He was honoured Senator of the Year 2016 at the Senate Press Corps and Award Night and has been nominated for the 2017 edition. In this interview with National Assembly Press Corps, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) shed more light on the lingering issue of the acting EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, the suspended SGF and frosty relationship between the executive and legislature among other burning issues in the polity. Excerpts:
What has been the effort of the 8th Senate in fighting corruption?
Nigeria is where we are today because of corruption and it has manifested in bad roads, hospitals as mere consulting clinics and education at lowest helm. Ghana just completed their second National cardio therapy centre. Nigeria with a population of over two hundred million do not have a single National Cardio therapy centre and the most annoying thing is that in the Ghana Cardio therapy centre, we have 34 Nigerian Cardiologist currently working there all because of corruption. If we do not fight corruption, there will be no development at any strata of our national life. I am passionate about this fight and that is why you find that most of my motions are anti-corruption based. I want to salute the 8th Senate under the leadership of Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki. Since inception of democracy in Nigeria, no senate has come out with articulated approach to fight corruption. Saraki has manifested his anti-corruption posture before he emerged as the Senate President. We would recall that he moved the motion on fuel subsidy during the 7th assembly which blossomed into the probe of the fuel subsidy which eventually led to the protest in 2012. Every one of us must concentrate on fighting corruption and also making sure that those responsible for this act are prosecuted. Senate exposed the corruption in the office of the SGF, we have done a lot of expositions on corruption. I urge the executive to act on the resolution and reports of the Senate on most of our investigative hearing, by such collaborative effort on corruption development will be achieved.
But it seems the executive and legislative arms are not working on the same page in the corruption fight?
Anyone expecting a robust relationship between the executive and the legislature doesn’t mean well for our democracy. Democracy is designed for the executive and legislature to have frictions. The responsibility of the National Assembly is to checkmate the activities of the executive. The auditors are not meant to be friend with those they are auditing, we are to critically examine and evaluate the activities of the executive by oversight responsibilities. The executive must accept our roles on this and also accept responsibilities in terms of implementation and resolutions from the senate. That has not been happening.
On the issue of the embattled SGF, some have described the senate report that indicted him as a mere suggestion, it that the case?
No! Section 80 of the constitution is very clear on this. It has given the senate the powers to investigate and that means the report is empowered by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It also gives the National Assembly the power of summon and to also fine private and corporate bodies. Such fines will be seen as directed by a competent court of law. Resolutions from the senate is not just a beer parlour submission, it is enforced by the constitution. If we conduct investigations and we have a resolution, it’s important for the executive to treat such as a matter of urgency and implement it. I investigated the SGF and he said I am saying rubbish, he insulted my personality, at that point the executive did not make any categorical statement and later the executive found out themselves that the senate is right and they went ahead and suspend the SGF.
With the resolution from the Senate and the report by the Vice President, what is the current position of the suspended SGF?
The posture of the executive on the issue of the SGF is totally against the fight against corruption because if you punish one of your own, it will send a positive signal to others out there that it is not business as usual. The continued silence of the executive even after the report on that matter has been ready for months is a negative signal to the fight against corruption. There are many other resolutions of the senate including that of the EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu that the executive has kept silence on.
Don’t you think the refusal of the Senate to clear Magu for the EFCC job is antithetical to the fight against corruption?
My analysis of the Magu situation is that he came for a job interview which means its either he gets it or not depending on performance. Those that watched the Magu interview live know he actually did not perform well? Magu could not expressly or articulately state the laws establishing the EFCC and also has no information on the amount he has recovered so far. He was not intellectually mobile and from the interview, Magu failed. Our responsibility is to test him if he is qualified, if he has the capacity and capability to manage such an important agency. Apart from the issue of competence and oral presentation, the DSS is to Nigeria what the CIA and FBI is to America. The DSS wrote a report and paragraph six of that report state categorically that Magu is a limitation to the fight against corruption of President Muhammed Buhari. If a report is coming from the DSS against any Nigerian, the Senate will have no power to do otherwise.
Both the DSS and EFCC are under the presidency which also constitutes more APC party members. Why was it difficult to get Magu cleared?
Nigeria is no longer about political party, I am a senator on the platform of APC but I am not an APC Senator, I am a Nigerian Senator, the party should have no role in the sincere development of a nation because parties will come and go. Where is UPN, NRC, SDP and other parties today and how many parties in Nigeria are ideological based? Our interest should be Nigeria and not political parties. My comments in the house aren’t about my party but to move our dear country forward. The presidency is not sincere about the issue of Magu, it is compulsory that anyone that will get an appointment by the presidency must have security screening by the DSS. We were also screened by the DSS and there are people that the DSS report indicted and we communicated to the presidency. Why is that of the Magu different? I believe it should be a uniform law for everybody. We do not just get a report, we got a second report confirming and affirming the first report. The DSS clearance is a prerequisite for senate clearance.
Has this been the normal process for the EFCC bosses before Magu?
Yes and nothing different has happened before Magu’s case. Magu’s issue borders on allegation of corruption, impropriety and compromise and for a man that will be chairman of EFCC, he must come out with clean hands. He should be a man of integrity; we must build a country where equity, justice fairness and integrity remain our watchword.
What are the expectations on the anti-corruption bills so far passed by the Senate?
The 8th senate has done excellently well than any other senate in history in the passage of very responsible bills. The one on we passed on anti-jungle justice is a very special bill. The passage of PIB has been a difficult one in this country but it took an intellectual mobile of a Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki to fragment the bill and today a phase of it has been passed. This is a bill that has come to two or three senate and nothing was done. The passage of this bill will help to kill corruption in the oil sector, create proper regulation and enhance our economy as a nation.
The senate took a resolution on the corruption allegation in the NNPC, could you shed some light on that?
I was the first person to move the motion to call the attention of the senate on the level of corruption in NNPC and what we are seeing now is not different from what I raised then. There is accusation and counter accusation between the GMD of NNPC and minister of state for petroleum. The only thing that can sanitize the NNPC is for proper investigation to be done and for the executive to have the political will to implement resolutions and report from such investigation.
The senate has passed resolution on the SGF and others but nothing has been done, what is the legal framework for the National Assembly to act if no action is taken by the executive?
We have legal limitations on this. The constitutional lacuna is that the powers of implementation on resolution of the National Assembly lie with the executives. If we pass resolution and there is no action from the presidency; we have no legal teeth to move further. We can only work in areas we passed law and the president refused to assent. After 30 days we have the power to veto but that is limited to law. It’s painful; most of the resolutions by the senate are mostly rubbished or not attended to. I think there is a need to review the constitution to make the National Assembly resolutions enforceable by law for us to make more progress.
What should we expect from the 8th senate as regards the request for the virement and budget implementation?
The budget of a country becomes a law once it is passed and laws are meant to be obeyed. The budget that has been passed has not even been implemented yet and you are talking of virement. I want to see the executive even implementing the non-contentious part of the budget that are coming to them. The virement for me does not agree with what the National Assembly has done because the power of appropriation is with the legislature. They haven’t implemented the earlier budget and here we are on the virement.
We are now in October, is the Senate aware of what percentage of the budget has been implemented?
We just invited the Minister of Budget and Planning and Minister of Finance, and there has just been one release since the passage of the budget. We were told 15% level of implementation but that by any standard is a failure.
If fifteen percent of the 2017 budget has just been implemented by October 2017, by March 2018, what percentage should we expect?
To be realistic, we will continue to roll over error if we don’t get the right thing to do. The executive must be sincere that there is no money. There is no point brining a budget of seven trillion when we can only spend and afford two trillion. We must be sincere with ourselves. Leaders are not meant to be deceptive but to open up. Let Nigerians know we are in a precarious situation. Why will you present a budget of seven trillion when from your internally generated revenue and the sale of crude oil you can only get two trillion, where do you expect to get the remaining five trillion to run the budget? The executive should come open to Nigerians. In this government we have square pegs in round holes. We need to rejig the economy managers of this nation.
Do you think cabinet reshuffle has anything to do with the Senate?
Cabinet reshuffle has to do with the ministers. We have strategic positions in this country that is manned by wrong people. The President cannot be minister of petroleum, Minister of Internal Affairs but if he has good aides the economy will move forward because these people will be working within their terrain. If a tailoring work is given to a carpenter the output will be a beautiful nonsense. The president must rejig his appointments, forget about politics and bring out people with vigour and better hands to get the job done irrespective of the party they belong or their tribes. The SGF misbehaved because he has never worked in any public service in his life before the appointment. The SGF of a country is the manager of the entire process of governance. A man that is not imbibed and indoctrinated in the act of civil administration or the rudiments of public administration will misbehave. There are lot of nepotism in appointments in this government.
You belong to the same party which is the APC, are you saying your party is not having enough influence?
It’s not all about party. Even the president is not an APC president but the president of the federal republic of Nigeria including the witches and wizards of this country. Development process is national and no one should be partisan about it. If you find a good man in PDP or APGA that can do the job perfectly, appoint such in the interest of national development than to bring an APC man that has no idea of what to do. We have ministers that have no cognate experience at all on where to serve.
Do you screen ministerial nominees?
We just insisted now. Remember that I brought a motion on the floor of Senate to screen ministers. Now the president must attach their portfolios to us. by so doing, we can ask questions in their area of discipline and see if they are have the capacity, experience, knowledge and technical knowhow to manage that particular portfolio. Except this is done, we will continue to run into crisis.