By Dickson Okafor
National Assembly member, Chris Azubogu represents Ekwusigo/Nnewi North and South Federal Constituency of Anambra State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The Deputy Chairman, Appropriation Committee commends President Muhammadu Buhari for early presentation of the 2017 budget to the National Assembly. Azubogu speaks on various issues.
As the Deputy Chairman of Appropriation Committee, do we hope not to have a repeat of delayed budget passage as was the case last year?
We did what we ought to do as it concerns last year’s Appropriation Bill. Unfortunately, it was only at the premise of the media it was speculated that there were issues concerning the budget. I call it speculation because there was no official communication from the executive suggesting there were areas of contention. The Appropriation Act came to the National Assembly and we worked on it and returned it to the executive and it was signed into law. So, whatever caused the delay was an internal working of government which the executive and National Assembly are part of. I commend President Muhammadu Buhari and the executive for presenting this year’s budget on time and I promise Nigerians of its quick passage. The challenge that caused the delay of the passage of 2016 Appropriation bill was blown out of proportion by the media and the public which portrayed the government as being hopeless and insensitive to the yearnings of the common man on the street. We have never had it so bad with the fallen price of oil which reconfigured the nation’s budget and the entire sectors of the economy because the budget is operating purely on deficit. We are mindful of the fact that whatever we do affects Nigerians either positively or negatively. So, the executive and the legislature are doing all we can to ease the sufferings of Nigerians. But I’m happy this year’s budget will take us out of recession.
What is your take on the controversy over the purchase of new vehicles?
The law did not stop us from acquiring tools that will enable us discharge our duties as lawmakers and as enshrined in the constitution. It is our constitutional right, so nobody can stop us because you cannot give somebody an assignment without giving him tools. It is an insult to tell a federal lawmaker to take a car loan to carry out his oversight function. Nigerians should be told the truth, we are elected to represent them and we must be equipped to offer effective and quality representation to them as their representatives. Or are you saying that the car I use in Abuja here should be the one I will drive to my constituency in Anambra State to do oversight? In Abuja here, there are some civil servants who have more than three SUVs with a pilot car escorting them while elected lawmakers are expected to discharge their legislative functions with their private cars? I represent three local government areas made up of 43 wards, so you expect me every weekend when I’m going for inspection in my constituency, I will drive from Abuja to Nnewi with the car I took loan to purchase? I cannot take such risk coupled with the issue of bad roads. So, we need official car to do our job. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) that cited economic down turn as reason members of the National Assembly should not purchase new vehicles are demanding increase of minimum wage from N18, 000 to N56, 000,. The question is, since most states find it difficult to pay the N18, 000 minimum wage, how can they pay N56, 000? Council chairmen, members of the states’ houses of Assembly and even councillors drive jeeps. I’m not surprised that all over the world, the legislature is more criticised because it is the only arm of government that makes governance legitimate. So, we are the watchdog of other arms of government. The people seem to hold us more accountable than the judiciary and the executive.
Are you saying that your colleagues are on the same page with you on this matter even when Nigerians expect you to make sacrifice?
Let me make it clear, the parliament all over the world has a culture which is to always stand on the side of the people and to check the executive. The only arm of government that differentiates military rule from democracy is the legislature. Therefore, we need to be encouraged to bring out our best so that we can formulate laws that can better the lives of Nigerians. The present leadership in the National Assembly is not toeing party lines hence, the reason for stability in both chambers. Yes, my colleagues are in support of incentives that will enable us perform optimally which includes purchase of news cars. There are places opposition will draw a line to speak for the interest of the masses. So far, we are supporting the executive to deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. Elections are over and it is the duty of everybody in the House to work for the good of the people who elected us. If we attain uninterrupted power supply, good roads are in place, water is running, there is security, improved health and functional education system, nobody will want to know the political party you belong. We will ensure infrastructures are in place.
Most Nigerians rate Buhari low having been in office close to two years and hunger in the land still persists, what is your assessment of the APC-led government so far?
President Buhari has done well. i will say his own style of governance makes it look as though he is slow. Yes, the expectations of Nigerians are high because of the election hype which is different from governance. The people expect him to perform magic but Buhari won’t do any magic within one and half years.
There is process of governance and Mr. President must follow due process. This is not a military regime. The All Progressives Congress (APC) is building a new government different from that of the former ruling PDP. Buhari and his team are working in line with the change mantra and they are learning how to work together even though mistakes are bound to occur but, gradually they are picking up.
However, some policies of the last administration are good and there is no need to change them because those who made them were not partisan but, experts. These policies are made to sooth government and because governance is continuous, we must embrace them. On hunger in the land, i sympathise with Nigerians because we have never had it so bad, but i believe just as Mr. President assured the people that this year’s budget will get us out of recession by the grace of God.