By Fred Itua, Abuja
Professor Abubakar Olanrewaju Sulaiman, served as Minister of National Planning, former Deputy Chairman, National Planning Commission (NPC), during the administration of President Goodluck Johnathan. He currently serves as the Director-General, National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS). He spoke with Daily Sun on zoning and other national issues.
You’ve spent three years already in office. What would you regard as key achievements you’ve recorded?
By June 3rd, I’ll be three years in office. We’ve carried out a number of reforms. We have achieved a lot of our mandates and goals. The essence of the institute, which is to enhance capacity for lawmakers, has been actualised in many ways. One thing that has stood out in the last three years is that, we have taken our services down to the sub-national levels. Before I came into office, our services were limited to the centre. Democratic actors needed to be involved and carried along. One major thing I did was to break up our activities and take our services to the state and local government areas. In the last three years, we’ve had engagements with at least 29 Houses of Assembly. We’re partnering with about 17 states on capacity building on a regular basis. In the areas of Bills and other engagements, we’re assisting them. Many State Service Commissions are working with us. We also carried out key internal reforms. We’ve energised our manpower and staff are motivated to do more. Today, they get promotions and their allowances are paid on time. We’ve sent many staff abroad for training. They’re happier now. We’ve looked at the condition of service. We’ve an academic advisory committee like that of a university. Before I was appointed, there were things that were not there. My predecessor did a lot, by setting up the Institute. Today, we compete well with major research institutions. We’re among the three top research institutes.
Part of your responsibility is to draft Bills for lawmakers. We’ve seen hundreds of Bills rejected by the President. Is there a gap that should be filled? What’s the problem?
The issue of President Muhammadu Buhari not assenting to Bills is not a case of technicalities. In the 8th Assembly, many Bills were rejected too. Many variables are considered when it comes to Bills. Bills that have to do with national issues come with a lot of baggage. They won’t tell you why they’re not signing. They’ll just look for a diplomatic way to tell you why they’re not signing. It’s easy for the Executive to put the blame on the Legislature. When it comes to drafting of bills, you can’t blame our Institute. We’ve done a lot in that area. A lot of lawmakers engage consultants and their aides to do it for them. Everything doesn’t emanate from here. When it comes to the contents and technicalities, you can’t fault us. The prerogative to assent to a bill rests with the President.
In other climes, there is a form of communication between the Executive and the Legislature before an important Bill is considered and passed. Can’t we have a similar situation in Nigeria?
I want to tell you the ideal situation. That’s why in both Houses, you’ve caucuses. You’ve the majority leader in both Houses. When you’ve a party in government, you don’t expect any disconnection. The caucuses serve as the buffer or the clearing house where things are sorted out. The ideal thing is to have these caucuses play their roles. If they are not done, then it is a different thing. The caucuses should ordinarily handle things like this to avoid any frictions. In any democracy, these ideal platforms are there. In our democracy, things like you’ve listed are expected. We’ve seen beautiful Bills that couldn’t be passed.
Next year’s election will be between the APC and the PDP and there is an outcry that the cost of obtaining nomination forms is too expensive. Do you subscribe to that too?
I think frankly speaking, I was taken aback when I saw the fees aspirants are expected to pay. For us to deepen democracy and allow more people to participate, those fees won’t allow them. They look like an impediment. Its like they’re trying to deny a class of people the opportunity to participate. How will a young man of 25 years raise such funds? It’s not too late for them for them to reduce the fees. The fees are scary. This is not done anywhere. For a Government that believes in inclusivity, it should be reviewed.
Zoning has been a raging issue. There are arguments that the APC and PDP should zone their tickets to the South. What’s your take?
Zoning is predicated on our own peculiar situation in the country. Nigeria is a plural country. You can’t fault zoning in our democracy. When we’re trying to zone, we should not deny ourselves the opportunity to get the best hands from other parts of the country. It is premised on fairness. Since 1999, three zones have been left out. North East, South East and North Central. These zones have not produced any president. South South got it by accident through Goodluck Johnathan. South West and North West have had it good. I’m not against zoning. I support it. Our searchlight should be on those three zones. Other proponents will say we should go back to the beginning. You can’t use that to judge. The Military was in power and you know it was for the risk takers. If you’re to go back to 1960, every region has tasted power. But since 1999, three regions haven’t been lucky. We should agree that these three zones should be accommodated. If you’re starting from 1999, those zones should be considered.
Should age be a factor in 2023?
It’s a matter of beliefs. The youths should be given their place and same for the old. Youth agitation is based on complete alienation. They don’t make up to 5% in governance. The elders we talk about today were youths when they were in power. We are not ready to accommodate those we call youths. If we don’t want the youths to sack elders, we must accommodate them. In the quest for power, the youths should not send us to our early graves. We need to strike a balance. Youths unfortunately, don’t have the resources of elders. We should speak to ourselves as elders. We should give them a place in governance. If not, the #ENDSARS will be a child’s play.
As a political scientist, do you harbour this fear that if insecurity is not tackled, elections may not hold?
The spate of insecurity and the abysmal lack of capacity to tackle it, may give room for some forces to take advantage. Those who don’t want the elections to hold, may take advantage. The Military too may want to take advantage of the situation and abort this democracy. We must solve the problem of insecurity before the end of June this year, before we can have a peaceful election. How many INEC officials will go to unsafe places and conduct elections. If things go the way they’re going, it may affect next year’s elections. I pray we don’t get there.