Hon Ibrahim Bello Rigachikun is a Kaduna-born politician and lawyer. He represented Igabi Federal Constituency of Kaduna State from 2011 to 2015 on the platform of defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the 7th assembly. He is currently the National Chairman of President Buhari like-minds Movement. In this interview, Rigachikun bares his mind on the much talked about allegation of budget padding against some principal officers in the lower chamber of the National Assembly and the state of the nation.
You were a member of NASS from 2011 to 2015 on the platform of the defunct CPC. Was there a time disagreement broke out in the House regarding national budget proposal, if there was, did it include what we call padding of which Speaker Yakubu Dogara is at the centre of it all?
You see, in my four years in the NASS, I am grateful to have served Nigeria in that capacity with the help of Almighty Allah who used the then Speaker and now the Sokoto State Governor, Hon Aminu Tambuwal to nominate me to be among the delegates to represent Nigeria’s Pan Africa Parliament. I was there and was elected unopposed by the West African caucus of the steering committee on custom and immigration matters. I was also a member representing Kaduna State in the amendment committee. I was also a member of ethics and disciplinary committee among others, but I have never heard the word padding. Have you ever heard Honourable Speaker Dogara admitting the allegation leveled against by Jibrin? It is so because the word padding is strange both to Nigerian law and legislature. It never exists. Budget scrutiny is not one-sided and you cannot allege that one of the two chambers tampered with the budget proposal without the knowledge of the other.
As a lawyer and a lawmaker, I know that it is in the Nigerian constitution that the executives are saddled with the responsibilities of producing and taking their proposal of that particular year to the NASS. You can never see the word budget in our constitution and I stand to be challenged. What you will see is budgetary proposal and the law to scrutinize, to clear any ambiguity. Then we have standing rule. This is the platform on which committees were created. Among these committees is the appropriation committee, charged with the responsibility of this budget processes. The same thing is applicable in the Senate. All the MDAs, who have input in the proposal will be invited and scrutinized by these committees.
So, by the time all these are done and the discussion at the House where the 360 and 109 members of both chambers have made input subject to debate, there cannot be anything called padding again then. Thereafter, it will be taken back to Mr President for assent.
What I want to tell the public is that the House of Reps alone cannot make the budget the law. So where is this padding? I have not heard any uproar in the Senate and House of Reps cannot make the scrutiny unilaterally. It has to be in agreement with both chambers. So, if there is any word called padding emanating from Reps, we are waiting for what the Senate will call it and that is my position.
Should there really be padding at the end, is there any constitutional provision to deal with any erring member of the House?
Yes, section 69 of our constitution says that any member of NASS, whose constituency has lost confidence or hope; that what he has campaigned for is not what he’s doing in the House, they have the power to recall him. The constitution has not said political parties are involved in that recall process but only the INEC has the power to do that. The process is even simple. It will only take one and a half of number of votes that brought him to recall him. The electorate from such constituency should write a letter with their names with their voting cards to the INEC chairman that they have lost interest in that particular member representing them. Upon receiving that particular letter, the INEC chairman is mandated by the constitution to create a referendum within 90 days in that particular constituency through its state branch. Then, the INEC will now write officially, notifying the head of the House that a particular member has been recalled and that settled it. The same applies in the senate, only that you may have to follow six constituencies that make up a senatorial district. So any member that is fumbling, messing up and failed to deliver what he has bargained with them, stands to be recalled.
Your party, APC is governing at the centre and majority of states going to two years now and it seems not to be getting its bearing yet. The former CBN Governor, Professor Charles Soludo among other economists have said the country’s economy is in trouble. With all sense of sincerity, how will you rate this administration under the leadership of President Muhammadu BUhari?
Well, assessing President Buhari is just a normal experience of any government and its leader. I know Mr. President is doing everything possible to move the country forward. He has done well in securing the country better, far better than he met it. Don’t forget that in the past 17 months or there about, we cannot sleep with our two eyes closed; bombing, shooting, raping, maiming, kidnapping were the order of the day. If they were bombing in North-east and you were in Lagos, you cannot sleep either because you don’t know where next will go up in flames. But today Buhari has rewritten that story.
On the economy, diversifying from oil is receiving attention now than before. We have waited too long but thank God somebody is saying we don’t have to make only oil our source of revenue especially in the present global fall in prices of oil. He promised to look into agriculture as a way of diversifying the economy and that he’s doing already. The rice project in Kebbi State among others has become a success.
Look at the issue of employment. He has been involving more Nigerians in the production process across different strata of the economy. Though the government cannot take everybody because the money we used to have is becoming a mirage; economic recession on one hand, and saboteurs on the other hand. So, despite these challenges, employment is ongoing across the federation with APC States taking the lead.
But then, there are so many saboteurs along the success pathway. Some people, because Mr. President didn’t do what they want, have been around all these while. We call them cabals. Some are ex-leaders; some are political gladiators, trying to go the other way because they are not happy with some of government’s policies. It affects their income so they are not happy. These people are doing everything possible to see that Buhari doesn’t take credit but they will not succeed because this man has passed integrity test.
On the overall, I believe he’s doing well and I want Nigerians to be prayerful and be patient. It was because of the masses he accepted to lead, considering his age. This is a man 74. He’s trying. It is not easy. That is why he has been able to stand the fight against corruption. I’m not saying he is better than every other Nigerian but his character and integrity stand him out. People are making a lot of noise now because they don’t know the value of what they have. So, I want to urge the Christians, Muslims, politicians, economists, industrialists, traders, marketers, youths, CSOs and every single Nigerian to see Nigeria as one and contribute their quota towards its success because we have no other place we can call our own than Nigeria.
There have been suggestions from notable Nigerians that the Nigerian economy is no longer realistic thereby thinking aloud in the direction of restructuring to get the country out of the wood. As a lawyer and parliamentarian, do you also lend your voice to the call for restructuring?
Restructuring in my own perspective is quite different from the way many people are looking at it. I was made to understand that issues of national interest come to the National Assembly where about 180 million Nigerians were represented, all the eminent Nigerians, I mean past leaders, yes they can use their experience to make positive contributions to those in the system now. Look at the referendum that was done during the era of President Goodluck Jonathan, it has become fruitless all because it did not have constitutional backing. That means you cannot have a successful referendum where there is an existing parliament. Nigerians elected these parliamentarians; they are collecting salaries and allowances from taxes paid by Nigerians, so if you now go and pick people from various corners to come and do the work of legislators it cannot work.
I challenged this during my stay in NASS that as a lawyer, it did not have legal backing and so its outcome and I stand to be corrected if there is anything like that because the people there at the referendum have legitimate representatives in the NASS. So, who is fooling who? But then, when it is brought before the NASS, it must be deliberated in both the lower and upper chambers of the House, we can now be thinking of calling a gathering that will look into restructuring as people are suggesting whether to be or not to be.
There seems to be a fallback of efforts of former President Umaru Yar’Adua as regards the crisis in the Niger Delta region. There is a renewed group known today as Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) which came to limelight shortly after the current administration took off in 2015. Does it mean there was a lapse left unaddressed during the last regime?
Honestly, the issue of NDA is unfortunate. The late President Yar’Adua in his wisdom appreciated the process of reconciliation and mediation which had transformed the lives of a lot of those militants that laid down their arms then. Some of them are now lawyers, doctors, engineers and what have you. That was a good and sustainable initiative there. Remember, there is Niger Delta Development Commission, which even became a ministry having a minister to protect their own interest.
So, the idea of breaking away from Nigeria cannot work. Nigeria is a one big entity and no part of it can break off just like that. You would be surprised that even within that region, there are many individuals who are not in support of the crisis there. There is no point attacking the source of our livelihood as a country. One of their leaders, Edwin Clerk is one of those voices that there is no point destroying oil pipelines.
In the same vein, I appreciate a situation whereby the government will go through the monarchs to reach the locals. That may mean if the dividend of democracy meant for the region can be channeled through the monarchs, it will get to the right persons since there is suspicion on the part of the politicians who have represented the region from 1999 to date. When that is done, the monarchs can call politicians to inform them of their stand with the government which will help a great deal to address the issue.
One will want to ask a critical question about what has happened to all the monies accrued to the region since 1999 despite its huge shares from the federation account? They get more money than any other part of this country despite being the smallest region. What have they done with such money that there is no development in the area commensurate with their earnings? So, they are to blame their past leaders. These people have some leaders who they respect and listen to. Federal government should identify such people and mediate through them.