Amidst the ongoing tension in the polity, the 8th Senate have already spent two years out of the four years and Nigerians are wondering if there really is any difference between the 7th and 8th Senate, in terms of the impact of its legislation on Nigerians. Senator Magnus Abe from Rivers State speaks exclusively to UCHECHUKWU UGBOAJA on the performance of the upper Legislative arm, as he looks at a wide range of issues from his late entry into the red chambers, the frosty legislature executive relationship, why agitations persists today in the form of Biafra in country, and why restructuring will best address these issues in Nigeria. Excerpts
QUESTION: Distinguish Senator can you give us your assesment of the 8th Senate in view of its score card so far, as well a your take on the impact of the Senate President’s trial in the middle of a frosty executive and legislature relationship that characterised the last two years as Nigerians kept wondering in whose interests lies all of these.
RESPONSE: We had a leadership crisis, an economic crisis and we had a period of serious crisis of confidence that challenged the leadership and the members to try to work hard and justify the relevance and importance of this institution to the Nigerian people. I think substantially the work the senate has done over that period is to lessen the imposition of people into the democratic institutions of the land so with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), including other economic bills that this Senate has passed in response to issues of public interest, and also considering the fact that criticism towards the senate has reduced as a result of the response to the various actions the senate has taken in reply to the needs of the people of this country, so I think that the challenging atmosphere must have brought the best from the legislators including most Senators. I came in late into the Senate and since I came I noticed that in terms of dedicating time to the work the is required to be done, I think the 8th Senate is doing very well.
The 7th Senate had its own advantages, there was better cohesion and better understanding between the leadership of the 7th Senate and the Executive. There are a lot of things that the 7th Senate could do informally, this 8th Senate can’t achieve it because that atmosphere is not there. In terms of support for the Excutive, I think this Senate has done very well to work in tandem with the expectations and requirements of the time, all in all I can say that Nigerians are getting a fair deal on their investment in this government.
There is no point trying to avoid the obvious fact that the relationship between the executive and the legislature haven’t had its rough moments. Of course there are certain things that are not hidden, one of which is the raids on some Senators those are already in public domain, the issue of the trial of the Senate President so definitely there have been some friction. But I think that the maturity of all the parties concerned have helped to reduce that friction because people now understand that the President’s principle is that he does not interfere with the running of any branch of government just as he refused to interfere in the affairs of the Senate which makes it possible for the leadership to emerge. It is the same way also that he refused to meddle into the workings of either the EFCC, ICPC or the Police which makes them able to carry out their mandate. So if you accept the principle when it works for you, then you should be prepared to accept when it begins to work against you. I think everybody just realised that and people started concentrating on doing their own jobs. So now the law has taken its course and the courts has given its verdict. For me, I think the president in a way can be said to have elevated the quality of governance by the actions that he has taken so far. I think a lot of people are learning to live with it and they are working in terms of the new adherence to the rule of law and them the independence of every institution to carry out its mandate. So when EFCC sees something wrong that you are doing no matter who you are and decides to go after you, the president will not call them to say, no don’t touch this person or don’t touch that person, so people now understand that he is not the type of president is going after people or not going after people, people are doing their jobs and the President is doing his too. That is the new principle the president wants to introduce to governance which is how democracies work all over the world. So for us it is a new kind of medicine and so swallowing it has its own kind of challenges, but everyone is living with it and it is picking up quite well. So I think those challenges have made most institutions work quite harder and better to the benefit of most Nigerians. I am glad that the court have struck out the charges against the Senate President, so now that the law has taken its course things are back on track.
When the CCT began the case against the Senate President some people were happy while others were angry, and today the same CCT has turned around and looked at the charges and say that there is no merit in them thereby discharging and aquitting the Senate President we still have mixed reactions but what is important to note is that the constitutional power to deal with that matter resides solely on the CCT and that is what they have decided. So if as a Nigerian and we all understand that there is a constitution that we have to live by, this is what it has produced. So you cannot produce an outcome different from what the laws have in them. If the people whom the constitution have given the powers to look into the matter have come up with a discharge and acquittal outcome for the Senate President so if anyone have a different opinion that is their own choice, but as far as the laws of the federal republic of Nigeria is concerned that is the position.
So there will be those who would be happy with it and those who will be unhappy with it, but to me the real victory goes to Nigeria because he is the president of the Senate and he has been subjected to the laws of the land and that he is the president of the Senate does not mean that he must be convicted, just like you and I he appears in court and takes his chances 50/50 as every normal citizen.
The underlying point like I stated earlier is the principle of the president to allowing the various institutions independence to function that is why today we have a PDP Deputy Senate President and the President is living with it. Nigerians who believe in Buhari should believe in the process that he has put in place.
QUESTION: Sen. Abe you came in late into the 8th Senate as a result of the electoral crisis in Rivers (Sen. Abe cuts in “war in Rivers”), did your constituents miss anything while you were away?
RESPONSE: They missed a lot, there is no gains axing the fact that the people of Rivers missed a lot. A lot went on here where we couldn’t participate in, and since we weren’t part of the entire process and structure of the Senate we missed out on that as a lot of bills have been passed issues considered and other constituents got things that my constituents couldn’t get as a result of my absence from the Senate. So that is why the constitution says that everybody should have this quality of representation, so for the period that Rivers State was not represented all Rivers people missed it and everybody lost that opportunity. What I will also add is that we must operate our laws in such a way that they don’t become the problem instead of being part of the solution, especially when you consider that fact that nothing in our constitution or our electoral laws envisages a situation where a part of this country will not be represented in the legislature. But in operating the law we ended up with with a lacuna that up till now there is a constituency that doesn’t have a representative in the Senate and it doesn’t even look like they will have any because nobody is saying anything about it anymore, and it is wrong for us to get to that point. Our people did loose hundreds of days during our absence at the Senate because what has been lost has been lost since you cannot make up for the fact that there was no representation for a very long and critical time and that wasn’t fair to our people.
QUESTION: The polity today is heated with issues pertaining to agitations by groups from the South-east of the country which consequently led to responses in form of hate speeches from some Northern youths. Do you see a stop to this negative trend?
RESPONSE: I think the point is obvious that in this country there is some kind of unwritten understanding that until you become impossible then violent and you begin to bomb and fight nobody listens to you. For instance, everybody was here in Nigeria when the Yorubas were crying marginalisation and Oduaa People’s Congress was formed as they went around terrorising people in the South-west and at the end of the day they produced a President and in the end all of that died out. The Niger-delta started the same thing after they realised that all these years you have been taking their oil and not giving them anything back even while the people kept wallowing in poverty, so as soon as militants started bombing and kidnapping we subsequently produced Vice President and there is NDDC, Ministry of Nigeria Delta and others. We were still here in this same country where people talked about the economic poverty in the North-east and it went on and on at the end of the day boko-haram started where everybody is bombing shooting, killing, kidnapping and beheading now we have North-east Development Commission and everything today is going to the North-east in response a situation but I don’t think we should run the country that way. Now the Igbo’s have been talking and shouting marginalisation and political oppression and apparent exclusion from the Nigerian political equation and nobody is listening to them but now there is an IPOB so because they believe that is the only way to get political attention. All I am saying is that we must create a society when people have a genuine case, we have a system that dissects there matter listens to them explains things to them because you don’t have to wait until the whole thing becomes impossible to manage and everybody is fighting and killing and all that before we begin to look into whether what they are saying has merit or not. Like I will give you an example of my people the Ogoni people a small people we have been talking about political marginalisation, environmental degradation we have been on and on about all these things and finally today we are talking about the clean up of Ogoni land but these issues if they are seriously and systematically addressed people won’t have to be violent. So to give the impression that in a country that is supposed to be plural democracy, people still have to always become lawless and violent before they receive attention, my brother I don’t think that is the way to go. We must develop a system that is able address the genuine concerns of people anytime they arise and not until they are accumulated.
QUESTION: The 8th Senate have dared to thred a path the 7th Senate failed to walk with its demand for the report of the 2014 CONFAB from the Presidency. Why should Nigerians seperate this action from another ‘populist agenda’ so to speak, considering the wave of criticisms the national assembly has suffered from the public over its lack of fiscal transparency and also not forgetting 2019 is almost in sight. What actually can we say is the larger goal of the Senate here, will it be to douse the tension across the country Or to calm political nerves? How altruistic is the Senate’s decision to call for a document they vehemently rejected just about 2years ago?
RESPONSE: Well I think Nigerians have a right to think what they like about any decision any arm of government has taken, it doesn’t change the fact of the decision taken. The people there are Nigerians, they are here and we are working for Nigerians. So if they take a decision why should anybody think that such a decision will be anything less than what will be in the interest of the country.
It was a matter that was put to vote and clearly those who wanted the report brought forward and considered had the majority. To me we really can’t stop talking in this country because there are always issues. In a federation like we have we should always be in a state of constant review and upgrading of whatever we are doing to see if there are ways we can do it better. So if you also consider the amount of money invested in the conference and th whole thing that was done, nobody is actually saying that we should take everything in the document, so since the ultimate destination they had was the national assembly even though I was at the national assembly at the 7th assembly and I know I did not support setting up of the national conference I thought it was a waste of money and a duplication of job of the national assembly but nonetheless very eminent Nigerians spent sleepless nights and months of billions of naira belonging to the country putting putting a document together, so if for nothing else out for the respect for the work that these Nigerians did and the money spent we should at least look to it to see if there is anything useful that can be taken out of it. Nobody is saying that we should take everything or go and do what the conference said. However it is a sizeable piece of knowledge that eminent Nigerians have put together for us to consider better ways of coexisting with one another and they put in a lot of work, I think we should look at it.
QUESTION: Distinguish in the light of this do you then support the reverberating calls for restructuring across the country?
RESPONSE: I think that restructuring is inevitable it is not matter of whether I support it or not. We all want a better country, because the present structure that we are operating have been used and exhausted for over 50years now so we need to ask ourselves is the country better now that it was 50 years down the road or could it looking ahead if we continue the way we are going now. So if we look at those issues we would be able to make up our minds whether we need to restructure or not. But clearly in terms of productivity, wealth increase, increase in the opportunities available to the people to achieve their own dreams and also increasing the capacity of our people to compete internationally, I don’t think there are many Nigerians who are satisfied with where we are at present. So if the structure is part of why we are not where we are supposed to be, why should we shy away from looking at it. If there are suggestions that can make us function better, because what everybody wants is a more efficient, more productive, more result driven, more just and a fairer society that gives all equal opportunity. I am not one of those Nigerians that believe in checking in things against ethnic or political sentiments but I believe that we should have a system that gives everyone man woman and child equal opportunity to bring out its own best. So if the structure is one of the things we must look at we should not shy away from looking at it including any other thing that can help make Nigeria a better country.
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