A Member representing Kiama /Baruten Federal Constituency in the House of Representative and Chairman, House committee on Media and Publicity, Zakari Muhammed spoke with a group of journalists in Ilorin where he bared his mind on local and national issues. ALI MUHAMMAD RABIU was there for New Nigerian. Excerpt:-
What is the stand point of the House of Representatives on the recent statement by Mr. President that he would soon remove the fuel subsidy?
Yes, he just said it and it was in the newspapers yesterday or today that there is going to be a nationwide broadcast tomorrow to that effect. But for us in the House of Representatives, basically, these issues are ones that are very sensitive to us because basically the country relies on oil.
We run a monolithic economy and when we get back to the House obviously, may be as the week runs out; we will take a position on this matter.
But, what I can say is what we have said in the past and that is, we will be like recalling all that we had said about fuel subsidy. We believe that even in the beginning, that of course, if the malpractices, if the sharp practices, if the under table dealings are taken off from the oil industry, of course, we know that even the subsidy issue is sustainable. But of course these issues are history now.
We just know that corruption is quite, quite neck deep in the oil and gas industry and for us in the House, one of the reasons why that when the petroleum investment Bill (PIB) was brought to us, we had ended the debate and committed it to the relevant committees of the House. In fact, we have put up a Committee of the House encompassing the chairmen and deputies of the oil and gas, petroleum, upstream and downstream, finance, and several other colleagues of ours to work on the PIB Committee.
Very soon, a public hearing will be called and these issues will be thrashed out. Part of what we want to discuss or embed in the PIB law is to be able to put up those stringent laws to check corruption in the oil and gas industry.
For the removal of fuel subsidy totally by Mr. President, the House would always take decision when we get back to the plenary year which will be coming up as from Tuesday November 20, 2012 but I am sure that any matter that bothers on the lives of our people who happen to be our employers, we would definitely take it in turn. I think this answer will just suffice for now. Until we get to the plenary on Tuesday.
The fuel subsidy matter is still much on the ground but I have a concern. It seems to me that the House has decided to accept it as quite good and simple because there have not been much reactions from the House as it were. That is one side.
Secondly, people are being taken up almost on the daily basis before the EFCC to answer questions as regards the massive looting of the treasury but the concern is the issue of “Plea Bargaining” where rather than going to jail, the culprits would just be asked to pay back the stolen money. You have such a problem in the oil industry and it is still ‘plea bargaining’. Although, even within the hierarchy of the judiciary, there is no agreement on what it should be. Are you not worried about this as a member of the National Assembly from the House of Representatives?
You see, let me tell you one thing which I have said severally, clearly and unfortunately, Mr Reuben Abati who is supposed to be the Spokesperson of Mr. President is very unreasonable. I read about his write-up and I quite got very disappointed that rather than addressing the issues, Reuben was particular about Zakari Mohammed as a person. There, he alluded to the fact that I was absent minded. And what was my crime? It was because I said that the government of President Jonathan from all that we had seen does not display strength and of course, the will to tackle corruption headlong and of course that is the truth and I stand by that I keep repeating it and will keep repeating it.
But I just want to tell Reuben something, that there was somebody who occupied the office of the Special Adviser or Spokesman of Mr. President till months back. That gentleman is Mr. Segun Adeniyi. That man is still alive. My advice to Reuben is that he should go and take lessons from Segun Adeniyi on how he handled the affairs of the late president Musa Yar’Adua when issues of this country, policy issues direction were being discussed, where at some point we didn’t know the right direction we were to go. But he handled and conducted himself as a thoroughbred professional and a lot of us were proud of him.
But of course the fact that you are an Essayist does not make you an Information Manager. That is the mistake we make. Reuben Abati is not a Journalist. I can say that and beat my chest anywhere. That you are in the boardroom and just as an Essayist does not make you a journalist.
Having said that, the issue on ground is the fact that the oil and gas industry, because we have done a mistake as a country and we have relied so much heavily on the oil, everybody that is somebody in Nigeria wants to have something to do with oil. And unless we begin to divest and we begin to redirect our too much focus on oil the corruption will continue to be there in the oil industry.
Well, if I say anything about the government of the day they would say they met the problem that way. But I want to say that leadership is not by shifting blames; leadership is about responsibility. The day you desire or decide to, the day you make up your mind to serve, you must be culpable for everything that goes wrong while you are there. So, I want to say that for us as a House, I believe, and until we are proved very wrong, the will to tackle the corruption in the oil and gas industry looks about selective and unless we go for it totally, we go for it head long, we might not be able to get to where we are going. Already, people are being taken on. For us as per the plea bargaining we just that justice should not be a short circuit way. That is, there shouldn’t be shortcut to justice. Let the rule of law prevail. And that is what we keep preaching at the National Assembly. For us, we would keep asking and demanding that the right thing be done even if we are blackmailed in the process. But we know that the way we are, the way things stand now, unless there is a change of attitude, we might not be able to tackle that problem headlong. And that is the issue of corruption in the oil and gas industry.
We would pass the PIB with our observations entrenched and we will give it quick passage taking note that it is not just garbage in, garbage out issue but taking note of the key issues and we have already made our observations on these issues very clear. We will come out with the law that is sustainable. With the law that will empower the institutions to function rather than the actors in the institutions. So, we don’t intend to pass a PIB Bill that would make the country to be at the mercy of an individual. That of course we would not accept. But all the key issues that bother on making the oil and gas industry open to investments will be made so that employment would be generated and revenue would be created. We would be in tune with that so that we will be on the same page with Nigerians.
There has been clamour for National Sovereign Conference rather than emphasis on constitutional amendments. What is your view?
I think for us the elites, we are the major problem of this country. We the elites are the Nigeria’s major problem and unless and until we get sincere with our utterances, we will definitely be running into all these kinds of problems. We as a House said that there are issues and if you look at the forty-three (43) amendments that we sought for, for instance, Independence of the Legislators at the State Level, Independence of the Local Gvernment (financial autonomy), State Creation, Revenue Allocation Formula, Presidency Rotation, Governorship Functioning, etcetera, all these issues have been in the public domain over time. And by the virtue of Section 9 of the 1999 constitution as amended, we are given the power to be able to amend the constitution. Any how we go about it shouldn’t be material. But what do we take to achieve by that? Some people have said that we should call Confab. We should call for a Referendum. Of late, we have come out with a position and we said, “Anything that is not in the Constitution we can never be a party to the execution of such’’. Referendum is not in the Nigerian Constitution and it is alien to our Constitution and I am sure that the lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, should know better.
For us as a House, there is no perfect document anywhere in the world. There is no perfect Constitution in any part of the world. You keep upholding it and tinkering the all times as you carry on.
The Constitution of a country is in the way the country is. Some people welcome at a point in time that may be our ground children, our great grand children can come and bring up certain ideas and begin to put it up and embed it in the constitution.
But to continue to say that the entire constitution is faulty, I do beg to disagree with that. And unfortunately, it comes from the quarters that you begin to think that these people should be enlightened enough to know that if you say we should throw out the entire constitution, the institutions that are products of that constitution become all illegal. If you throw them out, where do you start from? Who conducts the Conference? Where do you have the funding? Who moderates it? What module operandi are we going to operate with?
We are leaders in our right and we believe that rather than throw out the Constitution and throw the Country into confusion, we should look for a lee way out. Every responsible government, every responsible people will look for a lee way in every situation. That is what leadership is all about. It is about proffering solutions at every point in time. You navigate as at when it is stormy and take a right course. That is exactly what we believe in the seventh National Assembly that we are doing.
These issues have been brought to the public domain, we had interacted and I know that in my constituency, some of your colleagues were there with me, it was democratic. Every issue was taken according to its merit. And people debated. They had a very robust debate and at the end of the day we came up with common stand on each of one of these issues.
The views, the aggregate views of the people will be collated and of course that will form the stand of the Nigerian people as far as we are concerned.
Never miss it. Some people have lost elections. Some people have lost relevance. They believe that the best way to come back is to begin to ask for Confab. If you want to stand in an election, go and follow the due process as enshrined in the Constitution. Pick up the party nomination form. Sell yourself to the people. Be accepted and come out rather than doing it in your own way. You cannot get into the House through the chimney. No. Getting through the back door, getting through the window is illegal. So, that is exactly what I want us to put in its right perspective and actually the elite team is the problem with us. And unless we get these things right, we would keep missing the point. We are empowered by the Constitution to tinker with the Constitution. And we said the amendment is our own power within the purview of our powers. There is nothing that we are doing in excess. But the people that are asking for referendum, for confab for some sorts of things, I think if we search their views, it might not be in the best interest of Nigeria.
We are at critical point/moment of our history that if things were not done right, we might be putting this country on the slaughters slab and we would begin to pieces it. And God forbids. We don’t want to preside over the sharing of Nigeria or on the piecing of Nigeria.
Nigeria, either by mistake, commission or commission over time since 1914, we have learnt how to stay with each other. Some of us have made life partners over across boards. As I speak, my own wife is not from my own part of this State, Baruteen LGA of Kwara State of the country. She is from the western part of the country. There are several other people who have relationship over and over and over again. How do you reconcile that? I am just giving you a typical example of this.
Some people are big business partners across the Niger. Their best friends and associates are across the Niger. How do you reconcile that? These are the issues some of these people believe that can be taken for granted. What I know and what we believe is that in the seventh Assembly is that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. Not at any cost. On some other issues, we will keep discussing and of course, the aggregate views of Nigerians are what we are presenting such as we need State Police? Do we need the issue indigineship? If you stay in a place after a period of years, can you be voted for? All of these are the issues that have been embedded and are in the public domain. And those are the issues that we put forth. We didn’t just wake up and say this must be in it.
We people did public session. A lot of Nigerians have amended it. And the participation has shown that Nigerians have decided to take their destinies in their hands as how to be in charge of their affairs. That is exactly what we have done with the peoples’ sessions and public wearing. And I am sure by the end of the day, by next year hopefully, we would come out with the clear Constitution.
We have made the best decisions according to what we came up with. All of us have submitted our reports now. The reports will now be treated at the committee levels and of course, public hearings would be done. Some other views will be embedded in it. And we would have aggregate views of where Nigerians stand on each of these contending issues.
From the readings of the public hearings, it appears that one issue that is uppermost in the minds of Nigerians is whether there is going to be creation of states or whether it is going to be creation of Local Government councils only. Yet between the Senate and the House of Representatives, there seems to be some communication gaps as to what really is the purpose of these arguments with regards to creation of additional local government and states.
Are you people in the National Assembly giving Nigerians a false hope that this is one, you do this, you are giving those who want new States their desired States or only those craving for local governments? Who would get what?
Secondly, with regards to the environment, just about three, four days ago, the United Nations, UN fined the British Petroleum (BP) $4.5B for oil spillage and yet in Nigeria we keep recording oil spillages without desired compensation. Just last week we have one oil spillage in Qua Iboe in Akwa Ibom State and wherever. We keep having this and yet they, the oil companies usually go scot free to the detriments of the people of the affected communities. What should be expected?
It is glad enough to let you know the latest efforts on these. I want to start from the first question of States creation. You see, for now I cannot tell you what the stand of the House or the National Assembly is because, all of us have different views on States creation from what we brought back. For instance, in my constituency we are not particular about States creation rather, we prefer that our Local Government Councils be split into many more because the Local Government is the closest to the people and that of course is a bit sustainable.
States creation will just be like in my own opinion, I am not speaking on the resolution of the House, as far as States creation is concerned because it is still an on-going issues. But in my own opinion, I believe that it is just to create chiefdoms for certain people to begin to flex their own political power. For us, what happened, it is not about the number of states that will do but how effective and how efficient are these States? That of course, is my own thinking and what the thinking of many caps of us is like. But of course when the aggregate of our opinions comes out I know with the interactions I have had with a number of my colleagues, they are not particular about the States creation. Rather, they are looking at how best the system will work for the local governments to get very, very effective.
Don’t miss it. When we had the regional structure, some roads when you get to the western reigon were constructed during their time. And of course there some certain works up till today that were built by the Native Authorities and of course the by the government of the northern Nigeria. We still have such work in my village. You have them as far as Kaura Namoda. You have them as far as Bah or Geshu in Taraba State. These are effectiveness and we believe that with more effectiveneess, state creation might not be necessary, because it would just be like creating more opportunities for certain people to go to Abuja Cap in hand to take monies and to be expanded not to the interest of the Nigeria people.
Then coming to the oil spillage thing. We have cried out and gladly enough, Senator Bukola Saraki had a public hearing where he invited all stakeholders and what he was particular about was on the oil spillage, an agency of government that will tackle oil spillage and of course that will take it headlog.
Some of these multinationals we know that a lot of corruption has been going on there because some of them there some people they are answerable to and of course they do it at the expense of the communities.
By the time these opinions were committed into law and of course is signed by the President, you will see that we have basis on which the oil spillage issues and environmental issues are captured and of course the Nigerian, will be the best for it especially the oil producing community. So, it is something that is on-going and shall not be lost in that direction.
I know that we would come up with that because that hearing even though we know that the people in government circle would never like it. But we still went ahead to do it because we know that and believe that is the way to go especially to take care of the environment, to take care of the deprivation the people are suffering as a result of the oil being explored /exploited in their communities so, I am sure that would take care of it.