Rima Shawulu is the member representing Takum/Donga/Ussa Federal Constituency of Taraba State, in the House of Representatives. He tells ISA ABDUSALAMI, that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was not sincere in his views on the issue of budget padding and the legislature.
How do you react to recent comments by Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo that National Assembly members lack integrity?
If you look at the composition of the National Assembly today, in the Senate, there is probably only one person who started off in 1999, that is still a senator and that is David Mark. In the House of Representatives, there are only three people, Nicholas Mutu, Adams Jagaba, and Linda Ikpeazu. They are the only members of the House of Representatives who have been there since 1999. If you are saying that all members of the National Assembly lack integrity, then you will probably be thinking of a very high percentage of Nigerians who get elected.
My worry with what the former president said is that it actually undermines the most important institution of democracy, which is the legislature. In a monarchical system, you have the judiciary, most likely. In military governments, you have the judiciary and executive. The only arm of government that is new and that has always been new and gets disbanded whenever the military strikes are the legislature. But if you look at the duration that we have a civilian rule in Nigeria, you will discover that corruption, which has led us to where we are, cannot by any stretch of imagination be attributed to the arm of government that has been coming on and off. It has not been stable. That is to say, that the military governments, which General Obasanjo was part of, and the executive arm of government to which he belonged, were dictatorial.
Another point that I think we need to note is that if you look at the quantum of the budget, even under Obasanjo, the National Assembly had always got the least in terms of money made available. Under Ex-President Jonathan, the initial national budget stood at N3t for both recurrent and capital expenditure. It later rose to ₦4T before Jonathan left. Now it is N6t. The budget of the National Assembly has reduced from ₦150B out of ₦3T to ₦115B when we have the national budget raised to ₦6T. So, the problem of Nigeria, the reason why things are not working in terms of statistics, can therefore not be attributed to the National Assembly. Except, if you will say that the National Assembly is the one responsible for the implementation of the budget, which is not true. National Assembly does not implement the budget.
The point I am trying to make is that, if you look at the National Assembly, there is a high turnover of people; the people who were there in 1999 are not the people that are there today. What General Olusegun Obasanjo is saying therefore is that, either the National Assembly has a big corrupting influence that when you come into it, you become corrupt, it corrupts you, or that Nigerians prefer to put people that don’t have integrity, people that are corrupt in the National Assembly. Whichever case, I think that he is wrong. The fact of the matter is that the National Assembly, like any other institution of government in Nigeria, has its challenges and problems, the challenges of trying to understand and know what is happening; and the National Assembly has a higher difficulty because of the high turnover of members. Presently, 65 percent of the members who were there before did not return. So, you have 65 percent, that is, more than two–thirds of the members of the House of Representatives today are people who have never been there before.
So, you can see that that is a challenge because you have problems with institutional memory and so forth. But National Assembly can certainly not be the factor that is responsible for the sorry state of the country today.
You said the National Assembly does not implement the budget, what then is its primary responsibility in budgeting?
The National Assembly, its primary responsibilities as evolved historically are one; to appropriate the resources of the country, legislate on sources of income as section 80 of the constitution makes it very clear and determine the ways these resources that have been raised and will be spent. Secondly, the National Assembly makes laws; thirdly, it approves Presidential nominations into certain political offices, such as ministers and so forth. Once the National Assembly completes a bill, the bill is assented to by the President and it becomes law, the implementation of that law, including the appropriation act becomes the responsibility of the President. So, National Assembly makes laws and determines how monies accruing to the federation accounts are spent.
How do you see the current logjam over budget padding in the House of Representatives?
In the first place, let me explain by ordinary English definition what padding of something means. I think it means adding something to something to make it bigger. As far as the 2016 budget is concerned, this is the first budget since, if I am not mistaken, in the last two years, that went into the National Assembly and came out smaller by ₦17B. All the previous budgets, the National Assembly used to change the benchmark of the price of oil and on the basis of that, the budget was usually increased.
This budget, is the first budget, in 10 years that came out less than what went in and came out less than what was taken in. The second point that we must notice is that people confuse a lot of things. The first one is that people say that the budget was padded because National Assembly members inserted one item or the other, or removed some things from the budget. But go again to section 80 of the constitution; you will see clearly that the National Assembly has the power, to delete completely. That is what is contained in the constitution. President Olusegun Obasanjo went to the Supreme Court and withdrew the case himself when the issue of the budget came up as to whether the National Assembly had that power or not. President Umar Musa Yar’Adua did the same thing and withdrew the case. And you will recall that even in the United States where we borrowed our constitution from if you recall the Clinton administration was shut down, even the Obama administration had the same problem that they had to agree with the Congress or the country was going to be shut down.
Because when it comes to the control of the finances, how it may be spent, the power of the National Assembly is absolute. National Assembly will determine how it should be spent. It will not be the one to do the expenditure. So, anyone that comes and says that National Assembly members have added and removed, they are padding, it is wrong. That is the key function of the legislature. Added to this, is the fact that after the President has presented the budget, the National Assembly committees receive ministers, government officials, secretary to the government, traditional rulers who write to the Speaker and the Senate President, asking for the inclusion of one project or the other. That has been the tradition since 1999.
The third point you would notice is that as far as this budget thing is concerned if you look at the last year of the 8th Assembly, we processed over 500 motions in one year, the highest. What we did in one year is more than the work that was done in the four years of the previous assembly. And most of the motions were what we call the infrastructural motions. Members come to the National Assembly, rise up to raise a motion on one bridge, one road, or one electricity problem in their constituencies that needed to be resolved.
Now, these resolutions have been passed and forwarded to the ministries for inclusion in the budget. And if the ministries and the government ignore these requests, if you are the one in charge of expenditure, it is your responsibility, what are you going to do? Are you not going to add them? This is your power. And these monies are not meant for your pockets, you are not the one that will be given the money to go and do the construction of the roads. Like we did a motion for a bridge across River Benue at Ibbi. That is a bridge that is going to cost billions of naira.
The money will not be given to me and the members that moved the motion. We did a motion on Mambilla Power Project. Motions were done on the Ibadan – Lagos Expressway for which monies were appropriated.
Now, the other point I want to mention along this line is, some members of the House of Representatives, were complaining about the allocation in the budget for principal officers and the rest of them. Again, that has been a tradition in the National Assembly since the time that Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took over the reins of government. Now you become a member of the House of Representatives or the Senator and you cannot do the projects, even the basic projects like boreholes and the rest of them, you cannot get them to your constituencies? Some of the constituencies like my own, since 1999, have not got any Federal Government project. Most of the federal projects that spread around are the ones that come through what we call Zonal Intervention Programme. What is it? The President, since the days of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, included in the budget proposal, ₦100B, and this money is shared in the ratio of N60b to N40b between the House and the Senate.
What do they do with this money or allocation? You are required to nominate projects in your constituency up to that amount of money to be included in the budget to be implemented by the MDAs. No cash is given to any member; due process ought to have been followed by the MDAs in awarding the contracts. And I assure you that if you go round and check, you will not find up to 10 percent of members who have companies that are doing contracts in these ministries. I am not saying that there may not be some people who are smart enough that will have contracts, but not the majority. These monies are not monies that are allocated to members. This tradition has been there since the time of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Are you saying padding is not a crime?
It is a wrong usage of the word. There is nothing like padding. You see, if you are an editor, you are supposed to edit your stories. If they bring a story to you, you add or delete it. Is it wrong? It is not wrong. Is that not your responsibility? It is your responsibility. If you look at the last 2016 budget, first the president refused to sign the budget because he did not agree with some things there.
Source: The Guardian