Mallam Ali Wakili is the new Senator representing Bauchi South Constituency at the National Assembly (NASS). Ali Wakili who defeated former governor, Isa Yuguda, at the just concluded election, speaks with Journalists in Bauchi, including PATIENCE OGBODO-IWUAGWU on the issue of zoning in APC, cut in salaries and allowances of legislatures, among others. Excerpts…
The national leader of APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, said there is no zoning in APC and this has drawn a lot of public comments; how true is Tinubu’s remark?
Whatever we are going to do, we have to resort to the constitution. The constitution didn’t have anything called zoning, but it has what it calls equal representation. If you look at Chapter 2 it states that all the federating units of the Nigerian state must be given a sense of belonging. If we have to live together in view of our diversity and if we have to convey this unity that all of us are preaching, we should find a way of ensuring that each and every federating unit in the Nigerian state is given a sense of belonging. I cannot speak for Tinubu. I was not there and I didn’t know what he said. I did not read it, so I do not want to comment on what I am not sure of. But I know that the Nigerian constitution is very explicit that each and every part of the federating states must be given a sense of belonging and if you want to do that, maybe I have to substitute my interest maybe for you from Anambra or Enugu to take precedence or for you to substitute your interest for me, who is from Bauchi, to take precedence.
There has been a controversy on the zoning of the senate presidency, some of the APC senators are supporting Lawan while others are with Saraki. Who are you with?
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very explicit on the inauguration of the Senate: the Senators will elect the presiding officers from among themselves. That is purely an internal affair of the Senators. But, you know, we all belong to a party and we all believe in party supremacy; where the party has a guideline we are bound to abide by it as long as it does not contradict the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There is no issue of dilly-dally on the issue of those aspiring to be President of the eighth Senate. In the past two days, you must have seen the Unity Group who are rooting for Senators Lawan and Akume. You must have also seen another group of us called the Like-Minds rooting for Senator Bukola Saraki. It is in the public domain, there have been so many write ups in the last few days. I am with the Like-Minds routing for Bukola Saraki because we need somebody that is simple, somebody that works with the executive, somebody who cannot be an errand boy to anybody, somebody that is at least self-independent and can steer the ship of the Senate in making laws for the stability of Nigeria.
Don’t you think that the factions in APC will give the PDP Senators an edge over APC?
Universally, there has never been a situation where the minority produces the presiding officers. All this is a deepening of democracy that is bringing all the issue of Lawan or Saraki. Before the inauguration of the Senate, we shall find a means of presenting a consensus candidate that will be acceptable to all of us and to Nigerians, and there will be no problem.
There is controversy in the North-East as some clamour for the Senate Presidency while others want the Speaker of the House of Representatives. What is your take on this?
We from the North-East, the most devastated part of Nigeria, we are the most ravaged by poverty, by this insurgency. And even if you look at the fact that we have the greatest potential in Nigeria in terms of our population, in terms of the abundant unexploited mineral resources, hydro-carbon oil, agricultural potential and the large land mass. If the Speaker or Deputy Speaker, if the Senate President or Deputy Senate President comes to the North-East, I don’t think it is too big for us. After all, if you look at it, despite our problems, we are the ones that gave the second highest number of votes to the president-elect, we from the North-East. If you look at it, here in Bauchi, we have the governor, we have all the three senators, we have all 12 National Assembly (House of Representatives) members which those states did not produce. I don’t want to go into comparison which will generate controversy, but if you look at those states, you will discover that if we have the speaker and the senate president it is not a big deal to us, they have not done anything to compensate us. We are very resilient; we have problems. Despite that we are not in government, we produced all those votes. We should be compensated. Our people deserve all those things should it come to the North-East.
What will be your priority as a Senator, especially for your constituency and would you support the reduction or cutting of Senators’ salaries and allowances in order to bring the country back to a sound footing?
Nigerians, we are always engaged in controversies. The issues of salaries and allowances I don’t want to delve into it but all of us have to make sacrifices. But suffice to say that what is on the ground might not be what those of us from outside are thinking of. The billions appropriated to the National Assembly, it is not appropriated only to the members of the National Assembly. The National Assembly is an institution in itself. It is the third arm of the government. You have the legislators themselves, you have the National Assembly as an institution, you have the staff of the National Assembly, you have subsidiaries of the National Assembly, like the Institute of Legal Studies and others. All of those things that are being appropriated will have to go in to service of all those things. But because of the Nigerian factor, nobody wants to read in details, whatever you read you think it only goes to elected members of National Assembly. All of us, if we like it or not, will have to make sacrifice. The greater majority of us in the eighth National Assembly during our last induction are of the view that all of us will have to make sacrifice. And it will not be out of place if those salaries and allowances are cut. With humility, I want to tell you that the composition of the members of the eighth National Assembly is going to be quite different from previous members of the National Assembly. Issue of materialism is not in the front burner of most of us. This country has been battered beyond our redemption and comprehension. Things are so bad that all of us are not secured, not only security-wise but also economically. You could have read in the newspapers that the incoming government will have to grapple to– look for an overdraft of about N4trillion to pay the salaries of the workers of government, to help the state governments and for us to meet our international obligations, pay for joint ventures and others. We require not less that N4.1trillion. We are having a debt of over N60billion. My National Chairman, Chief Oyegun estimated $60billion but the former Minister of Finance herself, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, said the debt stood at $63.7billion. This country stood at a halt. They are buying fuel in certain places at N400 per litre, everything is being grounded. So that sacrifice will have to come from everyone. As I told you, the eighth National Assembly is not going to take things. We have promised ourselves that we are going to work with the executive to ensure that Nigeria is brought back to the path of growth. We are not going to ask you to take a bow and go away if you are coming in for us. We are not going to sleep over budget estimates. If you are saying that the State House is given allocation for N1billion for newspapers, we will have to scrutinize, how many hundreds of papers for Mr. President and officials in the Presidency read in a day. It is not going to be business as usual.
Some people believe that if local governments have autonomy there will be development at the local level. How are you going to purse the issue of bringing development to the grassroots through local government autonomy?
I am one of the members of the incoming eighth National Assembly that are of the opinion that any alteration to the constitution must give the local government full autonomy with their full allocation coming directly to the local government. The states assembly and governors have a greater role to play. During the last attempt to alter the constitution, which has been stalled by the executive, you discover that most of the state governors, their hands are deep in the local government treasury. Most of them connive with the state assembly to ensure that the issue of autonomy is killed and that the issue of joint account is not done away with. By the time the local governments have autonomy, I assure you Dass LGA will be able to pay salaries and develop itself. Between January, 2007, to September, 2014, Dass LG took over N10 billion from the Federation Account. If there is prudence, Dass should take care of itself. If you give the local government autonomy, nobody will steal their money, they will hack you and your family. But now, because of the joint account, the governor is all in all. You don’t know what he does with money. I am one of those that will ensure that the Constitution is altered and on our own part, we will ensure that autonomy will be there. We will ensure that the state assemblies, when it comes to them, vote for local government autonomy. There is no local government system in Nigeria. We don’t know what they do with their funds. We don’t know where their funds are going.
The North-East is ravaged by insurgency and some Northern elders are calling for amnesty for the insurgents, while some are against amnesty for them, what’s your reaction to this?
You are dealing with insurgents that you have not even identified. You don’t even know their attitude, you don’t even know their mind, you don’t even know their psychology, their number and location. In respect to our Defence forces, they have said that they have routed these insurgents but if you look at the papers, they are awash everywhere in the North-East. I want to assure you that APC Senators from the North-East, especially those of us from the APC, we have promised ourselves that as soon as the eighth Senate is inaugurated, we are going to jointly sit down to sponsor a bill that will have a marshall plan for the North-East in terms of education, agriculture, resettlement and rehabilitation, in terms of exploration and the exploitation of the hydro carbon that is behind this issue of Boko Haram. International scholars have confirmed the issue of abandoned carbon-hydro gas oil within the region. By the time we have control of ourselves and our borders and our people are educated, they have means of pursuing daily livelihood by the government is very serious in exploiting those hydro carbon oil and gas and other mineral resources that are abound in the North-East and prioritise agriculture – I am very happy Mr. President said his priority will be three. First is to address the issue of insurgency in the North-East, secondly is to ensure that agriculture is revolutionized, and thirdly is the issue of youth unemployment. We have all agreed to fight on behalf of North-East, Even though the issue of insecurity is not on the same level. What is happening in Borno is not the same thing as what is happening in Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi and Taraba. If you go to Taraba, you will discover that there are inter-communal clashes that constitute security threat to everybody. Invariably, we are talking to our colleagues from the PDP from the North-East because we are grappling with the same problem.
The eighth National Assembly is largely made up of many new comers, and this means that you will have to start learning the process. Don’t you think this high turnover is affecting our democracy and the business of law making in Nigeria?
Definitely. From what researchers and intellectuals have said that the turnover is not good for democracy. Like right now, we have about 75 per cent of those going into the National Assembly as new comers so the issue of experience sometimes doesn’t occur in Nigeria because we have a peculiar history. We have to look into our history. We don’t have a system where we throw in leadership. If we have a system where we throw in leaders, maybe we will have to go along that situation. But in a situation where you have thrown everything up, there is no yardstick. Anybody can come in and because of our nature, where some would have found it rosy, it became enticing to others, you discover that that is what is happening. But in ideal situation the turnover is not good for democracy. Right now some of them are not coming back. Their bills would have lapsed, who is going to pursue it. It is not very good and healthy for democracy but it is the Nigerian state; it is.