The 8th House of Reps is about three months old, how would you describe the journey so far?
In the last three months, a lot has transpired; tension was high, but at the moment, we have all collapsed into one house. The truth is that all the 360 members in the House of Reps have no issues with Dogara’s leadership now. We have come to agree that we have one leader and the deputy speaker along with all other principal officers. With the coming in of Femi Gbajabiamila as House Leader, tensions have come down. We are charting a course to see how we can assist the government of President Buhari to succeed, particularly in the three areas that he has set for himself – job creation, fighting corruption and insurgency. These are fundamental things that we are desirous to see that we assist in their success. It is because of that that the speaker in his own initiative produced the legislative agenda.
We are grateful to the leaders of the party and the president as well as other stakeholders for coming together to see that we resolved those issues amicably. So I feel that it is so far so good.
The issue of lawmakers’ salaries and allowances have been thorny one, but it seems that you, lawmakers, don’t want to tell the world what you earn. So, how much do you earn?
Even before I came to the House, the issue over salaries and allowances was there. From what I’ve realized, about 60 percent of Nigerians have made up their minds that the pay in the National Assembly is outrageous. Any attempt by any lawmaker to defend or explain, however clearly, the salaries and allowances of members will be unpopular. I have a feeling that this is more of a distraction than the real issue on ground. Initially, the National Assembly’s budget was N150 billion, but N30 billion has been slashed off. But there is this perception that the N120 billion is shared among the 469 lawmakers. This is not true. We have the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS); they get their salaries and other payments from this fund; we have National Assembly Budget Office that also draws its fund from this money; we have capital projects; we have our aides. Each lawmaker has at least five aides. My senior legislative aide is on level 16 and that of a senator is on level 17. They take close to N12 billion annually. We have civil servants and about 1,500 workers, and they take their salaries from this same budget. We have this supra structure and the offices. The servicing and what have you is drawn from the budget. It is not just about us. In terms of salary, no member of the House takes up to a million naira monthly. We are new. Before we got to know about our salaries and all that, it took us some months, because as you come in, after some time they will give you furniture allowance.
By law, the furniture allowance is about N3.7 million. If you are to stay in Abuja, in the immediate environment, you need close to N4 million to even rent a house, and some of the landlords ask for 2-year payment; but I won’t be given housing allowance for two years. I think people should talk less about us.
Will you support salary cut for lawmakers?
If it is the desire of Nigerians that salaries of legislators should be reduced, we have no option. We are representing the people; it is not for us; it is what the people desire. But we should know that the legislators sometimes are closer to the electorate than the executive. If you are a president or governor today, the retinue of aides securing you will make it difficult for the man in the village to come close to you.
The people should know that in as much as they will reduce our salaries, there should be corresponding information to the communities that at least we are no longer earning this, don’t expect x, y and z from us.
The Buhari administration will be celebrating 100 days in office soon; what is your assessment of the journey so far?
For me, I think the president has taken off quite well. When you govern a country like Nigeria with about 170 million people, anything you do or any policy statement you make is always analyzed depending on the microscope of who is saying what, when and where. I must say that the present administration is doing well. We were told some years back that our local refineries could not refine crude, but suddenly they are coming up; that is an encouragement.
By the time we leave, they will go even beyond our imagination. We are having steady electricity even in my constituency. Security-wise, apart from the pockets of suicide bombings, mass killings have reduced to some level. But of course fighting insurgency, is not something that we expect to die completely within a month or so. I think Nigerians should be patient for some time.
Following recent appointments made by the president, some people alleged that some sections of the country are being marginalized. Do you share that view?
Most of the appointments so far are more like personal aides to the president. During the election, the North-west produced the highest votes, and as politicians, they will say ‘look, we give you the highest votes, so we expect more appointments.’ The North-east will tell you ‘look, we came second, we too should be patronized.’ The South-west will tell you ‘look, the South-west is aligning with the North, and we have given you massive support; we’re expecting so many things.’ So, there will always be issues as to who gets what. I agree that Buhari should be a nationalist and that in subsequent appointments all the zones should be reflected.
Apart from the issue of appointments, I think Nigerians should focus more on projects. Sometimes you can be given a very big appointment, and if you’re not able to bring developmental projects to the people, your people are likely to part ways with you. Sometimes it is the man you think will do well for you that will misbehave; it is the man on the other side that will be with you. I plead that Nigerians should give the president additional time. People are talking about Hameed Ali who was given customs, but his honesty and ability to fight corruption must have endeared him to the president. There are people who are probably better than him, but we are talking about the ones that Mr President has picked. You can only pass judgement on the people you know. Of course people may assist you in getting those for certain offices, but there are some key offices that you cannot just appoint somebody you are not sure of. If tomorrow there is problem with customs and the other appointments he made, the president must take full responsibility.
We are grateful that we have a lot of appointments in the North-east, but that is not to say that is all we want. Our people are more interested in seeing that life has changed for them. The IPDs camps where we have so many people, we the people will return home soon and we also wish that the appointments will ensure that tomorrow there is water, electricity and necessary infrastructure to engage our youth and ensure stability generally.
It seems that the 8th House is giving so much attention to the North-east with three motions moved so far on the zone. Why is it so when there are myriad of problems in other regions?
It won’t be a fair assessment to say that attention is given to the North-east. But we are grateful that our colleagues in the House who have sympathized with us on the problems we are facing. So far, the North-east is the poorest in the country and has more problems than any other part of the country. So, it is the collective understanding of our colleagues that we are doing this. Our colleagues are sympathetic not just because the speaker is from there. Even if the speaker comes from another zone, I believe he will not allow the North-east to wallow in suffering. There is nothing wrong in giving necessary attention to the North-east.
What legacy would you want to bequeath to your constituency and Nigeria as a new lawmaker?
I want to be able to initiate many bills and motions that will help my constituency and the country at large. But the difficulty we are having as lawmakers is that it is only the elite that know us as lawmakers. In our constituencies, we are seen as people that will come to Abuja to provide infrastructure for them in the villages. That is why if you agitate for the reduction of money for lawmakers, it will translate into not having some boreholes, hospitals and interventions in the area of education. I have initiated projects in my area. I have a civic centre that will have an ICT facility which will enable our students in high institutions in those communities to have access to ICT to assist them in their study and other productive research efforts.