“President Buhari has no opposition in 2019. It will be far more easier for President Buhari to defeat Atiku than most people are anticipating.”
Fred Itua, Abuja
Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi is the spokesman of the Senate. He is also a member of several standing committees in the upper legislative chamber. Abdullahi who is representing Niger North Senatorial District is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In this interview with Sunday Sun, the lawmaker spoke on the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, frequent face-off between the executive and the legislative arm of government, wrong perception about the parliament, among other issues.
You have been in the Senate for over three years, what is your experience so far?
It’s been a wonderful experience and wonderful journey. I have had the privilege to be in the community of eminent personalities who have served at various tiers of life. Some have served as governors and have made their marks. So, you see why it has been a good experience. The most important aspect of it is that these eminent people chose me to be the spokesman of the Senate. I have tried as much as I can to explain the workings of the office of the Senate. Although it has been a wonderful experience, that doesn’t mean that it has not had its challenges. We have learnt in one way or the other from these challenges. Overall, the Senate is an institution that Nigerians should be proud of in spite of everything that may have happened.
Looking back at the expectations you had before you journeyed to the Senate and what you have battled with, would you say it is worth all the troubles?
It’s worth it. At least, you have an opportunity to contribute to the growth of the country, national discourse, to certain national priorities, to solve national problems and others. Coming from the background of a civil servant, it is like a continuation of what I have been doing, maybe at a higher level.
There are crises in your party, APC. Pundits are worried that these crises may snowball into 2019 and affect the chances of candidates, especially the re-election of President Buhari. Do you harbour this fear?
In every system, crisis is bound to happen. The crisis here is the problem of an existing equilibrium being tilted in one way or the other by actors within the same system. Every system is bound to experience that. To my mind, as bad as the crisis looks like, I don’t harbour those fears. The chances of the crisis affecting the party are there. But the party will grind towards the election with more conviction and collectivity than when this crisis started. A reconciliation committee has been put in place. Again, when you hear about these things, there is nothing to worry about. That is how a system operates. Overall, I think that considering the fact that we are in the same boat, it will be in our collective interest to save it from sinking.
What about the re-election chances of Buhari? Will the crisis affect that?
No, it will not. The president has a very high chance. If you look at the states where there are crises, the president is isolated. It’s either about governorship primaries, House of Assembly or others.
But the crisis has a way of trickling down…
To my mind, it will not affect the president. If anything, it gives the president a high chance more than the way people are looking at it.
What about the major rival of the president, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
As far as I am concerned, President Buhari has no opposition in 2019. It will be far more easier for President Buhari to defeat Atiku than most people are anticipating. I don’t see any serious challenge here. Definitely, Mr President will win his re-election in 2019. I can bet my life on it.
What is your take on the rejection of the Electoral Amendment Bill by President Buhari?
Where has he erred? You have said that already. It’s within the rights of Mr President to reject any bill. If he has exercised that right, so be it. There is this saying that you cannot shave a man’s hair in his absence. People are shaving INEC’s hair in its absence. People who are talking are only doing that for talking sake. The people who ought to come out and say we will find it tough and that it will affect us is INEC. The commission is the body to implement the Electoral Amendment Act. They have said that as far as they are concerned, it is not going to affect the 2019 general elections in terms of its credibility and fairness.
Besides being the spokesman, you are also a member of several committees. Nigerians have argued that lawmakers don’t deserve the huge monies they earn. How would the Senate solve this image crisis?
Honestly, I am tired of that debate. From the first day we came here, that has been the debate. There is nothing you say that people will believe. What do you do? The media are actually responsible. People like you always bring back that argument. I didn’t fall from the tree. I am a Nigerian in every right. I attended a university and served. In fact, I was the NYSC national awards winner during my time. I went into public service and got an automatic employment. I have my reputation. People always feel that those of us here are from nowhere. As far as I am concerned, the misnomer is because it is easier to look at the legislator and punch him. This is the issue. I was on the executive side. I have served as a special assistant to two senior chief senior executives. I understand how the system operates. If the system is anything to go by, we are the youngest arm of government. We have been short-changed. Let me give you an insight. I represent Niger North. I represent eight local governments, covering 44,000 square kilometres. That is more than the size of the entire five states in the Southeast. The people living within this geographical enclave in Niger North are the ones I represent. Every senator or member of the House of Representatives has a place or delineation he or she represents. The constitution gives us three roles: lawmaking, representation and oversight. Because I am a representative, anybody I represent sees it as a right to call me at anything. I told you that I served in the civil service. I was a cost manager. We have been told that activities consume resources. There are so many things we do. The pressure is high. That is why if you ask some people to come here as representatives, they will turn it down. There is more to it than what people see. Because lawmakers are everywhere, that is why we are able to pacify Nigerians and keep the society in check. During the week, we had a meeting with the management of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN). TCN gave us an insight into the role played by a senator from Edo State. Fortunately, he is your senator. That is Clifford Ordia. There was a time Edo State was in darkness. TCN wanted to move a redundant transformer from Edo Central to Edo South to boost power supply. They said they did everything they could. TCN was told to talk to Senator Ordia to intervene. Ordia spoke to the people. In less than 24 hours, the people allowed them to take the transformer to Benin. That tells you what it means to be a representative. What people don’t know is the cost of maintaining that relationship. Seeing what we do here, we are actually underfunded.
Why has the leadership of the Senate not done enough to change the public perception about the parliament?
I want you to be fair to me. I have been the spokesman of the Senate since the beginning. I have spoken on this issue on countless times. There is no need to try. Let people say what they want to say. I pray that some of these people with the impression will find themselves here so that they can tell Nigerians what they have seen here.
The frequent face-off between the executive and the legislature, how can it be minimised?
That is your own description. As far as I am concerned, even if there is crisis between the two arms, there is nothing wrong with that. It is healthy for the system. What is important is for all of us to be responsible in the face of conflicts. We should take away sentiments and partisanship. We should look at it from a nationalistic perspective and be patriotic about it. If we do that, we will have a closure to the crisis. To me, that’s what is important and as spokesman of the Senate, that is exactly my mindset as I try to clarify issues and provide answers to issues they perceive as issues between the two arms.
Nigerians have argued that corruption thrives in the country because lawmakers don’t carryout proper oversight of ministries, departments and agencies. Do you think that the assumption is true?
It’s just a misconception. Unfortunately, that is where some of us begin to wonder what people truly want. It is true that the law has mandated us to oversight the executive. People who tell you to oversight the executive don’t realise that to carryout such functions requires heavy funding. If we truly want to be independent, the agencies we oversight should not fund our duties. We are supposed to oversight everywhere government is spending money. When you look at the money available for oversight, you realise that we can’t do much. Even the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF) is in the same boat. That is why the Public Accounts work with the parliament. Even with agencies of government, auditors are not well funded.
If funding is the problem like you have noted, why has the parliament not addressed it since it has the power of appropriation?
That is a good question. By the time you do that, the public will cry out that the money is too much. What people have failed to realise is that, during oversight on the field, so many things happen at the same time. We were in Paris for a climate change conference. We met with our colleagues from the US Congress. We met with four different professors. There is a book written by one of the ranking senators from the States called The US Senate. That is the book I am reading to have an insight into how their parliament works. For them, there is a particular portfolio funding for things like that. If I have a bill, I am supposed to tap from it and bring in the appropriate consultants to do a good job. But that is not happening here. We are learning and people are yet to understand the workings of the parliament.
APC made so many promises…
Mention some of the promises we made and didn’t fulfill.
APC, I can recall promised to increase power generation to 20,000 megawatts. We are far from that?
We are generating about 8,000 megawatts now. Where has it become a crime to set a target? You can make assumptions. As at the time you made those projections, you thought they would work. But because all things can’t be equal, the target may not be met. Have we moved away from what we met? Yes, we have. We are making progress. For me, we have made some substantial improvements. We will make more progress. That is the more reason we will return in 2019. The teething problem is there.
There is this fear that if President Buhari returns, he will become a dictator. As a member of the party, APC, you must have heard some of those concerns?
If you’re going to the zoo and you express the fear of the possibility of a lion being caged to come out is something we should use. Those afraid, what are they afraid of? APC campaigned with so many things and the most critical of all is anti-corruption war. You and I agree that Nigeria has been plundered and raped. I have been in service and I know what has transpired in government. Look at the last government. They came up with the issue of yam processing centres. Where are they? Those who want to take their profits from contractors have done so. Whether we like it or not, President Buhari has promised to fight corruption and they are doing that. People can choose not to agree. But he has done well. Those shouting that he is being selective, those prosecuted, are they innocent? For the first time, two former governors are in prison. Former EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu in 2007 said over 30 governors then were going to face corruption. We have left the station and gradually moving. If this is allowed to continue, we will make progress. What about the economy? Before the last administration left office, they were borrowing to pay salaries. They just padded the economy and handed it over to this administration. These are the positive sides of our engagements. The executive and the legislature worked together to get the country out of recession. We are moving forward and that is something good for all of us.