IDEAS Radio 29 March 2019 

Aghogho Oboh: Welcome to Countdown 2019 on 99.3 Nigeria Info FM.  It’s ten minutes past four. I’m Aghogho Oboh and we’re streaming this live on Facebook as well as on Twitter.

We’ll begin with the IDEAS segment where we’re going to be asking the question: Does the process by which the leadership of the National Assembly emerge affect its oversight and accountability duties. It’s a question Ayo Obe will be asking on Countdown on the IDEAS segment.

And you can follow the programme on Twitter, the different handles, @Countdown2019NG, @RotimiSankore, @AghoghoOboh, @sezekwesili @NigeriaInfoFM, @ideasradiong.

And then you can also tweet if you’ve got questions.  WhatsApp number also important for you if you cannot get through when we throw open the lines is 08095975805. 

So Ayo!  Good evening.

Ayo Obe: Hi.  Hello. Well, I think this is the final stretch as regards the 2019 elections … 

RS: For the governorships …

AO: For the governorships, but we’re still … well, they’re part of the elections, and we’re … everything is moving to the courts.  That’s not why I’m dressed like this …

RS: You look like you’re prepared for a legal battle.

AgO: By the way, if you get on Facebook and Twitter, you can see Ayo in legal costume

RS: On Facebook and Twitter, if you haven’t seen Ayo in legal … 

AgO: … costume

AO: Well, part of the costume, anyway: not the paraphernalia of the horsehair wig …

RS: And your hair looks sufficiently black and white, or grey and white.

AO: Well, it’s always been like that. It’s always been like that!

So, but what we’re looking at in this section, is because with the National Assembly membership taking shape, of course subject to litigation, election petitions and so on, with that taking shape, the ruling party is once again trying to decide in advance what its dream ticket looks like.  And I say “once again” and I use the word “ruling party” without specifying APC or PDP, because ruling parties have continued to have this idea that they can dictate what’s going to happen in the National Assembly. And time and again, they’ve come a cropper.

RS: Well, in the past, just going down memory lane, when the PDP was the ruling party at the national level, it has tried … the executive has tried to influence … 

AO: Well, I think when you say “the executive” I think that we should actually put it where it’s supposed to be, first of all, which is with the party.

RS: Well, okay, so the ruling party has tried to select, and often the executive has had a view … 

AO: Oh yes.

RS: …  as to who it would prefer, but more often than not the members of the House  are the ones that have selected or elected their own leadership, and this has happened even when PDP … 

AO: Particularly when PDP, in fact … the … because APC has only had one try, and it didn’t, it failed spectacularly.  It ended up with not just with not its own choice, but it ended up with a PDP Senator as the Deputy Senate President, and I don’t think one can really envisage, one really can look at anything that was more of a failure, at least when the PDP tried to impose, and the members went against the wishes of the PDP, they at least did choose members from within their own party that they preferred, rather than members that they didn’t prefer.

RS: So specifically what leadership are we looking at?

AO: We’re looking particularly at the leadership of the National Assembly, the Senate, the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, and then the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Deputy Speaker.   Now certainly we can remember the emergence of Bankole, Oladimeji Bankole as the Speaker, that was not the choice of the PDP which wanted to have somebody from the South West, but they also wanted to burnish their gender sensitive credentials by having a female speaker, particularly after the era in which the first female Speaker of the House had crashed and burned, for offences that were … 

RS: I think that was Monica Akande …

AO: No, that was Patricia Etteh

RS: No, the one afterwards … 

AO: The one that they now wanted to

RS: That was Akande from Oyo State.

AO: But the members chose someone else because as I said, the PDP wanted to show that it was an inclusive party by proposing a female Senator, a female Member from the House, from Oyo State.  Then again, even the emergence of then Speaker Tambuwal, same difference. And at the Senate level, we saw that the Obasanjo administration was quite forceful in making sure that its choice would emerge as the Speaker, but those Speakers seemed to inevitably crash and burn and then the National, the Senate would choose its, would make its own choice.

RS: Its own preferred choice

AO: So now, we have a situation, and without going too much into the politics of it, the question is that: Does the failure of the Executive to get its own choice as the, or the person that it would prefer, or that the Party would prefer, as the Speaker or the President, of the House or the President of the Senate, does that increase or decrease the Accountability performance of the National Assembly?  Do they exercise more oversight when they are independent or do they not?

RS: Well, I … I know that this is one of the issues that people differ on because some people think that: one, the ruling party has a right to have a member of their party as the leader of the legislature, so that’s one issue.  Some people treat it as a right, the ruling party must produce, that’s one. Two, some people think that it shouldn’t just be a member of their party, but a person of their choice.

AO: Yes.

RS: So those are two issues that …

AO: Well, I mean, I think that because we are coming from a parliamentary system which is the Westminster model, where you have less insistence that the … in the first place, the principal officers such as the Speaker in a parliamentary system don’t necessarily change, in fact the tradition is, the convention is that the Speaker is not opposed in his constituency when he’s running for re-election, so he becomes a non-  … wherever he emerged from or she emerged from … 

RS: Nobody contests against the Speaker, hence the UK speaker for instance …

AO: Yes.  The Speaker of the House of …  Well but if you look at the kind of presidential system that we have, for which I suppose the nearest we have is the Congress of the United States, the ruling party does … the leadership does go with the ruling party, so … and there, it’s more a matter of the ranking  member. Here we have to balance both the ranking and the zonal, geopolitical balancing. But the point is Rotimi is does this have an impact on the way that the National Assembly holds the Executive to account, or is what we’ve seen more of power struggle between the Executive and the National Assembly, with the question of  actual Accountability coming a very distant fourth or fifth in the considerations of our Distinguisheds and Honourables?

RS: Well, again, partly because we’ve come from a long era of military rule, I think there are a lot of people, especially if they are supporters of whatever happens to be the ruling party at the time, they think that in fact the National Assembly has to play second fiddle to the Executive, and those people think that when the National Assembly tries to hold the Executive to account, or play, tries to play its oversight role, it’s constitutional role … 

AO: That’s what I’m asking.  Do they ever actually do that?

RS:  Well, so, my answer is that some people think that when the National Assembly tries to play its oversight role, that it is obstructing, so you see the statement this week … 

AO: That’s why I’m saying  there’s actually playing an oversight role and then there’s

RS: … power struggle.

AO: Obstructing.  And what I’m asking is: Have we actually seen the National Assembly really calling people to account?

RS: Well in the case of the Budget, say the 2018 Budget, we had a statement this week from the President in which he said that he wishes the Budget process had moved much faster last year.  Of course, we all agree we hope the budget process had moved much faster.

AO: Well it would help if they got the budget before the National Assembly on time!

RS: On time.  But he then insinuated that it didn’t move quick enough because the National Assembly was obstructing.

AO: Yes, and what was the National Assembly’s explanation?  Was it actually … 

RS: So the National Assembly then claims that they had to interrogate the budget as submitted and they then said in fact, that the Budget was not submitted  on time, which is true. Which, not submitted on time. But the National Assembly also says that the Budget did not include a lot of line items which they thought they should be there, they had to clarify, and that those clarifications took a lot of time.  So that’s their argument for the oversight function. Now obviously because of the way the ruling party felt that the leadership emerged, there was power struggle, because some people just dedicated all their time to trying to wrest the power back to whoever they thought it belonged to … 

AO: Yes, but also, those who were in power, apart from saying that they had to interrogate line items, were they in fact holding anyone to account?

RS: By my standards, no.

AO: That’s the point!

RS: By my standards, eventually, No.  Because if I was Senate President of Speaker of the House of Reps …

AO: The things you would pick on, or would oversee are not the ones … 

RS: … are not the ones that that they were choosing, because I would be focusing for instance, on human development issues  to drive the country forward education, health, housing, rail and so on. In fact, I would take a view that the House needs to support those issues more, even more than the Executive has put forward, and that that would be a basis for cooperation.  Now in terms of specifics, it turned out that in the last leadership, not only were they not taking a leadership role to say … 

AO: In terms of holding the government to account, yes.

RS: In terms of issues, in terms of saying the government is not doing enough here or there, we propose more houses, more schools, more teachers, and so forth.  And so, we can say that they didn’t play that role, but that is the kind of role that they should be playing and if the Executive is able to impose or make it a tradition, regardless of party, if they make it a tradition that they have a right to impose, then that oversight function does not work any more.

AO: I mean, I think that we’re really in the weeds of Nigerian politics simply because we just haven’t seen … it’s not really a matter of leadership it’s really the fact that we haven’t seen our elected representatives play the role … 

RS: Play the role they’re supposed

AO: … and properly educate themselves about the role that they ought to be playing in this regard, because quite frankly, whichever party you belong to, if you have cogent points to make rather than quote and unquote ‘obstructionist points’, if you have what we like to call constructive criticisms, they can help to drive the development agenda forward but what we’re seeing at the moment, is that if a leadership emerges, let’s say, if the government, if the Executive and the party get their own way, a leadership emerges which is what they want, then the tendency is that the people who will be called: Not that trouble maker who his always asking awkward questions in connection with the oversight role …

RS: human development

AO: …  but this only person who only stands up to say: Can we congratulate so and so on the wonderful job that they’re doing.  So it’s really something we need to have to pay attention to. I should also draw your attention perhaps to – though it’s a story that’s been denied – that the choice of the ruling party for the Senate President was alleged to have said that the Constitution  should be amended to allow our elderly President to run for even more terms than he’s constitutionally entitled to at the moment, and I just thought that we should also flag up that if those are his views – and he’s certainly denied them – but if those are his views that he’s  harbouring in the bosom of his innermost heart the reality of Nigeria’s Constitution is that a constitutional amendment also has to be approved by two thirds of the State Houses of Assembly by a majority vote in each of, in two thirds of the Houses of Assembly, and as it happens, if such a proposal gets, follows party preferences, one would find that the, that no party has a two thirds majority at the State … 

RS: … at the state  level

AO: at the State House of Assembly level.

RS: Which is another important reason why we need to pay attention to what happens in the National Assembly, because once the Rivers elections are over – hopefully on the 13th of April – the attention switches to the National Assembly.  And as Adams Oshiomhole said when he met with the APC members of the National Assembly, he said (and I quote): “We have the numbers to change the Constitution even if we want.”

AO: You don’t!

RS: And I felt actually Mr. Chairman of APC, you don’t.

AO: Absolutely not!

RS: You have the numbers in one chamber, in one house of the National Assembly … 

AO: … which is the …

RS: …which is the House of Reps. 

AO: Yes, but you don’t have two thirds of the Senate. 

RS: Yes.  But more importantly, if you look at the requirement which you just mentioned, that they also need two thirds of the States, then they don’t have that.   So the public education is really important because anybody that would have been watching that meeting, 

AO: You’d have started wondering what are these … 

RS: … what’s Oshiomhole saying?  They have the power to change the Constitution?  And what do they want to change in the Constitution?

AO: You see, I mean, some people would say: if what you want to change is the immunity clause,

RS: For instance, to improve accountability.

AO: … then that could be something  that the Nigerian public would support.  But if what you’re saying is that we want to abolish term limits I don’t think that’s going to fly very well with the Nigerian people and certainly, if it were to become the policy of the ruling party, they would find that the support they were able to get by virtue of being a less ugly bride than the alternative, might turn the other bride into a beauty after all.  So I think that these kind of statements, it’s kind of a loose talk, I mean, it may be good enough …

RS: Yes, but it raises flags as to why everyone has to pay attention to what is happening in the National Assembly, the Senate, the House of Reps and the State Houses of Assembly.  Because if people don’t pay attention to it, or don’t understand what the balance of the requirements should be for constitutional amendments and so forth, then one party can blag the country into trouble and certainly if they do have those numbers, could get the country into trouble if citizens are not paying attention.

AO: And I think also, that our citizens tend to, we tend to not interrogate what our elected legislators do; we don’t look at their voting record, we don’t ask them …  apart from the Third Term saga of 2006, there’s really very little, and that’s why the legislators have found it so difficult to be asked by organisations like Tracka: What happened to the constituency projects for which money was released which you nominated?  They really don’t like being asked to account for anything!

RS: The point which you are making which Nigerians need to pay attention to more, is that in most developed countries where there is more transparency and accountability, constituents can interrogate the voting record of their representatives, and accountability organisations can also do so in order to point out that this member of parliament …    

AO: When it came to child rights, when it came to women’s rights … 

RS: You didn’t vote for education, you didn’t vote for health, you didn’t vote for women’s rights, you supported more nuclear weapons … 

AO: You didn’t vote for child rights …

RS: So next time when the person turns up and says I want … you say: Ah no no!  When the bill for more funding for education came up, you raised your hand against it and said that: “Any education that is free is not useful”.  So who are you representing really? So I think these issues and more, are issues that we’ll be looking at in the run up to the National Assembly … 

AO: … inauguration.  

RS: … yes, and the election of their leadership.

AO: Well, I think we can assume that the APC is not going to be at a presidential meeting when they should be electing their principal officers!

RS: Well if they do, it will be too bad for them.

AO: Well, as they say.  But I think also that we, I think we’re going to see … I’m sorry, I think I should actually stop the IDEAS segment – it’s such an interesting topic which gets very little airing.

RS: Well, but we have a lot of time between now between now and early June when the National Assembly has to elect its leadership, to … because once Rivers is done and out of the way, the attention switches to the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly, and then we can the  interrogate this in more detail.

AO: It’s going to be a very interesting situation in some State Houses of Assembly.

AgO: Sokoto for example

AO: Sokoto yes.  The APC has, I think the APC has 16 seats and the PDP has 14, but the Governor comes from the PDP.  So with that, I want to urge listeners to please follow us on Twitter @ideasradiong, check out our website ideasradio.ng, And you can also see some of our videos on the YouTube channel if you weren’t watching us live today.  So over to you, Rotimi and Aghogho. And Georges!