A former deputy chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) in the eighth National Assembly and a two-term member of the House, Honourable Mark Gbillah, in this by KEHINDE AKINTOLA, speaks on the leadership style of Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, among other issues.
HOW true is a report that members of the House were coerced to donate their salaries for two months to fight COVID-19 as alleged by one of the All Progressives Congress (APC) members in the House?
You said an APC member? I am not seeing that, but what I can say is that they didn’t go through due process. We are not against contributing to the effort but the Speaker is not the Lord of the Manor. He’s what in law they call the First among equals. We elected him; he’s not our superior, so the decision was not taken with the buy-in of all members. That is why there is dissent now; that is what a lot of members are protesting against, that you don’t collect my salary without asking for my permission. But that was not done. He just sat down in what appears to be an attempt at outdoing the Senate. So, the point to make now is that, for an administration that forced the leadership of the National Assembly upon all of us, these two heads of each arm of the National Assembly don’t seem to be working in synergy. They should have sat down together and said,‘okay, let’s talk to all our colleagues and see what we can do.’ When the Senate came up with 50 per cent of their salaries, then as if in an attempt to outdo them, the Speaker now came out with a two-month salary. There was no cohesion. In the Senate, maybe you can find out from the senators, we heard there was no dissent because the President of the Senate consulted them widely, which is the right thing to do. But in the House, it was not done. And I must emphasise that this is also because, up till now, the speaker is leading a divided House and carrying on in a very divisive manner. I don’t know whether he is doing it himself or allowing those who supported him to continue that way. For instance, there is a platform on Whatsapp for members, who supported him; other members who didn’t support him are not on that platform, where they discuss issues. That doesn’t show a united House or an attempt to unite the House. If the Speaker is aware of that, he should immediately call a halt to it.
Is it possible that the Minority Caucus in the House bought into the donation of two months’ salaries before going public?
Yes, they appear to have bought into it. If you would have noticed that when he (the Speaker) presides over meetings, it is as if they are all in support of him than his own party men. You will see the supposed Minority Leader and Deputy Minority Leader always following him around in all the events.
Now they are talking about an additional one million names to the register of the poor and vulnerable. Are you being carried along in all the consultations and meetings being held with the executive arm of government?
No, we are not carried along. This is a point that all Nigerians need to know. The leadership is carrying on as if they are the National Assembly, and we are waiting to see when they go out of line for us to call them to order. That is why the issue of salary has come up. We can be reached, all of us have phone numbers; they can even create an online platform for us to interact. We are just watching. There are some constitutional provisions that we will cite against them if they attempt to go out. Our legal team will want to know if all these monies they are releasing were approved. I’ve been told that it is not they that are approving them, but, it is the executive that is looking for their own resources. I said okay, because there are some things that, constitutionally, it is the National Assembly that will pass it; they didn’t say the leadership. These are things Nigerians should be aware of and they need to be called to order. So, all the meetings they are having with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, it is to feather their own nest.
And on the second leg of your question, it is an embarrassment to say they (executive) are just adding one million; it is an insult on Nigerians. The questions we are asking is, where did that register emanate from and who are the people on the register? We are going to carry out a forensic investigation into the Social Intervention Programme (SIP). It is an administration that plays to the gallery and tries to cast aspersions on the National Assembly by suddenly starting a spurious investigation into constituency projects but cannot account for the hundreds of billions of naira that they release every year they call a register. Who compiled the register; is it the World Bank or Nigeria? That’s the stupid excuse they’ve been giving the public. But, we’re not deceived; we are not impressed by the additional one million names. In a country of an estimated 200 million people, they are talking about adding one million names to the existing 2.6 million! So, they can identify only 2.6 million people initially as being those who are vulnerable in a country of 200 million? Are they serious? They are now adding one million, what difference does that make? We are not deceived; we will have to investigate those on that register and know the individuals, as well as identify every single person who hascollected money under this programme.
But do you think the proposed move for investigation will see the light of the day, knowing well that the House is controlled by the APC?
What we, as the real opposition, not those people masquerading as opposition leaders right now, are planning to do is that any gemane issue that is not allowed on the floor of the House, we will raise it in the court of public opinion. We will open it in the court of public opinion and carry out our own parallel public hearings. So, if people think that, because they owe allegiance to the government, they will stop the process from being carried out, we will go to the people and carry out the process. If they don’t respond to us, then Nigerians will know that corruption is going on.
So, we intend to hold this administration accountable on this SIP. We are going to demand from the Humanitarian Minister and the former Special Adviser who issued a very insulting letter, to give us the register broken down to each constituency. Our member in every constituency will go and verify the list and identify those individuals that they said are the vulnerable poor. We need the comprehensive list down to constituencies. We are giving ourselves that responsibility; every member will go and verify in his constituency the so-called individuals they said they paid. We want to know how they came up with the list. It is not a matter we are going to let go at all. We must get to the bottom of it.
Another issue is the 50 million Euros donated by European Union and money running into millions of naira by philanthropists to fight COVID-19. How do you intend to ensure accountability?
We intend to do that. These are all issues; all the philanthropic donations from the non-governmental organisations to international bodies and individuals, we will demand for the record of the total collections and how every single dime was expended. That is why some of us support the Senate President’s stance that a separate committee should be constituted to manage the funds. The job of the task force is not to manage funds; their own responsibility is to manage the coronavirus pandemic with regards to how things should be channeled. If they need resources, they should contact the committee, which will approve and send it to where it is required. The process we believe should be more transparent so that we will know who we should hold accountable. But the way they are managing the funds, they will need to give account to us immediately. This is where the media needs to help us to have the records of the donations. Let Nigerians know this is how much, so far, has been collected; that is what I will suggest that the media should do. We shall be asking for the details.
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