A front-runner in the race to become Speaker of the House of Representatives as the 9th National Assembly is inaugurated next month, Rt. Hon. Olajide Olatubosun (Saki West/Saki East/Atisbo Federal Constituency, Oyo State), in this interview, unfolds his agenda on how he intends to tackle several challenges of the country, through proactive legislative interventions. He believes with good legislative back up to the other arms of government, challenges in public budgeting process, boosting the economy, job creation and national prosperity can be surmounted. CHESA CHESA brings the Excerpts:
How has the race for the House Speaker been so far?
It’s been very good. The last two weeks have been very challenging for me. It has opened my eyes to new possibilities. My colleagues have well received me even beyond my wildest imagination. I’ve made consultations across party lines, across geo-political zones, across religious lines, and the reception has been very good. One thing that is common is that we are going to have a House that is independent; that is going to be for the Nigerian people.
There have been speculations that the voting pattern for the position of the Speaker may be altered. Some are saying the voting should be open while others are saying it should be secret. What’s your reaction to this?
Well, let me explain certain things on this issue of voting. The parliament, in this instance House of Reps will operate based in the rules. We have the standing order. I think Section 2 Rule 7 specifically mentioned that voting shall be mandatory, by electronic voting and secret ballot. That Standing Order, the rules were approved in 2016, and to the best of my knowledge, those rules have not been changed.
What will your leadership do to improve the public budgeting process and what will you do to ensure that the executive and the legislature are on the same line on full budget implementation?
Budgeting is an area that I’m very passionate about. I’m an Accountant with extensive corporate experience. It will interest you that when I got to the House, my first challenge was that the public sector budgeting is highly inefficient and it cannot deliver value. It is fundamentally flawed in the sense that even the process from which the budget is produced calls for critical review, brainstorming that will make it very accountable. For the public to derive benefits from public fund, there must be value for money. So, how do you ensure that? By God’s grace, I’m going to put out the legislations that will be promoting what I call participatory budgeting. What we do now is that there is a budget call circulars to MDAs, they send the proposals to budget office, and from there a compilation is made, FEC approves it and the President comes to the National Assembly to lay it. When we engage the MDAs in budget sessions, at time they tell you that ‘that’s the figure they have given to us’ and I’m like this is your budget! I’m looking at a situation whereby we can start our budgeting years by March every year; set up a committee including people from the budget office, the National Assembly, the Civil Society Organisations, if you like, organised private sector and also if possible look for consultants with budgeting experience that can come and serve as technical assistants to the committee. What is going to come out of that process is what the President will now compile, take to FEC for approval before presentation to the National Assembly. For instance, take the Ministry of Health, they are going to come to the committee and tell them that in the last year’s budget, we budgeted for X billion we got X-Y billion and out of that these are the projects we have executed, these are the medium term plans we have, in the next 5-7 years, these are our strategic plans. I’m going to be focused and rally my colleagues to ensure that we impact positively.
Majority of the members of the Ninth Assembly are newcomers, how do you intend to build their capacity for them to be able to contribute meaningfully to debates?
With due respect to members whether returning or new, they’ve achieved in their various areas of endeavour. We have professors, people from the civil service, accomplished businessmen, people from the organised private sector. With this we have a very good foundation. But we still need to do more capacity building in the area of leadership. That’s very key because everything rises and falls with leadership. Also for our people, politics is not a vocation that you can be there forever. As I’m talking to you there are other people that want to come and represent their people. So, when people leave the stage, how do they continue to live a normal life? So, there will be more financial education with regards to investments and to how to manage their funds.
Nigeria is facing challenges of banditry and kidnapping, what laws are you going to put in place to help the government fight these challenges?
Laws cannot cure everything. Security is a challenge in our country today and from my experience as a member of the House committee on Army, I’ve seen that we need to do more of integrating people in the Armed Forces and other security agencies like the Police, Civil Defence and the DSS. United Nations ratio of security people to population is about 10 percent. So, if we are going to go by that, Nigeria should have about 1.8 million standing army. Germany has about 400,000 policemen and what’s their population? How many policemen do you have in Nigeria? So, we need to increase the funds that are allocated to them; we need to train them better, expose them to modern techniques of fighting crimes. More importantly, we’ve gotten to a point that we must Rajesh a stand on the issue state police. We must take a decisive step to actualize it because it’s more effective when you choose people that can manage security of an area from within that area. What we have now is not just working, somebody will be in a place for two years, you transfer him. The knowledge of that local environment is lost. But if you put somebody from a village and he’s the police officer for that village and the man is there for 15, 20 years, he knows the nooks and crannies and it will be easier for him to burst any kind of crime.
So, you look at the enabling laws, I don’t think laws are the issues that we have. We have issues of funding and to ensure that we need to increase numbers of armed forces personnel; the police need to employ more people. If there are areas of the laws that have to be amended we will also look at them especially in the areas of penalties for offences. So community policing to be championed by state police, hopefully we’ll be able to get that done in the Ninth Assembly.
What are the things you’ll want to do differently if elected as the Speaker?
We will work on the perception of Nigerians about we legislators. As they say in marketing ‘perception is real’. By the grace of God, that image through proactive measures, leading by example, walking the talk to show that we are part of the people, we are not from another planet, we feel their pains, we are together, we feel their frustrations and that even our lifestyles will reflect that we are for the Nigerian people.
On the job itself, I’ll make sure that oversight is more effective. It will be more painstaking, more meticulous and that if we have situations that are not satisfactory, the reports will be written accordingly. We will ensure that budgets are passed more speedily to correct the public perception that we are just holding to the document deliberately. Also bills coming from the executives and members on the economy, security, human rights most especially on vulnerable-women, children, IDPs will be dealt with expeditiously.
Security Trust Fund bill which we are unable to conclude in this Assembly will be promoted. Lastly, the issue of revenues, lot of leakages, TSA fantastic idea, we will ensure that we strengthen by legislation and also look at the issue of reports of the Auditor General. We have to ensure that whatever is the report, in accordance to our laws that action is taken so that people will at least know that it is not business as usual.
How are you going to manage the legislative/executive relationship against the background of the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances?
Separation is very important because government will outlive all of us. We are just on the stage and we must ensure that we protect this institution of parliament without compromising its integrity. Having said that, we must cooperate with the executive. Fortunately, we have a President who means well for this country. Without compromising the independence of the House, we’ll cooperate with other arms of government. It’s not going to be about confrontation. Really by design, the three arms of government are supposed to be what you call coordinates. None is inferior to the other; they must support themselves in a way that separation of powers is guaranteed while also ensuring that checks and balances is also not compromised. Once you take away checks and balances, the essence of presidential democracy is lost. So there will be cooperation without necessarily compromising the independence.