SENATE NEEDS PROPER SCHOOLING ON PIB - IBRAHIM
Senator Abu Ibrahim (CPC, Katsina) is the Senate Deputy Minority Whip and represents Katsina South Senatorial District. In this interview with ISAIAH BENJAMIN, he bares his mind on some other national issues such as insecurity, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), oversight functions of the National Assembly, and the merger move by opposition parties, among others.
There were reports that you recently dug some bore-holes in your constituency, is it part of your constituency projects?
Well, they were not boreholes. They were tube wells which are used for irrigation scheme and they were covered by last year's budget. If you look at last year's budget under the Rima Basin Development Authority, you will see N250 million provided for minor irrigation schemes in the 11 local governments of Katsina South Senatorial district of Katsina state. These are projects implemented by the Rima River Basin Development Authority.
That is why when I was giving them the machines that they should liaise with the Rima authority with regards to authenticate photographs of real beneficiaries, so as to show accountability, because they will have to account for it. Such that whoever receives the machine will sign a form.
It is the form that will indicate their interest and in the form there is the pin number of the machine. This is to show accountability. This is covered by the budget of the federal government of Nigeria. The money is not from my own pocket. If you are talking of my own pocket it will cost about 300 million naira. So it was covered by last year's budget.
But because I was the person who attracted it and it was under my senatorial district that is why I have the right to go and commission it and to supervise the allocation to make sure that the right person got the right thing and to ensure that the amount of money expended is equivalent to the service received.
How much was budgeted for National Assembly members for Capital projects this year?
There was negotiation from the federal government and the National Assembly, I think about N100billion will be provided for constituency projects. Let us not misunderstand constituency projects as if the money is given to National Assembly members. No, each Senator is allocated some of the money then you decide which of the projects is more important to your area. You will go and put it under the ministry concerned. The ministry concerned will receive the money to do the projects. There are instances in some states they put all the money together to do one big project.
In some cases if there is a big problem, some senators will sit down to include the names of their House of Representative members. I remember last year it was Ekiti State that put their money together to do one big project in their state. So, there is this misconception that money is given to National Assembly no.
These are done by respective ministries. If it is education it goes to education, if it is agriculture it goes to agriculture. If it is water resources like this minor irrigation it will go to Rima Basin Development Authority which is under the Ministry of Water Resources.
I have two dams at Matazu and Sulma dam in Kafur local government. These were handled by the Ministry of local government. So, all the budgetary allocations went to the ministry of Water resources. On this one, it is Rima Basin Authority. So it is a way of showing people that certain pressing issues within their constituencies are solved. This was how this issue of constituency projects came in. But nobody is given a kobo out of it. These are implemented by the ministry.
You may find honestly that some of the projects are not done and there is nothing government can do about it because it is under the budget. I believe even now I suspect almost not up to N40 billion was spent out of the hundred billion naira agreed. Not up to 40 percent was achieved.
I have provisions for boreholes. I supposed to have up to 100 boreholes in these senatorial zone but not up to 50 were done. But what is important is to make it clear that money is not taken from federal treasury and given to me for example to go and implement projects under the constituency projects. Nobody does so.
Talking about projects, is this not taking you away from your legislative functions?
No, approval of the budget is one of our primary functions and the budget covers projects. What is budgeted for, if not for project and we approved. If we approve, why can't we have the right to say my constituency should have this and that. I am more of a representative than a minister because I am elected. I am supposed to have a constituency office; I am supposed to be with my people.
It is easier for people of my constituency to come and see me than to go and see a minister. But the budget is prepared by the ministers. So approval which is the appropriation bill is the function of the National Assembly. So the President prepares it and brings to the National Assembly and the National Assembly appropriates. That is why this issue of project is not taking our time. An oversight function again is to make sure that the projects that are contained in the budget are done.
When you look at the constitution, you will see that it is part of our primary function. In fact, it's our biggest function to make sure that the budgets that are provided by law are implemented. That is why we have committees for each sector. For instance, education is attached to education ministry.
They can go to the minister any time to say look we appropriated a hundred million to build schools in so and so places; we want to go and see the place. So it is the most powerful tool in the National Assembly appropriation and monitoring of oversight functions. These are all part of the functions of the National Assembly which they can indict the government if they so wish. They can go and see projects and with that, we can expose corruption if we so wish.
Nigerians are blaming legislators for not performing their oversight functions well. They say the rot in all sectors, like that of the police colleges, was all as a result of the National Assembly members' inability to perform their oversight functions well. How do you react to this?
It is the truth, but Nigerians should understand that the legislature is the weakest part of government; this is because of incessant military interventions whenever army takes over the presidency and the judiciary still exists. They are not affected but only the National Assembly is closed. In some countries you will find out that some senators have been there for 30 years. So he knows virtually everything. Everything is on his fingertips. This last year only 25 percent of members are third termers. So, the National Assembly is the weakest in terms of capacity building, infrastructures, training and things like that.
So, I agree that we are weak in that area, but we have been discussing these issues on how we can enhance our oversight functions. Nigerians must know that all these things cost money. People should not shout or cry because large sums of money is going to the National Assembly. There was a complete budget office when the budget is being prepared by the executive. They will scatter it item by item. They can detect or cost it for you and say look this project cost is high in the budget because they have full budget office. So our oversight functions I believe are weak.
But we are conscious of that because I am a member of the leadership. Honestly, every time we meet we lament over our weaknesses. Like on the issue of the state of our police colleges, I am a member of the police committee. Since I found myself in the Assembly I haven't gone to any police college. It is only now after this problem that we are prepared now to visit the police colleges. I think sometime next week, we will close and go to see things for ourselves. We are even thinking of visiting zonal commands and places like that but before we didn't do so.
Some people are of the opinion that lawmakers don't go for oversight functions because often times, they were offered Ghana must go bags. Is that so?
I cannot accept this because as far as I am concerned, I have been to some places and nothing of such happened. I think the issue is beyond giving brown envelopes. It is the issue of capabilities. If you look at the number of staff under an American Senator and you look at what we have here, you will laugh. A Senator in America has over 70 staff. How many do I have, just five staff. Every committee should have vehicles but our committee has only one.
So if we want to visit for example Police College and our members are ten in the committee with only one vehicle, the car will not be able to take us all and we will end up looking for assistance from the ministry to give us a bus. I agree that it could compromise the process. So all I am trying to say is that we need to do our oversight functions. But again the National Assembly is not funded properly, at least to have the capacity to do the jobs properly.
What do we expect from the National Assembly with regards to the PIB?
On PIB, what we agreed was that we need technical briefing and, up until now, the minister is not yet settled to come and give us the briefing. Before we make the law, we need to ask a lot of questions. There are issues that need to be discussed technically. If we don't understand the technicalities, we may pass something we don't know.
After the minister and experts brief us, then we will understand the reasons behind the ten percent to be given to the oil communities. It sounds nice but how did you reach the ten percent. How much is the investor making before you start talking about the ten per cent profit. So, we are still waiting for the Minister's briefing.
2015 is around the corner and there is the clamour for a northern presidency; what is your take on this?
I think 2015 is not around the corner because we have only spent only one and half years with two and half years to go. What is in front of me now is to have the opposition parties merge into one, ACN, CPC and probably ANPP to form a solid opposition party. One thing Nigerians do not know is that the moment we succeed in the merger plan, even PDP must step up because they know there is somebody who can take over. But because most parties are split that is why they do things with arrogance because they know there is no single party that can take over from them.
But the moment we come together even though we are taking power they too will stand up and make sure they do the right thing. Of course, every region has the right to clamour for the presidency. But I always think the right moment will bring the right president which will be acceptable by the people, maybe a northern person or anybody from any part of the country. But I agree when you look at the way we are passing power from this zone to that zone. It should be the right time for the north to have the president. But it is not a constitutional issue. It was a suitable arrangement by the political parties. But like I said, my main concerned now is the merger of political parties.
Before the last general elections, there was a move by opposition parties to form an alliance but it collapsed when your candidate, Buhari, insisted he wanted to fly the party's flag. How sure are we that there wont be a repeat of that scenario?
You are wrong; I can claim without contradiction that I was the principal link between the ACN and CPC. I can claim that I was the principal connector with Senator Tinubu and General Buhari. I know what went on very well. It is the correct story I am telling you. There was no problem then except lack of time. The issue became very serious six months to election. So as far as I am concerned, what was against us then was time.
A name was agreed upon at that time for the two parties. The name agreed upon was Action Congress for Progressive Change (ACPC). It was also agreed that General Buhari will be the presidential candidate and it was agreed that the ACN will produce the vice President. But due to lack of time we couldn't do that. Every party then had done its conventions and had their candidates. There was no way to go and start another convention.
At least we have basic understandings and CPC has a basic understanding on the parameters of a merger. Then Buhari was agreed to be the presidential candidate, so I don't think there was a problem on that. But the timing was just too short because of the election. But we all knew that there were external forces that wanted to bring a set back.
Are you still maintaining the status quo like the name and candidate?
No, you heard what General Buhari said: it is only when the merger takes place and the merger party calls him to contest that he may think towards that. That it is not an issue now. The issue is after the merger party comes up and if they tell him to contest, then he will consider that request.
What do you think should be done to tackle insecurity in Nigeria, particularly in the northern region?
Coincidentally I was watching Aljazeera then I saw the president of Somalia saying there was this link between Al-Shabab and Boko Haram. So these things are now having a global network. So, I think the Federal government has to act in terms of diplomatic relations with those countries that they think Al-shabab, Al-Qaida have roots.
This fight in Mali is so important to Nigeria because definitely the al-Qaida Al-Maghreb have links here. These might have started as a local issue. The international terrorist groups are looking for local groups so as to start coming in. Federal government has to step up and cooperate with other nations for a lasting solution to this insecurity issue.