Hon. Moruf Fatai-Akinderu
Hon. Moruf Fatai-Akinderu is the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Compliance. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, he says Nigeria’s present constitution is limiting development in several areas . Excerpts:
How would you respond to the opinion in several quarters that the bribery scandal involving ex-chairman of the House Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Hon. Farouk Lawan, has created an image crisis for the National Assembly?
Frankly speaking, these are not the best of times for us in the House of Representatives. We started on a very good note in the legislative chambers. We were frank on what we wanted to do and how we wanted to go about our businesses. We initiated the probe because we really wanted Nigerians to know how the oil subsidy regime was managed.
We were bent on making sure that such things never happen again. If the executive will have to increase the fuel pump price, we have to be sure of what they say will happen. This particular situation is a very dangerous venture in the sense that those involved will want to protect their image by all means. No matter how we go about it, we will eventually have challenges. If we refuse to cooperate with that committee set up, there will be attempts to compromise them.
There are about nine of them. We also have a lot of people who are very influential. I am in line with a position of the committee that we must make sure that the executive complies with the recommendation and the situation now is that we are looking into the allegation.
The police and security agencies are also working into it. The House has also removed Hon. Lawan from the committee. We still stand by the report. The House also set up Ethics and Privileges Committee which is now looking into it. The committee set up has already started work. We invited Hon. Lawan; he has made a lot of revelations on what actually happened, but we were shocked by the attitude of Mr. Femi Otedola. We do not really have any business with Otedola. We are talking about the conduct of our member.
Has the Ethics and Privileges Committee found out where Lawan kept the alleged bribe?
I will not know about that, I was not a member of that committee. I was not involved in the issue surrounding the taking of money or laundering of money, I am only speaking as a member of the Ethics and Privileges Committee. The issue now is with the committee. We have heard from Hon. Lawan, who made a lot of allegations. The committee is still there and the entire members will now sit down and work on those revelations.
There is nothing much I can say now. The most important thing is that we just want to make sure that the House of Representatives is in line with the agenda. We do not want confusion that might arrive out of this to sway us away from our focus. We also know that following this agenda, we might be running into a lot of problems. The situation is so bad, and this House of Representative is looking at a way that we would make a lot of things work.
There is a lot of corruption and wastage in the system. It is the duty of the National Assembly. That is why I do agree with those who think that the National Assembly must live up to its billing because if we are up and doing to stop all those wastages, Nigeria will move forward and that is the spirit behind the legislative chambers and that is where we are today. I am not surprised at this kind of thing coming up. That is why Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tanbuwal, insists that the resolution on the subsidy report will stand.
What is your view on the invitation of President Goodluck Jonathan by the House?
We have power to invite anybody. Summon is not the word. We are concerned about the state of this country. We represent various constituencies. It seems the security forces are losing the battle against terrorism. We want to hear from Mr. President himself. President Jonathan had invited us when he attempted to remove subsidy. We want him to come with his cabinet chiefs.
We have invited service chiefs. We have invited the Minister of Defence. What is happening is no longer a matter of calling Minister of Defence or service chiefs. We felt that asking the committee to talk to the minister alone is not enough. The matter has gone beyond that, we want him to come to us and tell us what he has done so far and why is it that the situation is escalating day in day out? So asking him to come, we can summon anybody. There are relevant positions which I cannot recollect here now in the constitution.
Do you think substantial devolution of powers to the federating units can be achieved in the current constitutional review process?
We can only review the constitution at the National Assembly. But what Nigeria really needs is a new constitution. The National Assembly does not have the power to write a new constitution. We can only review the document we have and that position of a new constitution can only come from the executive and its determination.
Looking at Nigeria as a whole, do we really believe in ourselves? Have we really agreed on how we want to govern ourselves? Why are we having problems now? Why do we have the issue of marginalisation always? Why is it that at all times when we have a president from a part of the country, people from that part always feel it is their time? Why is it that when they try to get their slot and they do not, they feel they have been marginalised?
We should move towards a situation that you will see yourself first as a Nigerian. We must agree and sit down to decide the way we want to be governed. The only thing is that we must have a general understanding of certain issues if we want to remain as one. Let different areas govern themselves the way they want to. You cannot come to the South-west and say that you want to bring in Sharia. Yet if you take Sharia to the North, they accept it. So, the issue is how we want to govern ourselves as a country.
Everybody is important on earth. Those that do not even have oil in their area are not really happy that Nigeria is using the money coming from the oil to develop other areas. But if we agree, you have groundnut and I have oil, let everybody go and develop their regions and say this is what they are putting into the vegetation to develop their areas and what those outside will see is a developed Nigeria and not a situation that somebody sitting in Abuja will be allocating street light for those in Lagos. It is abnormal.
We have the police that should be federalised. If you take somebody from Lagos that cannot speak Hausa and you take him to Kano, how will he be effective as a security man? He will not know the environment. He will spend the first two years trying to get the idea of the area and by the time he starts planning to get acclimatised, you transfer him to another place. So, these are the issues we must look into.
Given the current geopolitical economic alignments, like in the South-south and South-west, do you foresee a new Nigeria built on a six-zone federation?
Chances are very high especially if the next election follows the will of the people. What we have today in the South-west is as a result of the will of the people to move towards recreating things, like what we had before during the Action Group. We had everybody moving to the progressives.
If we have the next election and that election really goes by what the people desire, then we would move ahead. The South-south group is doing what they saw the South-west do, and they are improving on it fast. The North caucus has always been there, but the political will is what is lacking. In the South-west if you look at how Governor Aregbesola is trying to create a market, he does not have to go to the press to announce it. If you see what he is doing in agriculture, it is an attempt to have 57 marts in Lagos State so that people from Osun can bring their produce and to sell here. They can also buy products from Lagos and go back as well.
Now what would have made it easier is if we can have our own rail line that can move from Lagos to Aba. You do not have to go and amend the constitution for that. Lagos has light rail that would have been in existence since the time of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, but we could not do it because they refused to give us license and that we have to continue to negotiate. Lagos State would have been self-sustaining with electricity, but because of the fact that the kind of structure we have on ground does not give room for it.
Asiwaju brought about 60 to 70 megawatts into Lagos. It was connected to the national grid. Lagos did not enjoy. There was 570 megawatts in Badagry that we had to stop. We are now moving away from that period because they were trying to draw us back in Lagos State. If you go to waterworks, it is on its own. It is not on national grid, and some certain places in Lagos Island now are not on national grid. So, we are also looking at ways to avoid all these challenges that have been imposed on us by the constitution.
We would get there. It is just a matter of time. You can also see the stress through which Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is going. It is like a competition is coming up directly and indirectly. The challenge that we have presently is that the federal government which constitutes the executive is too large. It is too big. It is too powerful. It is too rich. What is the business of the federal government with over 50 items on the Exclusive List? The issue is that we do not have to start writing down what we need to do.
Since you returned to the House of Representatives, how many bills have you initiated and at what stages are they now?
Two of those bills are from the last tenure and they have to do with taxes. I have some challenges with them. In their own wisdom, my colleagues, especially those from other states, feel if sustained might be giving more advantage to Lagos. My position is that there is a lacuna in an aspect of the constitution. There are certain taxes that are collected by the federal government on behalf of the state. The federal government collects all these money and is supposed to remit to the state where the money ought to have been collected.
But we now have a situation where the federal government does not always pay those taxes back in time. So, the issue behind the bill is to now make the federal government pay the money two weeks after every quarter upon removing the five per cent for the collection fee. But the challenge we have presently with the bill is that members felt we could not be talking about more money. The bill has more challenges, and I am still trying to convince them that everybody will benefit.
What we are saying is that the federal government with all these resources cannot continue to hold on to money that doesn’t belong to it. Why stops the federal government from remitting the taxes to other federating units immediately after collection?
What of the others?
The second bill is also controversial. It has to do with a section of the constitution. It does not define the word “anything”. The bill has to do with those adverts that people put on their vehicles that when you travel to various areas, they say you have to pay tax for adverts and the rest. It was the operating system under the military that came up with this idea that they should stop taking such fees and that wherever you are registered, you are covered.
But that should have been in the constitution. But as a local government, you have rights to generate funds. In their own wisdom, those who drafted the document now put “notwithstanding anything” in the constitution that cannot stand. My position is that we have to repel this entirely and we remove notwithstanding. So, it is a technical thing that we are working on. We are really working with people to see how we can improve on it.
The third one is the review of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) where we have to remove and increase some penalties. If you say that a company that comes to Nigeria to do business and is not registered in Nigeria has contravened the Act, you are now asking the company to pay like N25 to N50. That means if a project worth is executed in Nigeria, all I need to pay is like N250. Those are the areas we are working on. The bill has just gotten to the First Reading. Hopefully very soon, we will be defending the bill.
What are some of your projects at the constituency level?
If you have to talk about our own activities in our constituency, what we have done is that we have been able to say we want to return to the community whatever God has given to us. We have organised programmes for people from 60 years and above.
We have buses that convey our children to school every morning and in the afternoon. We have our computer centre set up in the last one year. From the federal government, we have been able to bring projects like solar street light, health centres and many others.
When the Owl Hoots at Midnight...
TThe House is on recess but the echoes of the impeachment threat issued penultimate Thursday reverberated across the hallowed chamber last week.
At the beginning of the week, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi made a spirited attempt to douse the tension and build a bridge of understanding between the House and the Presidency.
Emodi cautioned against media sensationalism on the impeachment threat because of its perceived danger of overheating the polity.
Emodi told journalists that what transpired in the House of penultimate week need not become an issue as the impeachment threat was only a proposal by an individual lawmaker and not a resolution.
But the lower arm of the legislature did not yield to these entreaties. The House rose in defence of its threat to impeach President Goodluck Jonathan over disagreements on the implementation of the 2012 budget.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed did not only confirm that the impeachment threat was real, he described it as a “bold and patriotic” resolution that arose out of an extensive debate on the “ snail speed” implementation of the 2012 Appropriation Act.
He said that given the fact that all revenue generating agencies had surpassed their annual targets by the middle of the year there was no reason whatsoever for the non-release of funds budgeted for projects in various sectors of the economy.
The spokesman of the House affirmed that if by Tuesday September 18, 2012 when the House resumes from its annual recess, there was no marked improvement on budget implementation, the House would be left with no other choice than to initiate impeachment proceedings against Jonathan for gross misconduct.
But just as the public was contemplating what to believe about the whole saga, Minority Leader of the House and mover of the impeachment motion, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila raised an alarm, saying he had come under attack from a faceless group.
The unknown persons partially opened a pandora box they imported from
the State of Georgia, United States of America.
The result was a putrid odour oozing out of the ‘tokunbo’ parcel, threatening to suffocate a sterling, perfumed legal and political career.
In a paid advertisement published in several national dailies, the group allegged that Gbajabiamila was involved in a fraudulent deal while practicing as a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America. The group claimed that as a result of the said misdemeanour, the lawmaker was not only made to pay a fine of $25,000 but was suspended from practicing law in the State of Georgia. They also alleged that on return to Nigeria, the fiery legislator changed his name in order to evade the sordid trail of his sojourn in the State of Georgia.
The revelation of the unknown oracle was clear and the riddle it delivered was that the kettle cannot be calling the pot black.
Gbajabiamila saw this as more than a coincidence coming barely three days after he launched the campaign to impeach President Goodluck Jonathan over gross misconduct.
The ranking lawmaker concluded that he had come under attack as a result of his role in the impeachment plot. It was a typical case of when the owl hoots at midnight and the child dies in the morning, relatives need not conduct any autopsy before the cause of death is established.
Gbajabiamila who is also the leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Caucus in the lower chamber of the National Assembly said the attack by the faceless group was geared towards smearing his personality, reputation and political career.
But he faulted the claims of the group saying they were tissues of lies calculated at disparaging his person and discouraging him from discharging his responsibilities as a legislator and as the leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives.
Although he admitted that he was sanctioned by the Georgia Bar Disciplinary Board for professional misconduct and negligence, the sanction, according to him, was due to “an unfortunate ethical violation” that took place about 10 years ago. Gbajabiamila said that contrary to the insinuations by the group, he was neither involved in any criminal offence nor was he convicted by any court in the United States.
“The cowardly act of this group and its paymasters shows unfortunately how low and degenerate our politics has become. To the discerning, it is obvious where these attacks are coming from and inded a crying shame that an elected representative can no longer speak freely in defence of those who elected him and in the interest of the country.
“I find it rather curious that these attacks came on the heels (only 3 days) of my moving for articles of impeachment against Mr President come September 18 if the proper thing is not done and the constitution and laws of the country continue to be violated.
“At no time did I ever think taking on a powerful office would be a tea party or would not produce virulent attacks. Such would be naivete on my part. However, I am propelled by the belief that the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who say nothing when they should.
“To my traducers let me quickly and unequivocally state that i am not deterred but remain focused and even emboldened in my determination to continue to bring germane national issues to the fore and to hold the presidency and those in charge of our affairs accountable. Because I believe in accountability, I also must be accountable to the electorate,” Gbajabiamila said.
The lawmaker brandished a letter from the State Bar of Georgia stating the facts of the case and extent of the sanction.
“ It should be noted that the Supreme Court of Georgia is vested with jurisdiction over professional ethics cases. As evidenced in the attached letter, I am eligible to practise law in Georgia and remain in good standing. A convict can never be eligible to practise law in the United States,” Gbajabiamila said.
On the allegation that he changed his name to evade his past, the lawmaker said the family had always used the names Gbajabiamila and Gbaja interchangeably. He explained that he chose Gbaja while in the United States because it was a lot easier for pronunciation in a foreign country and reverted to Gbajabiamila back home because it was more desirable in politics for the purposes of name recognition.
“I must also remind Mr President that it is on record that I fought tirelessly for him to be made the Acting President in this country in the face of serious opposition and at great risk to my wellbeing. I was the first and only legislator to move a motion to that effect on the floor when it was difficult to do so. It is with that same passion that I will and must continue to push that he obeys the laws of the land,” he vowed.
As always, opinions on this controversy differ from one person to the other.
While the handlers of the President maintain that the impeachment threat is not a serious issue, those behind the threat say they mean business. In between these two extremes is the subtle attempt to make the media, the scapegoat of the saga.
Certainly, this is a dialogue that is likely to continue in the coming weeks until it is displaced by bigger issues.