Clement Jimbo, a member of the House of Representatives from Abak/Etim Ekpa/Ika federal constituency of Akwa Ibom State, sat down with PREMIUM TIMES’s Bakare Majeed to discuss his journey in the House, the alleged impeachment move against Senate President Godswill Akpabio, lawmakers’ salaries and allowances and other issues.
PT: Let’s start with your journey to the House, how you survived the dominant PDP in Akwa-Ibom and the Obidient wave.
Mr Jimbo: There was nothing from the Obidient family that we were afraid of. PDP yes—PDP put up a very formidable fight. Of course, being an organised party in Akwa Ibom State, I must give it to them (PDP). I wouldn’t know about the national level, but PDP in Akwa Ibom State is an organised party. And having been on ground since 1999, obviously, they have been in the system and mastered the system. They have some seasoned technocrats and followers that can be saddled with sensitive responsibilities and they would deliver intellectually. To outsmart such a party was a herculean task. That was made possible because of a couple of changes that were brought into the system. Number one was the 2022 Electoral Act and the signing of the Not Too Young To Run law which equally opened up the system for young people to ventilate. Then the Electoral Act buttressed the entire thing. What PDP failed to realise was that things have changed. The dynamics have changed. They were still relying on ways of doing things in the past.
PT: Like what?
Mr Jimbo: Of course rigging. What else? PDP in Akwa Ibom State has always rigged the election. I am on record now. If you check the record, the result that used to come before the introduction of BVAS, you would know that something used to happen. For example, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and even 2019 election results across the board, then compare it to 2023, you will ask yourself, where are all these votes? Instead of the votes to increase, they are reducing because of the use of the BVAS for accreditation. Obviously, all those ghost votes they normally used are nowhere to be found. BVAS came and eradicated all of them.
PT: But your party, the APC, equally faced the same accusation of rigging
Mr Jimbo: Is it this 2023?
Mr Jimbo: 2023 is difficult. Unless somebody is able to prove it. In my polling unit, for instance, they used the BVAS for accreditation and after the accreditation, then the ballot paper is given to you for thumb printing. In the past, the unused ballots—that is where rigging used to come in, where the unused ballots would be more than the used ballots. So what do they do? They carry it away, stay in a particular place and thumbprint all the unused ballots for a particular political party. Because BVAS does the accreditation, even if you want to use the unused ballots to your advantage, how will you effect the changes in the BVAS machine? That was the thing. That was what gave me the victory in my supplementary election. During my supplementary election, they wanted to implement their “mago mago” but I got informed and I had to wait for them at the INEC office. When they brought their results, I said let us check what is recorded in the BVAS. In a particular polling unit, BVAS recorded 240 accreditation but the result sheet showed over 800 votes. I said how? How did you perform the miracle? What does the Electoral Act say? Anywhere the result is more than what is recorded in the BVAS, cancel that polling unit. And three of those polling units were cancelled and I still maintained my victory.
PT: Let’s talk about fuel subsidy removal. Nigerians are looking up to lawmakers to address the issue of palliative. Is there any plan to compel the executive to provide palliatives?
Mr Jimbo: How are we going to do that? Are we going to arrest the executive? We are lawmakers, and that is what Nigerians elected us to do. Apart from lawmaking, you also do oversight, you oversee the executive. If you observe, when we were inaugurated on 13 June, one of the first assignments that the executive passed to us was the supplementary budget for subsidy removal, N500 billion, and we did not waste time in approving the request.
PT: But the public seems to not trust the sharing of the money
Mr Jimbo: That is left for Nigerians. Are you saying that we ought not to have approved what the executive brought? This was a clear indication that the 10th Assembly is for the people. The executive meant well – they said look, the removal of fuel subsidy – budgetary provision was not made in the budget 2023. Of course, because the last administration did not deem it necessary to budget it – because it already said that by June there would be no subsidy. The president, who coming into power and on the first day removing petroleum subsidy, ought to make provision for palliative and he brought that to the National Assembly and we did not waste time because this is a clear indication that this is going to the people. And we approved. It is left for the executive to toe the same pattern of the legislature by implementing it for the people to benefit. But of course you must appreciate the challenges of the executive.
PT: Like what?
Mr Jimbo: Which register are they going to use? Are we still going to rely on the old register? No. it would be counterproductive.
PT: But some people would say the register was compiled by a government of the APC. You are a member of the party, are you saying the APC government failed in that regard?
Mr Jimbo: No, I won’t say so. Like now, this is the 10th Assembly. In the ninth Assembly, some members won their elections and returned, some members did not even contest, and some members have come in as a result of the election into the 10th Assembly. It is left for the clerk of the House via communication with INEC to prune down the list and update it.
PT: So you are saying the register is not updated?
Mr Jimbo: The register that the previous administration used, there was nothing wrong to the best of my knowledge. But don’t forget that the register was computed with the intention of the poorest of the poorest. And the last administration began to reel out interventions, it would be erroneous for you to conclude that that same register has not removed some people from the state of being the “poorest of the poor.” They don’t have any business in that list again. New people need to come in in order to make up the list. So that process of pruning down this list is probably what the executive is doing. When they implement this palliative, it should get to the right people. I don’t need it. Many people in my community do not need it, but many people that would need it—and there are many people on the list that have no business being in that list because by virtue of benefitting from the previous interventions, they have exited the category of being poorest or the poor. New people need to come in, that is where the challenge is. We must appreciate it. The government is just three months. The ministers have just been inaugurated and these are the people that would help to harmonise this list. Let’s give them time.
PT: Is it proper for the National Assembly to be getting N70 billion at this very time?
Mr Jimbo: First, members of the National Assembly are Nigerians. They buy from the same market,
PT: Some would say they (lawmakers) have more money.
Mr Jimbo: Members of the National Assembly buy from the same market. The removal of subsidy, the impact, we equally feel it. Let me be very clear—I won an election into the National Assembly and I was inaugurated, this office was allocated to me but I was asked to pay N15,000 in order to get access to it.
Mr Jimbo: That was the same question that I asked, and I said I am not going to pay. When I insisted, the following day, this office was opened. Gaining access to the office, I was strongly advised to change all the keys. I am going to be very practical, from when I was inaugurated on the 13 June till date, not even one stationery has been allocated to me or any member of the National Assembly to the best of my knowledge. The computer you saw on the desk was bought by me with my personal money. The printer was bought by me. Not one has been given to anybody. But are we working? Yes we are. This office that you see glittering, was painted and renovated by me, not by the National Assembly.
PT: But the question is why?
Mr Jimbo: If we had come into the National Assembly after inauguration and not been working, the same Nigerians would tell us ‘you are not doing your work’. We literally had to make sacrifices to give ourselves the necessary environment that we can stay and work. Up till this moment, our legislative aides, no one has been paid a dime, but we are working. It is the sacrifice of the lawmakers. How do these people come to work every day? They pay for their transportation to work and feed themselves every day. Over three months have elapsed. Who is sustaining them? That is the challenge. That is where the media should play a role. The budget of the National Assembly that everyone talks about. The National Assembly is taking a fat budget. Who is sitting on the budget? Who is sitting on it? Clearly, it is not Clement Jimbo that is sitting here.
PT: Then who? Because you are in a better position to ask the Speaker of the House or the clerk of the National Assembly.
Mr Jimbo: Of course it is going to be a collaborative effort. If you as the media do the asking, no question would come out and answers would come out.
PT: Have you asked the leadership why aides are not getting their money?
Mr Jimbo: We are on recess now. Of course it is a process. It is a bureaucracy. I am not saying it won’t come. Of course it would come. Before the money comes to them (aide) the lawmakers in charge of them are drained. None of the aides have gotten a dime in the past three months from the National Assembly. Because there are documentations that ought to be done. But of course those documentations ought to have been concluded by now.
PT: Have you been getting your own allowances?
Mr Jimbo: Of course.
PT: The N9 million plus allowance?
Mr Jimbo: It is not normal N9 million. It is not. My salary is about N600,000. And for constituency offices and maintenance of other things, is N8.5 million. If you put everything together. It is about N9 million and nothing more.
PT: But Nigerians believe that with the reality of things, N9 million is outrageous.
Mr Jimbo: Let me make something very clear, the last budget of the National Assembly was reviewed 12 years ago. The last time the salary of the National Assembly was reviewed was 12years ago. From the last time it was reviewed, no kobo has been added to the budget of the National Assembly.
PT: But the 2023 budget of the National Assembly is more than the previous years.
Mr Jimbo: I am giving you facts. You can confirm it from the Clerk or any of them. The last time the budget of the National Assembly budget was reviewed upward was 12 years ago. 12 years ago, what was the exchange rate of naira/dollar? Let me clearly tell you the difference between the National Assembly and the executive. The ministers that were appointed some few days ago, before they got into their offices, they had their vehicles. They have their security. They have their drivers.
PT: Perhaps they inherited those from predecessors?
Mr Jimbo: Yes, they did.
PT: Why are you guys not getting from your predecessors?
Mr Jimbo: What was provided for in the 9th Assembly, it was a loan. The vehicle is given to you as a loan. And it is deducted from your salary for the number of years you are going to be here, which is four years. That money would be deducted. So which vehicle are you inheriting? It does not make sense, even the furniture allowance, it is deducted. The House allowance that is given to me and others as accommodation allowance is N3.9 million for four years.
PT: But the N3.9 million is per annum.
Mr Jimbo: No, it is for four years. Meaning that it is less than a million naira you are expected to use as an accommodation (This is not true. According to RAMFAC, every member is entitled to N3.94 million annually as accommodation allowance). And which accommodation in this entire Abuja makes sense and I would understand because 12 years ago, that was a lot of money, not 12 years after and it is still static. Nothing has changed.
PT: If it is dire as you have painted it, why do you guys still spend millions to come here?
Mr Jimbo: Some of the members that come here are not poor. For example, in 2019, I ran for presidency. Clement Jimbo seated here, under the Social Democratic Party. I was not a poor man. From 2019 till date, I was active in politics and I have never held any position until this election. I am a quantity surveyor. So in the private sector, I was doing well. So many lawmakers you see still living their lives, they were not poor. Sometimes, you can enter a lawmaker’s office and you will see furniture, screen, rug, and others, but it is not from the National Assembly. That is why some of them after four years, they would go away with those things. Because they provided those things for themselves. They would not allow the office they occupy to diminish them because that is their level.
PT: Perhaps we can blame the National Assembly because of the lack of transparency in the operation of its finances?
Mr Jimbo: You know where the problem is? The problem is not with the speaker and it is not with the senate president. Incidentally, how many years can they stay? Four years, eight years? It is with the bureaucrats. FOI should be utilised by the media. That is where the fourth estate of the realm should put the society in check. By virtue of your position as a journalist in the National Assembly, you are obviously going to spend more time here than me.
PT: But, yes we understand the part of bureaucracy. But the National Assembly has made the budget public in the past. However, you can introduce a bill that makes it mandatory for the National Assembly to publish its annual budget. Would you sponsor such a bill?
Mr Jimbo: I absolutely agree with you but it is going to take collaborative effort. There are agencies of government that their budgets have not been made public. E.g CBN. We should not just zero it all on the National Assembly and paint it as though it is the only guilty party or the black sheep. The budget of the National Assembly as compared to the nation is less than 0.007 per cent. I have been here and there is no official vehicle. But the executive, any of them that is appointed, there must be official vehicle. The new CBN Governor has just been appointed and the deputy governors, their official cars are waiting for them, security details. That is where the media equally has a job to do. Let Nigerians not see their lawmakers as the institution that is swallowing what belongs to them. I can tell you for free, no.
PT: Do you know why there is so much attention on you guys? Constitutionally the National Assembly has the power to oversight those agencies, like CBN that you mentioned. We have seen action in setting up of committees to investigate agencies but often no reports, no indictment.
Mr Jimbo: I agree with you. In the 10th Assembly, where I am a member, the ad hoc committee investigating racketeering, at least to the best of my knowledge as a member of that committee – I have done my best and right now we are waiting for us to interface with ministries so that we can conclude our report and submit it to the House. Those agencies that have been found culpable, we will let Nigerians know via presentation of our resolution in the House.
PT: Would there be recommendations for sanction?
Jimbo: Yes. I can tell you for free that one of them is the use of waivers. Obviously that has been abused.
PT: I am talking about sanction, indictment?
Mr Jimbo: We are yet to conclude our investigation. But I can tell you that where there is clear infraction, where infraction has been pronounced, we are going to make strong recommendations. Everything about the committee is well covered. If we present our report and if it does not reflect what even the media have been telling the public, of course the entire image of the 10th Assembly would be called into question. And Clement Jimbo would not, with all due respect to the National Assembly, allow my name to be taken through the mud.
PT: Talking about that committee, PREMIUM TIMES revealed how the committee used the investigation to extort the agencies. If in the end, this committee submits a report that does not reflect what truly happened, will you challenge the outcome?
Mr Jimbo: Except the report is going to be prepared in oblivion, because as members of the committee, the draft of the report, we are going to collectively sit and do the draft of the report—we are going to collectively sit and then go through the report and our input would also be there. And that is what would form the final copy, the clean copy that would be presented to the Assembly, to the Speaker upon resumption. What would be presented to maybe the Speaker during plenary would be a reflection of what we have all agreed and I can tell you that from the investigation, the findings and testimonies that we have gathered so far – our report would reflect all that.
PT: Let me jump to the issue of rubber stamp real quick. So far, has your perception about the tag of rubber stamp on the National Assembly changed?
Mr Jimbo: I don’t think so, mainly for these reasons. When the government toppled in our backyard here in Niger Republic, the body language of the executive tilted towards taking a military action to restore that government, and the National Assembly was very clear in saying “no”. We have our internal problem, allow Niger. Let’s fix our problems. So, does that look like a rubber stamp Assembly to you? I know where you are coming from. Let us look at the composition of the leadership of the 10th Assembly, the role that the executive played. I saw it clearly as leadership. By and large that Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. By that singular responsibility, a whole lot rests on him to deliver and navigate. And as a good chief executive, it is incumbent on you to pick those materials and personnel that would help you achieve your vision, which is the renewed hope agenda in this case. It was not wrong for the executive to say of all the aspirants, this is who they want to deliver. It was not wrong at all.
PT: And you don’t feel like there would be divided loyalty?
Mr Jimbo: No, there is no divided loyalty. You see, this is how the National Assembly works. For example, I will use the House of Representatives as an example, especially that 10th Assembly. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, if I am not mistaken, that we have eight different political parties coming to form that National Assembly (In the 9th Assembly, more political parties had members in the House). It has never happened. If you look at the crop of persons that are representing their different constituencies, they are not regular politicians. That is where the Obidient syndrome came in. Because so many of the candidates that never stood a chance, but because of the wave of what was happening, became elected. These people, coming into the 10th Assembly are coming with a different mindset that things must be done differently. And number one of them is Clement Jimbo. We are fed up with the status quo, let things change. If you look at so many ad hoc committees that have been put forward by the House, I have attended two meetings. Ad Hoc committee on ITF, this committee has recovered almost three billions naira into the coffer of the government from agencies and departments of government that failed to remit the ITF contributions. That is a singular fact that the members and the chairman of the committee are saying no, things must be done differently. Are you saying that these committees did not exist five, seven years ago? And these recoveries date back 10 years ago. What were they doing? Didn’t we have an Assembly? Didn’t we have committees saddled with the responsibility to look into these infractions? We had. That is to tell you this assembly is set to do things differently. Let us resume plenary, let these ad hoc committee begin to submit their reports, you will be amazed that the National Assembly – their perception – would change. We are indeed for the people. And we will continue to do what is right for the people.
PT: Let’s talk about the rumour of impeachment move against the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio.
Mr Jimbo: There is no truth to it. In fact it was yesterday that I saw the report that some northern senators were plotting to impeach the senate president. There was no name. There is no – let’s say we have pinpoint what would equally happen. Of course for there to be a rumour – when the CIC – when his body language was tilting towards military action in Niger, the body language of the 10th Assembly was like look, that would be an impeachment office. It was discussed openly. It would be an impeachable offence without clearing it from the National Assembly. That the10th Senate is beginning to rumour an impeachment, there is no substance to it. The senate president has done creditably well. What would be his offence?
PT: Have you spoken with him about it?
Mr Jimbo: Why would I do that? There is no credible intelligence to it. He has done credibly well so far. During the confirmation of ministers, did you follow through? This man sat on that seat for hours to screen ministers because Nigerians were waiting to have ministers. So that they can kick start so many things in the country. In the National Assembly, once you sit in the hallowed chamber, you are not permitted to chew or drink. If you sit there for five hours, be prepared to sit there for five hours. If you sit there for eight hours, and the assignment requires eight hours, you have to be there for eight hours. That is the level of sacrifice. Sometimes you feel like urinating, you feel like easing yourself, but for the sake of national assignment, you constrain yourself to the national assignment. That is one sacrifice that Nigerians should be grateful for. And Akpabio – looking at his record, a man who has been a governor before, a senator, a minister and now the senate president. And coming from the South, the South-South, a region that had never tested that position for years, and looking at the composition of the government where the president is a Muslim, the vice president is a Muslim, and the third in command being someone from another faith is a good composition. That is the credibility that Akpabio brings.
PT: Is there solidarity support from the South?
Mr Jimbo: Let me state it that if the northern senators begin to nurse or contemplate impeaching the senate president, the South would not take it kindly. The South would not be happy. That is the truth. The last person that was there before Akpabio came in, Ahmad Lawan, stayed there for four years and the South never contemplated impeachment. What would be his (Akpabio) offence? What would you say is his offence? Has he embezzled money? What is the ground for contemplating an impeachment? That is why I did not want to dwell on it. It is flimsy. There is no substance to it.
PT: But the South is dominated by opposition parties, where is the solidarity going to come from?
Mr Jimbo: In the Senate, it is not the political party, you are a senator. And you are from the South, that is what stands out. What affects one affects all.
PT: You think there is that solidarity?
Mr Jimbo: Of course, there is. Whether we like it or not, Nigeria is divided into three geopolitical zones, three from the South and three from the North. And you want to show solidarity with the north to the detriment of your brother from the south? That would be injustice.
Thank you Mr Jimbo.
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