Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas is the House of Representatives Committee Chairman on Media and Publicity. In this interview with journalists he spoke on various issues bordering on the National Assembly and the 2016 budget. Dyepkazah Shibayan was there for The UNION.
There appeared to be continued crisis in the House concerning the election of the Speaker and the composition of the committee chairmen, what is the situation now?
Even at the time of no crisis, it was imaginary crisis, somebody won an election, whether you win an election with one vote you won, there couldn’t have a crisis out of the election. If there was any rigging or some people protesting against the election you can term it as coming to a crisis.
The election was keenly contested and the man won the election, the only thing you will say is that because it was keenly contested, there are people who are not happy that they lost the election.
So you have to manage them by carrying everyone on board, I think that was precisely what has happened, even when the committees were appointed. The appointment of the leadership of the committees is the prerogative of the Speaker in consultation with the principal officers. He did just that.
The standing rules say you are to consult, the standing rules did not say when you consult the principal officer will name the person to appoint. Consultation can be inter -personal. There is no strict definition on consultation and in this case the Speaker wrote to the principal officers, which was circulated to the media. All principal officers were consulted except one person who said he was not consulted.
You can imagine out of the 8 principal officers and only one person is complaining and later these issues were resolved.
We have passed the stage of crisis, we are now at the stage of working for Nigeria and I think we are comfortable where we are and I can assure you that right now there is no crisis. We are very supportive of the Speaker and members are supportive of the principal officers.
There is a very good relationship existing between all the principal officers and the Speaker. I think what has happened is politics.
Now that the committees of the House have been put in place, what should Nigerians expect?
They should expect what we promised them, we promised change and this change by the grace of God will come to pass. The idea of having committees, let me buttress, before you asked that question people keep asking, which is why should Dogara increase the number of committees because the Executive is reducing number of ministries. People should understand that the legislature is an arm of government.
We must not be dictated to by the Executive and copy everything the Executive does, in which case each is an arm of government; let the legislature be the law making and the Executive be executing the laws.
What is happening is that in line with the change mantra of Mr. President, if Mr. President reduces the number of committees, it is our duty to have effective supervision and effective supervision means that you must not do the normal thing that has been done.
Let me give you an example with education, in education alone you have about thirty tertiary institutions, not to talk about secondary schools across the country, there is JAMB, NABTEB, not to mention WAEC, TETFUND, UBEC. 27 persons who constitute a committee cannot effectively supervise the education ministry, by the time you divide it into 2, there will be effective supervision, one is basic education and the other is tertiary education.
Most people don’t know the legislature is not like the executive, if you increase ministries you increase cost. It is not like that in the committee level; here whether you reduce or increase, it’s still the same amount, there is nothing like adding cost to it, I don’t get other monies because I’m a chairman of a committee, no chairman of a committee is on a salary.
But as a minister you have to be given an amount of money including your aides but that is not what happens in the legislature, I think these are misconceptions, misunderstanding. The legislature works differently from the executive.
Now the House has proposed a legislative agenda, and you are just starting what should Nigerians expect from the House?
The agenda is simple, what we want to do is to fight corruption, make laws that can enhance the fight against corruption, make laws that can enhance the fight against insurgency, make laws that can lead to the creation of jobs and good governance. I have just given you an example, part of it is to increase committees for effective supervision of the ministries, we just had a session of IDPs, one of the committees newly created by Mr. Speaker and for your information the IDPs have no organised system to the administered, it’s just NEMA and some non governmental organisations.
Government need to take a look at the people going there, there has to be some form of control, we are not saying that they are not doing their job, but there should be some measure of control. Together with the UNCHR, we had deliberations yesterday, which the Speaker attended and this is to enhance the lives of the IDPs, the issue of the IDPs is very important now as I talk to you.
So if we have a Speaker who says let’s have a committee take care of this by adding to the number of committees then there is not a problem because these are issues that are germane to lives and security and National growth and I think he has done just that.
For me I think the legislative agenda is seeking for the growth of the economy and enhancement of our image in the international community and that we do our business according to the rules and regulations we have set out.
There is this believe that the National Assembly budget is shrouded in secrecy?
But you know that it is not in secrecy, you know that even at the committee level nothing is done in the secret.
I meant the Budget itself, in the legislative agenda it was promised that things would be open, the salaries and allowances of the law makers. But—?
Even the supplementary budget submitted to us by the President, everything is there, there is no secret about it. Is it secret that you want to pay N413 million subsidy? That you want to pay Operation Dole, is it a secret that you want to give N5 billion to the IDPs? What is secret about it?
I mean the National Assembly budget itself?
The National Assembly budget cannot be in secret for God’s sake. It is an envelope thing, the thing is this, if you know how much is being appropriated, if it’s 10 billion or 50 billion, but you know the figure that goes to the National Assembly, we don’t even know the figure, but you know.
The point is that, you can ask questions and it will come in 2016 budget and it will not be secret. This are issues of the past, when I came in here people said our wardrobe allowance was N9 billion, as I speak to you I have not got an official car, whether it is a loan or dash, yet I’m almost 6 months in the National Assembly.
Go to the states Houses of Assemblies and the state executive council, the commissioners are riding good cars bought for them by the state governors. Have you seen one single car by one member of House of Representatives that was given to him by the National Assembly or the Federal Government have you seen it?
As a spokesman of the House, you are supposed to know everything that goes on in the House, there was an ad hoc committee set up to review the electricity tariff, will they begin there investigation from the Obasanjo days or it will be from Jonathan’s administration.
I would not be straight on this answer because they are about to round up their work and I would not like to comment on their work but I will promise you that they are doing a thorough job of it and in a week or so the results will be out.
Now we are in the last quarter of the year and we have not seen the 2016 budget, there are some arguments in some quarters that we should change our financial year, what is your take on that?
Every government has it own policies and the ways it handles it’s own activities and all of us with the new government, we are expected to spend four years in this government and we will learn from what is going to happen now. Experience is the best teacher, from the take off stage I can guarantee you that we will not allow things done wrong in the past repeat themselves in the subsequent years. The government has a lot of things under its care, let us take off first, we have four years to run this administration.
What kind of relationship should we expect between the Legislature and Executive?
A very cordial relationship, it is normal that you have problems with your wife, but not every problem that you have with your wife results in divorce, Christianity and Islam frowns at divorce. If there is an opportunity, you should seize it and stay with your wife till thy kingdom comes.
Having issues will make you to live better, if I tell you that the Executive and Legislature will live peacefully, I don’t think that is being fair but I can tell you that whatever will be done, will be done in harmony with real understanding between the Executive and Legislature.
This is an APC government and both the Senate and House of Representatives are led by the APC, I want to tell you that the APC polices of the government will be the driving force behind all that we do, we will have synergy so we can work together.
Whatever difference will come will be for the betterment of Nigeria, but I can tell you that we are going to work very smoothly together.
Recently, there have been cases of lawmakers wanting to commend the President but such motions were always stopped.
When the supplementary budget passed (second reading) no single voice was against it, it was 100 per cent yes and in parliament debates are normal, if you expect to go into plenary and be discussing and nobody is against it, you will have to go back to your house, because it’s an issue of debate.
Parties would raise issues, individual would raise their issues, zones will raise their issues, people lobby but I want to say Mr. President is highly respected and commended, those who even raised issues against the supplementary budget did not say that they did not support, they were observed the necessary cautious for it to be done properly and it’s in order.