‘In Parliament, the Laws Don’t Have Party Colours’

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Umaru Bago

Kingsley Nwezeh dialogues with Honourable Mohammed Umaru Bago, representing Chanchaga Federal Constituency of Niger State in the House of Representatives. Bago who is 45 years, was first elected in 2011 on the platform of the CPC before the party merged with the All Progressives Congress. He is passionate in his campaign to have the North-central geo-political zone produce the next Speaker

What qualifies you for the office of Speaker that you seek?

My name is Mohammed Umaru Bago. I am a member representing Chanchaga Federal Constituency of Niger State. I have been in the Assembly since 2011. I am presently the Chairman Committee on Maritime Safety and Institution. I was elected on the platform of CPC in 2011 before it merged with APC. In Niger State, we have delivered APC all the way.

I did my primary school in Minna and Jos, went to Othman Danfodio University, Sokoto. I did my masters in University of Calabar and another masters in Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma while I was working in a bank. I did a senior executive management course at University of Cambridge. I am experienced in banking and politics. In my first degree, I read Political Science and Administration. I have contributed to the passage of a number of bills and motions and contributed a lot to the growth of the legislature.

You are taking a shot at the speakership of the House of Representatives, what are you bringing to the table?

The parliament itself is an arm of government that is supposed to be independent and inter-dependent and the principle of separation of power has made it clear the kind of democracy that we are practicing such that we have three arms of government- the executive, an independent legislature, and the judiciary for checks and balances.

There is independence and inter-dependence because we must relate, but in our nascent democracy, because of the long role of the military, we have ceded so much power to the executive; so much that people think the executive is government. In other climes, you understand that the legislature actually is the pillar of democracy. The different thing we intend to bring to the table is one, the independence of the legislature. We will ensure the welfare of legislators are taken very serious. We will make sure that the instrument of the legislature: oversight and appropriation are carried out efficiently and constitutionally.

We have seen that legislature in Nigeria is an appendage of the executive. That is why they even delve into what happens in the legislature, which is wrong.  The difference between any democracy and authoritarian regime is that you have the judiciary and the legislature. The absence of the legislature is what makes the government democratic or not.

Secondly, we need to review our constitution. There are a lot of things in the constitution that are obsolete; that are not helping the growth of democracy. We must take that seriously and make sure we amend them, as soon as possible. For instance, this electoral act amendment, you cannot expect to have a perfect election when your laws are flawed. There are a lot of lacuna, people stay in that gap and perpetuate crime. These issues must be looked into very well

Thirdly, as a federation, we need to understand that there are other component units of this federation, therefore we must balance power. We will make sure we balance power across all the geo-political zones in a harmonious way.

For instance, look at the issue of revenue allocation, state creation and local government autonomy among others. All those things have been in the front burner but the system has not been able to let it happen because we have not had a very strong constitution. We have had very good leadership in the past, but you know the interference of some people from other areas into legislative activities have hindered that. We will make sure we look into those areas and realise them.

Your party chairman said that the Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila are the ones the party has adopted for Senate Presidency and Speakership positions. What is your take on that? 

As far as I am concerned, I have heard of Senator Lawan. That of Gbajabiamila has not been announced. By and large, I am from the North-central. We have contributed very well to the success of the APC. If North-central was not part of APC, the victory of APC would not have been complete. As a zone, we frown at the statement of the Chairman and we are saying that we cannot be alienated in this nation. We should be given opportunity like any other region and to produce within ourselves the leadership of the House of Representatives.

It is even wrong to anoint a person. I expect the party to zone it. Then you leave it for people within the zone to decide instead of saying this is our anointed. The same crisis we had in 2015 is what is looming; so we have to be very careful. My advice for my party APC is that it should consult very well.

When he was welcoming new elected members, the Chairman said the party will consult widely even with the President and bring out a zoning formula that is in tandem with both the party constitution and the Nigerian constitution. If the Chairman is saying something else, then they are contradicting the constitution of the party and that of the country.

You are a member of the 8th Assembly and the Electoral Act was amended before the election and the president withheld approval. If you are elected speaker, what are you going to do?

We start the process early. The response from the presidency was that the timing was so short. It was too close for comfort. INEC had already done 80 percent preparation for an election and you are bringing an election that will make those things obsolete after you have invested national resources. The only thing we can do differently is to start everything early. You don’t wait for election. You don’t wait when it is one month to election or six months to election. Start early. When I am elected, we will start early. I know we will get it right.

Again, you must fashion your electoral body towards a particular civilisation. Ours is in confusion. Our Independent National Electoral Commission has taken multiple models and now wants to make it one and it is bringing confusion. If you want to go the way of ballot paper, you go the way of ballot paper, if you want to go electronic, face that system. You vote and it prints out the ballot paper for you as proof or a kind of receipt. You take your print-out home, they don’t provide ballot paper.

On the screen, you see all the parties, you vote your party.  It is recorded online and it gives you evidence of voting. The agent of your party can take that receipt or print out so the aggregate of that is for you to check through the system to see whether the information is accurate or not or whether you are rigged or not. We need to understand exactly what we want. If we want to do electronic voting, then we go the whole distance.

You also made mention of a lacuna in the Act and that politicians are exploiting those loopholes.   Can you be specific on that?

What is inconclusive election? Where are we getting it from? What the Constitution is saying about inconclusive election is not the application as we have used it this time around. However, it turns, it is something that is new. It is not in the electoral act. I am not a lawyer, but as a legislator, I have read through the electoral act and I have been part of the process that amended the electoral act so that portion does not exist.

You know that the House is not made up of only APC, how do you hope to reach out to other parties in your bid to become the next speaker?

You now bring me to this question of the sensitivity in the speech of the party chairman (Oshiomhole). For you to say winner takes all when you have the opposition, about 20 to 30 in the house, you can say that but when you have about 150 members in the House, you cannot tell them on national television that you are not giving them committees. It is wrong. You cannot be attacking opposition when you want to have harmony, after all if they had won the election, they will not think in that manner.

To make the legislature work, there must be harmony. There is no partisan line within the parliament, only outside. The laws don’t have party colours. Nigeria does not have party colours, it is only for election.

For other parties, you know, we have been in the system for a while so we have established relations across party lines, committees are set up with members across party line, we don’t have any baggage. We are very fresh and new. We have not been indicted. We are clean, we have good relationship with the parties, we are friends and we still maintain good relationships with them. We make sure that we extend hand of friendship to them.

Give me the opportunity and they will be given full participation in the parliament, we will give them committees so that we can get maximum cooperation in making laws for Nigeria.

We have the ongoing war against insurgency and other crimes. As speaker, how are you going to tackle them? What is the way forward?

It is called impunity at the micro level. It is easier to deal with other things at the macro level. Impunity is the mother of all these vices. When people are arm-twisted and things taken away from them, it is not everybody that can manage it. Be that as it may, as the Speaker, we will initiate a policy and plan for the executive that will be backed by law to deal with some of these issues.

You cannot have an armed forces with a three digit arms and think you can combat crime. You have unemployment that is ravaging this country and you have youths that are capable and are interested in entering the forces. You must employ them, you must have a minimum of one million per state. To enter both police, army and paramilitary.

When you have a robust military and security, then you can combat crime.

At 45, what will you do to improve the lot of the youths?