Senator Sulaiman Adokwe represents Nasarawa South in the Senate, where he serves as Chairman of the Committee on Services. In this interview with Soni Daniel and Ruth Choji, the lawmaker explains the steps taken by the leadership to stabilise the upper legislative chamber and why it is advisable for President Goodluck Jonathan to abide by the resolutions of the National Assembly.
What is the magic behind the relative peace in the Senate since 2007?
Well the problem of change of guard rests squarely on the leadership. If the leadership gives room to be removed, that will happen and vice versa. In our present situation, I believe the credit must go to the leadership style of the Senate president, David Mark, who has taken steps to put the place in order since his election in 2007.
The stability that has so far been witnessed in the Senate is a testimony of his qualitative leadership style. With the crop of leaders we have produced in the Senate, there has been absolute loyalty; the Senate president and his deputy have maximum support and cooperation.
They are very fair and transparent in whatever they do. Once you have those qualities, there is no need for changes. Those of us from the north central zone, where Mark comes from have been very supportive of him. Nobody will give chance for the banana peel to work.
But the feeling among Nigerians is that the Senate has remained peaceful because the lawmakers do not want to rock the boat or do anything that can hurt the ruling PDP.
Well if Nigerians are saying that, then you can see from the manner we conduct debates on the floor. The Senate does not hesitate to say what it feels if the president or executive is going wrong. There are times that the president’s bills have been thrown out and that does not mean that we want to rock the boat.
The Senate may not be as radical as people want, largely because it is made up of people who have come a long way and people who have seen it all. I think the youngest senator cannot be less than 40 and most of them have made their mark in life- they know all the nuances of life and certain realities of office.
They may therefore not be as radical as their counterparts in the House of Representatives but at the end of the day the achievement of the National Assembly is one and the same. Remember what happened during the fuel subsidy removal: the House of Representatives was very decisive by telling the president to go back to the old price; the Senate came out in similar fashion but not very outspokenly as the Reps.
But it was the Senate that flew the kite when Senator Saraki raised the issue that the nation was spending an outrageous amount on subsidy and asked for the probe. So it is a matter of style, but the bottom line is that, the result will always be the same. The national assembly is always on the side of Nigerians.
The subsidy probe report is as good as dead going by claims by some of the president’s men that resolutions of the national assembly are not binding on the Executive
Well, I read the statement credited to the Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs that resolutions of the National Assembly are merely persuasive and not binding on Mr. President. I will say that from the legal perspective, they are not binding; they don’t have the same power as the bills passed and assented to by the president. But where the executive is mindful of the powers of the National Assembly, it knows that a resolution is the mind of the national assembly and should not be ignored for a mutual relationship to flow between them.
Resolutions are what the national assembly wants done. If you ignore it, you do so at your own peril. I do not think that those who are claiming that resolutions of the national assembly are not binding on the President are really fair to him. They danger is that if they claim that motions from the national assembly are not binding on the executive, an urgent need may arise for the same lawmakers to give a nod to some things the executive needs and they may decline on the grounds that their resolutions are not necessary.
From what I have seen between 2007 and now, many major decisions of this administration came into being via the resolutions of the national assembly. There was a time our committee on sport submitted a report on the failure of sports commission and our athletes and highlighted the need for sports administrators to do more in order to uplift performance generally. The report was not targeted at the then minister, who had just done a year or two on the seat.
But the late President Yar’Adua, who watched the debate on the television, removed the man who was in charge the following day. He did not wait for us to send him the report but he knew where the mind of the national assembly was on the matter and what Nigerians wanted. So this is a typical example of how presidents react.
When I heard that a minister and a special adviser in the Jonathan administration are not binding, I was shocked because the regime is a beneficiary of our resolution. We do not expect them to make such comments at this point in time. They should be the last people to make such comments. So I think they are not being fair to the president, not to the national assembly because the national assembly will always have its day one day.
But now they are claiming that they have not seen the report on the subsidy probe
Whether they have seen the report or not see it, it has become a public issue that has elicited a lot of interest in Nigeria and in the international community. If you are mindful of your position in governance, you cannot ignore such a report. Once you are in government, it is your duty to listen to the news and read newspapers so as to read the public mood and act decisively.
So if you conveniently go on a blissful slumber, when you are wake up and the country is on fire, you will know that there are certain things that you saw but ignored. So I don’t think that anybody should pretend that they have not seen the report.
Nigerian people know what the subsidy report is all about and they are compassionate about it. So any responsive government should be able to pay attention to it. Even if they have not had the report, they should look for it and do something about it. It is up to the executive to implement the report.
The government should be alert to public feeling to the extent that even if it is alerted by mere hint that something has happened, they should be able to begin to investigate it with a view to prosecuting those found wanting. Our duty is to expose and theirs is to carry out our recommendations. The subsidy probe report has clearly brought out to the lime light what goes on in the industry.
Other probe reports have given an insight into what happens in those sectors and next time when the people have the opportunity to choose, they will be well informed and such a person should not be returned into power. If for instance anybody is indicted by the national assembly, and the executive pretends that they don’t know that somebody has been indicted. If you appoint him to any position, the Senate cannot confirm him because it will also amount to self-indictment.
As the security situation worsens, do you support dialogue with Boko Haram as a means of ending the violence?
The Nigerian system defies logic in every sense of the word. The basis of government at all is that, government’s primary duty is to provide for the welfare and security of lives of its citizens. When it is unable to do so, it loses its legitimacy to the throne. Unfortunately in this country, we have established a precedent where you negotiate with criminals.
Most countries like Israel and America will tell you that they don’t negotiate with criminals and they will fight until hey overcome it. Some people will quote John Kennedy that ‘we are not afraid to negotiate, but we won’t negotiate out of fear’. He was talking on different level, not on this kind of situation. But I always maintain that, since we have started that, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Maybe somewhere along the line, government will acquire sufficient muscles and necessary political will to deal with situation such as this as the situation arises. But in our environment, this is subjected to all sorts of sentiments and that is why it is very difficult to separate government action from sentiments. If you have problem with the president, his cousins and nephews will speak and if you have problem with supporting the president, other people will react.
National issues have been deduced to ethnic and religion coloration. This makes it difficult for somebody in the position of power and authority to take decisions objectively. Some of the reasons are the making of government over the years, of not creating the enabling environment that will reduce poverty.
Can this national assembly create any state?
Yes, we can since we have been able to amend the Constitution. The process is laborious but it is possible. We have tested our ability to amend the constitution and it was a success. Creating states must involve every part of the country. In a situation where there is need for it, the county will rise to the occasion.
I know that the more states we are creating, the stronger the center is becoming. While you are doing that, you must also address the issue of devolving power so that we do not make the local and state unit weak and true federalism will be thrown to the dogs.
But some persons are so worried by the trend of events that they are already predicting Nigeria’s disintegration. What is your view?
Of course any sensible person should be genuinely worried going by what is happening in the land. The way things are going, we are drifting too far apart that, we may get to the point where you cannot come back again. We are getting vey dangerously close to the precipice and with one little push, we may go over. I have always said that things like religious insinuations are all creations of the elites.
Any person who is unable to achieve his ambition will recruit his ethnic group to say that; so-so tribe doesn’t like our tribe. The average Nigerian wants to walk freely on the streets of Port Harcourt, Maiduguri and Gasau without molestation. They have a lot of conditions that are similar and like to live with each other. It is not in anybody’s interest for Nigeria to break up because Nigerians have been living peacefully together since the amalgamation in 1914.
In Everyday living, we have intermarried and have so many things in common such that if we split, we will not be able to maintain those boundaries because so much water would have passed under the bridge between us. Some of us coming from the north are saying that we are not taking advantage of some of the things God has given to us with a view to making us stand out from the crowd. In the wisdom of God, the South, which produces oil, can hardly produce any other thing that can give them comparative advantage.
It is water everywhere. So instead of us to boost our agriculture here and maximise what we have by selling those things, we are everyday mourning that we should have had oil. That is what Saudi Arabia and Israel have done and they have stood out in the area of fruit production even though they have deserts that are larger than the little ones we have in our country.
The political scenario in Nasarawa State where you come from is intriguing in that most of the lawmakers are from PDP while the governor is from CPC. What is your relationship with him like?
My relationship with the governor is cordial. I am a senator elected to make laws; the governor was also elected to do certain things for the people. We are bound to collaborate to lift the standard of living of the people. For me in particular, the governor is from my constituency and I have to naturally represent him well.
There is really no difference between those of us in the PDP and those who are in CPC in Nasarawa State because most of them in CPC were founding members of the PDP. It is internal strife that pushed them out.
But we are mindful of the fact that our state is a small undeveloped state and we can therefore not afford the luxury of a fight and continued division in the name of politics. There are sufficient reasons for us to collaborate and work together for the overall interest of the state and its people.