Sen. Salihu Ohize was in the 6th National Assembly. In this encounter, the retired naval officer and former local government chairman, bares his mind on the budget padding controversy, the performance of the National Assembly and other national issues. He spoke with RUTH CHOJI.
As a former senator, what is your take on the crises going on in the house of Representative over budget padding?
It is surprising. Budget padding has been in existence. Legislators are not rubber stamp, you don’t expect that whatever the executive brought as budget will be passed just like that. Institutionally the legislative arm is free to add and deduct as well. If they think something is not right in the budget, they can remove it and if something is lacking, it can be added. But then if you want to go into the dictionary definition of the word padding, you will find that it is a criminal act because you are trying to add something against what is already in existence.
Would you say a criminal offence was committed in the house by the leaders?
That they can individually add some billions into the budget through the back door is a criminal act.
Should the people involved be prosecuted?
I don’t know, it depends on the system. If the system is applied and we mustn’t forget that they have the power to add something in the budget. If the government looks at it from a criminal angle, then they can be prosecuted but did they collect the money on behalf of the constituent?
There are agitations for the principal officers allegedly involved in the controversy to step down?
It is a normal thing In Nigeria that whenever something happens, they will start telling them to resign but has anybody ever resigned over any situation In Nigeria? We don’t have such attitude in Nigeria. It is normal for the public to react that way. But it is only the House that can remove the speaker. If the majority insist that he must step down, then he will have no choice but to step down.
Do you think the budget padding controversy is a big blow to the ongoing fight against corruption?
It can have effect to an extent but it will not affect Buhari’s determination to fight corruption to its end. It is good this revelation came out now so that he will know, that in his government, there is this magnitude of corruption.
But since most of the people involved are from the APC, don’t you see this as portraying that corruption is not peculiar to PDP but as also prevalent in APC too.
As I said, it may be corruption if you look at it from one side but if you look at it from another angle, it has been in existence for long, then you will know that it is not about party. The legislative arm has a right to add something to the budget. If somebody wants a project built in his constituency, instead of putting it openly so that everybody will see, you wait until it was brought to the house then you insert what you want secretly. The criminal act is that, it is doing the right thing through the wrong process. But then, what is not proper is that, if a single individual like Hon Jibrin put up to six billion Naira to himself in a legislative house that has 360 persons for himself, others will be angry. Because some couldn’t even get up to a N100,000 as constituency projects. Somebody who is privileged to head a committee, a member like yourself is injecting billions for his constituency alone is bad. When people hear this, they will judge all of you with the same yardstick, they won’t know that it is not all of you that did it.
Recently, when the senate went on recess, some committees were reshuffled. This move was perceived in some quarters as a way of pacifying aggrieved members over the court cases against the Senate President and his deputy. Do you think this was the case?
I don’t think so because by the time they came in last year, some members were new and within one year, some were removed through courts cases and so it became vital to reshuffle the committees to meet with standard. You can’t take a sensitive committee and give somebody that just came in newly, who doesn’t have any legislative experience.
Supposing you are asked to rate the current senate in terms of percentage, what will it be?
I don’t want to assess them. All I know is that they are doing a good job. They have passed bills and motions. They have screened nominees. Whatever the shout about the budget is now, at least they were able to pass the budget.
President Buhari has been criticized for not being sensitive to the principle of federal character by appointing mostly northerners in key positions. What do you think?
The president might not have to balance the ethnic composition of the nation in his appointment but at times when you look at it, you will understand because the three geopolitical zones of the north, most of them are Hausa. If he is appointing one from each zone, you will definitely see three Hausa Muslims. If he goes to the west, the person will be Yoruba, the same with the South-east and South-south. So when you put these together the North will get more because they are the same in the North. The president is supposed to follow the federal character principles in his appointment
But will you say he has been following that?
I really don’t know which states this appointments are from. What we see is Hausa men being appointed with the neglect of other zones. Like myself, I am from the minority in the North-central. I can tell you that after the late prince Abubakar Audu, I have contributed to the party’s success in my state. And yet I am not considered fit for any appointment up till now and the government is in its second year. So it is not just other zones that are complaining. We are also not happy.
In you state Kogi, the governor has been under fire for the current restructuring of the civil service. What is really happening?
I really don’t know what he is restructuring. He is not paying civil servant their salaries, yet he claims to be restructuring. He has to tell Nigerians how he is doing it and it shouldn’t stop him from paying them their salaries. These people have families and dependents, what will happen to them? How much is the salaries of the civil servant? N18,000, yet nobody wants to pay them. I don’t know what he has done with the huge sums he was given as bail out. If he couldn’t pay salaries, I wonder how he will think of doing projects. If the governor had come up and said the bulk of the civil service is too much for him because of what is happening in the country, everybody will understand, instead of what he is doing and why he is doing it. But not just to leave the entire staff without salaries for months.
Should states, who can’t take care of its responsibilities be merged?
How can you think of merging my state, Kogi or scrapping it because it is not viable? Despite the fact our governor is not doing well, we cannot go back to being a local government in the state. The states are just another name for provinces.
The Niger Delta Avengers have been creating havoc in the zone, are you afraid that it could lead to something worse?
Left to me, I will brand them as criminals and so they should be dealt with as such. If you are helping criminals, then you are equally a criminal yourself. Government must be decisive about the avengers because if it is not tackled now, it could become worse.