In this interview with SUNDAY ABORISADE, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Gas Resources, Senator Bassey Akpan, says federal lawmakers will resist any attempt by President Muhammadu Buhari to control the National Assembly
You’re a first time senator, how will you describe your experience at the red chamber in the last six months?
The past six months have been very interesting though I am still learning on daily basis. I am happy to find myself in the midst of the high and the mighty in Nigeria and rubbing shoulders with former governors, ministers and other men of capacities and integrity who mean well for this country. I find myself very lucky and blessed and would want to thank the good people of my senatorial district for finding me worthy to speak on their behalf. I hope for better years ahead in the senate.
In spite of the cash crunch, you have proposed to purchase brand new exotic vehicles. Some Nigerians wonder if you have the love of the common man at heart at all.
I think there has been a lot of misinformation on this issue of project vehicles for federal lawmakers. The chairman of my local government has an official car, commissioners in states have official cars, my state governor, the President of Nigeria, ministers, heads of government agencies and parastatals have more than one official car attached to them. So, what is wrong with a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having a single official vehicle? We are not asking for cars that we would park in our houses; we are saying ‘give us cars that we can use for our oversight functions’. These cars will belong to the Senate. At the end of my four-year tenure, I can afford to say ‘Senate, take back your car because it is not my own’. I think we are over flogging the issue and it is because people are misrepresenting the facts of this matter. For me, this is part of what I need to do my job well as a lawmaker. It is like saying that because we will need to spend lots of money to renovate offices, senators should not have offices. These are the paraphernalia of office that would make us function effectively and efficiently in order to deliver on the promises we made to Nigerians. For me and my colleagues, we have ignored all the insinuations on this and other issues as long as what we are doing will bring about the prosperity and unity of Nigeria and the growth of our economy. There is no way any nation can run an economy under a democratic dispensation without the proper oversight. We will not succumb to any attempt to subject the legislature under the tutelage of the executive and we cannot afford that as a nation. We must be able to recognise and respect the doctrine of separation of powers for the good of this country. As a matter of fact, we need more than one car because if I have to go to the Niger Delta for oversight functions from Abuja, I need to send an official car there ahead of my visit and I cannot be using my private car in Abuja because there is no provision for me to service it. These cars belong to the National Assembly and not for senators or House of Representatives members. The fleet of vehicles for the official use of the President belongs to the Villa. A full depreciation of cars is four years and you don’t expect me to go and take over cars that are rickety from former senators. We must ensure that I am comfortable enough so that I can deliver on my legislative responsibilities. You cannot wish me to perform miracles without empowering me to do same.
But President Buhari has said that you don’t need another official vehicle since you have been given transport allowances when you resumed last year.
That is why we are insisting that we must respect the doctrine of separation of powers in this country. It is difficult for the President to dictate to the National Assembly on how to run the parliament because what made this country democratic is the existence of the parliament. The judiciary and the executive existed during the military regimes but there was no legislature. We are the true representatives of the people. There is no way that I will come here on the banner of representing my people and then work against their interest. So I believe that the President was misinformed, because for instance, we are not spending anything close to N46bn on cars. I don’t know how much a Land Cruiser SUV costs and that is what we are buying. We need a four-wheel drive because of the terrain of Nigeria. If there were good roads, I would ask you to buy me a VW Beetle or Santana; I would not care. All I need is to be empowered to discharge my duties effectively. If we don’t discharge the duty of oversight effectively, then Nigeria is heading towards doom. I believe that it is not in the President’s interest to want to dictate to the National Assembly on how we should run our businesses. We are conscious of the sensibilities of this issue. We know what Nigerians are looking for because we reflect their true representation. I was with my people during the Christmas celebration and I know their feelings and I have properly briefed them on this issue. I have their mandate to do what I feel is right and that would bring about the prosperity of Nigeria.
The National Assembly might also be on a collision course with the President on the issue of the Treasury Single Account as it has vowed not to embrace it. What are you hiding?
The only way we could checkmate the excesses of the executive is for us to be truly independent. The only way Nigeria can survive as a country is through the transparent independence of the legislature. We should not be tied to the apron strings of the executive. We are a different arm of government likewise the judiciary. So, we should respect the doctrine of the separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution. The National Assembly has the responsibility to dictate to itself how its businesses should be conducted as long as they are transparent, as long as due process is followed and as long as there is accountability, which we owe Nigerians. We feel that not being part of the TSA arrangement would make us independent so as to be effective and efficient in the discharge of our oversight functions.
As a member of the senate committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, how would you react to insinuations by some Nigerians that your current investigation into the allegations of graft levelled against the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, was to avenge the Senate President?
The Senate does not work in tandem with insinuations. The rules are there and the laws are there. Once a petition comes in, it must be heard and there must be fair hearing on both sides. So we don’t work on the basis of insinuations or the thinking of the public. What we believe is that the right thing should be done in line with the law. We made the law and we must ensure its implementation to the letter, no matter whose ox is gored or the insinuations thereto. But we are assuring Nigerians that as Senate, we have taken our oaths of office to be fair to all concerned without hindrance, affection and ill will. We will also do everything possible to protect and defend the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and this is what we are doing as a body and we will continue to do so, irrespective of intimidation and sentiment.
So how do you explain a statement by a serving senator that a member of your committee is on the board of the non-governmental organisation that wrote the petition against the CCT boss?
Those are details. Since they say the devil is in the details. Those are the details that we will trash out in the Committee of Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. It is not for me to do this in plenary. We accepted the petition so that we will not pre-empt the outcome of the report. We will await the outcome of the report of the committee that would be presented at plenary and it will be discussed by the committee as a whole before a decision would be taken.
The Senate President gave you an ultimatum before you went on break, to round off works on the petition and submit your report. What is delaying your committee from meeting up with the deadline?
The outcome of any petition is given by the enormousity or the coverage of the petition but the committee must ensure fair hearing by all parties. I want to plead for patience; let us wait for the report of our committee on the issue. I don’t want us to pre-empt the outcome. Let us allow the committee to do a thorough job.
You’re a member of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Works that recently travelled across the country to assess the nation’s infrastructure. Aren’t you disappointed by the state of our roads?