Why Passage Of 2018 Budget Is Delaying – Sen Bwacha
Sen Emmanuel Bwacha, who represents Taraba South Senatorial zone, is also Deputy Minority Leader in the Senate. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the Senator gives an insight into why there is a delay to pass the 2018 budget. He also spoke on the security situation in the country.
Barely 24 hours after Mr. President visited Taraba State to condole with the people, there were fresh killings. What is your take on this?
I have personally thanked the President for the visit because we were becoming discouraged about his government. When he visited, it calmed nerves and gave the people hope. It showed that he is interested in our welfare and that he cares about what is happening in the state. I have personally conveyed my appreciation over the visit.
What is really the cause of the killings in Taraba State?
The killings are not peculiar to Taraba State alone. It has become a phenomenon in the country. It is happening In Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Ebonyi and other places. It is like a cankerworm. It has become an epidemic that is spreading round the country. It is a systemic problem that we have to deal with. I have always said that as a country, it is time we suspend everything and face the insecurity challenge. We have to shelve the politics of 2019 and face this insecurity crisis squarely, else there might not be a 2019 general election. Otherwise, we will wake up one day and realise that there is no country called Nigeria.
Is Nigeria’s unity negotiable?
Yes, our unity is negotiable, that is why we are calling for a dialogue. Let us define the no-go areas and the general areas. That is what is popularly called restructuring. Some people are still interested in expansionism while others are still interested in dominating others, and so on. We need to sit down and begin to appreciate our strengths and weaknesses. We need to take a look at our federalism…
So you don’t think this federalism is working?
The purpose of sitting together is to make it work, otherwise what we have now is not a true federal structure. It is more of a unitary structure. We need to achieve a 100 percent federalism.
Is the Buhari administration doing enough to stop the carnage that is spreading throughout the country?
That is an interesting question and that is what we want the government to do. If the government must be seen to be doing enough, they must suspend the politics of re-election. They must address the insecurity facing us. We need to come up with an agenda by getting the traditional rulers, opinion leaders and key players together so that we can find out people residing in their domains. We need to know if they are truly working to protect the lives of Nigerians. These are some of the questions we need to start asking some people in Nigeria.
The killer herdsmen have been described as the third dangerous terrorist group in the world by the global terrorism index, yet the federal government has refused to acknowledge this fact, do you see the herdsmen as terrorists?
Yes, they are terrorists. The government came to terms with Boko Haram as terrorists and so the herdsmen that kill Nigerians are also terrorists. I have said it several times that the Boko Haram members that are being released into the society are the same people that turn around and call themselves herdsmen otherwise, how can you have 20 people following seven or 10 cows. Is that the new model of herdsmen now? Some of us grew up with herdsmen; we used to go to their ‘Ruga’ (colony) and drink their ‘nono’ (milk), and we exchange pleasantries with them. So why this sudden surge in attacks and killings of innocent people in Nigeria? These are not herdsmen. When you pay them or compensate them for killing Nigerians, it means you are robbing Peter to pay Paul. We have been fighting terrorism and those members that were disseminated melted into the crowd and are now calling themselves herdsmen. These boko haram members are also intelligent. Some of them went to school before they said it was haram. They have people who are well schooled in technology and are in specialised fields. If they say they are herdsmen, their elites in government will protect them. We must address these challenges. Federal government must suspend everything and move across the states and talk to Nigerians. Traditional rulers must be carried on board. But because they are not carried along and included in the scheme of things by the government, they just fold their hands and watch. So there are deliberate saboteurs in the system, from the military, police and other apparatus of government who are sympathetic to the insurgency. They have come out to say it times without number. We need to re-examine the terrorists in Nigeria and examine every public office holder. There are many ways we can go about these things. It shouldn’t be a situation where people are being lackadaisical; where you fly in jets and bomb the place, the insurgents scatter, go somewhere and regroup again. They go to communities and kidnap people, after they are paid, they release them.
Some have blamed the killings on the anti-grazing law passed by the states, do you think this is true? Those were desperate measures that you adopt to protect the lives of your people. Like I said, if those were the herdsmen we used to know, there wouldn’t be any need for the laws. If somebody decides that he wants to be a herdsmen so that he can garner support from some elites, kill and be compensated, then you have to ensure a blanket ban on open grazing so that you don’t give them an opportunity until the problem is addressed. Those who are kicking against the law have something to hide. They know that these are not the herdsmen we used to know in Nigeria. Who are these herdsmen that suddenly go about killing people? I didn’t mention Kogi State yet, they have gone there and killed innocent people despite the fact that the state government has given them free atmosphere to operate. Who told you they are herdsmen? They are not herdsmen. Beneath the facade of this killing is an underground scheme that will soon unfold.
Some Nigerians have advised the federal government to declare a state of emergency in those states, what is your take on this?
That is an elitist approach to the issue. We need to bring the traditional rulers, leaders and other stakeholders and make them understand the need to start asking questions. They need to know the people living in their midst and report suspicious movements to government. Looking at the Senate, since the Electoral Amendment Bill was passed by the National Assembly, with particular reference to the reordering of election sequence, there has been mixed reactions and the president has refused to accent to it. Does the state of things bother you? It is normal. Even though the president has refused to accent to it, I am sure that very soon the Senate will come out with a position on it.
The two chambers of the National Assembly have come up with a date that the 2018 budget will be released but what is causing the delay?
Some of the President’s appointees are largely responsible for the delay. Some have not even submitted their budget. They behave as if the National Assembly is not an arm of government. They describe legislators as ‘those boys’ when some of the senators can be their fathers. But simply because they sign cheques and award contracts, so they feel they are above the laws of the land. It is a systemic challenge. The system has made everybody serving in the executive as an overlord. They don’t know that this is a tripartite arrangement. Each Governance arms must respect the other. No arm of government is more important than the other, except if you are operating from the point of ignorance. But what happens is that when we send for a minister to come and defend the budget, he will reply that he has gone to Europe, and yet Nigerians blame the legislature for the delay in passing the budget? Because he/ she feels the National Assembly is not important, they respect only the executive. Some head of agencies don’t even come here to defend their budget.
The Senate recently came under heavy criticism after Sen Shehu Sani revealed how much senators collect as running cost, are you worried about this? There is nothing wrong about that. I am happy because many Nigerians thought we were taking home N35million monthly. I don’t see anything wrong with that revelation. But have Nigerians asked what the security vote of the President and governors is?
Even in states that are financially disadvantaged, the governors get N500million as security vote in a month. Have Nigerians asked how these monies are spent? So if you say N13.5million in a month, that is four weeks is much, do Nigerians really know the things we face in a month? Do they know the number of people that come to us and the kind of poverty that is in the land? If you know how the money is broken down and what goes to the people, you will be amazed. But because the National Assembly has been looked down by Nigerians, they just sit in their homes and believe anything they hear. I am not happy that Sani did not reveal it sooner because it would have helped us in some of our activities.
I don’t owe anybody any explanations on how we spent funds given to us because we don’t have anything to hide. I am a Christian and I don’t hide anything. My life is an open book because God sees my heart. The monies are not slush funds. We don’t throw it away. I am happy that Nigerians now know that we are under paid. Go to parliamentarians all over the world, they are always criticised. People don’t care about what their governors and ministers receive. But because we are legislators, they just focus on us and believe anything they hear or read. We have so many governors in the chambers now who didn’t know the truth, but because they are here now, they have come to understand what we have been going through. Even Sani that was an activist came and saw but did he conquer? I am sure he is also overwhelmed by some of the problems we face here and the negative things we hear every day. I agree that there are some legislators that have abused their constituency projects but anti-corruption agencies should check these facts and prosecute those found guilty.