Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe is an economist and Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy. A ranking senator representing Abia South Senatorial District in the Red Chamber since 2007, he spoke with Tribune Newspapers, Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, on the various crises in the Senate. Excerpts:
You were on Channels Television Thursday morning where you said the National Assembly is aware that the presidency had the budget of INEC since January. How are you sure of that?
We are very sure because we interact with members of the INEC Committee and we interact also with members of the Executive and they confirmed that the information or the budget with regard to the elections had been sent there.
Another thing is that election is like pregnancy. A woman that is pregnant knows that it [child delivery] is in nine months time. The husband will know. They will prepare for it. They will buy things for the due date. But then you know that something as big as an election is coming, you had this document since January, but you deliberately kept the document till one week before we go on vacation. What did you expect us to do? Not to go on vacation? If that it is the ploy, then it was wrong. The president himself even went on vacation just a couple of days ago and this vacation that we do is a nationally and globally known calendar because all parliaments go on vacation the same time so that we can do our parliamentary meetings and every other thing. This also fits into the Sallah time for Muslims so that they can also go on pilgrimage and everything. So, it is not like people did not know the timing. That’s why we felt and some of us feel that there must have been a mischievous intent from the executive, either not to have an election or to have us approve something in a hurry, for which we cannot justify or so that the normal scrutiny will not be there because when you are hurrying everybody, how would you know.
When INEC was queried about the fact that the budget submitted was different in number from the one that was brought by the president, it now claimed that what it had submitted was part of what had already been brought to the parliament in the 2018 budget. In other words, the appropriation had already been done. So, it was something that if we didn’t open our eyes and scrutinise, there would have been double appropriation for the same amount and then somebody will now accuse the parliament of not being alert to their responsibility. They may have also said that we padded the budget.
There was this question of the parliament going on recess abruptly. There is need for further clarification on the recess falling in line with international or global legislative practices…
Yes, the recess was supposed to be on Thursday. In other words, we would have gone and we wouldn’t have also been able to scrutinise this budget and done all these things that they felt. You can see how long it is taking now. We couldn’t have done it in one day or two days and then be able to bring it to plenary. That’s why we said that there was some mischief involved. The recess was there, of course. The same executive, through the instrumentality of the DSS, the Nigerian Police and the EFCC, blocked the residences of the two principal officers because they wanted to effect a legislative leadership change illegally. Under such a circumstance, will you come to sit the next day? We now said okay, let everybody go home and I am also insisting that if it is a question of money to fund the elections, they have the Service Wide Vote from which they can draw funds, pending when we return.
From my own understanding, the executive arm of government is being economical with the truth. Nobody has been able to specifically fault the National Assembly for going on recess for a date that was much known to this administration and to everybody from the time we set out our legislative agenda at the beginning of the year. The legislative calendar runs for one year-from the previous year to the present year and it ends on the 9th of June, or so, every year. That’s well known. You can see we have already delayed our holiday by almost a month by waiting till end of July. So, when they now start to bandy all these things about, they have to explain why they are trying to make Nigerians to blame the National Assembly for their own tardiness. They are the people who found it very difficult to do their job.
So, you don’t think there is an emergency for the National Assembly to resume?
If there is an emergency, then we will come to deal with that emergency. But we do not see spending for elections for which you already have some funds domiciled with you in the Service Wide Vote as an emergency and so why the question of turning around and now saying there is emergency for foreign borrowing and all that? At the point that we were considering the budget, we considered everything. If you remember, the first thing you consider for the budget is the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the MTEF is where all these foreign budgets and everything are specified. It was considered and passed. So, turning around now and trying to bring the component of MTEF and saying that it is what is causing government shutdown-these apologists of APC government are not telling the Nigerian public the truth.
At any point that we resume, if there is any aspect of anything that we are doing, assuming that you are doing the implementation of the budget and you are unable to, you can come back with a supplementary budget as the case may be. But if you bring to us a virement, what you are telling us is that all committees for which monies are going to be vired from must come back and that is exactly what we are doing now. I am waiting for the virement that will come from my committee. I’m around and my committee members are around. Once they contact me and say that we should do it, I will call my committee members and we will look at the virement that is necessary and recommend to the Appropriation Committee and the committee will take it up to the plenary. The process is not what you can do in one day, despite the impression that is being given. In fact, any government that tells us to sit around and just approve this thing in one day is a government that is deceitful because what it is saying is, don’t even look at anything; we can put any figure and then you just run away with it.
The government and the public appear not to be fully briefed about your legislative calendar and that appears to be the reason the president kept sending issues of budget to the chambers a week before recess. Are you saying everybody should be aware of that?
The executive is very well aware of that. The executive has a liaison officer who was a senator and who takes back to the executive the calendar whenever the calendar and the dates are fixed. What I’m telling you and I will continue to repeat is that the executive had this documentation which they n
eeded from the National Assembly since January, and I’m very certain that their liaison must have also informed them that this is what the calendar says. So, when the government wakes up from its lethargy and then tries to hurry us and say, ‘do it in one day’, there must be something that they are trying to hide in that document that is making them not want us to do a proper scrutiny of it. This is exactly what happened to this administration when they came into power. They came into power on May 29, 2015 and spent seven months doing absolutely nothing and their spokesmen were going all over the place talking about body language. When that the whole inactivity for seven months led to a recession, they turned around and, instead of saying that it was their lethargic approach to governance, they now said to us that it was the PDP and all that was the cause. Of course, the blame game which they have tried all these while has now ended.
National Chairman of APC has said it categorically that the party will remove or impeach the Senate President if he does not resign. PDP members in the chamber are 49 or thereabout. Do we expect APC to railroad you members of the PDP into impeaching the Senate President when you resume?
I will refer you back to the video that I watched where the APC National Chairman was giving instructions to the distinguished senators and honourable members who were former governors like him and he was talking to them like school children. When I watched that video, I was very careful to listen to the Leader in the Senate who spoke and the Leader in the House who spoke. They never made any reference to the instruction given to them by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to impeach the Senate President. On the contrary, knowing themselves that the procedure will not bring any such thing, they steered themselves towards saying that there was going to be concerted efforts for us to resume and all that. They never mentioned any such because they know that the APC National Chairman was exhibiting crass ignorance of our rules and the laws of the land. It is very unfortunate that such a person who is ignorant of our laws with regard to the parliamentary procedures would be chairman of the party and would want to expose his ignorance to the rest of the public. You know, as the saying goes, do not expose yourself so that we will actually confirm what you are. He unwittingly exposed himself and this is very sad. Actually, I felt for the former governors who were there as senators now. I feel very sorry for people like the Senate Leader who had been in the National Assembly since 1999 and I feel very sorry for Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila who has also been a fine legislator and knows what happened.
On a final note, I will also say that this same party celebrated the defection of a principal officer of the National Assembly a couple of years ago and called it an act of courage then. Now, it has happened to them and they are turning around and making a song and dance out of it. In other words, they want to eat their cake and have it. It’s not going to happen. They have already set the template by celebrating this and, of course, they have correctly identified that it was not against the law and the Constitution. They correctly said so and we agreed that it wasn’t against the law and Constitution. So, how will they turn around and now be using words like treason and all of that?
For somebody who has passed through both the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), a former executive of a state and now coming to run a national party, your word should be your bond. You shouldn’t be two-faced to now say one thing today and another thing tomorrow. My advice to the APC National Chairman is to get advice before opening his mouth in order not to make his party to be very apprehensive anytime he is going to make any statement in public because they are not sure whether this statement he makes in public would bring another uproar in the country.