In this revealing interview, the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Ado Doguwa, tells PREMIUM TIMES’ Nasir Ayitogo of the successes and achievements of the current House. He also speaks on what the lawmakers learnt from the budget padding scandal, and blames the media for the unfavourable perception Nigerians have of the National Assembly.
PT: Two years on, would you say the House has positively impacted the lives of the people?
Doguwa: I think in relation to the duties of the National Assembly and what the constitution spells out for us to do, I can without any fear of contradiction tell you Yes. This is because by the constitutional platform of what we call the National Assembly we have what we call our traditional responsibilities; one is to represent our people, second to make laws, third to oversight laws that we make vis-a-vis maybe Appropriation Act like the budget, and fourthly is budgeting.
Budgeting itself is also a lawmaking process. We consider budgeting a special thing because it is a special bill, which we call the Money Bill. In relation to the constitutionally prescribed responsibility of the National Assembly, obviously we have done well.
In terms of legislation, I can confidently tell you this is one House that can be quite unprecedented because I have been in the National Assembly for quite long, as far back as 1992 and I want to tell you that the 8th Assembly has been most proactive in terms of lawmaking. I can tell you that in the last two years we have been able to pass over 200 Bills into different level of legislation and as it is now we have also been able to get the concurrence of the Senate and passed to the executive arm for consent over 89 Bills. Amongst these bills there are a lot of them that are very sensitive, not only to the society or to the people but to the economy itself. We have been very sensitive also to the plight of its people. We passed the North East Development commission Bill. It is a bill that no one can avoid because it is a bill that was promulgated in response to the plight of the people of the north-east.
We are not just making laws at random. We are making laws that have direct impact on the people, the economy and the security of our people and also have direct bearing on the social and economic plight of our people like in the case of the North East.
Recently, the Senate passed the Petroleum Industry Bill. The bill had passed too many challenges and with the Senate passing it, then obviously, the House of Representatives will commence process to see how to concur and allow the passage of that bill.
I want to say without any fear of contradiction, the 8th House of Representatives and by extension the 8th National Assembly has done so well in legislation and law making.
Secondly, even though we started very badly in our relationship with the executive arm of government, we have been able to manage the bad beginning. We have been able to stabilise now. At least we have a House that has very good records in terms of its relationship with the executive and that will also help us in trying to discharge our duties of representation.
The intent of establishing the legislature and separation of power is all about perfecting the system. It is about one over-sighting the other.
The next one is Appropriation. If you look at what happened in 2016, there was an unprecedented crisis in the budget but at the end of the day, because of the good working relationship between us, we have been able to sort all these things out.
This House has stood out different from other dispensations of the House of Representatives. I also want to believe that we have succeeded not only in promulgating number of laws but we have succeeded in our legislative agenda. We have a legislative agenda and the key aspect is to promote the anti-graft war, which is one of the policies of the government of Muhammadu Buhari. We have succeeded in bringing some legislative framework that will support the government in achieving its fight against corruption.
We have also engaged several other legislative institutions beyond Nigeria because there is what we call the parliamentary relationship. We have succeeded in building a very robust relationship with other legislative institutions outside Nigeria and even beyond the shores of Africa and I want to tell you we will continue to sustain this.
Now that we have completed two years, we have a lot to count on our hands as our own achievements like I’ve mentioned. Despite that, we may likely have some challenges and these are challenges that are basically human. For instance, we always face these challenge from our people as regards the transparency of our budgetary process; how much we use to fund the National Assembly and how much we earn as individual legislators. We are still trying to see how we can address all this because in a situation whereby an institution like the National Assembly becomes an endangered specie, then we must have to stand to that challenge and respond to the expectations of the people and we have started doing that.
In the recent budgetary process of 2017, for the first time in the history of Nigeria’s legislature we have offered the budgetary process into what we call a public session. It was the first time that this institution has created a platform where we decided to conceive to the members of the public. We invited the press and civil society organisations and other professionals to come and engage the budget of Nigeria by way of a public hearing. There was never a time before when the budgetary process was subjected to a public hearing. There may be some few deficiencies in the process but at least we have set the ball rolling and we’ll continue with the process.
One other thing I want to let Nigerians know is, despite the hullabaloos and outcry, right from 2003 to date, virtually all the budgets of the National Assembly have consistently remained two per cent of the total national budget. So, 98 per cent of our budget goes elsewhere. What the National Assembly takes as part of the national budget sometimes is less than two per cent, but people are still making a lot of stories out of it. I’ve mentioned some of our successes and I want to say there are some our challenges that we are yet to come out of. The image of the National Assembly is still in the limbo which I believe members of the press should do a lot to help us educate the people more in order to get out of this unfortunate perception of the National Assembly by the people. The National Assembly should be allowed to do its work without any distraction just like the executive arm of government does its own programs without any interruption, just like the judiciary too.
PT: The budget crisis thrown up by the allegations by Abdulmumuni Jibrin was a protracted one, did it have any backlash or repercussion on the activities or performance of the House?
Doguwa: I must be sincere with you, obviously there was a slight problem. The problem was that at a point, the institution of the House of Representatives was subjected to an undue public disrepute. Before we were able to let people know that the crisis, claims and agitations made by Abdulmumuni Jibrin were also baseless, it took us time and it was like the whole House was put to a mess. To that extent I can say yes. But otherwise at the end of the day, we were able to come out of that crisis even stronger. I don’t want to speak much on that matter because it has become history. But the fact remains that there was a problem and our reputation was in question. I want to believe that Nigerians can now stand by the fact that yes, what we did was merely our own constitutional responsibility. I think even in that case, the press overheated it unnecessarily and that was why it was bad to that extent.
PT: Some say the punishment meted on him was rather harsh. Aren’t you considering forgiving and recalling him? If not, why?
Doguwa: You are speaking with me as an individual. Unfortunately, this question you are raising is a question that should be answered by the institution itself. Not even the Speaker can singlehandedly answer this question. There was a judgement through the resolution of the House. If the House feel they want to reconsider and forgive him, then myself as an individual will have no objection. What I know is that he has been suspended and that suspension is still on. Whether it is much or not, that was the decision of the House, not my personal decision.
PT: You were mentioned in that allegation of padding the budget, what could have led him (Abdulmumuni Jibrin) to do that considering that all of you were working together to make the document (budget) a perfect and implementable one for the country?
Doguwa: This is a question for Jibrin to answer. I can’t answer this question. All I know is that there were allegations, counter allegations and mixed allegations. At a point, all these allegations became a mirage, allegations that could not be substantiated. At the end of the day, those of us that were mentioned became heroes. I don’t think it’s an issue for me to continue to bedevil on. If there is any other thing you need to know as regards to why he decided to go that far, I think it is a question for him to answer.
PT: You are from the same state with Abdulmumuni Jibrin. What is your relationship with him now?
Doguwa: I don’t have any relationship with him. Even in the past the only thing is that we are members of the House of Representatives from the same state and his local government was carved out of mine. He is somebody I don’t know very closely.
PT: Would I be right to say going by crisis the House took extra caution in considering the 2017 Budget to avoid entering the same trap?
Doguwa: Absolutely right. There are lessons in every situation. A wise man should take lessons from experience. The House took lessons from the unfortunate experience we had in 2016. We have taken precautions, one of such is, for the first time the National Assembly had passed a budget with the details at the same time. In those days, the reverse was the case. So many things were taken for granted even though it was done under every righteousness believing that all is well and nothing could backfire. But coming from the background of that unfortunate experience, this House has taken into cognisance all those potholes. We feel we have come up with a better document that you can call an Appropriation Act. Of course, we took a lot of lessons from that but these are lessons I believe are for good and not for bad.
PT: What it the level of executive compliance to the resolutions passed by the House? Are you satisfied?
Doguwa: Resolutions are merely legislative pronouncements by the parliament and even though they carry some weight, it is not compelling on the executive to abide by. Resolution are mere desires collectively from the parliament for the executive arm of government to either comply or otherwise. Resolutions are not laws. When a law is made it is binding head to toe for the executive arm to abide by because every member of the executive arm of government has taken an oath and in that oath, he is committing himself to protect the laws of the land. But I think we, as members of the House of Representatives and by extension the leadership, are not quite encouraged by the level of compliance of government to some of the resolutions that we have reached. Most of the resolutions we have taken are those that border on the sensitivity, plight and desires of the people we represent but unfortunately you find out in most cases that some of these resolutions are taken for granted.
PT: Assess the performance of the standing and special committees two years after. Is there any plan to reorganise them?
Doguwa: Reconstitution of standing committees or appointment and removal of committee chairman are sole responsibilities of the Speaker. It is spelt out in our rules that it is only the speaker that can constitute, review, amend, appoint or remove the committee leadership. The only clause that is there is that the rule says ‘in consultations with other principal officers’ and consultation doesn’t mean he has to seek for our consent. I’m not aware of any intention from the side of the speaker so far to review or remove any committee leadership.
PT: You have listened to the demand by Nigerians that you should make your budget open. However, these same Nigerians are crying foul that you upped your allocation. Is the increase in your budget justifiable, especially in this period the country is in economic recession?
Doguwa: I have said something like this in the past that whether you like it or not, the National Assembly is not operating in isolation. We are also operating in the light of the realities in the economy. If the economy is in trouble you expect every other component of the economy to operate in tandem with the challenges. For instance, if in the past a legislative training was organized at a cost of N10,000, you won’t expect that same person to use that same amount considering the forex to embark on the same journey now. Some of these things we have done to increase our budget to a very insignificant amount of less than N20 billion is sincerely made to address some of these realities because some of the things we do are also affected by the economic realities. I think it is a justifiable thing because all other budgetary provisions including the service wide votes that the executive arm of government enjoys have been reviewed. Even the budget of the judiciary has also been jacked up. For as long as there is justification for the judiciary to have additional money for their judicial management and as long as there could also be an increase for the executive arm of government, I do not see any reason why you should ask any questions whether ours is justifiable or not. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander. We are the only arm of government that deals directly with the people, we undertake so many informal responsibilities that takes a lot from us but Nigerians never understand.
How many times do you have access to the minister on the street or how many times do you think a minister could go home and attend to his people talk less of a member of the judiciary going home to attend to his people? They don’t go home to help their people on medical cases. We are the only arm of government that have successfully made ourselves available and vulnerable to the sensitivity of the Nigerian people. We are more prone and exposed to the plight of our people and that is the more reason why you should always believe that whatever comes to the National Assembly in whatsoever way is something that goes back to the people of the country because every one of us represents a section of Nigeria.
PT: While one cannot confirm what is obtained in other climes, some however say it is time for the Nigeria legislative bodies to have an arrangement where their allocations are also subjected to some scrutiny before it is passed just like it scrutinises allocations to other arms of government. What do you think?
Doguwa: I think they are getting it wrong, the only arm of government in a democracy that is bestowed with the responsibility of keeping the trust of the people is the legislature, all other people are not elected, and we keep the trust of our people because we operate under their mandate. With exception of the president and the vice president, any other member of the executive arm is appointed and therefore he is not answerable to his people. But a member of the parliament anywhere in the world is directly answerable to the electorates and that is why this formula can never be reversed. You can never ask someone to oversight the other except if he has the ultimate mandate of the electorates. We enjoy the mandate of our people and the 170 million Nigerians are the owners of the country’s resources. You cannot just invite the executive arm of government or a minister to do otherwise. It is unreasonable. So, it is something that is unimaginable. Don’t even propagate that because it is unreasonable. The secret is not because we are better Nigerians or more intelligent. The simple secret is that we keep the trust of the people because all of us in the legislature are elected. The constitution has provided for that and nobody cannot reverse this tradition. It is not only practiced in Nigeria but globally.
PT: One thing that is still bothering many Nigerians is the refusal by members of NASS to disclose how much exactly they earn. There have been reports that you lawmakers take some illegal allowances, far beyond what the RMAFC approved for you. Why have people refused to come clean on this?
Doguwa: People will continue to talk about that so long as members of the press continue to make it an issue. The press is an agenda setter. If the press decides to set an agenda for the people, they will discuss just that agenda. The problem of the National Assembly still lies in the hands of the Nigerian press because the press have refused to tell them what they should expect from us and to know what they ought to know about the National Assembly. As long as you keep the ball rolling in this matter, then Nigerians will continue to talk bad about us. But the fact remains that no member of the National Assembly defines for himself what he earns as a salary just like the president doesn’t decide his salaries and allowances.
These are figures that are being allocated by an institution of government that is established by law.
If you want to know my salary, today as a member of the House of Representatives, I earn less than N600,000 monthly. And if you go down to the local government level, a councillor earns up to N500,000, sometimes I earn N400,000. I don’t even know how they arrive at that conclusion. I want to tell you today that no member is sure of what his salary will be tomorrow. It’s like our salaries are not stable. I can remember cases when members got N350,000 basic when we started in this 8th Assembly. There is nothing to hide about it. Can you tell me how much the president earns or how much a governor earns or how much a governor runs as his security votes? These are some of the very vital questions that you need to know but because the press have decided to focus their envy and blackmail on the National Assembly and that is why Nigerians have continuously focused on the legislature alone. This is a challenge to the press. As long as you are ready to reverse this unfortunate perception, then Nigeria will continue to move in this manner. I don’t think Nigerians are our problem, our problem is the Nigerian press which have projected the National Assembly in this unfortunate light. The press have continuously placed the National Assembly at a disadvantaged position.