re presiding over a colossal gathering of 360 Members of Parliament who are equal in all aspects as there is no Master-Servant relationship. As a matter of fact, as you’re seated and presiding over the House, your vacant seat is staring at you.
So anytime you walk into the Chambers having lost the confidence of two-thirds of the members, you’ll simply go and take your seat as the seat is always staring at you when you’re sitting over there.
On almost daily basis, you come across problems, these problems are the sort that some parties may describe as being wicked. Wicked not on account of the degree of the problem, but because of the frequency and the way the problems defy the usual tools used to resolve problems. You have members who want to see you on daily basis.
Assuming you give appointments to 20 members out of 360, just 20 and each person wants to take at least 30 minutes, how many days will it take you for instance to listen to all the members?
The levels of difficulties show that it is almost impossible for someone to come fully prepared to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and you know because you’re all equal, anybody can bare his mind, but what has really helped me is to ensure that we escalate constructive conflicts.
If there are issues up for discussion, you try to garner as much opinions as you can possibly accommodate and at the end of the day, when the position is taken, of course not all the opinions will win, but even those who are losing will be convinced that the end product or decision taken was done after due consultation of all and sundry present and after all opinions have been collected and processed.
What is your reaction to the assent of the Not too Young to Run Bill given your role in pushing the bill through the House?
I worked with the Not too Young to Run Movement and from day one when the Bill was introduced, I saw this group of committed young people who were pushing for this Bill to be passed and thankfully, that is now history.
I want to say without any fear of contradiction that it is just the first hurdle for us; I don’t think there is any guarantee somewhere that young people will find a place within the political environment right now, but it was one long and necessary step to take in this journey.
If you look at the youth body, it comprises a large part of the population because half of the world’s population now is below 30. In rural Africa, the youth will soon overtake other demographies in terms of population.
We felt it necessary to provide a seat at the table for these teeming young people who should take responsibility for decisions they make. The youths should not only be heard but should also participate in decisions that affect them; that’s the only way we will be investing in the future of our country.
The Bill has been celebrated and the Movement that started in Nigeria has become a global revolution. As a matter of fact, our Parliament was recognised at the United Nations for pushing through this piece of legislation, so it is something that is celebrated across board.
I must, however, caution, like I said it’s not enough; it is a necessary, logical first step that we have taken and I am glad that we have taken that. The youth themselves must now be prepared because you see, age is just like money; it’s not a question of how much of it you have, but how well you invest.
They have to invest in generating the capacity that would make them compete because no one is going to say because you’re a young person and as the Constitution has been amended you can now aspire to any position you desire, and people will fold their hands and say just go and run for elections and win.