Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions, Linus Okorie, argues that it is unconstitutional for local governments run by caretaker committees to benefit from federal allocations. â€ŽHe spoke to Benjamin Nworie who now presents the excerpts:
What inspired you to sponsor a bill to grant amnesty for treasury looters?
The Nigerian economy is in its first recession in more than 20 years â€Žwith activity across all sectors slowing and unemployment rising.
It means that the Federal Government â€Ž needs innovative sources of financing to resuscitate the â€Žeconomy. With some of the policies not yielding the desired results, government â€Žfaces a dilemma; whether to accept the return of â€Ževen a small part of stolen assets in return for reduction in scope or fâ€Žull cessation of criminal prosecution, or faces the almost certain â€Žprospect of getting nothing at all.
This situation can be so intractable that many African governments that faced similar challenges â€Ž ended up leaving office without any sâ€Žatisfactory resolution of these cases.
â€ŽWith the poverty rate higher than 70 per cent, the seriousness of the problem
cannot be overstated. Most Nigerians living above the poverty line sâ€Žtill have only limited access to education, health facilities, water
and sanitation as well as basic services. Nigeria also has very sâ€Žerious infrastructure financing challenges which need to be overcomeâ€Ž if economic recovery is to be attained and growth sustained.
In full appreciation of the challenges inherent in legal repatriation,
arising even in the rare event that the prosecutorial approach against
those suspected of economic crimes has been successful, and
recognising the enormous potential of Nigeria to finance more of its
own development with funds generated internally, the Economic Amnesty
Bill is therefore a launchpad for alternative policy direction and â€Žmechanism for enhancing the ability of quick recovery of hidden funds. â€ŽEndless litigation should be balanced against the nâ€Žneeds to raise funds to tackle poverty and plug the iâ€Žinfrastructure gap.
Consequently, owing to the above imperatives, Nigeria urgently â€Žrequires a more effective means of securing the return of stolen loots to Nigeria to be invested in development.
This â€Žmechanism must have the legal, economic, political, social, and moral legitimacy to deliver for the most disadvantaged Nigerians.â€Ž
The Economic Amnesty Bill is, in my considered opinion, that win-win mechanism to actualise this new paradigm.
Instructively, it was most encouraging to learn from the papers, a few â€Ždays back, of the planned implementation of a tax amnesty by the â€ŽFederal Government; barely two weeks after the first reading of myâ€Ž
bâ€Žill in the House of Representatives.
Attributed to theâ€Ž Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, the tax amnesty is expected to commence from July 1, 2017 to December 30, 2017 and is estimated to generate over $1 billion dollars while raising the countryâ€™s tax base.
As encouraging as the programme appears, it falls far short of expectation because it addresses only a part of the area covered by the Economic Amnesty Bill.
Moreover, the scheme, as announced, would face legalâ€Žchallenges in granting â€œprosecutorial amnestyâ€ to people without first putting in place a legislative framework. That â€Žframework is the Economic Amnesty Bill. â€ŽMy appeal, therefore, is that the Federal Government should demonstrate the requisite political will by supporting the bill. I also wish to appeal to the House of Representatives to grant the billâ€Ž accelerated passage.
Your assessment of Governor David Nweze Umahiâ€™s two years in office?â€Ž
His performance has been superlative. â€ŽThe governor has so performed that even â€Žthose who believed and wished him bad now come out to confess â€Žopenly that he had indeed performed creditably well.â€Ž
He has so performed that those who support him and work with him are â€Žso proud of him. He had removed the divisions among the people of Ebonyi.â€Ž
Umahi has so transformed Abakaliki now to urban city that we are â€Žnow very proud to bring anybody in any part of â€ŽNigeria to come and visit Ebonyi State. He is now building concrete â€Žroads all over the city and also in local government areas across the state.â€Ž
Today, security is assured in Ebonyi and the greatest of it all is the pâ€Žeace and unity he has engendered all over especially in the Ezza/Ezillo â€Žaxis. He has touched every local government area with one project or the other.â€Žâ€Ž The governor’s two years in office has been excellent.
Is the continuous registration of political parties healthy for our democracy?
Yes it is. Sometime in Nigeria, we had Radio Nigeria as the only radio station that was available. Should we have said that Radio Nigeria was so good and that we didnâ€™t want another station to come up?
The foundation of our democracy is freedom, freedom of association and that is exactly what is going on. If you refuse to register any group that has met such conditions of the constitution and by INEC, that would be undemocratic. I mustnâ€™t be in a big party; I can choose to pursue only a cause such as environmental, human rights or human rights. So, I think it is the best thing that is helping our democracy; that people can freely enter and exit political parties and can come together anytime when they feel compelled especially when the party they are, is not serving the vision they have, to form a new association and apply to INEC for registration. There is nothing that says every party should win elections. It may just be an advocate of issues, that maybe the objective. If you convince the electorates you can win election. Look at the case of Donald Trump who was rejected by his own party but elected based on his ideas. So I am of the opinion that in Nigeria, we should champion that freedom and allow people the opportunity.
Do you think it is right for local government administrations that are not democratically elected to continue receiving federal allocations?
Section 7 of the constitution guarantees democratic governance at all levels, especially at the local government level. The present national Assembly is always very sensitive to the fact that until we have democratic governance at all levels we cannot be said to be practising a federal system.The Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon Yakubu Dogara, had said it in many fora that these allocations should not continue to go to local governments that are not democratically administered. However, until an amendment of the constitution is made to remove the Joint Local Government Account, this anomaly will continue to exist. Yes, the National Assembly strongly believes that it is an aberration to allow a caretaker system in a democratic system, itâ€™s unconstitutional and the implication of an unconstitutional act is that sanction should come; that sanction is that local government areas run by caretakers should not benefit from constitutional allocation of funds.
The National Assembly alone cannot just do it, first you have to make amendments, it has to be agreed to by two-third of the states. More importantly, it must be the majority decision of Nigerians because laws are made for the people. So I think it is not a matter for lawmakers alone, it is more of a matter for the society. We have to determine what we really want. The National Assembly will only respond to the stimulus they get from the public.
Do you agree that the 2014 National Conference report should be presented to the National Assembly for deliberations?
In 2015, I approached the secretariat of the defunct National Conference Committee, I wanted to get the conference’s report to enable me sponsor it as a private member bill because I wanted the report implemented. I feel very strongly that irrespective of our differences, that conference remains the best to help build a contemporary Nigeria.
It addressed the issues affecting us today. Such as ethnicity insecurity and much more important – restructuring. There is need to restructure Nigeria and you canâ€™t run away from it. The story of Boko Haram, whether we accept it or not, the religious undertone, the issue of IPOB, MASSOB and agitation for secession, all point to the need to address alleged feelings of marginalisation.
The Issue of militancy in the South-south is fuelled by the feeling that the resources the people believe belonged to them are being taken away and expended in far away areas while they are neglected. The South-west also believes it is not getting enough from the present arrangement. The same applies to the middle belt.Therefore we need to address the fundamental issue of restructuring in a way that Nigerians can feel comfortable to address their fears and accept that other parts of the country mean well for them. The 2014 conference report still remains the best option for addressing the issues. In any case, if it is sent to the National Assembly, Nigerians, who did not participate in the conference, will get the opportunity to air their views.