Alhaji Ghali Umar Na`abba was Speaker of the House of Representatives
between 1999 and 2003 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He joined the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC just before the 2015 General Elections and is presently a member of the party’s Board of Trustees, BoT.
In this interview monitored on the African Independent Television, AIT Focus on Nigeria programme he speaks on what he describes as the contradictions in his party, the budget process and the call for restructuring.
By Emmanuel Aziken
On settlement of internal disputes in APC
In this respect, credit must be given to the PDP. When I was in the House of Representatives, and at least for two years, from 1999 to 2001, we used to have caucus meetings of the party every Monday; and given the tension then between the executive and the legislature, these caucus meetings were very helpful in solving certain problems.
If not for those caucus meetings, the tensions would have been higher and it was only in 2001 when a new chairman of the party, who is the current minister of agriculture, (Chief Audu Ogbeh) came on board that those caucus meetings became obliterated because the president (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) didn’t really like those meetings. He didn’t like to be challenged.
Under that kind of arrangement, senior party members are given the opportunity to discuss governmental affairs, to challenge government policies and such. I believe that it is very good for the system because some of these presidents because of their military background and other idiosyncrasies don’t like to be challenged.
Did these meetings help to stave off some of those attempts to remove you?
In spite of the caucus meetings, the attempts to have me impeached as speaker were ongoing. It was an ongoing project from the time I became speaker to the time I left the House of Representatives, but I never allowed those attempts to cloud my objectivity and the sad thing about the existing situation is that the party that is ruling today is as a senior member of the party, the last time I attended any caucus meeting or Board of Trustees meeting was in February 2016 and that was one year five months ago! Which means that there is no synergy within the party, there is a disconnect within the party.
Is that a breakdown of the system in the party?
The system is breaking down because government doesn’t feel obliged to be accountable to the party that brought it to power whereas at the same time they are demanding accountability from all institutions of government. It is a contradiction. Anybody who is elected must be accountable, and that is the reason I believe they don’t like the caucus meetings because they give senior party members the opportunity to advance, give their opinion and to even mingle with senior party members like the president which they ordinarily would not have an opportunity for.
Is this not the reason we are now having controversies over the budget and confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission?
All these things revolve around the philosophy of separation of powers. The legislature has no right to propose appropriation, only the president is empowered to initiate appropriation, and the constitution asks the president to submit estimates to the legislature. What normally happens is that the legislature has a Majority Leader who is in charge of all the business of the legislature, being the leader of the party in power.
Normally, when the appropriation is received, the Majority Leader has the responsibility of preparing the bill on behalf of the executive because once estimates are in the legislature, the executive cannot do anything. So since they are from the same party and it is expected that the appropriation would have been discussed before then, it is the duty of the leader to prepare a bill and present to the larger House whether it is the Senate or the House.
The legislature is supposed to prescribe the way money is spent by the executive, period! But over time, opinions are being formed; some are of the view that the legislature has the power to decrease the amount proposed by the executive but cannot increase, some will say that you can increase but you can also decrease and all this is very, very uncomfortable because the constitution is clear.
The spirit of the Constitution is that both the legislature and executive are working for the people. So, what are the best possible means for them to work together? Because if each of them should insist on its power, nothing will go on. So, the expectation is that before they commence the appropriation process, the executive or the president must call the party, must call the legislature and also, other stakeholders, whether it is on zonal basis or otherwise so that what should be in the budget should be discussed. What are the priorities of the party? What the party promised the people during the campaign.
All of these things should be discussed, and we used to do these things during our caucus meetings from 1999 to 2001. In fact, there was a time a committee was set up headed by former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme to discuss with us on the possibility of having certain projects in the budget; that the legislators wanted to see in the budget and the possibility of deferring some projects for a supplementary budget which would come in September 2001. He came with us, discussed with us and we accepted. Indeed, nobody knew about this until now that I am saying it. This is what we call preventive diplomacy; we do things without anybody knowing because it was not necessary. And there was another time during the caucus meetings because we had conflicts over certain issues but the legislature and the executive were asked to correct the Constitution and each one of the institutions were asked to present to the caucus what they viewed to be their position. We did it, and the president appointed a team under the Attorney General, they did their own, and we did our own, we presented to the caucus, and certain agreements were reached, and I think it was healthy for the system. But today, even interventions, there is nobody to do it.
What were the intrigues that shadowed your re-election quest?
The night before the primary election some of the delegates came and said that the state governor had asked that they should be rounded up and some of them were promised money, machines, and cloth so that they don’t vote for me. There was collusion between the president and my governor, and therefore they wanted me to arrange so that they could be taken somewhere. What we did that night was to arrange for them to sleep in Katsina. I was Speaker, and this was happening to me. They slept in Katsina and around 7.00 a.m. they returned to Kano and went straight to the venue. The election was to begin around 11.00 O’Clock, and suddenly we discovered that the state government had abducted the chairman of the panel sent from Abuja to supervise the primary. They went on to declare that election in my constituency will not take place because there was a security situation which was false.
Around 2.00 p.m. an SSS assistant director based in Kano but from Ogun State came to me and said ‘sir, I have heard what is being arranged against you, and as long as I am in Kano, nobody can do that to you.’
He told me to give him time to go and look for that chairman, wherever he is, and bring him out. I thanked him, and he left. Around 6.00 p.m. he came back and told me that he had located the guy in the Government House and that I should arrange for women dress for him so that he can go and bring him out!
We got the women dress for him, and he left, and around 8.00 p.m. he came back and told me that he had taken the man out.
As at that time the SSS man advised that the election should not take place until after midnight and the election started by 2.00 a.m. and finished around 4.30 a.m. this tells you the extent to which certain governors could go.
How can we manage the calls for restructuring?
People are calling for restructuring because there is a perception that this system is not working. That there is no justice in the system. We must have a system that is healthy, and unless we have a system that is healthy, this call for restructuring will continue and I personally I am in favour of some of it.
More power should be devolved to the states and this I believe will help the system especially as it pertains to agriculture.