The Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Honourable Alhassan Ado Doguwa, speaks to KEHINDE AKINTOLA on various issues such as the adoption of June 12 as Democracy Day, amendment of the Electoral Act, electronic voting, and transition of power to the South.
In view of the Democracy Day celebration, how has our democracy been in your own assessment?
For me, democracy basically is one system that we have borrowed from other nationalities. As a system that we borrowed, you will definitely expect to have some issues here and there. For me, what we do by observing democracy in Nigeria is more symbolic, because we have come a long way politically and democratically and there is the need for us to set aside a day and see how Nigerians will reflect on the journey so far. I think this is why the government symbolically decided to observe Democracy Day. It used to be the 29th day of May. But for very obvious reasons, President Muhammadu Buhari and some of us, who are stakeholders in the All Progressives Congress (APC), decided to reverse it to June 12 whose history is a sad one that can never be forgotten.
You will agree with me that, definitely, there are issues, which we are not to avoid but to face. We have to put heads together and look at ways through which we can champion a cause that will address these bedeviling issues in a manner that each and every one of us will be happy in the country.
For us to achieve the essence of our being and reap the fruits of what we call democratic government, we must democratically review some of these issues, including our constitutional agreements and territorial coexistence. We should also look at the issues from both the economic and political point of view. We don’t have to necessarily disintegrate because the country can continue to exist as long as we agree to terms that are beneficial to every component of the system.
In a situation where there is injustice, there should also be a review for us to continue to enjoy the dividends of democracy and the principle of natural democracy. Thank God, we have a government that is not only popular, but also enjoys the will of the people. Muhammadu Buhari is one man that everybody respects and believes is transparent in the discharge of his responsibility. But if we cannot use the opportunity of helping someone like him to address some of our problems, then definitely we should forget about it.
I don’t assume or believe we can have any better time to address some of the issues affecting our mutual coexistence as a federation better than now. We have a leader who has had a military background and leveraged on his own experience to keep Nigeria united in the days of civil war. He participated in the war, supported Nigerian government and made sure that the country did not disintegrate.
But here comes the same person under a democratic session heading the same country you called a united Nigeria. You also have the same personality of Muhammadu Buhari somebody, who does not only believe in the coexistence of Nigeria as a nation, but also in the territorial integrity of the Nigerian State. For him to have taken part in the Nigerian civil war and now be in charge of the country under a democratic platform, President Buhari, definitely, has all it takes to make sure that some of the issues bedevilling our collective existence are addressed.
As a member of the House, I am not speaking on behalf of the leadership, this is my opinion. But I think this is the right time for us to address the issues that threaten our peaceful coexistence and collective justice. Obviously, we don’t have any other window to do that except through the National Assembly.
Across various platforms in the country, Nigerians have been clamouring for national dialogue that will bring together stakeholders within the country and the National Assembly to address the contentious issues threatening the country. How do you think this can be done?
This is a very fine idea and like I said, nobody should run away from the truth. Yes, we have a lot of issues, including controversies, civil aggressions, among others, giving rise to suspicions and speculations around the Nigerian State. But whether you like it or not, as long as we run democratic system of government, we must be guided by its laid-down rules and objectives.
If we have a cause to dialogue and review our terms of agreement as a nation, we don’t have any other option of doing that except through the NASS, which has procedures. For example, we have the constitution amendment committee for the 9th Senate. It is one big window for every Nigerian to come and submit memoranda on what we need to build into the constitution, whether we should hold a special constitutional dialogue or not. But for that to be successful, it must be channeled through the representatives of the people of Nigeria as provided for in the constitution.
We at the NASS will be very much ready to engage with the stakeholders and leaders of the various ethnic groups in the country. Let them come to us. In some cases, the people can go through our ad hoc and standing committees. As I said the constitution review committee is one very big window for every Nigerian, either as an individual or group to come up and make submission of what we want Nigeria to be or what you what us to review in the code of political operation with the discharge of our responsibility as per institution and an arm of government. But when people just get on the street and shout dialogue, how do you dialogue when the concept of the dialogue you are talking about is not captured in the constitution. That is the only implication. Nigerians should accept the fact that we operate an institutional democracy.
We are having a democratic process already ongoing. For anybody to come up with other matter(s) outside the constitution, we see that as extraneous factors. And we will not allow these factors to come and bedevil our institutional procedures. Of course, we need to look at ourselves again and the existence of this country as a nation. We also need to look at even our supreme document, which is this constitution, but you can only achieve that when you operate from the procedure provided by the system. I want to believe we are doing that because even by the conduct of the constitution review committee at the moment, we are, very soon, going into public hearing.
The main committee at the national level has created a sub-committee to engage with Nigerians in the various states of the federation. There are sub-committees created by the constitution review committee, through which we are now going to engage members of the public at zonal level. In the North-West alone, we have about two to three sub-committees to go and get the people’s observations and views. For instance, I am going to lead the sub-committee that is going to sit in Kano. So many other principal officers are going to lead other committees to other zones and states of the federation. The aim is to get closer to the people, instead of just holding a public hearing.
Nigerians are worried that NASS has lost its respect to the Executive. Don’t you think the National Assembly should be strengthened enough to have more power to pass certain resolutions and make them take effect?
What we rather have as a system is that principle of the learning process. Like I earlier said, this is a system we borrowed from other nations. This implies that the rules of the game must have to be learnt with time. Some of the things happening now are not because people are willingly overturning the principle of democracy, but because we have to take time to learn the system. Our own democracy is between 20 and 22 years now. Definitely, there are bound to be some interventions. But with respect to the NASS having more powers, I don’t think it needs such at the moment. We have been given enough power to make laws and oversee the activities of the government. The constitution even goes further to give us extra power that even if the Executive or the President fails to assent to a bill, two-thirds of us can make such a bill into a law.
But I don’t think the National Assembly in the recent past has demonstrated such courage. What are your constraints?
We have not done that recently, but we once did for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). It is all about the learning process. What we are trying to do is to look at ourselves as one indivisible government. Of course, we have different functions as laid down by the constitution, likewise the Executive and the Judiciary, but we believe that working together on the same page will deliver more benefits for our people than fighting one another. But where there is cause for us to disagree with the government, especially on a matter that is against the will of the people, definitely, we will have no cause not to.
So, the synergy will continue, but we will never agree to synergise with any arm of government that is working against the people that we represent. That is why we are called representatives of the people. I also want to say without any fear of any contradiction that the current leadership of the NASS has come up with an agenda and it is for us to actualise our institutional independence and integrity first as an institution before we begin to see how we can align with other arms of government to deliver the expectations of our people. I want to say without any fear of being quoted that this 9th NASS has performed outstandingly, especially in the area of legislation and responsiveness to the call of our people. We have always been on our feet to make sure that the interest of the people is protected and never compromised.
Secondly, take a look at the way we execute some of the projects we have, such as the constituency projects, through which we deliver the benefits of governance to our people. In the past, nobody benefited from the activities of the government, because you must have someone in government before you begin to see something coming to your constituency.
But now, with the array of members, who are representing a diverse constitution, one way or the other every financial year, something must definitely be delivered on a table in terms of infrastructural facilities, development in the education system, provision in the healthcare system and even the issue of security. Sometimes, we provide casual employment and help to produce statutory employment in various government agencies and ministries, because as their representatives, people really expect us to provide them a means of livelihood.
Let me take you up on some of the constituency projects which touched directly on the lives of your constituents. There was an allegation from the presidency regarding how many trillions were released. It was a trending scam?
One thing that Nigerians must note is that yes, constituency projects are meant to cover the interest of individual members in the NASS, but Nigerians tend to forget that we are not an institution that implements the activities of government. The NASS does not have the bureaucratic infrastructure to implement projects of such nature. We only provide statutory provisions in the budget, and can only appropriate that money to an existing Federal Government agency to implement for us. Government does not release funds to members to implement constituent projects. Such funds are routed through the normal statutory process of releasing funds to agencies and ministries of government to do that for us. So whatever goes on in the ministry is no longer within the purview or control of an individual member. Both ministries are expected to implement the projects in accordance with the terms of operations of every formal ministry of government. We can only go out and ensure that what was provided in the budget for a particular project is being implemented to the letter. No more, no less.
But the allegation was made by the presidency…
No matter what the presidency said, you need to come and hear from the horse’s mouth as well. Releases are done by the presidency through the Ministry of Finance. Implementations of those projects are also done through the Executive arm of government via the relevant ministries and agencies. No one member of the House of Representatives has got any business with the implementation of any constituency project. Your concern or business about the project is for you to domicile your project in an agency of government and when the government wants to release the money, they don’t inject or release their money through members’ offices. It is the same ministry or agency that will implement such.
In some cases, when people insinuate that members recommend a contractor to go and do a contract for them, that is not true. It doesn’t happen. I have never recommended any contractor to do my project but, of course, when a contractor is given my project, I have to go out with him to make sure that the project is located where I want it, because obviously it has been provided for the benefit of my people and it is done under what you called constituency project envelop.
This is one of the things members and Nigerians must understand. We are all working towards the same goal, towards the overall interest of the people, because we represent them. So I don’t think any member will have any cause whatsoever to divert the project that is provided for the benefit of his own people. I want to say without any fear that the government is doing well and impressively, especially in funding our constituency projects.
As of today, when we are shouting there is no money, the government has been able to fund our capital constituency projects by not less than 25 per cent. 25 per cent of funds has been released to the agencies of government and they have already started the process of procurement. The jobs will definitely be awarded and Nigerians will see a lot of benefits. Even with the challenges, the government has not reneged on funding constituency projects and some other basic capital projects that will impact the lives of our people. That is why we don’t see reasons to begin to engage the government in unnecessary misunderstandings. Where they can afford to support the legislature, they will definitely do and where we also have to support the government to execute the needed projects for the benefit of our people, we don’t have a choice. Only yesterday, the president communicated to us the need for the government to borrow in order to fund some capital projects and also to be able to undertake some of its obligations and we granted that because we know the country is facing some economic challenges. Some of our windows for revenue and what have you are dwindling; the only option for a purposeful government is for it to go beyond the normal, so that it can be able to fund some of the projects in the country.
Let us take a look at the crisis we have at hand, as we speak, local government structure is already grounded in the country. What legacy will the 9th NASS leave on this issue and what is the constraint that is preventing the House of Reps and Senate from passing the amendment of the Electoral Act?
For local government, I think we don’t have any issue on the table. The Senate and House of Representatives have concurred and have agreed to give autonomy to the local governments. We have also accepted and agreed through a resolution and legislation that these people should be granted political and financial autonomy. Where the problem is coming are the state assemblies who by constitutional provisions are also major stakeholders. Two-thirds of them have to agree with us before an amendment is made or any constitutional provision is added to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I think that is where the shoe is pinching, not on our own side.
I think as Nigerians, members of the press, and civil society organisations, everyone should also reach out to the state assemblies to let them understand that having an independent local government will definitely usher in development. With an effective local administration, our local governments will function to the point whereby everyone will no longer cry out. We will continue to play our part but, at the end, if the state assemblies do not concur with our position, it becomes futile and that is just the issue with local government autonomy, because virtually, you have the state governors on top of the state assemblies as they always work together. I don’t believe they would want to have a problem existing between the two at the state level. Perhaps when we continue to engage the governors and the state assemblies at the level of their forum, we will begin to enlighten ourselves more and see why we should allow local government operate independently for us to have an effective local government administration that will impact on the lives of the people. On insecurity, if local governments are allowed to work independently with enough resources injected to the system, I believe so many things will be reduced in terms of insecurity and joblessness among Nigerian youths because it is from these that you find people gainfully going into criminality. That is my position on that.
On Electoral Act, I want you to look at it vis-à-vis electronic voting. It is being said its usage will help in reducing rigging, ballot box snatching and the like but the body language of INEC through the pronouncement of its chairman is that NASS is not keen about it…
I don’t want to by any reason preempt what the result of the Electoral Act will be, but I want to believe we are trying to be cautious as to what we will provide in the Electoral Act whether that thing is practicable or not. There are so many things that we may want to have in our electoral system, there are so many proactive changes from other electoral system of other countries but when you come to look at the context of election in our own democracy, there are certain things whether you like it or not that may not be able to apply, that is our fear. I don’t think that we should allow ourselves to be stampeded into taking an action that at the end will have a very demanding process. Whether you like it or not, we need to develop to the level where we can adopt a system and it works for us effectively. Not just to begin let us have electronic voting, let us have Diaspora voting and at the end, you do not have the infrastructure capacity to really implement such things by way of development. It is technology-intensive.
You appropriated money two, three years ago for electronic voting
No, what we appropriated was the use of the card reader, which is one thing and the adoption of electronic voting is another. The money we appropriated was for the INEC to make use of the card reader. Of course making use of card readers is one step forward but beginning to adopt electronic voting is another thing. In my own opinion, Nigeria needs to get to that point before we adopt it. We need to have that capacity, technological development; we need to be much more enlightened about the technology. We need to know whether our people at the grassroots will be able to do electronic voting, otherwise, you will bring a system that will work against the major system.
When you bring electronic voting for instance to a place where people are not enlightened, they don’t know how to vote electronically, they are creating an avenue for the few people who are enlightened to manipulate our system. We don’t want manipulation in the system that we cannot effectively control. I am not foreclosing like I said the position of the electoral law, but let us get to the bridge before we cross it. In my own opinion, let us not allow a few individuals, who may have advantage of technology, to bring in a system that will at the end be used against the people. This is democracy and something called democracy must be in the interest of the larger majority of the people you want to govern through democratic system. Even if the system sounds primitive, it does not matter as long as that primitive system serves the majority interest of the people that is democracy.
How do you see the burning of INEC headquarters in Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Borno, Jigawa, Plateau Rivers and Ondo states?
As a well-meaning Nigeria, nobody will want to see reasons why in the name of hoodlums go and start burning down INEC Offices either at the State or local government level. Some even go as far as burning down police stations. In a situation like this, to say the least, it is unfortunate because you won’t see a well-meaning Nigerian going to burn an office where you have no business with at the moment. These things are happening where there was no election going on. It is not like they are doing it in the aftermath of an election. There are political motives behind it and whoever is responsible for that, I think he is not being patriotic and will not serve any good for him.
The fact still remains that agencies or infrastructure of government are needed to conduct good elections. When you burn them down, what you have is a retrogressive result and I don’t see anyone achieving anything by burning down INEC office most especially when we have no election going on. When you burn their INEC logistics and voting materials, you are putting Nigeria 100 miles behind and it is the same government money that will be used to replace those infrastructures. So, it is like you are burning your pocket and at the end of the day, you pay for it. I don’t see any good political reason why hoodlums should burn INEC offices. I call on Nigerians especially the youths and the traditional institutions to vehemently go against this action. I think people going into this kind of thing should take a rethink.
There are agitations that power should shift to the South. But some powerful Northerners are saying there is nothing like zoning. What is your view on the issue?
We have not taken a position as a party and you know I am a major stakeholder of this party at the national level. I belong to virtually every stage of party level administration. I am a member of the NEC, National Caucus and more so, I am a member of the tripartite presidential committee on the party itself and the process of governance in the country so for me to make a statement when we have not made a formal statement by the party I think to say the least preempting the position of the party.
But if you insist I must say my opinion, I want to believe zoning is not a constitutional arrangement, zoning is an agreement among the stakeholders of the party and also a proponent of the zoning arrangement because whether you like it or not we are running a federal system of government; like I said before, diverse ethnicity, diverse components of the federation.
When you have an arrangement whether constitutional or not, as long as it does not contravene any straightforward constitutional provision, a system or a formula that helps you to co-exist and operate with mutual understanding for mutual benefit of the country itself then we must encourage it. In my own opinion, zoning is a formula that we must continue to adopt and when one part of the country has its own turn, then I think it is fair you allow another part of the country to take its own turn. As long as we don’t observe this principle of zoning, or principle of mutual co-existence and believing that this is one Nigeria for every one of us that we belong with nobody being called or addressed as a super citizen. Everybody is a super citizen of the country. I think it is only fair that everyone has their own turn as and when due. For me, in my own opinion, time has come when we should not think of having power back to the North, because we have taken two terms of our own shot. So, we now concede power back to other part of the country whether to South-West, South-South, at least to the South so that we will continue to see ourselves as a just system, a system that is devoid of any sentiment or selfish direction which will actually help us to continue to see ourselves as one country and working together.
Any other thing that goes against this is not only undemocratic but it will also work against the unity of the country. I think we need to be united, responsive and keep to the tenets of some informal arrangements in our democratic system. Every country can have this kind of arrangement; it may not be constitutional, but as long as it gives us the kind of cohesion we required, then we keep to it, because that will see to the peaceful coexistence of a country with diverse realities to be united and continue to operate as one nation and one destiny.
By Kehinde Akintola