Rt. Hon. Olajide Olatubosun (Saki West/Saki East/Atisbo Federal Constituency), a front-runner in the race for the Speakership of the House of Representatives in this interview unfolds his agenda on how he intends to address several challenges facing the nation through proactive and time tested legislative interventions if elected. He speaks on how to turn the tide in public budgeting process and rejig the economy for job creation and national prosperity. Lawrence Olaoye was there. Excerpts:
How has the race for the House Speakership been so far?
It’s been very good. The last two weeks have been very challenging for me. It has opened my eyes to new possibilities. My colleagues have well received me even beyond my wildest imagination. I’ve made consultations across party lines, across geo-political zones, across religious lines, and the reception has been very good. One thing that is common is that we are going to have a House that is independent; that is going to be for the Nigerian people.
There have speculations that the voting pattern for the position of the Speaker may be altered. Some are saying the voting should be open while others are saying it should be secret. What’s your reaction to this?
Well, let me explain certain things on this issue of voting. The parliament, in this instance House of Reps will operate based in the rules. We have the standing order. I think Section 2 Rule 7 specifically mentioned that voting shall be, shall means mandatory, by electronic voting and secret ballot. That Standing Order, the rules were approved in 2016, and to the best of my knowledge, those rules have not been changed.
What will your leadership do to improve the public budgeting process and what will you do to ensure that the executive and the legislature are on the same line on full budget implementation?
Budgeting is an area that I’m very passionate about. I’m an Accountant with extensive corporate experience. It will interest you that when I got to the House my first challenge is that the public sector budgeting is highly inefficient and it can not deliver value. It is fundamentally flawed in the sense that even the process from which the budget is produced calls for critical review, brainstorming that will make it very accountable. For the public to derive benefits from public funds, there must be value for money. So, how do you ensure that? By God’s grace, I’m going to put out the legislations that will be promoting what I call participatory budgeting. What we do now is that there is a budget call circulars to MDAs, they send the proposals to budget office, and from there a compilation is made, FEC approves it and the President comes to the National Assembly to lay it. When we engage the MDAs in budget sessions, at time they tell you that ‘that’s the figure they have given to us’ and I’m like this is your budget! I’m looking at a situation whereby we can start our budgeting years by March every year; set up a committee including people from the budget office, the National Assembly, the Civil Society Organisations, if you like, organised private sector and also if possible look for consultants with budgeting experience that can come and serve as technical assistants to the committee. What is going to come out of that process is what the President will now compile, take to FEC for approval before presentation to the National Assembly. For instance, take the Ministry of Health, they are going to come to the committee and tell them that in the last year’s budget, we budgeted for X billion we got X-Y billion and out of that these are the projects we have executed, these are the medium term plans we have, in the next 5-7 years, these are our strategic plans. The committee will look at: does it make sense to start putting money in certain areas? For instance we are doing malaria research, it’s going to take us 10 years, every year you must come and justify your envelope and we want to see what yo have achieved in terms of milestones. So, if you do that, I’m sure that over time you are going to reduce the number of projects that are being abandoned gradually because there be critical analysis, caution, brainstorming before you put money on any project.
Now, issue of budget implementation, a budget is just a plan expressed in quantitative terms. If I say I’m going to spend N8 trillion and my revenue is only N5 trillion it means that there is a gap of N3 trillion; it means I cannot meet up the budget so for me the solution to that is to produce more, get more revenue if you want to ensure 100percent budget implementation. Let me also do some explanations, the budget is divided into two sections: the recurrent (the personnel and overhead expenses) and the capital. When you say budget has done 20 percent, in most cases they are talking about the capital components. The recurrent in most cases, salaries are being paid on monthly basis and the overhead is what you use for day-day running of government which to a large extent funds are made available. So, it’s an area that I’m going to be focused and rally my colleagues to ensure that we impact positively.
Majority of the members of the Ninth Assembly are newcomers, how do you intend to build their capacity for them to be able to contribute meaningfully to debates?
With due respect to members whether returning or new, they’ve achieved in their various areas of endeavors. We have professors, people from the civil service, accomplished businessmen, people from the organised private sector. With this we have a very good foundation. But we still need to do more capacity building in the area of leadership. That’s very key because everything rises and falls with leadership. Also for our people, politics is not a vocation that you can be there forever. As I’m talking to you there are other people that want to come and represent their people. So, when people leave the stage, how do they continue to live a normal life? So, there will be more financial education with regards to investments and to how to manage their funds.
Nigeria is facing challenges of banditry and kidnapping, what laws are you going to put in place to help the government fight these menaces?
Laws cannot cure everything. Security is a challenge in our country today and from my experience as a member of the House committee on Army, I’ve seen that we need to do more of integrating people in the Armed Forces and other security agencies like the Police, Civil Defence and the DSS. United Nations ratio of security people to population is about 10 percent. So, if we are going to go by that, Nigeria should have about 1.8 million standing army. Germany has about 400,000 policemen and what’s their population? How many policemen do you have in Nigeria? So, we need to increase the funds that are allocated to them; we need to train them better, expose them to modern techniques of fighting crimes. More importantly, we’ve gotten to a point that we must Rajesh a stand on the issue state police. We must take a decisive step to actualize it because it’s more effective when you choose people that can manage security of an area from within that area. What we have now is not just working, somebody will be in a place for two years, you transfer him. The knowledge of that local environment is lost. But if you put somebody from a village and he’s the police officer for that village and the man is there for 15, 20 years, he knows the nooks and crannies and it will be easier for him to burst any kind of crime.
So, you look at the enabling laws, I don’t think laws are the issues that we have. We have issues of funding and to ensure that we need to increase numbers of armed forces personnels; the police need to employ more people. If there are areas of the laws that have to be amended we will also look at them especially in the areas of penalties for offences. So community policing to be championed by state police, hopefully we’ll be able to get that done in the Ninth Assembly.
Nigeria has been rated as the poverty headquarters of the world, what is your leadership going to do to address the challenge of unemployment in the country?
I don’t agree with that classification. It is stereotype. What are the basis, what are the data used to arrive at that? That’s not to say that we don’t have serious issues of unemployment and underemployment. We have graduates that have been out of school for several years still unemployed. In the short term, right now we have the social investment program for which N500 billion is being voted every year. Look at the possibility of increasing that amount and also see how those monies are being spent in terms of effective oversight so that we see to it that they actually helped a lot of people.
In the medium term we must have legislations to help free the economy for capital investment whether foreign direct investments or for wealthy Nigerians to invest their money here because at the end of the day, government cannot create enough jobs. Jobs are created by private capital in most cases. So this economy has to be one that people can bring their money to Nigeria and go to sleep. Our laws must be spot-on, there must be provisions for arbitration so that somebody can be sure of having very effective adjudication process.
Also look at the issue of power, infrastructure which the government is already addressing. We need to do more because those are the substructure for investments for industrialization.
In the long run, at the strategic level, we need to look at our education curriculum. We have to ensure that those that are coming out of our schools have their minds developed that they come out and create jobs rather than looking for jobs. They have to acquire skills, education in leadership that make them to come out and create jobs. Most importantly, government must leave the commanding height of the economy for the private sector to drive.
How do you intend to strengthen or enact laws that will help the government in the fight against corruption?
We are going to look at the EFCC and the ICPC Acts again. I’m not comfortable with delays in prosecution. There are cases that go on for 10 years even with the new law that stipulates specific timelines for cases to be dispensed with. It’s still being observed in the breach. Corruption is a major issue. The meaning is that our people are deprived of basic necessities of life. The President said that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. We in the parliament will live by example.
What are the things you’ll want to do differently if elected as the Speaker?
We will work on the perception of Nigerians about we legislators. As they say in marketing ‘perception is real’. By the grace of God, that image through proactive measures, leading by example, walking the talk to show that we are part of the people, we are not from another planet, we feel their pains, we are together, we feel their frustrations and that even our lifestyles will reflect that we are for the Nigerian people.
On the job itself, I’ll make sure that oversight is more effective. It will be more painstaking, more meticulous and that if we have situations that are not satisfactory, the reports will be written accordingly. We will ensure that budgets are passed more speedily to correct the public perception that we are just holding to the document deliberately. Also bills coming from the executives and members on the economy, security, human rights most especially on vulnerables-women, children, IDPs will be dealt with expeditiously.
Security Trust Fund bill which we are unable to conclude in this Assembly will be promoted. Lastly, the issue of revenues, lot of leakages, TSA fantastic idea, we will ensure that we strengthen by legislation and also look at the issue of reports of the Auditor General. We have to ensure that whatever is the report, in accordance to our laws that action is taken so that people will at least know that it is not business as usual.
How are you going to manage the legislative/executive relationship against the background of the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances?
Separation is very important because government will outlive all of us. We are just on the stage and we must ensure that we protect this institution of parliament without compromising its integrity. Having said that, we must cooperate with the executive. Fortunately, we have a President who means well for this country. Without compromising the independence of the House, we’ll cooperate with other arms of government. It’s not going to be about confrontation. Really by design, the three arms of government are supposed to be what you call coordinates. None is inferior to the other; they must support themselves in a way that separation of powers is guaranteed while also ensuring that checks and balances is also not compromised. Once you take away checks and balances, the essence of presidential democracy is lost. So there will be cooperation without necessarily compromising the independence.