Senator Chris Anyanwu
Senator Chris Anyanwu is the Chairman Senate Committee on Navy. She is also a member of the Senate committees on Defence, Army, Judiciary and Woman Rights, Water, and Women and Youth. In this interview with Tokunbo Adedoja, she bares her mind on several issues including the review of the constitution, use of military for internal security, how to reposition the police, the state of the Navy,her recent face-off with Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha and how the sixth National Assembly saved states from political debacle due to governors’ absence. Anyanwu also sheds light on the controversy over lawmaker’s role in the budgeting process
There is a trend that has been on since 1999. Once an appropriation bill is sent to the National Assembly, by the time it comes out, the total amount would have changed and all that. It happened again this year as the budget was increased by about N63 billion because the benchmark was altered. Why has it been difficult for the executive and the legislature to master a budgeting process that would be rancour-free?
There has been no rancour in this one. What has often happened is that the executive branch comes up with whatever its wants and sends to the National Assembly. There isn’t much consultation that happens before it comes to the National Assembly. We are there, the people’s representatives, we know where the shoe pinches. When you see appropriation from a ministry, for instance, and you see things stacked in areas that you think that these are not really priorities, you think that this should be re-ordered a little bit.
You know, the way you know where people come from is when you look at the appropriation, projects go to the ministers, go to the Perm Sec, go to the players in the executive and those in the legislature, perhaps. So, they don’t accommodate what we think are the priorities. It is only when it comes to the legislature that we begin to do that accommodation; spread resources; and then ask questions like, where you put this N10 billion, is it really the priority? Couldn’t we have put it in this area? So, those discussions happen at the point that it gets to the National Assembly. If we were to have a very smooth process, I would think that we should have found a way for the discussions to happen before.
But then again, we have argued it out and think that the constitution gives us the right to weigh all these factors, to do all these discussions and to now reorder things according to, not just our own thinking but what we agreed with the executive at that point. That is why we invite them, every committee invites the people. If you took N2 billion in buying motor cycles, what impact does that have on the poverty situation, on the real problem of employment and this and that? It is at that time that questions are asked and then answers are given, and then you weigh it. At the end of the day, both the people on the executive and those on the legislative side, they will come and say look, I don’t think we have done the right thing, let’s change it a little bit. At the end of the day, what comes out is a reflection of both the executive and legislative priorities.
Apart from the issue of reordering the budget, I think one major area of contention in this year’s budget is that of benchmark. The executive wanted $75, the National Assembly wanted $78 and $80 but eventualy settled for $79. The position of the executive was based on the advice from the CBN, the Ministry of Finance and Budget Office, these are departments with experts that have been doing this over a long time. I am not talking of the legislative powers now, but does the National Assembly have the capacity to decide what should be the benchmark?
The National Assembly is not occupied by idiots. We are not idiots in the National Assembly. If there was a National Assembly that have empty heads, definitely not this one. We have heard all the arguments. All the arguments are tabled. You call ministry of finance, you say: Hey, would the sky fall if so, so and so happen? What are the arguments, the basis for this position you have taken on this or that? You know, all these arguments come out and we argue it out also. We also do our own research, we also talk to our own experrts and at the end of the day you do that which you think is really possible to be done without completely upsetting other things. I think that these are well considered positions, you know and I don’t think that we must always accept what the executive says. If we disagree, let us disagree on the basis of very strong conviction, on rational thinking, on research and on empirical evidence and all that, and that is what is going on. I don’t believe that we disagree on just emotional basis but we disagree on really strong points.
Another major issue in this year’s budget as passed by the National Assembly is the clause that says SEC shoud not be funded until Aruma Oteh leaves, I think. Appropriation bill passed by the National Assembly is a law. Would it be proper to make a law and specifically mention one person?
I think that clause came actually from the House (laughs). I think it is an extension of the battle. But that also sends a larger message, you know.
What message is that?
(She smiles, waves her hands across her lips and shakes her head, apparently suggesting she would not want to comment on that).
But don’t you think this could actually impact on the implementation of the budget, I mean the signing of the budget because if the President had wanted to remove her, she woud have gone a long time ago?
Yes, I see that as a thorny issue, but I hope that the President would sign the budget and then come back for discussion. I think it can be sorted out later. We are both sides of the spectrum, very mature, very level-headed. When things are too hot, don’t touch. Let it cool down a little bit and then you can come back. And that is my advice.
Every year, it’s like a ritual. Budget comes to the National Assembly, you work on it and pass it, the President signs it, and at the end of the year we look around and we don’t feel the impact of the budget. What is happening?
You should really be asking the executive. Because you see, signing the budget is one thing, but implementing the budget is another thing. Hey, as I am sitting here.....
But you have oversight functions?
Yeah, we go... This year, the oversight was quite rigorous in both houses. People really went out to see how much of the projects had been carried out. I don’t think enough money was released into the system until very late and that is not very good for the system. Signing the budget is one thing and releasing the money is another thing. We do ask questions, sometimes we don’t get satisfactory answers. But it is really a problem.
Is there nothing the legislature can do? If you ask questions and you don’t get satisfactory answers, don’t you have certain legislative powers?
What do you do? Sometimes we ask the question: Are we broke? No, we are not broke. Sometimes, they are juggling a few balls and they don’t come out to tell you what is going on. But we know that they have good, strong professionals. You can’t tell me that Okonjo-Iweala doesn’t know what she is doing. She knows what she is doing.
Sometimes, may be for her own reasons, she doesn’t come out openly to tell everybody what she has at hand. But we gave her the credit, benefit of the doubt and allow her sort out her issues. But I think that this year, we won’t have any excuse. They brought the budget early, we have finished with the budget, they are working out the details now. When we resume, it would be handed over to the President for his signature. When he signs, he should start executing the budget, start releasing money, let us start seeing things, Nigerians want to see things. And the system they adopted last year, they had their own reasons. They had some issues, they think that there were distortions in the budget and all that.
But that could not explain the low level of release of funds in the system. As we are sitting here, most of our projects have not been funded. And these are the things that heat up very fast, you know, rapid results. But then they withhold. They have serious issues. I hope that doesn’t happen this year, because then, one would begin to wonder what really is going on. I want to be very circumspect in this, you know.
Let’s talk about the Constitution review. I covered the first Senate and the House of Reps in this present democratic dispensation. There was a joint committee on Constitution review. Well, I know the review of the constitution is an ongoing thing, but then the first review that was done, I don’t think it was successful. Then there was another one again after the 2003 election?
(cuts in) ...Let me cut you short on this. You were around when the failed attempts happened, but you were not around when the sixth Assembly under David Mark carried out an exercise that was excellent. And without that exercise, we would today have huge constitutional problems with the governors falling sick and going away and all that. So, now we have worked out a smooth succession process. You can’t say that all the exercises were failures.
There were issues we could not take on then because it was at the tail end of the Assembly and we decided to put them in abeyance and let the new Assembly take it up and that is what is happening now. Some of these things, we cannot avoid. We can play the ostrich but they would continue to come up until we deal with them. State creation, local government issues, residency, citizenship, the zones as federating units and the rest of them. We will continue to deal with it. I think that if things happen the way they happened the last time, I think that by next year we should have really amended the constitution.
There are views that we should go for state of residency as against the existing policy of state of origin, so that if you have lived in a state for certain period of time, you will have all the rights and privileges of the natives of that state. What is your take on the issue of state of origin and state of residency?
There is a critical mass gathering on that issue now. Across the the spectrum, from the North to the South, East to the West, there is a critical mass gathering on that issue. And even the problem that they have been having from the Jos area is a living test of the complicated nature of that issue. That we have to define it now, that we have to let go of certain things that we carried from the post independence and really move on as a modern state. So, my own take is that we have to go with residency. If you have stayed in a place, if you are born in a place, for God’s sake, you are tax-paying, you went to school in a place, you even speak their language, you pay your taxes there, why should you continue to be a stranger in that place? Even sometimes, foreigners come and they get citizenship and they have greater rights than a Nigerian that was born in that place because they keep seeing them as strange elements. We have to put all that in abeyance.
Don’t you think this could also lead to another constitutional crisis in future?
Tell me about that.
Okay, let’s assume I am from Osun State, I move to Imo. Based on residency, I have all the rights and privileges like right to contest, right to be nominated for federal appointment, like into the federal cabinet and somebody from Osun is also nominated into the cabinet, won’t the Imo people say they are not represented in the federal cabinet and Osun has two slots?
Is it not happening already? There are commissioners, I know during Orji Kalu’s time, he had commissioners who were from outside the state. He had a Yoruba man, he had Imo person....
No, I am talking about federal level. Let’s assume I am originally from Osun living in Imo, and the Imo governor likes my face and nominates me to represent Imo in the federal executive council, meanwhile you still have another Osun man in the federal cabinet?
See what is happening at the state level. The Lagos State governor appointing an Ibo man as his two-term finance commisioner. It sets an example of what should happen at the federal level and already we are beginning to see bits and pieces of that, elements of that in the appointments. There are some appointments that come through in the National Assembly and people raise issue that he is not an authentic aborigine of the place. But the fact is he’s lived there, he was born there, he went to school there, he contributed there, and quite often we let that pass. That is where we should be heading as a modern state.
Let’s look at the issue of security. In some states, the military has taken over the function of maintenance of internal security, while the police just wait for little criminals. Don’t you think that may not be too good for us as a nation?
I don’t think there should be an iron cast definition of roles actually. I think that every generation must be able to adjust to the realities that they face. There is no complicated, classical warfare waiting out there for our soldiers and military to go and fight. The war we have now is what we are facing, the insecurity, Boko Haram, kidnapping and all that. And quite frankly, it wouldn’t be right for us to keep them in the barracks and say, okay, we are waiting for that big war and it doesn’t happen and yet you are faced with this and nobody is dealing with it. They must go out and deal with it.
Let me give you an example. In Egypt, at some point they had a social problem and it had to do with food. You know their main diet is the flat bread. There was great scarcity of that bread and people were rioting and it became a big problem. Guess what they did? They mobilised the army to start baking that bread. Till today, the army still does that. You see, it is adapting to issues in your environment. Now that we are having a lot of floods and all that, I will even suggest that the army engineers and all the engineers in the armed forces should be oriented to dealing with that issue.
They should be kitted up to deal with our environmental problems. Once you do that, in the next five years, ten years, they will become experts in that and you will be exploiting their expertise. We cannot sit down here and wait for the Nigeria Police to save us because, may be mistakes were made from the beginning, I do not think that the training that they are getting is enough or adequate to deal with our security problems. We must have a rethink. I have sometime suggested that the police should be given exactly the same training as the army is getting, only that at some point they branch off into civil...
A lot of our policemen are not even security-conscious. They can’t recognise a security threat. Do you understand me? A lot of retraining has to happen. May be they may have to recruit people of certain educational level and retrain them, and this is not ordinary training, intensive training. And, ofcouse, the cankerworm of corruption has eaten deep into that outfit. In fact, I was alarmed when they started doing joint patrol and I said to the army, don’t let the police infect your men. It is like a virus. When they are going on joint patrol, sooner or later, they begin to take like the police. And guess what? I actually spotted that happening and I sent a text to their boss and said, it’s beginning to happen, they are beginning to take because they have been with these people and the habit is rubbing off on them. So, we do have a problem.
But funding is the problem, training needs funding. You send the military guys to the best schools in the world, you send policemen to Kuru. Yes, Kuru is good, but they need funding to also attend good institutions. How many policemen has gone to those kind of schools?
No, they don’t all go everywhere in the world. They are trained right here. It is the rigour of the training, the discipline impacted right from the onset. A lot of the people who go into the police, they are going in there for accommodation.
But it is not like they are driven to contribute in this era of crime and social peace. Do you understand me? There is no psychological orientation. I think they are not getting the right psychological orientation. Have you seen an American police? He is awesome, his presence will just get you shaking. This is a youngman, the way he would come, the way he would talk to you, very polite, but firm as an iron and you know that if you mess with him, he is going to give you that thing that you are looking for, no matter who you are. The way he would talk to you tells you that you have to be of your best conduct.
So, it is a psychological orientation. We have a lot of work to do with them. But see, it is not a hopeless thing, we just have to work. We take it in cycles. May be, eventually weed out the very bad eggs, and then begin to bring in the right people and then train them, give them the right training and kit them. You said they are not funded well. Well nobody is being funded as well as they should because money is a limited resource. But the thing is that the money given to them, how well are they using it? And that should be the issue, that should be the thing. That they are using the money given to them well.
You are the chairman of the Senate Committee on Navy. The Navy is responsible for Maritime Security. How confortable are you with this policy of allowing ex-militants to secure our maritime assets?
There is a slight confusion in the law and I think that sooner or later we have to face up to it because the definition of the role of NIMASA crosses that of Navy. I think that law needs to be looked at because NIMASA does not have the capacity to go beyond looking at commercial ships. NIMASA is not a fighting force, it cannot even take on the pirates. NIMASA needs the backing of a force and that force is either maritime police or the navy. Too many agencies are involved in this whole maritime sector. There is anarchy in the maritime sector and I have been trying to point attention to it. There are over 20 legislations on the maritime sector. At times things happen and they call the Navy, and it is not always the Navy because other players are there. We need to look at that whole sector, redefine and maybe do adjustments of the laws and clearly draw the lines of functions so that people don’t keep running into each other. As for Niger Delta ex-militants (laughs). But you know it’s a risky thing. Why should ex-militants... Do they have the capacity to secure our borders? They don’t have the capacity.
But that is what they are doing now?
I guess that was an action taken out of desperation. It’s a desperate action which cannot stand the test of time. Sooner or later you have to do the right thing, which is what I am talking about. The force for the sea is the Navy. Let us kit them, let them go out to sea and get of the land and get to sea. I think I am more relaxed now and I am sure that the Navy would do much better in future.
By nature, the Navy, and the military in general, is expected to be subservient to the political leadership and by implication, they cannot raise objections to certain policies which affect them. You chair the committee on Navy, have you provided that voice in support of the Navy or what is your committee doing to ensure that these constitionally guaranteed functions of the Navy are not taken over by an unrecognised body?
We are working and in this year, the few things would come on the table. In the legislature you don’t run amok. Okay, I am going to do this. You discuss, you negotiate, you come together, the different parties come together and at some point we need to come up with an a policy. A policy which will delineate functions and try and adjust some of those things in law that we were doing in the early days of democracy, in 1999 and all that.
You will realise that law was drawn up at that time and nobody had looked at it since then. I think it’s come of age now in light of what we are seeing playing out on the scene we should be looking at all these laws and then really defining them in a much clearer way. Also, giving them the right linkage because they cannot stand or work alone. NIMASA, for instance, needs that synergy with the Navy, the Navy needs that synergy with NIMASA. Mind you that the army has its own Amphibians too, they are there. So, we need to have this synergy. A lot of our fish stock is stolen in this country. Nobody talks about it. We talk about oil. The fish stock stolen is enough to give us the roads that we don’t have. But when you look at it side by side with the oil, its pales. So, we don’t talk about that. But at some point once we get action going at sea, we have the right vessels, the right support, we have the right linkages, some of those things would cease to happen, at least gradually. It is not going to happen overnight.
As the chair of the Senate Committee on Navy, normally you will have access to some privilege information that the ordinary Nigerian may not have. Do you think the Nigeria Navy has the capacity to properly secure our maritime assets and protect our maritime integrity?
Well, you know it used to be more bleak, but right now, things are looking up. We know the problem and we have been working on the problem.
The President is very keen on removing the limitations, the hindrances affecting the performance of their duties, and he is actually interested in the Navy. The reason the thing got a little bit poor was that the last time Nigeria bought a right sort of fleet of ships for the Navy was during Shagari’s time. Imagine Shagari’s time! Now, during Abacha’s time, Nigeria was a persona non grata, was a pariah nation and the Navy could not maintain some of these ships, could not get the right spare parts. So, there was a gradual decline and I think that we hit bottom a few years ago. But now, they are gradually working to get the right sort of vessels in the right places. It started the past two years. I think that I am more encouraged by what has been done. We want the right stuff now and we want them used correctly. Once they begin to get the vessels they have ordered now, they have two major vessels they have ordered, by the end of this year, I think the first one will come in. These things take a long time. These are not like walking into a supermarket and buy something that is already made. If you want a certain level of vessel, you have to order it and its takes between two to three years to build it. It goes through a process, an international process and you can’t jump that process. And that is what has been delaying it. But thankfully, by the end of the year, they will begin to come in. And I think that the Nigeria Navy will be in a better shape to monitor and patrol our territorial waters.
There was a time that the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger Delta shores were under the grip of pirates and armed bandits. The situation improved not long ago, but now it is gradually sliding back to the era when pirates and armed bandits reigned. I was at the handover ceremony in California when a US Marine ship (now NNS Thunder) was given to Nigeria and one of the things said was that it would help tackle pirates and armed bandits in that region. With recently reported cases of pirate attacks in that region, do you think that the existing naval assets are properly deployed?
Before I answer that question, I have to point out something that escaped me, that is my own understading based on what I know today. I don’t think that we can sustain our Navy through the envelop budgeting system. Those vessels are so expensive that in fact, we cannot pay for one in one budget year. We have had to spread the payments. Some of these things, three years, four years. That is not the way it is suppose to be. We have to find an extra budgetary means. A very radical decision has to be taken to find an extra-budgetary means of rebuilding and re-kitting the Navy, if we are serious. How we must do that is that, look, the mainstay of our economy is oil and our oil is being stolen at a pace that the rest of the world is weeping for Nigeria. And you can see that that is what that woman has been juggling with silently and she cannot verbalise it, she can’t talk to you because...
Which woman is that?
I am going back to the budget issue that we were talking about. Some of the manifestations of these theft of our oil affect our budgeting in the release of funds. If you don’t have money, if they have stolen all the oil, you won’t have the money to fund your budget. But she can’t tell you that the money is finished. It is very important that we do something extra-budgetarily to put the Navy where it ought to be. The men are ready and they are determined, they have the right headship. They will do very well if this is done. We have to do it to stop this insult, because it is an insult that you left your flanks open and anybody can come and steal what you have while you are struggling. Do you understand me? It is a slap on our face. We know the trouble. So, if this is what it is going to take, let us do it and get the Navy going and let them patrol.
Because it is so expensive to run those vessels. The oil and the necessary things that you need to keep them running 24/7 out in the sea is huge. Even your budget cannot fuel them. That is the problem we have this year. I don’t know whether I can say these things and say them safe. So, it is a very expensive thing to have. But we have to do it because our economy depends on it. We’ve started now and we just have to go all the way and get that sector cleaned out and strong because not just our security, but our eonomy well-being depends on it. The issue is not proper deployment or proper use of assets. The issue is whether the assets are there, enough and whether the rights assets are there to be used when you need them.
You are a member of APGA, the ruling party in your state but an opposition party nationally. We have always heard these talks about opposition parties coming together to form a formidable opposition against the ruling party. We hear all the talks, but at the end of the day, they go their ways. What is that thing that makes it difficult for opposition parties to present a common front against the ruling party?
I think it is because of the absence of absolute distinction in their ideologies and philosophies. The differences between them are not much. You cannot say that this one is a conservative and these are the principles. That is not the way its goes here. So, it is difficult for people. Quite often it’s the undercurrents of selfish considerations that keep pulling them apart. They come together, they want to, but individual differences, who is going to be on top and all that pull them apart. I think we need to have another very strong party because it is going to make the ruling party to also sit up. So, it will be a good thing, but whether it would happen is another thing.
Talks are on now, do you foresee the emergence of a strong opposition party ahead of the 2015 election?
It will be a great thing actually. It will make the political landscape very interesting, you know. But whether it would happen is another thing. Those who are involved say it would happen. I am not part of the talks. My own opposition has not taken me there yet.
You were in PDP shortly before the election?
I was in PDP until they drove me out of PDP.
Are you still in love with PDP?
For me, parties are platforms to render service, honestly.
Let’s look at your state...
(cuts in) No, let’s not talk about my state (laughs).
Let’s look at your state. You recently had issues with your governor over what I will call right of way. What is happening between you and Governor Rochas Okorocha? What is the real problem between you and your governor?
I don’t know. If you ask me ten thousand times, I will say nothing actually. That incident was very terrible. It’s just the devil at work because there was actually no reason why that should happen. It was not a struggle over the right of way, I must tell you. In all truth, even if I was asleep, there was no way that I would just wake up and... in front of a governor, much less my own governor coming. Do you know how awesome a governor’s presence is? How many cars does a governor move with? Fifty? You want to stand in front of a steamroller? Am I that suicidal? Do I look suicidal to you? Absolutely nothing. I was going my own jeje, as they say in Nigeria, heard siren, cleared for them to go. I was not in a hurry. We were just going home after a nice day in the village. If it was not the devil, why me of all the people in that traffic that day, would they come and surround and start beating up and all that. It’s the devil’s work o.
I saw the picture of your driver, he was battered. Are you planning to take legal action?
I am not planning anything o. As you see me, I am not planning anything at all. I am just sitting here and enjoying the harmattan.
Okay, is your driver planning to take action or has he discussed with you the possibility of seeking judicial redress?
If my driver wants to seek judicial redress, he is a Nigerian, he has his own rights. And as a citizen, he has relatives, he has friends, he has people who are interested in him. So, if they want to take legal action, that is their prerogative. They can do that.
You and your governor are in the same political party. Have the leaders of your party in the state intervened in this crisis with a view to resolving it?
It is important you understand the structure of my party in my state. Shortly after the election, the state executive was sacked by the governor unilaterally without consulting with any stakeholder. He appointed a new executive unilaterally without informing or seeking the view of stakeholders. As I am sitting here, I have never been invited to the meeting of the party in my state. How does it feel to be the second highest person in your party in your state and you have never been invited to a meeting before? So, when somebody says he is the chairman of my party and makes comments, I will just rather see him as an employee of the governor because there had never been any congress, I was not there when they did the election. There was no election. I was not even there when they were announced or appointed.
And so, when he speaks, he speaks for his boss. So, when they are ready to strengthen the party and get others involved as they ought to, and also conform with the law, because the law says you have to have congress, you have to elect persons into the leadership of the party rather than by appointments, then they can invite all the stakeholders and I do know that I am a strong stakeholder. The only Senator that they have in the whole country.
So, you cannot do things or things cannot happen without me being informed or participating in them. It is not fair, it is not right to do that, it is not proper and it does not conform with the law. So, when you ask me whether the elders in the state have intervened, it is impossible for them to intervene because they are employees of the governor. But on the national level, may be if there is any intervention, may be on the national level. But then, you also know that they are struggling with a few things. But the national leadership is very concerned about it and they have gotten intouch with me. They are concerned about it and they rightly showed their concern. I, myself, don’t like it. I abhor all that. I abhor noise, I abhor such things. It’s anathema to my nature.
Does the situation you just portray now give you concern about your aspiration...
(cuts in) If you were me what would you do?
Do you feel frightened about the fact that this is the platform on which you were elected?The elected executive was dissolved and replaced with appointees. Even your state party chairman issued a statement castigating you over the issue... (cuts in)
Listen, I don’t want to respond to the young man. He is a very young man, I mean, I cannot respond to him. And honestly, he is very young in such public functions and public roles and I sympathise with him. He has my sympathy. I don’t want to talk about what he said and all that.
You were a reporter, publisher and broadcaster, now a politician, how has the transition been?
The transition is like night and day. You know, I keep saying that being a journalist is the happiest place you want to be because you are looking at things from the outside and you want to understand it, and you are asking questions. It is easier to ask questions than actually, to answer them, you know.
The real world is out there, it is not exactly very easy for those of them on the executive side or even those of us on the legislative side. In dealing with problems, you have to think out solutions, you have to harmonise with people, you are eager to make a difference, to get things to change, but you know you cannot change them by yourself. So, it is a frustrating place to be. Those of us who are journalists in the system, we find that, oh my God, it is not the way its used to be. For journalists, you can sit down and write your articles, express your opinion. Sometimes, you cannot and you dare not express your opinion. So, even in democracy, you are stymied by the arrangement, by party politics, by expectations, you know. Having to balance the forces, because if you talk too much like you are a journalist, you talk yourself into a whole lot of trouble. Do you understand me? It is like a state of maturity where you have to restrain yourself, you have to talk in good measure. But sometimes, you can’t bear it. But sometimes you understand why you have to do that. But the journalist, if you do it as you should do it, speak out your mind, say everything as it is, the world will explode on all of us.