By Fred Itua, Abuja
Director General of National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, Prof Abubakar Sulaiman, has given an insight into the workings of Nigeria’s legislature.
He also in this interview spoke on a number of other national issues.
What’s is your impression about Nigerian legislature?
Being a scholar is about truth. The legislature in Nigeria be it at the centre or state level, is part of Nigeria. Nigeria is good if we are good people. If Nigeria is bad, we can say among bad Nigerians, we have some in the legislature. Does the perception about the legislature by Nigerians be scientifically examined? Are those impressions real? What are the impressions? One of the impressions is that an average Nigerian lawmaker is corrupt. Is that statement scientific? Is it real? Can we sit down here and draw that conclusion? Can we prove that conclusion? As a scholar that I am, I don’t believe that conclusion is right and I don’t believe you can generalise that all Nigerian parliamentarians are corrupt. As we cannot also generalise that all Nigerian politicians are corrupt. I look at it from this angle. One of the variables that brought about this perception was the budget of the National Assembly, that’s what goes into the National Assembly. As someone that has worked with the executive before at that highest level of being a minister, and a student of politics, I look at it critically. People say that the National Assembly is taking a chunk of the budget. In a year, what’s the size of the budget? This year, it is about N13 trillion. What is the allocation for National Assembly? Less than N150 billion. The remaining N12 goes to the other two arms of government. Who controls it? Who disburses it? Where did it go and where is it going? If the N12 trillion is going to the executive, why are we not talking about them? Why draw the conclusion that the people that control the less than N150billion are the ones taking the chunk of our money? It’s something we can see. It’s a figure we can access. Let’s investigate. Secondly, that N150 billion, how is it being shared in the National Assembly? Does it go only to the senators and House of Reps? All these people are less than 500 people. We have reporters and they must enlighten the Nigerian people. Once we set the people against our elected representatives, we are endangering the nation and the point I am making is that, out of N150 billion, we have 500 parliamentarians. We have 3,000 aides. We have 5,000 management staff, then we have three to four agencies under the National Assembly- NILDS, NABRO, National Assembly Service Commission, Public Complaint Commission. Nigerians won’t know this. To me, this is what is scientific. It is not debunkable; it’s something you can investigate.The question now is that of the N12 trillion, one minister could sit on N500 billion and Nigerians won’t ask questions. Nobody is taking about what is happening in Transport Ministry, for instance. Nobody is talking about that. A minister is entitled to about three or four official vehicles. I was a minister. A House of Reps member is entitled to just one and that one will be an issue in Nigeria, but a minister could have five vehicles. I had up to five vehicles in my kit when I was a minister. Nobody is taking. I am not trying to defend and I am not saying that all parliamentarians are good, but to a large extent, the perception we have about them is a wrong. We need to correct it. That’s why I said that parliamentarians too are not telling their stories to the Nigerian people. They must tell their stories. Another analogy I need to draw is that let us do a survey, for instance, of 50 or 100 richest Nigerians. I can swear with anything that you won’t see one ex-parliamentarian there. If you see the person is a former governor or minister before going to the Senate or House of Reps. The permanent secretary and directors are richer than politicians. But nobody will talk about directors or perm secs. So, this is the unfortunate thing we find ourself in this country. To answer that question, therefore, I want to believe there is lot of misconceptions from Nigerians about the legislature, perhaps because they are the only one by the nature of our democracy that must go home to their constituency to be seen, interact with their people and when they go there. They see them with new cars, new attires. They will say these ones have stolen money. Ministers don’t go home. They don’t care. Permanent secretaries don’t go home. You will see a permanent secretary putting on the same jacket for months, whereas he is more richer than his boss. This is empirical. This is something we see. If I am to tell you how penury some of the parliamentarians are, you will be shocked.
What’s your take on the recent executive order 10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, giving life to the implementation of autonomy for state legislature and judiciary?
With due respect, we are under the military more than democracy. Nigeria politics is evolving. We are not yet amenable to democratic ethics. Our various structures and political class are still more in this culture of regimentation. Ordinarily, executive orders should not be part of democracy. But because certain class of people that don’t want to do things the way it should be done, hence a recourse to military concepts to get things done the way it should be done. Ordinarily, executive order is an aberration, but because governors have turned themselves into leventiers, they wouldn’t want to adhere strictly to some provisions, hence a recourse to certain instruments which in some parlance, can be arthetical to democracy in ensuring compliance. You can’t get the best of democracy if other arms of government are being caged or denied their rights and privileges. Democracy is not for the executive alone. The most important organ of democracy is the legislature. A president can win an election from one geopolitical zone conveniently. A governor can win elections from one senatorial district. What constitutes the parliament is all shades of constituencies across the country. One region does not constitute the parliament. So, for me, therefore, the most important organ of democracy is the legislature. So, if that organ is being handicapped and sabotaged and denied the necessary room to grow, it’s like killing democracy. With the refusal of governors to not adher to the executive order 10, to me amount to murder of democracy. I will call it mutiny in military parlance. It’s like you are inviting the military back to government. You cannot cripple the legislature by not granting them that autonomy. By not granting them funds, it amounts to democratic mutiny and that should be discouraged by the Nigerian people. The beauty of democracy in developing nations is the extent to which you are able to trickle down to the grassroots. When you give contract to Mr A, the family goes to the market and that is how economy circulates, but when you deny the state and the local government, people will recourse to anything to survive.
What’s your take on quality of bills passed by the National Assembly?
With all sense of responsibility, some of the bills not assented to are not because they are not good bills or laws, but there are a lot of political considerations that informed that. That is why we say when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. Because of the friction between the executive and legislature, Nigerians are the one bearing the brunt now. Some of the factors are political. Some are administrative, while some are a result of lack of proper scrutiny of existing extant laws. Not all bills drafted emanated from our Institute. As a matter of fact, most bill drafted didnt emanate from here anyway. So, don’t blame it on us. One of the challenges we experience here, are lack of manpower. We can’t cope with all needs of the National Assembly. You cannot compare now with what we used to have in the past . We are evolving, developing. You can’t compare. From 1999 to 2007, we had lots of leadership changes in the National Assembly, but today, we have stability. That is not to say that there are not infighting, but the quality of debates are different. Things are getting better. You don’t compare our democracy to that of the United States in terms of years of legislations. As I keep on saying, despite our challenges we are still more intact in our democracy. All what we are facing today if it was in the past, in the 70 or 80s, the story would have been different. So, I think there are challenges, but we are better off in democracy than a military rule.
Do you believe or are you an advocate of part time legislature?
It depends on how you look at it. If what we have now as you look at the emoluments of the legislature, is anything to go by, I won’t subscribe to part time legislature. What goes into them in terms of salaries and emoluments is still very inconsequential compared to what goes into other MDAs and arms of government. The lawmaker serving Kano Central has within its 13 local governments and let’s say the senator earns between N8 to N10 million monthly. You are a journalist. By the time they know you are in Abuja, the pressure on you from friends and family increases. You know what it means not to talk of a senator covering 13 local governments and collecting N8 million. If that money is meant for you to pocket and your children, it makes sense, but the money is not meant for you to pocket. The pressure on you from your constituents, everything wants it and it must rickle down. How will that money go round? That’s why I said I will never contest for Senate or House of Reps because what they earn in terms of emoluments and salaries is more of a blackmail. Setting yourself against your people. It’s not worth it, with due respect. If you go by what they earn, I don’t think the cost of governance has anything to do with the parliament. It’s not about the parliament. I just said it that a senator has only one vehicle attached to him, but a minsters has three. When I was minister of National Planning , for nine months , when a new minister came he said he doesn’t 0 want the vehicle . Nobody talks about that. If as a minister, you are not the accounting officer, the perm sec is the accounting officer. So, to me, when they talk about the cost of governance, look at the executive. Look less at the legislature. Advocate for them to earn more so that it can trickle down.