Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
House of Representatives member-elect for Owan Federal Constituency and former Special Adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on Policy and Programmes Monitoring, Prof Julius Ihonvbere, has said that the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, is the right candidate for the position of Speaker in the 9th National Assembly.
Ihonvbere who spoke with Sunday Sun in Abuja, said what the dislocations in the 8th National Assembly caused Nigeria runs into trillions and concluded that by the election of Gbajabiamila in the 9th National Assembly, the pitfalls will be avoided. Excerpts:
You were sighted in some occasions canvassing support for Femi Gbajabiamila who is aspiring for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives. Is there hope that he will emerge?
I think what is good about this moment is that most of those coming into the House are very familiar with the dislocations in the 8th Assembly. Those who returned are also familiar with it. And we all know what it caused the National Assembly, caused the Presidency, caused the Executive, and the Nigerians. It runs into trillions. We may look at it as just a quarrel, but it was much more than that. And I believe my colleagues, who are coming into the 9th Assembly, are coming with one mindset, which is to avoid the conflicts, the contradictions of the 8th Assembly. We are not here to inherit anybody’s problem. We are not here to do the bidding of any special interest. We are here to serve our constituencies, to serve the nation and to work seamlessly with the executive and every other arm of government.
How did you arrive at your position on the 8th National Assembly? What method did you use? Can you give concrete examples to support or justify your claim?
The dislocations were evidenced in the lack of communication with the executive; seeming hostility between the executive and legislature; delayed passage of the budget; arrogance of some ministers and DGs resulting in open disobedience of summons and invitations; almost total disregard for motions passed by the NASS; inability to build consensus between the legislature and executive on critical national issues; non-execution of some critical priority issues due to disagreements; lack of harmony or a common ability to focus on national priorities such as security, education, unemployment and power; and inability to appreciate the salience, centrality and importance of the NASS in national discourses. Put the impact of these together, you get losses that cannot be quantified. When I say we lost trillions, we are talking of the aggregate losses in human and material resources and opportunities, policy and programme disjuncture that have militated against efficiency, innovation, creativity, and productivity. If trillions is too heavy, change it to billions of naira. If it is an academic paper, we can try to quantify some of the indices or indicators of growth and development that have compromised progress as a result of the dislocation. How many times did the President of the country and the Senate President sit to discuss national issues?
Do you think Gbajabiamila has the political clout to hold the House together?
For somebody who has been there for five terms, he knows everything about the Assembly. For those who are returning, he knows them all. He has worked with them. For those who are coming in now, I believe he also knows many. And he has had the opportunity now to work with many and evaluate them. Gbajabiamila, as far as I am concerned, is highly qualified because if you talk about education, if you talk about discipline, if you talk about focus, if you talk about maturity, you talk about exposure, he has them all. If you talk about dexterity in legislative business, he is a master at it. He has risen through the ranks to the position of House Leader. So, for me, this issue is not about whether he has the capacity or not. He has it in abundance.
The other issue is that his campaign is superior to any other campaign I have seen. He has made efforts, not through text message or WhatsApp messages, but to reach out personally to as many, if not almost everybody. He is running a rainbow coalition. He is ready to build a broad-based platform to execute the assignment of the National Assembly. I was with him in the Southeast and in the South-south. We met PDP governors; including Wike himself and they were all positive about his person, about his commitment and about his diligence. And not one of them told him oh, please go away, I don’t want to work with you. No! So, I think he has already built for himself, the kind of followership that will enable him perform effectively and efficiently as Speaker.
Considering the supposed endorsement of Gbajabiamila by the Presidency, do you think if he eventually emerges, there will be independence of the legislature?
In my view, what the President or the National Chairman said is that look, in this race, last time, we said we were not involved and what turned up was negative to Nigeria and to the government. This time, we are telling you guys we prefer this man based on so, so reasons. But they never said nobody else could run. So, we have other people who are running and the Presidency or the National Chairman neither has come out to say don’t vote for these people. So, for me, the issue of what the National Chairman said or what the President said is not of value in this campaign. It is important, but it is not the sole determinant. Secondly, Gbajabiamila, and now Wase, they have gone beyond the APC, recognising that you needed a rainbow coalition and you needed all hands on deck. They have gone to visit everybody irrespective of party. If you actually look at the logo of his campaign, it has the flag of all the parties represented in the National Assembly. And this is the first time, I believe, where a candidate has taken a delegation of over a hundred to visit governors even in opposition enclaves. And when he goes there, he is not signing the APC anthem. We are talking about Nigeria, we are talking about efficiency and about a working National Assembly that will deliver the goods. So, for me, I think what the party did is simply to give a direction to the members to say this is where to follow and the job is left to Gbajabiamila.
Do you foresee any kind of betrayal in this contest?
No. I don’t see it. First of all, the new members are a formidable component of the entire equation and they more or less speak with one voice and it is not just one party. And I think from the number of persons who have been accompanying him left, right and center, who have demonstrated and who have signed up to say we endorsed him, we will work with him, there is no kind of betrayal that will affect the quality of the campaign and the results we are expecting. It is not impossible that a few people maybe bought over here and there, but there are people like us who have made up our minds and we are looking at quality, we are looking at diligence, we are looking at reliability, dependability, a credibility and a voice, an intelligent voice to speak for us and we say yes, this is our man.
Some of the governors who were inaugurated on May 29 have already hit the ground running, but nothing has been heard from President Buhari. Are you confident that his second term will be different from his first term?
I think the second term will be different. I think this is a legacy term for him. Whatever he has started has to be consolidated now. And I believe that he has spent the last four years better understanding Nigeria, understanding people, measuring effectiveness and efficiency in positions, making more friends and I think that once he settles in by the coming week after the Sallah, we will begin to see him rolling out policies and programmes. Whether it is in area of appointments, in the areas of setting priorities, I believe the President this time will be a different President.
Taking a look at the first term of the president, what are the pitfalls you want the president to avoid?
If we look back, there are about three or four areas I would say take a look at again. Of course, the number one there is security. Yes, he is doing his best, but we definitely, definitely need much more because a situation where people are afraid to go by road anywhere now; where people, even in their homes are scared and every day, you read about attack here, attack there. It means that he needs to take a look at the security architecture again, pay attention to the quality or even maybe quantity of the security agencies; the training and the motivation, take a look at partnering with necessary countries that have had experience in this sort of thing and are close, eliciting their support and also think a look at mobilizing the entire populace to be vigilant. The second area is education. I think there is much more we need to do about our education. The standards continue to decline and we need to take a look at the mode of learning, the mode of teaching, the quality of instruction, the access to technology and to learning materials. And not just at the higher education level, which I think is very critical because those are the ones with the immediate responsibility of governing, in terms of leading the country, but basic education. That is the root where you have illiterates as teachers, where you have people selling employment letters to tomatoes sellers, where you have children who graduate without touching a computer, where you have kids in schools without a football field, where you have schools without libraries at all, not even a simple e-library that doesn’t require much space. Until we fix that area, the products they will throw out to the secondary school will be those who will learn how to cheat in exams, who will join cults, who will look for all ways to compromise their instructors and by the time they get to universities, they are full blown criminals. So, we need to look at both ends and we should begin to emphasise – what kind of education do we need for the growth and development, peace and stability of Nigeria. The third area, which I think we need to look at is infrastructure. The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, I think that ministry is too nebulous. These are three huge ministries.