Senator Ita Enang
Senate Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, was a principal officer in the House of Representatives before his election into the Senate in 2011. In this interview with Omololu Ogunmade, he spoke on a myriad of issues including the recent declaration of ceasefire by a faction of Boko Haram, crisis in Peoples Democratic Party, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and constitution review process. Excerpts:
The Boko Haram sect recently declared ceasefire. Do you consider this a welcome development?
I think it is a welcome development, the ceasefire declared by Boko Haram group. I had from the beginning of this crisis made a statement and said let President Goodluck Jonathan adopt the same strategy we adopted in handling the militants’ case in the Niger Delta by proclaiming amnesty and so on to members of the group. But I think the president’s challenge then was that there was nobody who was prepared to come out and say ‘I’m responsible’ but in the case of Niger Delta militants, there were people who took responsibility for their actions. So it became difficult then.
Now that people have come out, I think we should reach out, talk about amnesty, talk about the laying down of arms and after that, we proceed on to the process of recovery of all arms and ammunition that they have. Then, we go on to what we call sweeping or clearing and we can even encourage them by telling them that ‘if you have arms, bring them in exchange for cash.’ Even if we cannot recover all, we may recover a substantial part of the arms in their possession. And now that we are having a breakthrough in Mali, there is solution in Algeria and then, there is the Tripoli renaissance in Libya.
I think it is better we take advantage of this declaration. Because I believe what is happening in Nigeria now is a fallout of the collapse of Libya, the incidents of Mali, Algeria and similar places.
Are you suggesting same treatment as was the case with militants?
It does not have to be by compensation because there is no standard for amnesty. Amnesty is, ‘I forgive you and I will not prosecute you.’ It does not necessarily have to come with compensation because there is nothing you are going to benefit in terms of resources, revenue and all that. Amnesty is ‘I forgive you.’ But then, you have to find a way of rehabilitating them because if you grant somebody amnesty and he goes home like that, how will he survive? How will he feed his children? How will he get himself integrated?
So, you’ve got to find a way of putting them back into other useful ventures and you also debrief them in order to avoid counter insurgency. In the case of Niger Delta, we are training those militants who laid down their arms and what I believe that the Federal Government should do about those Niger Delta militants who are coming back, to avoid cases of pipeline vandalism, stealing of crude and other crimes relating to oil, is to engage these people who have known the root of the problem. To achieve this, you can use intelligence. You debrief them and get them engaged until they repent.
But the Federal Government did not appear excited about the ceasefire. Does it make any sense to you?
It made sense because you had to be sure that the people who were declaring ceasefire were the real people. You need intelligence that should be able to tell you that these are the real people. You must have their terms and conditions and you must be able to have identifiable people so that you don’t have people who thought by declaring ceasefire, ‘yes, we can get money from the government and bring the government to negotiate as if we are the real people.’ So, it is good to study the situation and ensure you have identifiable people. To that extent, the Federal Government’s decision was reasonable.
Your party, the PDP has been through many crises in recent time and this has caused concern in the public. Why is the PDP crisis-prone?
There is no crisis in the PDP. There are only issues in PDP and whatever issues there are in PDP, are normal in such a political party of diverse characters and complexities. So, there is nothing for the lawmakers to worry about. And we are not of the belief that the governors want to take over the party; we are of the opinion that the governors are playing the roles they are supposed to play because they are products of the party. We are all principal stakeholders in the party and so a group can express its opinions about what it wants in the party.
But they seem to be taking decisions for the party. The crisis in Adamawa State PDP is a case in sight.
Well, I will not want to get into that because whatever happens is an internal affair of our party. I will not want to speak on that. There is a hierarchy of the party that can speak about it. I’m a senator produced by the party and we have people who have been given mandate to play such roles.
The proposed merger between the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) is already creating the impression of an emerging two-party state if it succeeds. Do you share this view?
The merger is not intended to make Nigeria a two-party state because the constitution recognises multi-party system and it states the number of criteria that each political party should fulfill before registration and if you participate in one election and you don’t win according to the Electoral Act, you will be de-registered. The Electoral Act also allows for merger of some political parties. That is the advantage that the ACN and CPC want to explore. They are walking within what is allowed by the Electoral Act.
So, it is not going to turn Nigeria into a two-party state because even if the ACN and CPC merge, there will still be other political parties that have won elections into the National Assembly. But then you can get to have a situation in Nigeria where you have two main political parties as you have in the United States where you have the Democratic Party and Republican Party. But that does not mean that there are no other political parties. But by virtue of evolution of politics and alignment of forces, these parties become dominant. So, you either choose to go to Democratic Party or the Republican Party.
But don’t you see the merger posing a great threat to the PDP?
I don’t see it posing any threat to the PDP. All that the PDP will have to do is bring up new plans and strategies that can contain them. It is not a threat at all. But you know that sometimes, it may make the PDP to work harder, get better and get more united because the opposition parties may seem to be more united. This will also challenge us to be more united, not to criticise our party and governments. It will challenge us to speak in favour of our party at every level.
Three weeks after resumption, the Senate is yet to treat the twin issues of constitution review and Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as promised in January. What is the update?
The PIB came up but we have to allow for more consultation because there are issues that senators need more clarification on and it will appear that there are some issues from geo-political zones and we do not want any bill to be treated in a manner it might seem to want to divide the country or that will be treated in a manner that looks as if it is in the interest of one area of the country. So, that is why we are consulting further so that we can have near unanimity when we are discussing at the committee level.
The major opposition to the bill has been from the North, are you now getting concessions from your Northern colleagues?
I will not want to speak on that. My interest is to ensure that the bill gets through and passed on to the committee so that the grey areas or objection can be stated during the public hearing and brought back to the floor. The public hearing can only take place after the bill has passed through the second reading on the floor of the Senate and the committee sits on it. When we resolve some of the issues informally, when we are sure that there is near unanimity, we will bring it back to the plenary. We are managing the legislative schedule well and it will come up very soon.
Your counterparts in the House of Representatives wanted to present the report of the constitution review committee last week but later postponed. However, in the Senate, no such effort has been made to give an update on the exercise. What is the situation report?
There are two committees of the National Assembly. There is the House committee headed by deputy speaker and the Senate committee headed by the deputy president of the Senate. We have been meeting since the end of the public hearings and very soon, we will meet again to look at areas of agreement and disagreement that are now being compiled by our secretariat and there will be a full report of the public hearing from each senatorial district, states and zones and it will be made available to all. It will be used in making decisions and in the course of those decisions or after those decisions we will now present the report. Now, we are still collating reports from public hearings from senatorial districts, states and zones.
There was an allegation in a national daily last week that a presidential media aide disclosed in far away Switzerland that the reason the president has been unable to sign the 2013 budget into law is because the National Assembly raised its own budget by additional N93 billion under the guise of constituency project. Is this true?
Well, I might not have got the details but for now, the issue is that the president got the budget sometime in January and the president has 30 days from the date he received the project to study it and decide whether or not to sign it. Now, nobody can at this stage say the president has not signed the budget or nobody can at this stage say this is the reason the president has not signed the budget. So, there is no issue of jacking up our budget because the president is still within the time allowed by the budget. There is nothing wrong with the president not signing the budget now. The law allows him to study it for 30 days.
But what do you make out of this allegation? Is it true?
Those are frivolous allegations by attention seeking persons because those persons will know that the president cannot refuse to sign the budget on account of a matter that he has not communicated to the National Assembly. How then will the aide know about a matter that has not been communicated to the National Assembly? It is not possible because if the president will not sign the budget, he will communicate it to the National Assembly. As long as he has not communicated such to the National Assembly, there is no question of refusing to sign the budget.
Still, is the allegation true?
We passed the budget on December 20 and details of the passage are in the votes and proceedings of that day. Therefore, it is there for anybody to see before you can make your allegation or judgment.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, recently briefed the Senate on the forthcoming centenary anniversary celebration. But he was dismissed in the middle of the briefing because he said funding of the celebration would be private sector-driven. But what’s wrong with the government getting the private sector to fund a project?
No. We didn’t see anything bad if the project is private sector-driven. We were even happy that we were informed. We only felt that if there was no need for budgetary provision which we had to approve, then he had briefed us and so we knew that nothing was demanded of us as a legislature. So, we felt there was nothing more. It doesn’t mean that we are not working with them. We are working with them. We are celebrating Nigeria’s 100 years of almagation. We have our ways of thinking. We just felt that there was no reason for ceremony because he was still going to brief the House of Representatives same day.