The Deputy Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Toby Okechukwu in this exclusive interview justifies the bicameral legislative system in Nigeria, explaining why it would be expensive to have a unicameral legislature. He spoke with KENNETH UDEH in Abuja
How would you react to the recent defection of some members of the House from your party, People’s Democratic Party, to the ruling All Progressives Congress.
To the best of my knowledge, the members who defected didn’t cite any crisis in our party, the PDP as a reason for their defection. They defected illegitimately contrary to the provisions of our constitution. The constitution clearly states that there must be a crisis, and the Supreme Court has clearly defined what presupposes crisis and that is crisis, at the national level. So, their defection is out of place and even materially not of consequences to the party’s fortune in Rivers state . It is out of place for you to just move and then abandon the platform that elected you into office.
Don’t you think their defection will affect the fortunes of your party, which is also the minority in the parliament?
Their defection will no way affect it, there is no way it will affect it. There are people who because of the rampant crisis in APC have had to defect to our own party, PDP. In fact, if there is any party that is experiencing crisis in Rivers State ,it is APC . It is still the same APC, which has crisis at the national level. So I don’t know which fortune you are talking about. We are waiting for them in the APC to defect to the PDP, because they have the legitimate right to do so now.
As a lawmaker from the Southeast, do you consider the revitalisation of the Onitsha seaport as a pass mark for the administration of President Buhari in addition to the ongoing construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge?
Honestly, we have expressed our appreciation to the President severally with regards to the construction of the 2nd Niger bridge and his response to the Enugu airport. The effort at the Onitsha seaport is additionally welcome. It is to the benefit of everybody, it is not a special attention you are giving to anybody, it is not for Eastern Nigeria. We need to realise that it is also part of national infrastructure, it is not being done as a favour to anybody or any part of the country. I do not think Baro port is being done as a favour to people in the middle belt, No! Kano airport is not a favour to Kano, Abuja airport is not a favour to Bwari people neither does Lagos, it serves everybody. What I simply mean is for people to imbibe the practice of deconstructing this attitude that when something is done, it is being done for a particular region. For example, am I the only person that lands at Enugu airport? So when the president does a good job of focusing on infrastructure that serves everybody, it is done well. I am indeed delighted the project is being carried out.
What’s your opinion on the view that Nigeria should operate unicameral legislature rather than having two legislative arms (Senate and House of Representatives) which according to them is too expensive?
Well, the reason for representation is to ensure that the views of your people will count. It is a mistake trying to determine the quality of democracy you have in monetary terms. In any case, what is the total expenditure for the National Assembly per annum and the average is about N128 billion and that figure is out of the N13 Trillion budget, so what does that tell you?
In states where we have about thirty members, they even make more expenditure. These are people who are crying for the creation of more states ,yet they don’t want to bear the burden of representation at the federal level. In that case, the problem is that having a bicameral parliament is not determined for the purposes of cost. It is actually the opportunity cost of not having them. There are certain situations where you discover that the House of Representatives passes a resolution or passes a bill and the only reason why the Bill wouldn’t go through is that the senate would have a different view.
This means that you risk dictatorship when you have a unicameral parliament, they serve as checks and balances on the other. It is more expensive not to have two chambers of parliament because the opportunity cost is that you nosedive into dictatorship. The opportunity cost is that decisions are taken and they are ramped into your head. The process bicameral legislature has been questioned even in the United States for over 200 years ago, they had to interrogate the merit of having so. You just imagine what would have been of America if it was only the senate they had, if there was no congress. So , it serves as checks and balances , both on themselves and the executives and it is healthier for democracy.
How would advice Mr. President in terms of the performance of the 2021 budget?
My advice to Mr. President is a hundred percent release, that is the only way so you can hold people accountable. In addition to that, is that we should be focused on the kind of projects we fund. Ventures that will be impactful and more importantly, the extra budgetary expenditure done by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is completely unnecessary, they should align it too. In doing this we shall have a focused expenditure. The most important aspect of all these interventions is for us to have our roads functional, we want to have constant power, so that Nigerians will be gainfully engaged and they will be productive. President Buhari should focus on tackling the issues in one sector. Look if President Buhari wants to be known for roads, let him be known as president of roads. Let him just get it completed and leave. If he wants to focus on revamping the rail sector let him do it and go. If he wants to focus on education then he should, so that the next person who will take over from him will focus on another sector. Let’s get things done and finished. If he wants to focus on power that will unleash the industry in Nigeria let him focus on power and get it done. The power transmission infrastructure should be finished so that there will be power ,the residue capacity of the ministry of the generating companies will be activated. They claim they generate 8000 megawatts but they are only able to evacuate just a little over 3000 megawatts, wasting up to 4000mw and you have a good percentage of Nigerians not receiving power. So my idea about this, let’s get focused on a particular aspect of the economy, get done with it and focus on the next . Although I understand that it’s a bit challenging but I believe it is something that can be achieved.
The ninth National Assembly has always been described as the rubber stamp of the executive, how would you respond to that?
Let me tell you, the National Assembly is very colorless, we respond to yearnings of Nigerians not particularly party colors , we respond to what Nigerians need. After all, if you make bad legislation you will eventually reap from it. I don’t think it will work that way. When you observe our parliamentary procedures there are oppositions that at this time that the ruling party has been able to produce the Senate President and Speaker on their own, they’ve been able to do that, they are the party in government but we always had our say. When we see some of the actions being taken by the parliament, for example the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) probe, the issue of oil subsidy, having to investigate this Industrial Training Fund and all that. Being “rubber stamp”, I do not think so, you must also appreciate ( ITF) and then other interrogations, we’ve had to do . Not also forgetting the ‘China loan’ issue and all that. So I do not think there is any inclination to rubber stamp, I don’t think so.