Continental Integration Bedrock For Africa’s Survival

10 Nov 2012

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Honourable Bethel Amadi


What is Pan African Parliament?
The Pan African Parliament is the legislative arm of the African Union. It was initially envisaged by our leaders, the visionary leaders of the African Union to be a platform for African people and their grassroots organisations to enable them make an input into the decision making process of the African Union towards finding solutions to the challenges facing the continent. You know that the African Union organs prior to the formation of the Pan African Parliament or mostly organs that were mostly part of the executive of the national governments. The Summit comprised of the Heads of Government themselves, the Executive Council was made up of the foreign Ministers of member States and the Permanent Representative Committee (PRP) was made up of the ambassadors of the AU member States in the Addis Ababa headquarters of the African Union. It was envisaged that with the African Union transforming from the OAU that it was to the AU required that it had all the other bodies and compliments that would ensure that the Union was truly a union of African people.

So in 2004 the Pan African Parliament was established and all member States of the African Union who had parliaments were to send five members of their national parliament to represent them. The five members will be composed of the various political configurations that a sitting parliament has, the joint parties, the opposition parties and of course there was also the issue of gender. The five person delegation must have a woman as member, so that was how the Pan African Parliament started, drawing from members of the national parliament to come together and provide a legislative input. We started as a consultative and advisory body with a view that after the first five years of its existence, the protocol establishing the Pan African Parliament would be reviewed to enable it be given additional functions and powers.

That five years came to pass in 2009 and the review process started with the African Union Head of States decision in Sirte, Libya, that the African Union Commission should start the review process of the Protocol establishing the Pan African Parliament and over the last three years a reviewed document has undergone various meetings and finally, a draft reviewed protocol was approved by African Union member States Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. It was now sent to the African Union to be tabled before the summit and by January 2013 Summit the reviewed protocol will be up for adoption and if adopted will begin the process of having member States ratify it. It will require 28 ratifications from member States before the amended protocol will come into force.

Do you feel the Pan African Parliament as presently constituted can address the concerns?
We are providing the legislative framework within which integration can be enhanced, to enhance inter-African trade, to enhance the free movement of people, goods and services. We are providing a platform where African people can come together, so it is the main institution where African legislators, those who make laws in various African countries come together to look at the problems of Africa and provide a platform for African people and their grassroots organisations to make an input.

In our last session in October, which was the first session of the third parliament, we held a dialogue with civil societies and various NGOs and groups on Millennium Development Goals and we realised quite sadly that Africa will not meet any of the Millennium Development Goal targets come 2015. Only about three countries would meet some of the key Millennium Development Goals target and why is it so? It is because we are having a situation where a resource rich continent like Africa has not taken time to ensure that resource application is focused on key areas to achieve required results.

That the issue of governance has continued to delay the African renaissance; so the Pan African Parliament is the only continental institution that has the capacity to look at these issues in-depth and go back to take these issues to the national parliament because really, at the end of the day the national parliament has a role to demand accountability, transparency from the national government in the utilisation of available resources.

You mean that Africa’s developmental challenges are framework based?
The problem of our continent is governance and governance issues need to be addressed and those governance issues point to what really causes a lot of the crisis on the continent; and governance issues start from the process of the elections of those who take decisions in our member States, the electoral process. The constitutions, do they provide level playing field for political actors and in the end of the process do people come out satisfied that there has been a free and fair process? That is why we are pushing through the Pan African Parliament for the domestication of the now ratified African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. That charter embodies the core values of democratic practice and we are convinced that if member states embody this charter into their laws it will cover a whole range of issues that have continued to plague the governance process.

There will be true electoral Commissions, there will be independent judiciary to adjudicate, that security agencies must remain impartial, that a level playing field be provided for all the political groupings. Freedom of association and to form political parties and of course to ensure that the ruling party provides a free and fair environment for competition and of course most importantly, it condemns in unequivocal terms that there should be zero tolerance for unconstitutional change of government.

The Pan African Parliament is just like the world court without an enforcement arm and any member strong enough can ignore its directives or resolutions. Are your resolutions binding and how do you beat member nations who violate the charter back into line?

I agree we do not have legislative powers as you understand it in the national laws of member States, but we have the power of moral persuasion and the Pan African Parliament is in transformation. The European parliament took 50-years before they got legislative powers but that does not mean that we need to go through that whole process to re-invent the wheel because we can see today the advantages of having a European parliament with legislative powers to sanction member States who do not comply.

So it is a process we believe will happen but until that happens, we must continue to carry out our functions to say to the member States, these are issues they must deal with to provide governance and better standard of living for the African citizen.

When a small country like Niger changes government by unconstitutional means, it is easy to beat them back to line, but what happens when a big and strong country like Nigeria and South Africa with the power, resources and all that to breath down their neck to do the right thing?

The same standards will apply to all and whether you are thinking about it in terms of the ability of the African Union as an institution to put pressure to bear, it is collective. The collective weight of the African Union encompasses the entire membership and as such there is no easy solution to that kind of situation but it is something that must be faced up to each time it happens.

We must stand firm at all times to condemn all acts of unconstitutional change of government wherever it may be. Be it in Niger, Mali, Guinea, and Ivory Coast or even be it in one of the big populous African countries, it doesn’t matter where it is but the issue is the same statement would be made.

But most of them are engendered from outside of the continent?
And we indeed also contribute to the process. We cannot divorce ourselves and the roles that we play in that process. We are used as pawns in the process and we are saying no to that. A lot of them of course are engineered from outside, we know, but that is also because they are looking for opportunities to take from our continent’s resources. You cannot remove the situation in the Congo from the interest in the wealth that exist in the Congo, but why must we allow it. Don’t we have a responsibility as leaders to ensure that the resources of our continent and our various member States are used for the benefit of our citizens.

We know the roles that has been played by multinational companies needs to be reviewed. The new found interest in procuring  large portions of land in Africa  by land speculators to the detriment of our local farmers, to the detriment of food production on our continent is all  being engineered for a purpose.

Africa spends billions of dollars to import food and we have the Maputo Declaration where our Heads of government signed that they will invest 10 per cent of the national budget in agriculture to enhance food production, but that is not happening. We would rather spend money to import food instead of producing food and yet 70 per cent of African population is farmers. Our problem is not that we don’t have the manpower or the farmers to farm the land; our problem is that they have no support whatsoever in terms of implements, fertiliser, tools, even new farm techniques, improved seedlings and access to land. You know that majority of the rural populations that are farmers are also women and in most of our societies women do not own land across the continent.

There is also the cultural dimension to the process that.  We must not overlook whereby we have over the years developed taste for foreign foods. The mass importation into Africa of the three cereals, rice wheat and Barley has continued unabated and is growing to the detriment of indigenous cereals like maize, sorghum, millet and even other indigenous foods like cassava, potatoes. The ones we can grow ourselves have been abandoned so that we can import more rice, wheat, barley and so the process of neo colonialism has not abated in anyway and it is apparent in all the things that we are doing.

Today 90 per cent of funding for HIV/AIDS on the continent comes from outside the continent and with the economic downturn and the recession especially in those donor countries, our development partners are cutting back on the funding for HIV AIDS. In the last 10 years, Africa made substantial progress in the management of HIV/AIDS, reducing new infections, reducing HIV related deaths, reducing mother to child transmission and those substantial strides that have been made are now endangered. We stand the danger of resurgence in new infections in mother to child transmission due to lack of funding.

Now we are talking about funding, how does the parliament get its own funding?

The parliament is funded by the African Union member States through the African Union Commission. We have a budget because it is a dual membership where we are all members of our national parliament. National parliaments are expected to pay for us to attend; so it is the African Union that pays for the secretariat, salaries of the secretariat staff; then the host country South Africa provides the facilities and the member States pay for the attendants of their delegations.

The President said Nigeria would no longer enter into any protocol that does not offer benefits to the country. What does Nigeria gain from being a member of the Pan African Parliament?

For Nigeria the issues of continental integration are critical for our development. Nigeria is the most populous country on the continent and Nigerians are the most travelled of all Africans. You find Nigerians in every nooks and crannies of this continent. I have been in a remote isolated part of Angola, ravaged by war for 35 years. When I went to Angola after the death of Savimbi and the war ended, I went for election observation work in Angola in 2008 and we drove for seven hours out of Luanda into the hinterland and we had a mechanical malfunction on the vehicle and the only people who we could find to buy spare parts from in a remote village were Nigerians and they had been there for years even when the war was on. So you find that a country like Nigeria has a lot to benefit from the integration of the continent.

I give you a clear example, on the ECOWAS region where there has been substantial progress in terms of integration as a citizen of ECOWAS carrying ECOWAS passport, I can move from one ECOWAS country to another without visa and without any restrictions. You find that all the way down the West African region there are Nigerian traders able to trade despite the customs and immigration problems that are not official, despite the red tape of bureaucracy that exist in those border posts, but still, you find made in Nigeria goods in those countries. The market that exist in the continent would be available for this industrious hard working people the opportunities that exist will be available. Nigerians now live and work in many African countries.

How did you become the President of the Pan African Parliament; where did you meet it and where do you plan to take the parliament?
I was elected on May 28, 2012 as the third President of the Pan African Parliament and I have tenure of three years. I was elected alongside with four Vice Presidents from the other four regions of the continent. We believe that the an African Parliament as presently constituted with advisory and legislative powers is in dire need for transformation into a legislative body that would provide for Africa and Africans a loud voice in the scheme of governance for the continent; that will be a voice for the voiceless millions of Africans.
So we have a vision of using our advisory and consultative powers to the fullest to ensure that the Pan African Parliament has a visibility that is required for it to attain its goals as a veritable platform for African people and grassroots organisations to make an input into decision-making processes.

Decisions would no longer be the decisions by governments taking into consideration the inputs of African people and so we are championing the ratification of very important charters that will help enhance governance.

We succeeded after three years of campaign to have the charter on democracy, election and governance ratified, now we are pushing for the charter on civil service. We think that the civil service or public service in our continent has a big role to play and there must be standards and that the level of corruption, misuse and misapplication of African resources cannot be removed from the level of our public service. They must begin to imbibe core values and standards across the continent and the role the public service plays in implementation of decisions across the continent must be taken with all seriousness. So we are pushing for that charter to be ratified so that those who not complying with what should be the standard norms, and core values of public service will be sanctioned.

Talking about public service my, understanding is that it excludes the lawmakers who whether real or imagined have been mired in controversies that border on corruption. Do you think the national lawmakers and the Pan African parliament have the moral standing to talk about or legislate on anything that call the public servants corrupt especially when it appears more money is being guzzled by the lawmakers?

We are talking of two different things so I will take it from two different angles. I am convinced and I believe that no citizen of any country should be above the laws of that country and that any citizen of any country who for whatever reason is found wanting in terms of the laws of the land, he should bear the full brunt of that judicial process without undue preference being given to that individual. The culture of impunity that pervades our continent is all as a result of the tendency to give different standards for different people and different institutions.

We are pushing for a civil service charter that will be signed by member states that will develop core values for public service does not in any way exonerate any other group; be they the executive or the legislative arm of governance and I think that governance issues need to be looked at from very clear perspectives as there are individuals who have lived by standards below what should be expected of them in office does not in any way mean that the process of change will not continue and that we must not continue to push for it even in Europe and America.

Last week a court sentenced the former Prime Minister of Italy Berlusconi. There is no way people who hold high office have been completely found to be saints, but the issue is that when they are found culpable, they should be punished and the same standard that applies to the civil servants should be applied to the legislators, should apply to the governors, should apply to whoever it is that has breached public trust and that is where I think our problem is. The problem is that because we want to point fingers, we forget the fact that as a nation we must continue to push at all times irrespective of what is going on, that there should be standards for those who are in public service.

We continue to say that okay because some legislators have been found wanting and as such the whole process of legislation should be thrown to the dogs; we can’t run a society like that. We cannot say because some journalists have been known to sell their newspaper articles and publish what they have been paid for, and then we should throw away all journalists in the process. We must continue to build stronger institutions that will help us achieve transparency, accountability and ensure that public service is actually in the interest of the people it is supposed to serve.

When I say public service this time, I mean all those who are in the service of the people. As you know, even in Nigeria today, despite our many shortcomings, you can see clear progress even in elections. Elections are getting more transparent day by day. People are beginning to speak up; people are beginning to insist that their votes count, so after each election, we see progress in ensuring that the will of the people is paramount.

As the President of the Pan African Parliament I am sure you would have known how other parliaments in Africa work, how true is it that Nigerian lawmakers are the highest paid in Africa and across the globe?

I don’t know what your statistics are, I don’t know what information you have about what other members of parliament are paid across the globe, but I think the issues are being mixed up in terms of figures being bandied at different times for a different reason by different people. I think the leadership of the National Assembly and I have always made that point over time, need to educate and make the process of how resources are spent in the National Assembly more transparent so that we do not continue to have this blanket accusation that are being levelled at all times. That the running cost of an individual legislator and his activities as legislator is being mixed up with his salaries and entitlements is the crux of the problem. I think that until that is properly defined, we will continue to have a situation where one paint -brush is used to cut across.

If we reason it that way, it means the lawmakers, the ministers and executive are in break neck competition of who will spend most…

We are saying that minister has a role, a job to do and if he is say, the Minister of Education he will go visit the university, functions and has a role to play. We are trying to isolate what happens here…there is an iota of selective inquiry being done and I am asking you as a journalist could you help us so that we can put the two in proper perspective. Are you saying the role of the minister is more important than that of a legislator? They have different functions in the process of governance. You think it is okay that one is funded to carry out those function while the other is not funded to carry out his own functions. You believe maybe because they have more  resources at their disposal so they are friendlier towards the media  and that gives them a better cover.

You are trying to push the media in order not to go into the issue…

No I am not pushing you, I am asking you a  question.
You have been a legislator for several terms and you know the salary you have been taking and now you are the President of the Pan African Parliament which gives you a vista into how other legislators are paid so I am convinced you can say if Nigerian lawmakers are receiving jumbo pay or not

Nigeria has the largest number of members of parliament than any other African country I know. We have 469 members of our national parliament. You  can’t compare it to countries that have 69 members or 100 members or  even 200 members which is just like half of what we have. Different countries have different modes of funding their members of parliament and that funding process is strictly dependent on how it is structured. For me I think a lot more of education and openness needs to be done by the leadership in order to put the issues in clear perspective as to what those costs go to and what they are for so it can  be easily measured by those who have accused national  Assembly of all levels of corruption so it can be  measured properly ad if it is too high it can be cut back appropriately. I am not against the fact that the cost of governance in Nigeria is too high and a lot of that fund can be applied to key areas that are crying for funding and for resource application.

I told you in the beginning that one of the greatest problems of Africa’s development is resource application. We are not applying our resources appropriately in the way it is supposed to be applied. Look at our national budget, most of it go to overhead and that is a problem on its own and that is not helping development of the country.

Assuming you are made a consultant to reform Nigeria’s national assembly what recommendations would you make for it to become more effective, cost effective and then have a name you can take to the bank?

I think that the key to having a name that one can take to the bank and make deposit boils down to how we are able to improve the living standards of our people. How come a country like Nigeria as friend of mine once described, as rich country of poor people. How do we continue to have in our continent, a country so rich in resources as Nigeria hosting the highest number of children of school age who are not getting any education at all. Nine  million and counting; why have we not been able to provide adequate access to things like basic education, access for primary healthcare for women and children, food on the table. There is kwashiorkor in some villages, what was last experienced during the civil war is back again in many villages and that is malnutrition, inadequate housing.

I think the National Assembly is not very different from the rest of the society that it serves. They are elected from among our populace and so they come from different parts of Nigeria, from different professional backgrounds and as such they cannot be removed from the society in which they operate. I think that while we are dealing with issues of the moment as they arise, there is need for us to look at the larger picture in a longer term. Today, Nigeria in its economic planning as a nation is not following a defined economic plan.

We budget every year and we only focus on the expenditure aspect; we are not spending according to a clearly defined national plan that will take into consideration the key sectoral areas and achievements that need to be made in those sectoral areas. There is no detailed national plan on which our budget is based and that is part of the disaster that has been going on for years and has remained unabated and I had hoped that by now we should have, taking all the various plans, whether it is vision 202020, transformation agenda, sat back to clearly define a four year or five year national plans and after each period, sit and review.

Just as we review our electoral law four years before an election , so should we be  passing first and foremost, a national development plan law every  four years or five years and based on that plan, be able to review progress in every sector and not leave it to the whims and caprices of who is minister and what he has dreamt of for the period.

If you look at countries like India, they are on their 12th or 13th five year national plan consistently followed and at the end of each five year period, sit back and review intensively what has transpired and what progress has been made and based on that, they approve the next five years. In anticipation of the fact that India like Nigeria and Africa has a very young population, the Indians are aiming at to provide manpower for Europe and America in the  next 20 years because they have an aging population in Europe and America and Japan.

They are not producing children like we are and many of them are no longer marrying or having families, even when they marry they don’t have children and if they do they have one or two so in years to come a lot of those countries will have the need for younger people and what is India doing, they have built close to 3000 special technical schools in the last two years that would train highly skilled manpower for export targeted at Europe, America and Japan, that is planning.

You are from Imo State where APGA has formed the State government, what is your assessment of the APGA led government?
The government in Imo state today has not lived up to expectations on many fronts. One and half years into office we see a lot of things that were said in the heat of the electoral process not being implemented. Free education was promised to the people of Imo but now that it is time for implementation, we can see that it is almost not achievable. Lots of road contracts were issued and to date 80 – 90 per cent of them remain uncompleted and we don’t know actually if the resources to compete them are available.

Many new attempts at restructuring the polity with the creation of fourth tier of government when the first, second and third are not even working, you are creating additional administrative structures that would eat into the available resources in the State instead of strengthening the Local government to make them functional, we have had a situation where local governance has been handed over to local administrators while there were elected Local councils and even despite court rulings that the  elected Local government councils as envisaged under our constitution be allowed to carry out their functions for times for which they are elected.

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