Many lawmakers no longer visit their constituencies due to insecurity —Senate spokesman

Acting chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, in this interview by TAIWO AMODU, sheds light on the much-delayed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), bid by National Assembly to stem the tide of insecurity in the country, among other issues.

The Senate has agreed to work with the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), despite its promise that it would only interface with the substantive board cleared. Why the recant? 

Mr President has explained the issue to us. We are lawmakers and the main responsibility of a lawmaker is to check the executive arm of government. So, if they are doing that, we have no reason not to support them. That’s why we had every cause and reason to entertain the Interim Management Committee (IMC), a few days ago, to make sure that they came on board to defend their budget and we cleared the budget and passed it for the people of that region to have a sense of belonging. I want to believe this is exactly what has happened. So, nothing more, nothing less.

We are still working within the ambit of law because the power to appoint and serve lies on Mr President. So, he will look at the list; he simply said we should keep that list in abeyance. We are still working within the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The Senate has set up a committee to investigate the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). There were similar steps in the past. Will this not be another hollow ritual?

You see, in the life of every Assembly, even if it is a bill that was passed by the last assembly, you don’t have anything to do with that one. I can’t stand here to speak for any other committee that was passed or was set up in the seventh or eighth Assembly. I can only speak for committees that have been set up in the ninth Assembly because I am a senator of the current Assembly. So, I will urge you to exercise patience. The committee hasn’t submitted its report; let us wait until they submit its reports. This is a problem we have in this country; if Mr A fails, we should have a little confidence for Mr B Maybe, Mr B will be better than Mr A.

May we know why the Senate wants to start the Petroleum Industry Bill afresh, irrespective of the breakthrough of the seventh and eighth Assemblies?

The Senate president speaks like somebody that knows what he is doing; he has been a lawmaker for quite some time. We are working according to the Senate rules and the House of Representatives are working according to its own rules, in line with the Constitution of the Federation Republic of Nigeria. The constitution says every bill, every uncompleted bill, or any bill that has been passed by the life of any Assembly and without assent of Mr President, once the life of that Assembly is over, that bill goes with the life of that Assembly. Yes, the Senate President says the PIB will start afresh. Yes, he is supposed to say that because, even if we are going to repeat what happened in the eighth Assembly, we must start it from first reading, second reading, committee and back to the plenary and then third reading before it is sent  back to Mr President for his assent. So, what do you want the Senate President to say?  Will he just say, start it from the committee level? Maybe, that bill, they have stopped it at the committee level. So we are going to reintroduce the bill from first reading to the third reading. I want to believe that’s what the Senate President meant. We may have one or two things to change in the Bill; we may have one or two things to deny in the Bill because the life of the ninth Senate is entirely a different Assembly altogether. So, there may be one or two things that have happened in the petroleum industry that the Senate may want to infuse for the betterment of the oil sector in the country. If we discover such, we won’t hesitate to bring it and if we discover anything that will bring Nigeria backward, we remove it. So, the PIB will start from first reading, in line with the constitution.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have demanded for the removal of the service chiefs. They have further requested that the Federal Government declare emergency on insecurity. Does the executive take the lawmakers serious and are you really on the same page on the issue?

I agree. When the Senate President returned from his foreign trip, two days to our resumption, he said there was problem of insecurity in the country. He also said the security architecture of the nation needs to be changed. He spoke like a leader; he didn’t speak for political parties. Mr President belongs to the All Progressives Congress (APC); Senator Lawan also belongs to the APC. Total absence of fear are the basic principles and objectives of Section 14 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution. Paragraph B of the constitution states that the primary assignment of every government is to protect lives and property. In the executive session, we all agreed that we should set a day to discuss security issues and we also agreed that we should invite the Inspector General of Police to appear before the Senate and that he should come and explain to us what he is doing and how far he had gone to protect all Nigerians. Though, it was a closed-door session because you don’t discuss security issues in the market place, we engaged him and the president explained to us that one method to reduce what is happening is to introduce state or community policing. I am from the North-Central in Nasarawa State. I was in the state capital, Lafia, a month ago for a security meeting for the zone. It was initiated by the IGP and all governors from the geopolitical zone were there. Each of the governors presented a proposal on behalf of the people of their states and almost all the six governors in the North-Central, including the person that spoke for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), are yearning for community policing.

At that forum, the IGP told us that there is no provision that would warrant community policing in our constitution which we all know.  But the day he appeared before us (in the Senate), he still repeated himself and that on the issue of security, we (Senate) are on the same page. We all agreed that anything that will protect the lives and property of the people, we would do it, even if it meant amending the constitution to guarantee community policing legally. We are going to do it. So, I want the general public, especially the media, to let our people be patient. Everybody is in pains for what is happening in this country. This country belongs to all of us and we should do everything within our reach to make sure we protect ourselves. Some of us can’t go to our villages now because of the fear of being attacked by bandits, Boko Haram and others. So, as lawmakers, we have agreed that we will do everything possible to make sure we give legal backing to the security chiefs to make sure they protect lives and property.

Can you shed more light on the meeting between the president and the leadership of the National Assembly on the state of insecurity?

The president of the Senate and the Speaker met with Mr President after 24 hours of our decision that the security chiefs be removed. We are lawmakers; of course, a lot of people asked for the sack of the service chiefs but in another way, you don’t say you sack this persons just because you want to have security in 24 hours. You have to be very careful in doing so. That’s why after our closed-door session with the IGP, we all agreed that the leadership, especially the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House should go and engage Mr President but nobody knows the outcome of that meeting now because it is on security.  It is only them that know what they have discussed.  We have also agreed that a committee be set up in the Senate to also expand both the legislature and the executive, including the security chiefs, so that all of us will bring ideas on realistic solutions to some of the problems. So, I don’t want you to entertain any fear that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House were in the Presidential Villa, a few days ago after we called for the sack of the security chiefs but nothing has been done. I want to believe that we are still working. Just last Thursday, we saw Mr President; he came direct from Ethiopia to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. I want to appreciate him for that. Instead of Ethiopia to Abuja, he had to fly to Maiduguri. So, on the issue of insecurity, the ninth Senate will do everything within the confines of the constitution, including amending it, in order to give legal backing to the security architecture to ensure that we sleep with our two eyes closed.