Aminu Sulaiman Goro, House Committee Chairman on Tertiary Education and Services, has taken a swipe at those complaining that members of the National Assembly earn too much. The lawmaker, who represents Fagge Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, describes such individuals as groups as ignorant and mentally lazy.
In an interview with DESMOND MGBOH in Kano, the lawmaker recommends that the Nigerian government should negotiate with bandits terrorising different states if that would bring about peace in the country. He also speaks on other burning national issues.
This is your third time of election into the House of Representatives. How has the experience being since 2019?
This is about my tenth year in the National Assembly. If you are talking of my experience in the last two years, I will quickly say that there is no particular difference between what one is going through today and what has been the experience in the last 10 years. It is all about endless service and sacrifices to the people, it is about taking honour and criticisms and it is about general pressure in all ramifications.
How have your interventions, whether by way of bills or by other forms of engagement, affected the people there positively?
A: The primary responsibility of the legislature is to make laws for the good governance of the country, basically. However the politics we are operating in Nigeria is one that compels the legislator to go beyond what is constitutionally provided as his responsibility and that is why you see us now performing both legislative and executive functions. Our constituents no longer even hold the executive responsible for bad roads, for lack of schools and for lack of hospitals or for lack of water. All these, which are conspicuously provided in the constitution as the responsibility of the executive, have been either, out of ignorance or deliberate mischief, hoisted on the legislator. And we are compelled by circumstances beyond our control to take these responsibilities. Therefore, in this circumstance, I give gratitude to Allah that what no legislator has ever done in Fagge Federal Constituency, I have done. I have over 50 major, one-kilometre roads in Fagge Constituency, which no legislator has ever done. I have placed over 350 solar streetlights across Fagge …
You mean initiated?
Yes, initiated and facilitated. I didn’t build them from my pocket. Even Mr President didn’t build his projects from his pocket. He facilitated them within the resources of the state. If I have facilitated it, you cannot deny me the credit.
The House of Representatives has been seen as a place of huge budgets. What would you say to that?
What kind of huge budgets? What budget? Nigeria journalists are grossly unfair to the legislators in this country or they are deliberately mischievous against the legislators. This is because the work of the journalist is to do a thorough investigation and establish the truth, not to be guided by speculation and fake news content. This issue of fat or huge budget for the legislators has been disclosed and disclosed and placed on the banner a number of times, but the journalists have closed their eyes to the facts and have refused to project what is the reality to the people. The maximum budget of the National Assembly each year is about N120 billion of over N9 trillion that is available in the budget. That is less than six per cent of the budget. N120 billion! How does this translate to fat salaries? Most of the people saying this are lazy mathematicians. They sit down and say that 469 members, both Senate and House, divided by N120 billion. Some of them would arrive at the lazy arithmetic that we earn N9 million every month. May Allah forgive those who are innocent. The truth is that the National Assembly has 3000 bureaucrats, civil servants that are not employees of the parliamentarians. They are civil servants. If today, there is a coup-May God forbid- those people are civil servants; they are not affected. Of these 3000 staffers, nine of them are permanent secretaries who are the clerks to the National Assembly. And you know what it costs to maintain a permanent secretary. They are nine of them. There are over 30 directors and deputy directors among them. They all earn their salaries and other perks of office, allowances and retirement benefits from the budget of the National Assembly. The National Human Rights Commission is under the National Assembly. All their staff all over the Federation, including the Directors, are paid from the N120 billion. The National Legislative Institute is under the National Assembly and they all earn their salaries and allowances from the N120 billion. Then our legislative aides and the security attached to the National Assembly. This is how this N120 billion goes and you can see clearly now that there is nothing like fat earnings in the National Assembly. One director in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has a budget of N300 million to N400 million, and they have over 20 of such directors and nobody has ever talked about them.
A number of astonishing revelations emerged, not long ago, at the NDDC public hearing. But we have not noticed any fundamental changes in the leadership of NDDC despite the kind of corruption that was reported at the place. What is your take?
The National Assembly is limited in its functions. Our responsibility is to discover and confirm infractions. Where we are able to do that, we recommend to the Executive for further executive actions. So, we are limited in sanctioning and we are only allowed to make recommendations to the Executive. The only thing you will ask us is that if the Executive refused to act, as is in this case, what are we supposed to do? Then, I will plead guilty that in most cases, we have not been able to go the whole hog and hold the head of the Executive by the jugular where nothing is done about our recommendations. But you will also agree with me that this is a very nascent democracy that is still growing. There are fundamentals in democracy, which you must meet for you to get the neck of the chief executive. Even in the United States, they have tried but they couldn’t succeed. Twice the House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump. And even Clinton. And in all those instances, the impeachment was frustrated by their Senate.
Insecurity is ravaging the North. In what ways have the National Assembly members from the North intervened and why are these moves not yielding tangible results?
It is a very pathetic situation that we have found ourselves. This is regrettable and most unacceptable. But what have we not done to tame the situation? All the provisions provided for, that legislators are supposed to perform in situations like this, we have done. We have encouraged the security agencies in several ways that I may not be able to explain here because they are security matters. We have provided enough appropriation since 2012 and 2013 to date. I cannot remember any request, right from the time of President Jonathan that has to do with security that was over debated. They were usually subjected to debate here and there, but none was rejected. We have provided funds for which our gallant officers are to perform their duties. We have provided legislation that will secure their rights against any other future interrogations. We have passed motions and resolutions empowering the Executive to do whatever is within their control to arrest the situation. I am of the belief too that the Executive has done the best there is. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves in a situation akin to other international conflicts that are domestic in nature. Domestic in the sense that internal conflict is usually difficult for the armed forces to handle. This is not like you are fighting an external enemy where you can use maximum aggression against them, where you have a specific target to engage. These are bandits that would strike this moment and disappear the next second. It is not as if they stay to a station and say, I am here, come with your forces. They strike, they move elsewhere, they strike again. They would take you by surprise. Internal strife of this nature is very difficult to handle, but this does not mean that our armed forces should treat the issue with hand gloves.
Some Nigerians say, negotiate with the bandits. Some others say, fight and kill the bandits. What do you think?
I want to subscribe to a carrot and stick approach. Where necessary, apply stick and where it is otherwise, apply carrot. These are two fundamental tactics in international diplomacy. Even where you have the greatest of all wars, at the end of the day, the parties would sit down on the table and agree. Those who are saying why should you engage the bandits, I think they are just striving to be camera heroes. This is my submission. After all, we have negotiated before and the world did not end. We negotiated with bandits in the Niger Delta. With all apologies, anybody who takes arms against the state, the armed forces and the people is a bandit, no matter his reasons. They were doing theirs for economic reasons and these ones are doing theirs for personal reasons. They are all bandits as far as I am concerned. And we negotiated with them as a country and of course, they ceased fire because people are sleeping and are being paid salaries. Nobody does this in the world, but we did that to earn peace. They earn salaries that, with your double Masters degrees you wouldn’t get one tenth of. If we can do that, why can’t we go and negotiate with a poor Fulani that if he gets N500, 000, one million, he is okay?
In what way is the crisis affecting education in the North? We have massive closure of schools and statistics from schools show that the situation is not funny?
I foresee a big problem here. I fear for the future of this country, but most especially for the North. I feel truly bad about the development. One, we are far behind other regions of the country in the area of education and this insecurity is further affecting our educational development and of course, other core- businesses and occupations in the North, such as farming. Nobody goes to farm these days. Just to go and visit my farm for 30 minutes, sometimes I have to disguise myself, using a motorcycle to get to my farm. I will speed out of there as soon as possible. It has reached that terrible and terrifying height.
The present insecurity has dire consequences and that is why all the stakeholders are insisting that this matter has to be resolved. if negotiations with them will bring peace, I will vote that we should negotiate. The consequences of annihilating education in the North is better imagined.
There has been a recent increase in agitations for secession by different groups in the South West and South East- Oduduwa, IPOB, others. What is the way out?
Let me be frank with you, all these issues of demand and request for secession – unfortunately I am a politician and can’t rule out myself as part of the ruling class – But they are all gimmicks and instigation by a few powerful Nigerians. Whoever is disadvantaged or threatened for one reason or the other, goes back to their community and incite the people there.
But I tell you that these people, when they see the agitation growing to a peak, they are the same ones that would go and douse the tension- because they know that their economic interests would be threatened or come to harm.
You have been resident in Kano for over four decades and I am not sure you will vote for secession, having spent a greater part of your life in Kano. There are thousands and thousands like you and there are thousands of Northerners in the South, who would not want to return to the North. They are used to being there. Me, with what I know and what I have passed through, I will never fight for a leadership to come to a particular region or zone, because I know that it offers nothing but false hope. I don’t know which Northerner is better placed now than during Jonathan. During Jonathan, I don’t know which Southerner is better placed because Jonathan was the President! It is all rubbish. If you talk of appointments here and there, all the leaders chose people they trust, irrespective of their region.
I know a minister in this administration who is from Imo State that can enter the President’s living room in the absence of the President. Something a minister from his home state cannot dare do. The Minister of State for Education is one of the closet confidants of President Buhari. So, all these things that you are seeing are part of politics of the elite class and they heat up when the election year is coming close.
Yes, the 2023 election is coming. What would happen to APC without Buhari as the Presidential flag-bearer? We know that many of you, especially in the North, rode on his back to be where you are today.
Let me acknowledge that his factor helped a lot of people, including yours sincerely during elections, But with all humility, let me remind you that some of us won elections in 2007 when were not in the same party with Buhari. Buhari ran in 2011 under AC and we were in PDP and we won elections. We came together in 2015 under an alliance and we thank God that his popularity assisted us. So it is not all about him as it is commonly held. But I must confess that except we sit down as a party and re-strategize, that dominant, consistent 14 million votes of his would not be available in 2023 for APC, at least not by fiat. It would require his presence, his participation and his unequivocal endorsement of what APC would present to Nigeria before it would be available to the party. But in addition, the journey ahead would require a united front from the members of the APC nationwide. Otherwise, I fear that most of us would go into political retirement at the end of the elections.