Alhaji Kabir Umar, a former Kaduna State Chairman of the defunct ANPP, was a member Federal House of Representative during the 2nd Republic. In this interview with JIBRIN MIACHI, he decried the present democratic practice and stressed the need to borrow a leaf from the practical experience of the second republic politicians. Though he expressed sadness at the living condition of Nigerians today, the ex-while lawmaker gave kudos to President Muhammadu Buhari for his fight against corruption. Excerpt:
You were an elected member of the then House of Representatives in the 2nd Republic, from your experience, what will you say of what Nigerians are facing today politically?
The situation arising from development facing Nigerians today is really pathetic and pathetic in the sense that when we were in the National Assembly during the Second Republic, member’s gross earning was N1,000.00 a month. After all deductions, the take home pay was less than N700.00 per month compared to what obtains now. But then if you look at the running cost of contesting election today, that is the problem that accounts for the higher pay and of course winning at all cost with disastrous effects on the society. The problem is not largely with government but the Nigerian people, the electorates need to talk to themselves and then the executives with a view to reducing the cost of running government which is having telling effects on development and growth. For the sake of Nigeria, I believe government and the legislators should put their hands on deck towards saving democracy and the Nigerian nation. Can we continue with the present running cost of government? This is the question we all including the elected officials should be asking ourselves, if we want a better Nigeria and healthy people. If you look at our annual budget, it is made up of recurrent and capital expenditure. In this case, the capital expenditure is supposed to be more because we have less working population especially in government. Invariably what it means is that more Nigerians are not collecting salaries and as such, they stand to benefit more from capital expenditure than the recurrent. That is why budget discussion should be subjected to public discussion for the benefit of all before the preparation.
From your assessment, would you say the present legislators have performed to your expectation?
It is not the number of bills passed that matters but the wellbeing of the people who are at the receiving end. Be that as it were, one must be worried if you look at the situation of things as they affect Nigerians. The legislators who are supposed to interact with people at their constituencies are not living up to expectations in order to have a feeling of the public to enhance their quality of debate and resolutions for the good of the people. However, before the election, we used to hear of Town Hall Meetings where people do express their feeling but after the election, one hardly sees or hear about that. That is not how it should be. The purpose of such meeting is to feel the pulse of the people on topical issues so that you can raise and discuss it on the floor of the House. The legislators need to improve on that. In democracy, that is very important. This shortcoming cut across political parties. Unlike during the second republic, legislators are cut off from the electorates after their election. Town Hall Meeting is not meant for campaign. It is an avenue for people to come out with views and suggestions on what is happening around them. As you do it before the election, continue after the election. It will make you speak confidently on the floor that this is the experience and feeling of the people in my constituency.
Will you blame this deficiency on the inability of party leaders to organise necessary seminar/workshop for the lawmakers?
No. It is not lack of education. It is just that the feeling has changed. Maybe some of them do not think it is important because the pattern has changed. What matter to them is the ability and resources to contest election. I stand to be corrected but this is my feeling. Not that those elected into various offices are not right but I think they do not consider what we are discussing as important. But I think they should because it is for the wellbeing of all.
With all sincerity, will you say Nigerians have had it as good with this government as expected under the leadership of President Buhari?
It is only in Nigeria that during elections you see voters carrying leaf on their heads advertising that they are for sale. This is a new development and it is unfortunate. Under normal circumstances, such people need to be arrested because that character and behaviour gives wrong signal to international community. On a more serious note, that is corrupt practice with telling effect on the performance of elected representatives. You are glaringly asking for bribe to give your vote. During the election you sold your conscience to me, what moral justification do you have to come and challenge me later for not performing. What it means and they are saying is that they have already paid for your service, therefore I have no other obligation to you. Besides, the amount people pay in pursuit of their election using lawyers is much. This was not the case in our days. At the end of it all, this people must recoup their money,
This government came into being because it promised to fight corruption, unemployment and insurgency. Up till now the dream of the people is yet to be realised. What is your comment?
I agree with you entirely. This serious problem started as political gambling. At a point there was problem between the Police and the Military when the military was able to arrest Muhammed Yusuf and handed him over to the Police. What happened, which led to blame game between the Military and the Police, some Nigerians can still remember. At a time there was insinuation of helicopter bringing items in Boko Haram territory. When the 2015 election was postponed for some weeks, there were decisive action by the security arms of government but soon after the elections, things took a different shape and the situation had continued. If you can remember there were agencies that caught some of our officials with sizeable amount of money, foreign currency. Nothing was said and done about that. Corruption is an issue that cannot be left in the hand of Mr. President alone. No doubt, corruption is a monster that must be tamed but in doing that, every individual has a role to play. For example, if I come to see you in office, a messenger will say you are not in but if he is settled he will reveal the where about of the boss or whoever I have come to see. All of us are involved and guilty in a way. The fight therefore is a collective responsibility because it is attitudinal problem that requires a change. Corruption is a painful development involving both low and high personalities in the society.
It is believed that corruption has continued to thrive because serious punitive measures are not being meted out to the culprits holistically.
In fairness to this regime, the leadership has tried. It is only in this regime that former Governors were treated in one way or the other, serving Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justices who were found wanting were publicly dealt with in one way or the other. It is only in this regime that a serving senator, Chief Uzo Kalu was tried and jailed. In this wise, this government under the leadership of President Muhammodu Buhari need to be commended. The action of Buhari on Judiciary has brought sanity into the judiciary, an integral part of government, no matter what anybody can think about. Look at what happened to the Chairman, Pension Fund. You see, there are some actions taken by this regime that you can give them a pat on the back despite the fact that there are problems here and there. Just as I have said, the disturbing issue is not that of government alone to fight. It requires the understanding and need for all of us to fight it. As a matter of fact, much as there are areas such as unemployment, poverty, hunger among other threats to peace in the land that government really need to be serious about, there are areas that it has done something commendable.