Hon. Peter Ohiozojeh Akpatason is a member of the House of Representatives, representing Akoko-Edo Federal Constituency of Edo State and chairman, House Committee on Civil Society Organisations, CSOs. In this interview with BODE GBADEBO, he bared his mind on the controversial NGOs Regulation Bill and other front-burner issues.
Where are we now on the “rested” NGOs Regulation Bill?
The Bill is not rested. We have had series of interactive sessions with stakeholders from different segments of the society to look at the content of the Bill and to see what best to do. So, as I speak now we are at the final stage. We have also set up some options for people to deliver their positions ahead of time either through physical postage or email and the rest of them to the committee and those who are able to come physically to make their presentations and at the end if which we will do our job and make appropriate recommendations to the House for further legislative actions.
The National Assembly came under severe attacks over this Bill, how did all that come across to you?
I’m not seeing it as being different from any other Bill. A Bill is a Bill and we have our procedures and processes. It is what is in the Standing Orders of the House that we are going to apply. We will deal with it as a Bill, simple! Nothing more and nothing less. We are not afraid of opposition. We are not expecting that everybody will clap for every Bill. People will object to the Bill and then you will take the objections with sense of responsibility and you process whatever information that comes out of the public hearing and make appropriate recommendations. The right thing will be done, that is one thing that I’m sure about. Nobody will be cowed to do what is not right, neither is the House going to act in its own interest but the interest of Nigeria, it is as simple as that. Those who are attacking National Assembly for proposing a Bill are just ignorant and a lot of them are selfish because they have been making merchandise of the situation on ground. A few of them actually but there are people who have been engaging the House constructively on this Bill, those are informed people, those are people with good intentions. Now we are ready to look at it from all perspectives.
Recently, there was a meeting between the National Assembly and the CSOs, organized by Policy and Legislative Advocacy Center (PLAC) where the CSOs suggested to be included in public hearings, budget defence and lawmaking process. How far has that proposal been realised?
I don’t know if in the Western World CSOs join lawmakers to make laws and do budget hearings and the rest of them. I don’t think there is anywhere it happens. So, it is a new idea that somebody has just initiated, but I don’t think it is a practice for now. But personally I welcome the involvement of CSOs in most of what we do and it has to be CSOs with requisite knowledge and experience, those with the right and appropriate thematic areas. I think such organizations should be given the opportunity because in most cases they are professionals and could give professional advice.
As a member of the APC, do you think your party can still come tops in 2019 elections?
I think it will be easier for APC to win 2019 election than in 2015 because we have a president who mean so well for this country, who has got the guts to confront what people thought were untouchable, he is doing a wonderful work. The recession wad unfortunate. Recession does not happen overnight, it is a consequence of a lot of activities and a lot of failures cumulatively and people will say don’t blame the past government, if you don’t blame the past government who are you going to blame? They damaged this economy and APC is just trying to manage what they have damaged. It is difficult, you cannot find it easy anywhere, you cannot sanitize a rotten system without facing some challenges. This is what President Buhari and his team are facing today but if he was not there to do what he is doing, I wonder where we would have been in this country. If we were still in an era of impunity, in an era of ostentatious consumption, in an era of wastefulness, it would have been really worse. Many people might not see it from this perspective but the truth of the matter is that it is real. So, a lot of Nigerians are appreciating the effort of the president on the platform of APC and I’m personally convinced that he is going to contest and that he is going to win the election in 2019.
Are you not worried about the public perception that members of the National Assembly get more than what they deserve in monetary terms?
I receive N626,000 a month. If you know any additional one, let me know and if you tell me that is not enough, I will think that you don’t know what exactly you are talking about. I don’t have any other earning or any salary other than that. No salary or allowance other than that, that is what I get. I don’t know about other people but I just told you what I get and you can put it anywhere. We have a lot of responsibilities, we have a budget that is meant for so many budget heads. Now if you think that individual legislators earn more than they are not supposed to earn, I think that people should be honest enough to investigate and come up with facts. Let’s stop speculating unnecessarily, somebody say the other time that legislators earn N29million. Now before this 2017 budget, the total budget of National Assembly was N115billion, if you multiply 360 representative members and 109 Senators by 12 times, it gives you about a hundred and fifty something billion naira which is far more than the entire budget of the National Assembly and that budget is not meant for legislators’ salaries alone, there are overhead costs, capital projects all over the place. We have National Institute for Legislative Studies with a DG, chairman of board and commissioners. We have National Assembly Service Commission with commissioners all over the country and we have members of staff and management in National Assembly and a lot of operational things that all of these come from the N115billion and you are telling the world that people receive N29million, it doesn’t make sense honestly.
Don’t you think that the wrong perception about the National Assembly is as a result of the attitude of its leadership, which refused to publicly disclose lawmakers’ pay?
When the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara published his salary, did you people care about it? If fake news come, it goes viral but when the real one come, you ignore it, that is the problem. I think that you people should also take interest in trying to unveil that thing called security vote with the executive arm of government.