Interview: Jonathan Needs National Assembly More Than He Needs Deizani -Senator Magnus Abe

Former Nigeria's Minister of Petroleum

“We learned that there is a story published by an online medium that there are moves to give some people money. Let me say clearly that such arrangement does not involve me and again, in this country, the story about money flying around all the time and you don’t know which one is real, but clearly

How would you rate the performance of the Senate so far?

Our democracy is evolving, the quality and strength of the institutions will continue to get better as the years progress. The truth of it is that I believe that it is the Nigerian people that should be reviewing the prospects and progress of our democratic process. It shouldn’t be us beating our drums at the end of the year to say this is what we have done and how we have done it.

National Assembly however needs to move beyond making speeches on the non implementation of the national budget, we should get the executive to realise that the budget is a law and everything in a law is sacrosanct and if people don’t respect the law, you punish those who don’t obey the law.

Perception of National Assembly as a corrupt institution?

Corruption is a Nigerian problem, you cannot isolate anybody or institution directly from the issue of corruption because in the National Assembly, we had cases, issues and allegations of corruption just as it is in other arms and tiers of government. Corruption is everywhere but our problem in this country is that corruption is not punished. It is not identified strongly and it is not even easy to isolate what is the issue of corruption today now in this country because everybody expect things acruable to what they are doing.

Corruption is a societal problem.  We are all part of it, especially the way the public also relate to corruption. Unless we all stand against corruption and get the society to reject the practice and the perpetrators at all levels, corruption will remain a hard nut to crack because the current structure of Nigeria encourages corruption.  In this country everything is by sharing and people are expected to go into government,  not to give but to get. When anyone is appointed by government, his or her intention is to acquire things for his or her people. In that kind of atmosphere, people expect you to take something. You can only be condemned if you take something and you don’t share to your people. That is a crime but the society needs to move beyond that point.

The National Assembly,  more than any other institution in this country had tried to draw attention to the issue of corruption. The power to punish corrupt officials doesn’t directly lie with the legislature.  It only has power to call the attention of relevant agencies saddled with the responsibilities of taking action, and we have been doing that effectively. The society should stop identifying with corrupt people and the executive should also do away with those who are doing something wrong within the system. Not just by condemning what someone had done wrong but the person still retains his or her seat, doing more wrong things. That is not how corruption is fought.

NLC’s call for National Assembly to probe military budget?

The call on the National Assembly by the Nigerian Labour Congress to investigate funds appropriated to the military to fight insurgency is a two-edged sword. First of all, the military right now is involve in a sensitive operation to stabilise the country and provide adequate security. If we start any form of public probe and the military thinks we are only interested in the money and not the efforts at combating insurgency,  that may become counter productive. The troops would not feel supported.

However, clearly there are issues dealing with the ways our security funds are being expended. We have more money than Boko Haram, we have more personnel than them, so if we spend our money properly, it should show in the field. People cant go into Maiduguri and Chibok,  drove for about 200 kilometers without seeing military personnel on ground,  that shows that our money is not working for us. I think it is rather between the Commander – in – chief and the military authorities that should go back to the drawing board,  find out what happened to the money that are being released for security operations and how well the money was being spent. What are the target areas of the money and who is ensuring that the money actually gets to those it should get to and that the money is achieving the purpose for which it was released.  At this point, I will not advocate for the National Assembly to carry out that investigation but I will insist on a thorough, internal review of the financial dealings as regards the security votes, war on terror and the expenditure of the federal government on security.  It is a very critical point and nobody should overlook it. Our troop should be well motivated with money, training and necessary equipment to prosecute the war against insurgency.

Invitation of NNPC management by the Senate committee?

On the issue of invitation extended to the management of the NNPC, we are dealing with that at the committee level. We have informed the senate leadership and they have taken a stand that everybody who we have invited must come but we are also dealing with the issue of the Petroleum Industry Bill and we have tried to slate everything down to when we can take the two issues together. We have not been able to do that before going on vacation but our position remained unchanged. We learned that there is a story published by an online medium that there are moves to give some people money. Let me say clearly that such arrangement does not involve me and again, in this country, the story about money flying around all the time and you don’t know which one is real, but clearly we are doing what we are doing and l am sure that anybody who has been dealing with this committee knows that is not to approach us. We are doing what we should do. We agreed informally last week that as soon as we resumed, we will call a meeting but because of the work we have been doing on the PIB especially with the consultants,  we decided to wait till we finish, so that we can deal with the issues together.

But the Petroleum minister argued that only President Jonathan can make her appear the parliament?

On the statement allegedly credited to the minister of Petroleum Resources that she cannot honour further summons by the National Assembly except the president gives her, the go-ahead, people file papers in the court, based on the advice of their counsel, so, it is the lawyer who filed the papers in court that should explain what he meant.  As far as the National Assembly is concerned,  our constitutional powers and responsibilities are cleared. Anybody in the Federal Republic of Nigeria required to answer questions with the National Assembly will appear. If on the contrary the court gives an order to that respect, we will not disobey the court order but would be vigorously contested by the National Assembly. Any minister who at this point begin to use the name of the president to challenge the powers of the National Assembly is not doing the president any favour because the president needs the National Assembly more than he needs the minister,  so if it becomes a choice between any minister and the National Assembly,  no president will choose a minister above the National Assembly. It is not something that we need to contest in court. We can contest it politically. The minister will still appear. Anybody who is aware of how politics runs in the world, would know that any minister doing that is clearly naive. He or she is unaware of how country functions.  So I think that maybe somebody’s lawyers may have advised them to do that kind of things but when political reality begins to hit the ground, you will see both the minister and the lawyers will run away from that brief.