Honourable Timothy Golu, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Budget and Research, says the criteria used for selection and implementation of projects by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are flawed and need a total legislative review. In this interview, Hon Golu, who represents Pankshin/Kanke/Kanam Federal Constituency of Plateau State, also says that Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna derives pleasure in playing to the gallery in order to get out of his many troubles. Excerpts:
There has been frosty relationship between the legislature and the Presidency. What are the real issues, beyond what the people know?
In politics, there is bound to be such conflicts because the players belong to the different arms of government and there is always an interest to protect by the two arms of government represented by the different players. The president leads the ministers who serve under him and the legislature are led by the presiding officers of the two chambers, with their own players. Everyone has his or her own perception, not just perception but interest. The executive will always want to have their way and assume there is no legislature because the legislature serves as a check on the executive, and they are not always comfortable with that at all levels of democracy. The legislature serves as a strong wind breaker for the executive. There is always conflict of interest and it will never stop. It will improve as democracy begins to consolidate, but as it is now, it won’t. There are personal issues, such as issues of law, succession, name it. The legislature will always want to be recognized as those who make the laws just as the executive will want to operate policies, looking down on laws because they feel the law slows down the process of executive efficiency on one hand, and executive lawlessness on the other hand.
Talking about executive overbearance, how effective is the National Assembly’s oversight function?
Yes, it is part of the problems we are facing with the executive because to the executive there should be nothing like oversight just like the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. David Babachir will always say, that he does not believe the parliament has an oversight duty over any arm of government, that the National Assembly only intimidates and harasses. But we always want to remind him that if we don’t have the powers, we cannot on our own assume such, because you have to draw the authority from somewhere to even do the good thing or otherwise, meaning that he acknowledges that we have the powers, but we don’t have to oversight. I don’t know if he read Government in secondary school, because at that level we were taught that there are three arms of government, the legislature that makes the law, the executive that implements the law and the judiciary that interprets the law and settle conflicts. As far as Babachir is concerned, the legislature should be removed, and when that happens, there is no more democracy. The laws made are the engine room of democracy. The Electoral Act for instance is enacted by the National Assembly. So, if the Electoral Act isn’t there, the president can’t be there, because the process of his election goes through that. All these are the checks and balances that are provided for in the constitution and are anchored by the National Assembly. So, anytime we want to do oversight, because the executive does not want to be open, yet they implement the largest part of the budget, and they don’t want the public to know what they are doing with the budget of the country. Because they are in positions of privilege, they control money, and in effect all instruments of violence and force- the police, the military etc. They would not want us to ask questions about what public funds are used for and the rest, even though that is the constitutional provision. It is not the pleasure of the parliament to just begin to move round looking for what to do. If we don’t do our job, there will be no governance. Look at the amendment of the EFCC Act they brought. They want it to be returned like that. They will bring a budget, and they want it to be returned the same way it came. They have the power to submit estimates, we have the power to scrutinize and approve. They have the power to implement, we have the power to oversight. Those who planned the democratic arrangement are full of wisdom. At every level we overlap each other. Nobody has expressed power to do whatever he likes. The legislature has a limitation as far as the budget is concerned and the executive also has. Every arm of government has to operate within its own confines, so that democracy can flow.
Given public perception about the issue of oversight, do you feel there can be areas of improvement?
I would not say it is perfect. There could be areas of improvement, but the National Assembly is doing its best because without this oversight, it could have been worse. Taking the budget, for example, most of the estimates brought are as fraudulent as anything. They feel the National Assembly will just play ball with them or bribe their way through for one reason or the other. Well, one or two persons may want to do that, but not an entire institution. I can say that no committee has sat down to do such, because we have exposed them. The budget padding began from the executive. Remember the story that it got missing. How can a budget get missing? When you have it on your website, and an e-copy of it? The Senator was explaining some strange thing to us, and at the end of the day, we were not told if it was found or not. We discovered so many irregularities and inconsistencies. An MDA would coin five words on the same heading, and appropriate money to them. We would just approve one of those headings, and save the country money. It cuts across most of the MDAs. The criteria even used to embark on projects are flawed. We are supposed to be part of the midterm expenditure framework, discuss matters relating to the institution, before bringing it to the fore. I can tell you that no budget we pass here can meet international standard, because the criteria used in project selection is always flawed. For example, if a road is to be constructed in Lokoja for example, and the cost is one billion, it is left for us to confirm before we approve, else, we don’t know what we are doing. That is why the National Assembly has come up with conventional budget office. It is the higher equivalent of the Ministry of budget. We usually relied on the Federal Ministry of Finance, but their advice has always been misleading to us, hence, we came up with our own. We will sit down to analyse every document independent of the executive, and then the executive must give data to us, because it is provided for in the law.
With this experience, why are Nigerians still stuck in this perception that the National Assembly is corrupt and not willing to work?
Because, first it is a developing democracy. In Political Science, we are taught that the substructure determines the superstructure. If the economy is weak, it affects every other structure, down to the spiritual aspect of the society. Again, Nigerians are just coming to terms with democracy now. The people are becoming more and more conscious which is actually helping the polity. It will get to a level where people will understand it better. For now, most people see it as purely a political institution of political players. But me, and you know that there has been an improvement in the way politics is operated. If Nigerians become interested in the parliament, it will help us, because without the legislature there will be no laws. Those calling for the scrapping of the legislature don’t understand it.
Does Nigeria need a bi-cameral legislature?
We do need it, considering our population, our level of literacy, among other things, because the bi-cameral nature of the National Assembly is an asset to democracy in Nigeria. No president can pocket the National Assembly because of its size and make-up.
Recently there were verbal attacks between Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna state and the Speaker of the House of Reps over the issue of transparency. Don’t you think el- Rufai was right?
Governor el-Rufai was not right at all. He was just playing to the gallery; he is known for that, to gain relevance or to get out of trouble. That occasion did not call for that in the first place. el-Rufai wanted to divert attention so that the discourse will change. Why will he talk about salaries of Representatives when he knows this is worked out by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation And Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) Every organization has its arrangements for impress, running costs and the likes, depending on its strength. Governors have constituency allowance. What do they do with it? Our constituency allowances are justified, we get offices, employ people and pay them. Even as it is, we don’t hide it from people. Sometimes we fund oversight with our own private money. Now, not to divert from the narrative, governors funding are too many for us to list. The Speaker has raised an issue which the governor has failed to address. He produced statements of his pay slip, and we saw that the governor’s salary is more than that of the number four man in the country. Governors operate joint accounts with the local governments. Is that legal? Talk about security vote. Everyone knows about it, but no one asks what they do with the money. El-Rufai raised the matter and could not answer himself. Here, we have an executive that controls 98% of the budget. The NASS controls less than 2%. Our budget was N115 billion out of N6.017 trillion. What is the percentage? It is less than 2% for an arm of government that oils democracy, given our population. We have Inter-Parliamentary relationship with governments across the world. As it is, there are a lot of motions that have been stalled due to paucity of funds. Like the Cocacola matter, there was need to travel to the United States and South Africa, money is needed for these things.
2019 is around the corner, what are the plans to revive your party, the PDP?
Our party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be revived. There is no party that doesn’t have crisis. That of the APC is like a time bomb waiting to explode. When it explodes, I don’t know which direction it will take. We have been managing ours for 16 years. The APC has never conducted a congress, but the PDP has done a lot in 16 years. It is the outcome of that congress that is creating this crisis, a struggle for leadership at the lower level of the governance. The APC has shifted conventions a lot of times because of the fear of crisis. Wait till APC conducts theirs. They will scatter according to the way they came. Those that came from AC, CPC will all go back. We are regrouping in the National Assembly. We are waiting to cash in on them, we are waiting to get them back in our fold. Anytime we face this kind of challenge, we come back strong, and we will take over in 2019.
There is this perception that the National Assembly taking advantage of some inadequacies of the bureaucracy in the implementation of the budget?
We want to begin to implement the budget immediately. We are more concerned than any other party in this matter. Thank God the revenues accrued are far above the benchmark, and this means a lot of good things.
You were the sponsor of the North Central Development Commission. How did you come up with the concept, and how far have you gone?
I have completed everything, and it is just to present it for first reading. It is an issue that requires understanding from all people, not just in the Middle Belt so, that they won’t see that because the Niger Delta has its own, this one has sprung up. But it is not so. Our zone has been the most devastated, and we feel this will accelerate development to our area. I feel we should give specific responsibility to a specific authority so as to attract and promote development. Hence, I decided to bring this up because of the devastation prevalent, moreover the seat of power is found here. I feel we need that kind of attention.