The chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the Federal Capital Territory, Hon. Emmanuel Jime, who represents Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency of Benue State, speaks on a variety of national issues including the constitution review, the insecurity in the country and the performance of the National Assembly in the last one year.
One year into the seventh Assembly, critics have argued that the parliament is concerned more with
probes that the core value of law making. How do you defend this?
Law making comprises in two or three major parts; sponsorship of bills and the passage of laws, oversight and then, of course, representation. If it is about the sponsorship of bills, i would like, with all modesty, to say that in the 6th Assembly put together with the 7th Assembly, the total number of bills sponsored and passed at the House of Representative are far in number than the claim people aremaking. I can say with a certain amount of authority that the number of bills passed in my time from 2007 till now are close to 400.
I have heard the argument people make that we spend N300billion in order to pass 12 bills. This is not only far away from the truth but I believe that the problem of this nation, from my point of view, is not really about absence of laws.
If you look at even the laws that we inherited from the colonial masters and all the other laws that have been passed including decrees by the military and all of the elected parliaments that we have had in this country, we have covered almost every spectrum of our national life. The greatest problem I think we have is the non-implementation, non-observance of the laws; in other words non-execution of the laws that have been passed. If truth must be told, this is the only clime that one, with impunity, can disregard the law and get away with it.
In the Nigerian context, because of the fact that there’s so much impunity oversight becomes even more critical than the passage of bills.
What would you say is responsible for the seeming weakness of the legislature in Nigeria today?
To say whether National assembly is strong or not depends on which perspective you are looking at the issue. I believe that we should compare what is happening at the national level and what is happening at the state level. If you want to use that comparison, I think it makes sense to think that the National Assembly has more powers than it is wielding presently. Can we do more? I agree we should do a lot more, but this is quite tricky, the environment in which we are.
I remember when Honourable Ghali N’ Abba was Speaker, and when the House moved against the then president, there was outcry and sentiments brought to play and then people began to ask the question whether northerners were now moving against a South-westerner who was president. I believe that it’s not possible to have a National Assembly that is really above the Nigerian sentiments and the situation in the country. While conceding that we could do more, I am just pointing to the fact that there are issues that make it possible; we are restrained in the way that we should actually function.
I think the power probe and other probes may not have seen the light of day, but in the 7th assembly we have the fuel subsidy investigation which, from all indications, was more serious in nature than the power probe and we were still able to carry it through and make sure that it passed on the floor and so we are making progress and we are definitely going in the right direction.
What is your take on the renewed review process of the Constitution?
We have to make Nigerians understand that a constitution amendment is a process not an event but for us in our country we seem to have elevated constitution amendment process to a circus. If you remember, in the fifth Assembly, during the effort by the Mantu-led National Assembly Committee on Constitutional Amendment, there was an attempt at amending close to about 180 clauses of the 1999 Constitution, but because of one clause that was controversial; I am talking about the attempt to extend the tenure of that particular administration, all of the effort was aborted and what we had then was a situation where both the baby and the bath water were thrown out. I believe that has been the reason why every time we speak about constitution amendment, the polity becomes heated, and people are looking at it like a carnival.
Do you think the creation of more states now is necessary?
We must clearly understand what is going on here and first, if the major consideration of State creation is viability and the capacity of the state to be able to deliver on good governance, in other words bringing government as close as possible to the electorate, then I think it should be supported. But the fact of the matter is that the present 36 states, with the risk of sounding uncharitable, none of them , probably with the exception of Lagos, Rivers, or may be Akwa Ibom States and a few others in the oil-producing areas, is properly fending for itself.
We all know what is happening. At the end of every month, people send in their Accountant Generals to Abuja and that is how salaries get paid by the states.
Now it is in this sorry situation that people are clamouring for new states and I have heard all kinds of brilliant arguments; people saying that minorities are being marginalized and I ask the question: ‘where don’t you have minorities? The moment you create a state to satisfy a minority request, what you have done is to create another set of minorities because in each of the components, there are minorities.
You will be surprised to hear that even in my own Tiv nation where I come from that as a unit, even within the Tiv unit, you will find some parts of Tiv claiming that they are being marginalized by their own brothers and sisters and that is within a tribe. When you extrapolate this and locate it in a state and a nation; then it seems to me that the argument is to create a State in order to satisfy the clamour of the minorities; so the claimof marginalization is useless.
The truth is that if we are to reason clearly, we should have good government that delivers and I believe that if we can actually equitably distribute our resources in such a way that every single part of this nation benefits from what is our commonwealth, then people are really not going to be worried about who the president is or where he comes from, or who the governor is. But, as things stands now, the clamour mostly is in regards to people who think that they too want an opportunity for their sons and daughters.
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We have elevated constitution review to a circus – Hon Jime