Former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani, was recently in Calabar, Cross River State. He granted an interview to select journalists and spoke on topical national issues. Bassey Inyang presents the excerpts:
What’s your take on the budget controversy?
All I can say, particularly in the area of budget is that budget is an example of where the legislature and the executive are involved in what is called co-management of the economy. That is a basic example – co-management. And that is, it typifies a good example of collaboration between the legislature and the executive branches of government. It often comes with an estimate; and it is one of the functions of the National Assembly to appropriate for the executive. And as the name implies, it is the executive that executes the projects.
The role of the National Assembly – one of their important core functions is to appropriate funds for the executive branch, which gives them the added responsibility of oversight because since they know what they have appropriated, it behooves them to also follow through to ensure that projects are executed by the executive branch according to the Appropriation Act. And you know once the appropriation bill is signed, it becomes law. It is an Act, it is law. So, that relationship, mark you, is for one government – the legislature, the executive and of course the judiciary.
But, in this particular instance, it is the purest example of co-management of the economy. The executive doesn’t do it alone; the National Assembly doesn’t do it alone either. That is why I use the word collaboration. During our time, we ensured that the budgets were signed before Christmas for two years. That was during (President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s time. Budgets were signed before we went on Christmas holidays because we understood that principle clearly. It is not purely the responsibility of the executive to just turn in an estimate and then it becomes a bill. The National Assembly will now play a role, given their knowledge and their constituents.
So, it is a place where they collaborate. The executive and the legislature collaborate to co-manage the economy. The buck, however, stops on the desk of the president, according to our constitution, and as it is practiced elsewhere; it is a very good example of that collaborative effort.
What are those common issues that bring conflicts between the executive and the legislature in the budget process?
You see, if members of the National Assembly get involved in executing projects themselves, it will create problems because they are not in a position to execute projects. It is left for the executive branch. Even from the definition ordinarily, executive executes projects. It is not for the National Assembly because if indeed, you appropriate funds and then you turn around to execute, the purpose of over-sighting is defeated. If the legislators are now doing the execution of projects, it brings about confusion when you talk about constituency projects.
You might help to site a project in your constituency, but you may be lucky, if you know the contractor. You may not necessarily know the person doing the contract. So, at times, I wonder when I see senators, members of the House, who are donating bicycles, vehicles and all these things, saying they are projects. I say ah, things have changed because I don’t know if they have their own personal budget on that. I don’t think it is the role of the legislator to execute budgets.
Does it mean that the impression held by some Nigerians that lawmakers execute constituency project is wrong?
If lawmakers are involved in the execution of constituency projects, in my view, it is wrong. They are not supposed to do that. It is for the executive to do that. You cannot be competing with your governor in the state on building of roads. That is not your role. Where did you get the budget to do that? Are you the executive? You are a legislator; you have a limited income. You are there to make laws and carry out oversight functions – screening of ministers and other things. There are basic roles defined in the constitution. For somebody to say that he is building this, executing that, as what, from where is that money coming from?
Given the fact that this is the first budget from President Buhari’s regime to the National Assembly, but enveloped in so much controversy, do you see it as a learning process that the executive and the National Assembly will improve on in future?
Well, I don’t know what is there to be learnt because there are legislators there, who have served for several terms, and there are some members of the executive branch, who should have known what budgeting is all about. The situation is very unfortunate. Very soon, we will be clocking one year. By May 29, they would have served one year; and you know that the greatest enemy of somebody in office is time. Why? Whether you are performing or you are not performing, the clock is counting down the seconds.
So, that is their biggest enemy. Before you know it, they would say you are handing over tomorrow and then you start rushing. The enemy of anybody in office is time. I think the issue of budget is very unfortunate. If it can be used as a learning curve; fine. But it will be a very expensive one and very confusing. From day one, I read when they were saying the budget is missing, after that they said there are figures that came from nowhere and all kinds of excuses. And you wonder who is in charge? It looks like everybody is in charge, and therefore nobody is in charge. I am sure they will not allow such things to happen again.
It is the same thing that happened I think is it June 9, when they were supposed to proclaim the National Assembly. That proclamation day became a day APC went to a particular meeting instead of going to receive their trophy. Their trophy is that senate presidency. They didn’t go to receive it, they went to hold another meeting and before they realised it, another member had emerged. They are still paying for it until now. I hope they don’t continue in that fashion because many Nigerians are expecting a lot from APC.
Some Nigerians believe strongly that the problems militating against the rapid development of Nigeria in the last 16 years are the lawmakers and not the executive. What do you have to say?
To heap the entire blame on the lawmakers in the last 16 years will be wrong because not that Nigeria is short of good laws; there are quite a number of these. You should have been asking how about the political will to get the laws actually applied efficiently and effectively. That should have been the case. The executive may have some blame; the legislators the same thing. But to say it is from the legislator alone is not possible because so many of the laws they make have to be executed. Who does the execution? The executive branch does the execution by virtue of their position. So, it is not entirely correct to say that in the last 16 years because of the lethargy or shortcomings in the legislative arm things have not moved as fast as they should have moved.
I think everybody, every Nigerian including yourself and my humble self would have blame because no matter how well the law is crafted, it depends on the implementation and the political will to implement. That will to implement lies more in the executive branch; the political will to ensure that it is enforced. The legislators are not to blame because the work of the legislators is to make laws and perform their oversight functions.
Do you think Nigeria should still continue with the presidential system of government given the cost of running it?
To a very large extent, I agree that the presidential system is quite expensive. It is costly, but it becomes more costly, if we remember what is called Braille arithmetic; part A bring water, and part B drains it. The one that drains it is the corruption aspect. It adds nothing to the system. The level of corruption adds to the expensive nature of corruption. Remember there was a time Nigeria was ranked as the most corrupt nation in the world. I don’t know where we stand now; I have not looked at the statistics.
But it is my view that if we can cut down on our propensity to short-circuit things, it may not be as expensive as it is. There are lots of wastages. We waste a lot, and we live above our means in many respects. That has nothing to do with the presidential system. But it is very expensive. There is no question about that. But I think it is better for us because what is democracy actually? Democracy, in my view, in a contemporary language, is a government chosen by the people. It is the simplest way of defining it. Government chosen by the people – you and I – we participate through the ballot box. You have a say, I have a say.
What do you have to say to about the recent reports that former National Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, and other bigwigs of the party in your state have defected to the APC. Don’t you think the country is moving towards one dominant party system?
In Nigeria, there is freedom of association. Have we withdrawn that? It is still part of our constitution, am I correct? Even husband and wife, if they go to court and say they don’t want to marry again, is the court going to tell them you must go and marry? Your question is: are we not tilting to one party system again because it doesn’t make for competitive democratic practice? That is what you are asking. No. There will always be defection until such a time we start playing politics of ideology. Almost all the parties are the same anyway you look at it. The party is just a platform.
Nigeria’s political parties are like a supermarket. You go there and buy what you want to buy and after buying you go home. That is what they are. The political party is a market square. You go there, shop around and shop around. There is no particular thing that differentiates one from another. It is a platform that enables you to attain a particular office. But, we are maturing, we are growing politically, there is no question about that. Nigeria is not doing so badly.
You are particular about my state. I am from Enugu; I didn’t see what you read. Even the former governor of the state, Jim Nwobodo, so many big guys are leaving the party and joining APC.
It was also reported once that you were about to pitch tent with the APC, is there a fact in that?
Which Party? No paper reported that. You are the one reporting that. I can tell you what the paper reported. What the papers reported is that I exited from PDP, but I remain politically engaged. I am bye-partisan now, maybe sometime, I will become partisan again. I am watching events.
One of the reasons these defectors to the APC in your state gave was that they want the South-east to get their fair share of the “national cake”. Do you side with their reason?
I am not disagreeing, but I am not agreeing entirely because you see, the reason people join one political party or the other, at times, is personal; the intricate value the individual finds in it, either you have so many of your friends; peer pressure could be the reason, and thinking about your zone, what you hope to get could be another reason. It is fine if that is the reason. I am only afraid that the distribution of amenities, in many cases, is not a function of where you come from. It depends on the level you are operating.
I am of the view that if a party is strong in a particular zone, they may be lucky to get what they want in terms of national cake. I can tell you that certain zones that produced the president in the past; I am not too sure they are better than those that did not produce in terms of the amenities gotten by the president’s zone.
It is a paradox. That a zone that produces the president does not necessarily guarantee the zone will get more amenities than those that didn’t produce. A recent example can convince you. I don’t think that should be a yardstick to defect. For those who see that as their reason; I have not read it. Some of them are my friends; I have not talked with them. Every person is making his decision. But I know that at a certain point, we will all come together because politics is a game you cannot play alone. You need others. My view is that Nigeria is maturing in the way we are playing politics.
Some people who have not served themselves are giving the impression that they are joining politics in order to serve people. I don’t believe them. They have not served themselves, and now they want to give the impression that they are serving the public. Do you believe such people? And they are so many in Nigerian politics. There are those who are professional politicians; who are desperate. They do desperate things because they are desperate individuals. They have no second address.
How do you see the anti-corruption crusade of President Buhari’s administration?
I am glad you have asked this question. I am very happy with their approach, except that they have not given example. I don’t like to hear about war that has no casualties. It is no war. You know Iraq, when it was raging you know how many thousands of people that died? It was real war. I thought that by now, we should have had at least two or three heavy weights wearing white and white in Kirikiri Prison as examples. Take the major key guys that their cases are easy to prove, even if it means trying them daily.
And after they are found guilty, you take them straight to jail and seize everything they have acquired illegally. The idea of arraignment; we are going to arraign today, we are going to arraign tomorrow is becoming a joke. By now there should be examples. I don’t know many people will think that I am going crazy if I say that any person arrested, maybe, can be deemed to be guilty until he proves himself innocent. With that so many people will go to jail.
Now all you need to say is I am not guilty, you go and bring all the Senior Advocates and line them up, and there will be adjournment, adjournment, upon adjournments. They are fighting, but we need to see some examples set. Corruption is too much. It is embarrassing. The way we are conducting our bazaar is disgraceful. When you go outside and they hear Nigeria, they look at you again. We treat our treasury anyhow. Yes, I support the fight against corruption, but there has been no serious examples – serious ones – battles without casualties. What we keep hearing is arraign, arraign, arraign. We need to see convicted, convicted, and convicted.
Don’t you think it is because the president is acting democratic?
The challenge is now with the judiciary. They must not allow people to dribble them and weaken that institution. There are too many adjustments. Interlocutory injunctions keep coming even when you are sure somebody has done something wrong. Tomorrow, even those in handcuffs and everything will find a way and wriggle out and pleading innocence until you prove that they are guilty. Maybe, it should be the other way round.
Does it mean that, perhaps, the arraignments without convictions justify what former President Olusegun Obasanjo said recently, that the EFCC is now a toothless bulldog compared to when he was in charge of the country?
I think EFCC appears to be overwhelmed. There are too many arraignment, arraignment, and arraignment. The arraignment is too plenty. I don’t know if they have enough lawyers to prosecute all the cases. I am worried about that because they are doing a good job, but they need to get some convictions so that people will know that they are serious.
The EFCC should set example so that people will know that they are not joking. They have to do their research or investigation thoroughly. They shouldn’t create loopholes for all these people. They have the money to buy Senior Advocates. Some will come with 50, 60 and it is only one that will talk at a time. Why did you carry them, it is a waste of money. It is a show of money for nothing. Don’t you think so? EFCC is not different from Nigeria itself. They are Nigerians.
They are fighting, but we need to see some examples set. Corruption is too much. It is embarrassing. The way we are conducting our bazaar is disgraceful. When you go outside and they hear Nigeria, they look at you again. We treat our treasury anyhow. Yes, I support the fight against corruption, but there has been no serious examples – serious ones – battles without casualties. What we keep hearing is arraign, arraign, arraign. We need to see convicted, convicted, and convicted.