The Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly, Hon Eugene Odo, is of the view that the major problem facing Nigeria remains the attitude of the people even though democracy has taken root in the country. In this interview with RAPHAEL EDE, he says the Boko Harm insurgency has nothing to do with politicians
Assessment of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999
Democracy was properly institutionalized from 1999. So, obviously it should be 13 years old that we’ve practiced fully fledged democracy. That is not to say that it has gone without hitches. If you recall, we were coming from a military regime and democracy between 1999 and 2003 was tainted with a lot of military mentality. There is a gradual projection in terms of progress between 2003 and 2007. And then of course basic infrastructures were provided across the entire 36 states of the federation as from 2007 till date. That is not to say the previous administration did not do anything but it garnered momentum as we progressed and it is hopeful that by 2015 upwards, we are believing that the future leaders would do better than we are doing now.
State of the nation and democracy.
Yes, of course there’s nothing you can compare democracy with. The cost of freedom cannot be quantified in anyway. During military regimes, we were witnesses to decrees and edicts that were promulgated and made to have retrospective effects, at least we are rest assured now that such thing can no longer happen. The problem with the country cannot be said to be largely political or instability but that of attitude. Everybody has got a fair share of it. The Boko haram issue has nothing to do with politicians more. It is just the attitude, the will-power of those in authority to really stamp their feet. You and I know that for each of the bombings that were sporadically exploded across the country, at least a Grand Cherokee jeep is lost and at the end of the day, some are arrested as the bomb shooters; it is not true. The bomb blast that took place at Okene, the perpetrator when arrested confessed that he was given N7,000. So, that was the price to go and kill himself and waste the lives of innocent citizens. We believe that some people are behind the bombings and efforts should be made to unravel those behind those bombings. Once they are unraveled, the problem would have been solved because those who are perpetrating the crime themselves can neither afford the cost of the bomb, let alone the corresponding facilities that are wasted alongside with it. But we believe that the consciousness of Nigerians should be geared towards attitudinal change. All of us are getting it wrong. Somebody, who is meant to be in his place of work by 8 o’clock and by 10 o’clock he is still preparing to go to work, that is the collapse of the system. It has nothing to do with politics; it has to do with the way we do things. And for you to give somebody a civil service job now and for the person to enjoy it, what it simply means is for you to connive with such person so that he can abscond himself from duty.
With the emergence of EFCC and ICPC, at least the public political office holders can now operate with caution; it means that if he does not appropriate and expend public income effectively, something might happen to the person when he leaves office. That is for those who enjoy the immunity clause, but for those without immunity, nothing stops the law from taking its course. So, you see that the level at which people squander public funds with impunity is gradually reducing. And we believe that it is part of what democracy can offer. Let us not lose sight of the fact that our nascent democracy is still fledging. It is very young and from the mistakes we make, other people will get to correct until we get to it. Don’t forget that sometime in the US, similar things happened. Judges were kidnapped along the streets, people appointed themselves as Mayors of the cities and today they are enjoying it because they passed worse situations that we are passing today. I believe that with the consciousness of our people, with the real attitudinal change imbibed in each and every one of us, we are still going to make a positive gradual process.
Legislative oversight function and budget implementation
The oversight function of the Enugu State House of Assembly is not compromised. We have about 22 standing committees in the House with sole responsibility of annexing themselves to the respective Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to oversee what they do. It is through the over sight function that the House was able to find out that schools in Enugu state are under-staffed and that was why we made a recommendation in 2010 that more teachers needed to be recruited. And the governor approved the recruitment of 1000 teachers, even after the 1000, it was not enough and we had to go back and then an extra 1000 was approved. I am sure that they would have been recruited into our respective primary and secondary schools. We have had cause to look at the roads in Enugu state. When we came on board, part of the challenges we were facing were rural road network and reconstruction of the roads in urban cities. A lot of contractors were invited, they passed through necessary procurement but as we can see, some of the roads are failing, so the House of Assembly most recently instituted an ad hoc committee through the committee on Works to invite the contractors to explain why the roads that were constructed in less than four years could collapse. And of course the committee is working. Their recommendation, by the grace of God, will be out in about two weeks from which we will recommend to the executive on what to do. Don’t forget that by virtue of section 88 of the constitution the primary duty of the House of Assembly is to expose corruption and make necessary recommendations. This is what the House of Assembly is doing. I do not think we are found wanting in any way by virtue of our oversight functions. As regards budget implementation, Enugu state appears to be the last bottom three in terms of federation allocations to the states. So, what we realized, for instance in 2011, we had a budget of 74 plus something billion but in the real sense, what was realised was just 34 billion Naira. You now find out that the releases to various ministries and MDA’s will be pro-rata of what was realised. Budget is a mere estimate but what happens is that the corresponding amount from the federation account receipts and the internally generated, IGR, may not correspond with the estimates. So, what we now do is to release according to what is realised and then placing the issue of priority as a matter of fact. So, it is quite unfortunate, not until something positive happens to the economy. What we are advocating now is to see how we can begin to have a balanced budget. Balanced budget simply means that there would have been projected revenue of the state and then restrict your estimate spending to this projected revenue. You will not have any cause not to implement it effectively. But another question is, will that be realistic? This is because some funds coming into the state do not necessarily need to be IGR, it could be fund gotten by grant in which case you will need supplementary appropriation to spend it. These are the predicaments we found ourselves and we believe that when compared to states that are buoyant and rich, Enugu is doing very well in terms of delivery of democracy dividends based on infrastructure and human empowerment.
Objectives and philosophy behind the conference of Speakers
The underlining issue about the conference of speakers is to have a common umbrella through which state legislators can voice their minds. That is the simple reason and we have had a lot of common issues that we’ve got to discourse, like the issue of autonomy of state legislature. That is essentially what we are working towards now. It is the thinking of the State legislatures in Nigeria that the states Houses of Assembly do have access to their funds through a first line charge and not at the pleasure of the executives. That is what we are thinking in the on-going constitution review. The previous one, it was inserted but at the same time killed by the states Assemblies themselves. So, we are trying to persuade the National Assembly through a memorandum we have submitted, so that it will be incorporated in the on-going constitution amendment, so that during ratification, we will sail it through. Beyond that, we have been able to advise our colleagues on how best they should be able to work with their respective governors and Chief Judges. The whole essence of democracy is how you better the lives of the people; it is not to occasion squabbles. Nobody takes credit as a legislator in fighting. At the end of the day you may not be able to provide effective representation that you were elected for; you may not be able to contribute a quota in the state and of course the governor you might be quarrelling with might not even find his fit. At the end of the day the people still suffer. So, we try to conduct trainings intermittently for ourselves on how we should work with executive without necessarily compromising our oversight functions. But while trying to educate them we see that there are some incessant and unnecessary demands that legislators use to make that precedes trouble as a matter of fact. So, we caution them on what to do and what not to do. And where there’s a faceoff between the executive and the legislature, the conference use to intervene to see the extent they can arrive at reconciling them. We did that in Niger state recently when in less than two weeks two speakers were impeached and the third one was to be impeached as well but we intervened and pleaded with the Honourable members because the constitution is very weak as regards the protection of presiding officers in respect to impeachment. When I say presiding officers, I mean the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives and of course the states House of Assembly. What the constitution simply said is that the Speaker will be removed if the members of the Assembly can have 2/3 majority votes in favour of removing such a Speaker and it ends up there. So, what it simply means is that wearing even a good shoe may constitute an impeachable offence. So, the constitution has no protection and that’s why we are clamouring for the amendment of the 1999 constitution. It is a constitution given to us by the military. Several amendments have been done but I think for now we’ve not been able to capture the real essence of what a constitution should be. I believe that in this on-going amendment, we are going to as much as possible to correct especially the contemporary issues that are bugging our nation and our federating states.
The State legislature as rubber stamp to the executive
I think the issue of compromise is discussed in the conference of speakers but our position is that people should go back to their respective states to do what they ought to do. In Enugu state, we’ve enjoyed peace not because the legislature is rubber stamp, not because the legislators are not doing their duties, not because the governor is overbearing but because we try as much as possible to engage each other constructively in any political issue especially in areas we have misunderstanding. If you recall during the last tenure when we had issues with the then commissioner for Local Governments, at the end of the day we were able to get things resolved. The issue was that we notified them on some issues, in the course of our oversight functions and occasioned some punitive measures on the commissioner. It equally affected the then commissioner for Works after which he was reassigned to another ministry. As you know, what the public like to hear in most cases is that a House of Assembly issued impeachment notice on a governor, no, we do not think that this is the stage which we are. The democracy which we are trying to nurture must exist with mutual respect. The challenge I would like to be called upon is, as the House of Assembly, your oversight function, you were expected to do this, but you refused to do it. These are challenges that I would like to hear. But when somebody come and tell me that I have a romance with the governor, we look at that as a form of blackmail. Don’t forget that we are representing the people and of course wherever they think we are making mistakes, it is proper that we are called to order so that we will swing into action. We are following our oversight function religiously and I stand to be corrected, there no way, I am sure the governor will not attempt it, but even if he does, it is not going to work, that the House can compromise it’s job on the grounds of an individual. It is not possible.
The gang rape of old women at Opi Nsukka local government area
The issue of Opi is a pathetic case where young men are raping old women of about 60, 65, 70 years and beyond. It is something that is quite shocking. One could not believe that such thing could happen in our time. So, what the House of Assembly has done was to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate and unravel the causes of all these things and the committee is still working. They have not completed the assignment but on the interim, we have recommended prior to the turning out of the report of the committee that, fully equipped policeman should be assigned to Opi community to restore peace and order in the area, and already the Commissioner of Police has done that. So, the committee whenever they finish, we don’t want to rush them, but I know that they must be able to bring out there report soonest. They are working assiduously, they’ve got to do a lot of things, they will engage the traditional rulers there, then they will have to engage the youth, and even the women themselves. And some of the testimonies will have to be in camera to protect the dignity of some persons or the other.