Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa represents Zamfara Central Senatorial District in the 8th National Assembly. In this interview, he talks about the outcome of the Senate leadership tussle and the role of the party in the entire episode.
What was your reaction to the emergence of one of the Like Minds Senators, Bukola Saraki as Senate President and a PDP man, Senator Ike Ekweremadu as his deputy?
Naturally, I was surprised because the Constitution of Nigeria says that every politician must belong to a political party. So, for me, I see the party as the parent of every politician. If the party says do this or that, you are bound to honour it. However, as a respected Senator and former governor, I am sure he must have his reasons for doing what he did. But I was really surprised.
But is the party not supposed to sanction erring members?
That is what is supposed to happen, but it is not for me to tell them. It is the party that knows what it should do. However, as a member of the party, I have voiced my feelings in the media. I blame the party for what happened and what is likely to happen in the future. The party invited us three times: the first time was for a straw ballot and the other group refused to show up; the second time was when we were told the vice president wanted to meet with us. One group came and the other refused to show up and the third time was when they said we were going to meet the president. That was the day that was supposed to be our inauguration. One group came and the other went to the chambers, even in the House of Representatives. The implication is that you are breeding indiscipline. When somebody keeps disobeying the father and instead of getting sanctions, he gets accolades, it means you are indirectly telling the other children to start behaving that way. We hope the party will do the right thing because we know that the party is governed by highly respected men and women of immense experience.
Doesn’t this prove assertions that the APC lacks the capacity to manage its success?
The people that make that assertion are correct. I am afraid as a Senator, that it is coming true and we know what this success cost Nigerians. I am a grassroots man and I know how we suffered in 2011 as members of the ANPP then, to win elections in the states and local governments that were in the hands of the PDP. Now, to shortchange these people who voted for the party would be disastrous. I am praying that our leaders, from Mr. President to the least person, would do the needful to move the party back on track.
Could this inability to manage success also be responsible for what played out with the remaining leadership positions in the Senate?
It is public knowledge that the party came out with a position that so and so person from so and so zone should be voted for so and so position. The party did so and equally communicated same through a letter to the office of the Senate President and Speaker. A colleague even raised a point of order to draw the attention of the Senate President to the fact that a letter was sent to him from the party headquarters and we all thought he would read it on the floor of the Senate and demanded that he read the letter but he ruled in his own judgment and did not read it. When you are unable to manage your success, there would be repercussions. What this means is that the party cannot take decisions and compel members to obey. You don’t need a soothsayer to tell you that this is a sign of bad things to come.
Are the happenings not likely to affect the relationship of the 8th Senate with the executive?
We have had a situation in the past when we had a retired general as president and the Senate presidents were civilians, and there weren’t any problems. In fact, if there is anything now, it is that the general now is not being assertive as we would expect a general to be. He is supposed to descend heavily on dissidents and see to it that party discipline is enforced; that nobody should be above the party. All the confusion we have now is because there are a lot of people around the President who keep telling him erroneously that there is separation of powers. There is actually separation of powers, but it is the same government; you cannot let one organ rot because you want to separate power. You cannot leave everything to chance because there is separation of powers.
Lately, there has been public outcry over legislators’ salaries and allowances with some calling for a slash of same. What is your take?
I am tired of talking about our salaries and allowances. These things pass through banks as we don’t collect it through table payment. I recently saw a lot of obnoxious publications on our salaries; people just write what they don’t know without making efforts to find out the truth. It is unfortunate that we keep talking about these things. I even had reason to challenge a reporter whose newspaper wrote on our jumbo pay. One newspaper computed something rather ridiculous and when I saw it, I just laughed. They said we take home N29 million every month. In that computation, they said there is vehicle maintenance allowance of N6 million and it is not true. I get vehicle maintenance once in four years, including the vehicle itself. I get housing allowance once in four years, which is about N4 million. I know of deputy directors and directors that are occupying houses in Abuja worth N30 million which their organisations pay for annually but as a Senator, I am paid N4 million for four years. They also computed that we get 300 percent of our basic salary as severance gratuity, which amounted to N7,452,736. What is severance? It is an English word and you get it once you have finished your assignment or work. But it is computed here and added as monthly salary. There is pension here also and they computed it to this N29 million. This is the basis on which Nigerians say we are collecting jumbo pay. My monthly salary is not up to a million naira. I don’t need to lie to anybody. These salaries go through banks, let the banks come out and say it. This housing allowance of N4 million is for the whole four years, not for one year. So, when you come in as a new Senator, you get about N18 million that will cover all these things, which means there is N4 million, N6 million and N8 million and that is for the whole term and you will be paying a part of it. But Nigerians keep saying we receive jumbo pay. Recently, I saw a write-up that said National Assembly funds were slashed to N120 billion and somebody will just sit down in his room and punch his calculator and divide it by 109 Senators and if you are lucky, he will add the House of Representatives and punch it, forgetting that the National Assembly is an institution, every legislator is entitled to five aides, multiply that by 469 persons, they are all paid salaries, there is also the Nigerian Institute of Legislative Studies, they have staff and they are paid from that N120 billion. There is the National Assembly Service Commission with their staff and everything, then the maintenance of that mega-structure is from the budget. There are also projects they do every now and then and all of it is from that budget, there are stationeries, we have a library and offices; everything is from that money. Yet, people will sit down and say we collect jumbo salary. It is ridiculous. This work is recycled. When we came in 2011, we were 109 and after the 2015 elections, almost 70 percent of us didn’t return. Some of these critics will find themselves in the chambers one day and when they come, it would be difficult to come out and tell people that things are not as they thought. We demand fairness from people. We were not beggars before we came to this place. Most of the Senators you see have accomplished something before they came to the Senate and so, I was surprised when I saw a respected media personality whom I thought should know better, write on wardrobe allowance in his column. My heart bled. We must learn to give constructive criticism. When you criticise somebody based on facts, you will force him to sit up and admit he is wrong. But when you criticise based on lies or ignorance, I will conclude you are envious and continue what I am doing. Constituency projects funds are not monies given to legislators to pocket; we recommend these things to the MDAs or ministries and they include it in the budget then advertise it and any contractor that wins is given the contract, the legislator will only supervise it.
So many Bills were passed hurriedly before the end of the last Senate and many Nigerians are worried that the Bills may not have been properly considered. Do you agree with them?
The media has a duty to play here by enlightening the people on what really happens in the National Assembly. Nigeria practices a bi-cameral legislature and what it means is that there are two independent chambers. Even though one is called the upper chamber and the other, the lower chamber, it does not mean that one is subservient to the other. We are independent. They can initiate Bills and process them to the end and we also can initiate Bills and process them to the end. But the law provides that we must harmonise because the law recognises us as one entity. So, for each Bill to see the light of the day, it has to have the blessing of each of the two chambers. So, even if a Bill is initiated by the Senate, we still send it to the House of Reps for concurrence, the same with them. What happened was that, at the end of the session, we realised that we had passed so many Bills which had consumed many man hours, money and materials. We had finished work on them and the House had also done its part. These Bills are not personal Bills that will benefit only one person or his community or state. For example, I sponsored a Bill that was among those passed; it is to give legal backing to Nigerian Army Institute of Technology and Environmental Studies and it is in Makurdi, Benue State while I am from Zamfara State and it had scaled through to the third reading. But the House had to concur and they did. The House cannot say that because Sen. Marafa sponsored this Bill, it cannot pass it. So, that was why we passed those Bills on the eve of our departure from the last session and Nigerians said we passed Bills in 10 minutes. It is not possible. There is no way we can pass Bills without going through the process of first, second and third reading. We had public hearings on all those Bills that were passed and the two houses concurred before we passed them.
Is the current President obliged to assent to the Bills since he was not in power when they were passed?
That is constitutional. He doesn’t have to be there when the Bills were initiated but I thank God that his vice is a professor of law and will advise him on what the President should do.
How many Bills did you sponsor in the last session?
That is another area where the press misled the public. When you talk of sponsorship of Bills as criteria to measure somebody’s performance in the Senate or House, it is unfair because having spent four years, I now know how things work. Before I became a Senator, whenever I watched the National Assembly proceedings and I only saw few members in the chambers, I would insult them that they don’t even attend sittings. But most times, you don’t know where they have gone to. It could be that the rest are in a meeting or have travelled out for parliamentary meetings. Legislative work is 70 percent outside those chambers. It is mostly done in the committees. I am a member of the ECOWAS Parliament and I attend their sittings for about three weeks in a year. There are times we will be there and you will not see me in the Senate and you will think I am absent and conclude that I don’t take my job seriously, not knowing that I was somewhere working. There are times you will have meetings of three or four committees and you will have to attend or go out on oversight function. Then in the chambers, it is not everybody that can talk at the same time. It depends on the presiding officer and the law says until he sees your face, he cannot point to you. So, if the officer doesn’t like you, he might decide not to see your face or bench you for a whole year. In the screening of nominees, it is worse because you are given only one opportunity to ask him a question and even if he is being evasive, you will not be given the opportunity to ask a follow-up question. But in the committee meetings, you have enough time to ask questions and follow up with other questions when you are not satisfied. I keep telling correspondents of media houses covering the chambers to also cover committee work and meetings because that is where you will see a lawmaker at his best, not on the floor of the chambers because the chamber is not like a market place where everybody talks at the same time. There is limited time given to members. People will appreciate their legislators when they see them at the committee level, instead of concentrating on Bills that will create unnecessary competition between the lawmakers and can make some sponsor useless Bills just to prove a point. A legislator who wants to be appraised based on the number of Bills he has passed will even bring some that will distort our laws just to prove a point. We should start talking about the quality of the Bill, not quantity and how it will impact on the lives of Nigerians. We shouldn’t appraise people based on what they do in the chambers because sometimes, you will see a lawmaker raising his hand but the presiding officer will not point at him and when he goes back home, you call him a bench warmer. You are putting him under unnecessary pressure and then he will want to cause commotion so that he will be known and it is not healthy.
Do you think government has done enough to tackle the issue of lead poisoning in your native Zamfara state?
In fairness, I would say that the state government is doing enough, considering its limited resources. I was a commissioner of water resources and I am privy to some of the things that took place and what was done. The federal government through the Ministry of Environment too did some things, the only thing is that it is not enough and there are a lot of things that are responsible for that. We have not taken the mining sector seriously because there is cheap money coming from oil revenue and so nobody wants to do anything. But there is money in the solid minerals sector if it can be harnessed especially given the cash crunch we are now experiencing. What we have now is artisan miners, who abuse all laid down rules and regulations in trying to make ends meet. If you go there, you will pity them. You will see them with local grinding machines trying to grind stones. They don’t even know the implication of these things. Then they go to the river and sieve it to get the gold out and in the process, cyanide comes out. The government doesn’t get anything from these things, only the problems and when they come, you are told that you need to excavate the whole soil to a certain depth, move it completely from that environment and import new one to cover the ground as the solution. It is capital intensive and where will the money come from? Some of these communities don’t have potable drinking water, they rely on the streams and ponds and that is the same place they sieve the gold. So, the state government is trying, given its limited resources. The bottom line is the damage done is a million times greater than the benefit that comes from it. The benefit goes to some people outside. The big time traders relax in the hotels and buy the gold at a token from the local people and take it outside to make money.
There have also been reports of pockets of killings in some parts of Zamfara State. What is really happening?
We don’t know those behind these nefarious acts. It is now a household problem. In my area, we call it Noma and Kiwo haram (farming and cattle-rearer sin). They are trying to make farming and cattle rearing a sin or difficult for the people. They want to abolish it. It is a serious problem. Initially, we thought it was poverty, but it is now a serious problem. We believe President Buhari will tackle these problems. It is like the Boko Haram menace. It has cost lots of lives and a lot of our people have been pauperized.
Senators Makarfi, Ogbeha, Express Disappointment Over NASS Crisis
Former Kaduna State governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi and Senator Tunde Ogbeha have all condemned the leadership crisis and subsequent fracas that engulfed the National Assembly last week.
Makarfi said, “The elections of the Senate president and the deputy Senate president, the speaker, deputy speaker were not an exclusive right of any political party. It was something that was very simple, the rule of the game is that once you have simple majority, you stand elected, no matter who elected you. So, the election of the two positions in my opinion stands.
“And the rule also states that the election of these two positions supercedes any other event on that day. So, if any member chooses to do any other thing on that day, it is left for that particular member.
“But other leadership positions are exclusive of the caucuses of the respective minority and majority party. It is not an appointment. So, as far as the rules and norms are, the APC caucus in conjunction with their party will elect who their leaders are, majority leader, deputy leader, deputy whip, and PDP senators as well, who are now in the minority, are the ones who have the exclusive right to elect their own leadership. It is not an appointment, so anything which seems to look like appointment has no basis in it.
“So, you can see where the right thing was done and where, in my opinion, some semblances of wrong may have been done. And it is for all of them to know that the country is larger than any other interest. We should accommodate each other and resolve this crisis.”
On his part, former Senator Ogbeha said, “The crisis at the National Assembly is disheartening, and I think it’s embarrassing to the institution. We hope they get their acts together so that the nation can move forward because a lot of time is being wasted unnecessarily on the bickering that is going on. But to say the least, I am highly disappointed”.
On the assessment of the present administration, he said, “It is too early to assess the government; we are waiting for the 100 days in office. My expectation is like any other Nigerian’s; all those things that are faulty, all those things that are supposed to be sorted out should be sorted out.
“Nigerians voted for change, and we are waiting for that change”, he said.
APC Will Move Beyond NASS Leadership Tussle – Hon. Garba
Contrary to recent fears that the All Progressives Congress (APC) may disintegrate as a result of the National Assembly leadership tussle, Hon Amuda Garba has expressed optimism that the party will move beyond the challenge.
Garba, representing Ilorin-East/South Federal Constituency of Kwara State, in a chat with newsmen, said APC has sailed over more precarious situations than the present one.
He said the recent exchange of fisticuffs in the House pointed to the need to allow harmonised decisions at party or caucus levels and diverse interests to play out on the floor of the House.
He said, however, that the problems in the Senate and the House of Representatives will be surmounted and the party will remain a strong united party.
“With this development, we all will go back and get our acts right within the party and I can assure you that the party has moved beyond more challenging situations.
“So, it is not a new thing; naturally, you know the legislature is always a very vibrant stage so that is why we are saying what we are saying.
“But as loyal members of the party, as people who believe in the party and what the party stands for, we will go back, we will mend our fences and we will come with a harmonised position.
“I can assure you that when the House reconvenes, I am very optimistic that we will be coming with a unified position to the House”.
He added that, “Sometimes, the change you promised is for events like this to happen and for the right positions to be upheld.”