Though he bears the same surname and shares same political platform with President Muhammadu Buhari, they are not related by blood. Senator Abdulfatai Buhari is the Chairman, Information Communication Technology (ICT) Committee, and member, Appropriation Committee in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly. He spoke with SOLA ADEYEMO of Daily Telegraph Ibadan. Excerpts…
There is an ongoing effort by President Muhammadu Buhari to tackle corruption. But Nigerians are skeptical about the Senate’s contribution to the ‘war’.
We have a committee on anti-corruption headed by a distinguished senator. And the Anti-Corruption bill that the president promised to send to the National Assembly, I can assure you that we will not oppose it. I can also assure you that there won’t be any senator that will oppose it, because we believe that if corruption is not checked in any country, the country will never progress. Also, if there is no punitive measure on corruption, people may see it as normal daily routine.
Only a few people and their family members are sharing money while the majority of citizens are languishing in poverty. In other countries, it is not that there is no corruption; the only difference is that governments in those places are firm about dealing with issues concerning corruption. From 1999 till date, it is on record that nobody has been jailed for corruption. This is food for thought. Nigerians should be ready to support any government that is firm. Let the law take its course.
Does that mean you are in support of the ongoing probe in connection with the alleged $2.1bn arms deal?
The point is that the money meant for the purchase of arms was allegedly diverted. It is not money meant for security vote. It is the money appropriated for arms that has now been diverted.
For example, if you say, the money is meant for arms and you have given an individual certain amount to go to Saudi Arabia for prayers, that is hog-wash and it is most annoying when you find out that the person is even the only one who travelled to Saudi Arabia instead of taking any team there.
So, the situation, if not tackled now, would not help Nigerians and the image of the country. Where many Nigerians cannot afford three square meals a day, some people somewhere were sharing money as if sharing akara (bean cake). If we don’t start somewhere and take a firm decision, we won’t get anywhere.
How would you situate the current stand of the National Assembly against the Federal Government’s directive on Treasury Single Account (TSA)?
The National Assembly (Legislative), the Judiciary and the Executive are three separate and independent arms of government. The idea that I am against is that the National Assembly should be reporting to the Accountant General’s office; And that the Chief Justice should be reporting to the Accountant General’s office.
The three arms of government may decide to have separate Treasury Single Accounts. If the National Assembly wants to be part of the TSA, it should be their decision.
They can say oh, ‘we have about 15 accounts, we want to close all the accounts.’ But it will be against the democratic norms for you to subsume the National Assembly under the Office of the Accountant General.
That is fighting the Constitution three different arms of government swore to uphold. For instance, this year’s National Assembly budget is N112 billion. But by November or December, both the internal and external auditors may come and check how the budget has been performing.
The moment you say the National Assembly should be reporting to the Presidency, that means we are back to the military era. But, that does not mean that the three arms should not be subjected to checks and balances.
What is your take on the president’s media position on the Senate’s purchase of vehicles?
It is quite stunning to hear this allegation flying around and I challenge journalists to carry out independent investigation to establish the true position of things. Some people are even saying the amount for the purported vehicles is N50billion.
Let me clarify here; the total budget for the whole National Assembly is N112 billion, as against the N135 billion in the last dispensation.
The N112 billion is for the Senate, House of Representatives, Management, National Assembly Service Commission, among others.
How could you have N47 billion for vehicles for the Senate as being spread around? I will rather align myself with the declaration by the Senate President that it is over his dead body that N47billion worth of vehicles would be purchased for the Senate.
Also, using simple Arithmetic, how do you think such an amount would be spent on utility vehicles? How can that be used for our oversight functions only, when there are other commitments by the National Assembly generally? If you deduct N47billion from the total budget of the National Assembly, do you think the amount left will be enough to meet other obligations? You know there are some issues that are better not raised than discussed.
Your reaction and body language seem to suggest that the relationship between the Executive and the Senate is still not smooth. Could that be true?
The relationship is not frosty but it should not be a bread and butter relationship. We are talking of independence of the three arms of government, i.e, the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. The trio work independently, but together for the progress of the country.
Many analysts have argued that Parliamentary system of government is much less expensive than the Presidential/ Federalism system we practise in Nigeria. What is your position on this?
Federalism seems to be expensive in Nigeria because other activities are added to it. Take for instance, the number of aides in the Presidency and the number of aides to the ministers, as well as the number of aides to the legislators, including those for the senators and for the House of Representatives members.
If you really want to reduce all these, it should be total reduction.
In the United States of America whose system we emulate, government funding and spending are monitored. Their citizens query the way government money is spent. But here in Nigeria, we worship money. We don’t query where people get the money from; there are no deterrents, and there are no checks and balances.
In China, the head of electricity organisation that misappropriated $20,000 was executed. My advice is that we should be ready to support a government that takes a firm decision, though it may be tough, but it will pay us later.
So, Federalism is good if well managed.
Has your committee begun deliberation on the 2016 budget proposal?
The President has sent the budget proposal to the National Assembly and we are going to commence deliberations on it once we resume. From all indications, the budget proposal down plays dependence on oil sector, as a major source of the nation’s revenue and attempts to promote non-oil sectors. If thoroughly monitored and implemented, Nigerians will reap a lot of benefits from the budget, although these may not be immediate.
This is where you, journalists have to let people know about the need to promote non-oil sectors as revenue earners for the nation. However, if we see something amendable in the budget proposal, we will amend it. There is no way you will send a budget proposal and everything will be perfect.
The president has not read the budget. He has only sent the proposal to the National Assembly. I will be able to talk extensively on the 2016 budget after we may have gone through the proposal.
Former governor of Oyo State, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, recently defected to your party, APC, from Labour Party. Is the development part of political realignment preparatory to 2019 general elections?
The constitution allows anybody to join any party. It is a personal decision. But linking that with 2019, I should not be asked the question. 2019 is not in my agenda now. All I am after is attending to my constituency for now to justify the mandate given to me by the people of Oyo North Senatorial District.
As a former member of the House of Representatives, and now a senator, how has it been at the Upper Chamber?
It has been a great and nice experience. It has also been quite challenging. You know, I was once at the National Assembly, though at the lower chamber, but now at the upper chamber. Legislative duty is similar. The only difference is in the nomenclature. The procedures, pattern etc., everything is similar.
Could you reflect on your experience in politics?
Rough. Very, very rough. This is because Nigeria’s political terrain is a very rough terrain. It is the terrain that is full of ups and downs. It is a terrain that is rough and bumpy. But I thank God though it has not been easy. I have won an election; I have lost an election. It is an experience.
I have known what it means to win and lose an election. I have known the euphoria of winning an election, and I have known the pains and the sorrows of losing an election. So, reflecting on my involvement in politics, I thank God Almighty, despite the challenges.
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