Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Sam Tsokwa, in this interview by Abuja Senior Correspondent, ROTIMI AKINWUMI, says that the only solution to the problem of corruption is to make the offense punishable by death. He also speaks on other salient national issues. Excerpts:
Critics say that investigations by the National Assembly have become so rampant to the extent that they are becoming more of diversions from your primary constitutional responsibility of law-making. What is your view?
Law making business is a constitutional issue; oversight function of the legislature is a constitutional issue. The legislature is constitutionally empowered and obligated to legislate for peace and good governance of Nigeria. The legislature is constitutionally empowered and obligated to legislate on issues, including giving approvals to Mr. President’s budget. We are constitutionally mandated to oversight the executive arm over the money appropriated. So the power to investigate is not the making of the legislature; it is a constitutional duty which the legislature must perform. So we are not doing a “Father Christmas” kind of job. There are so many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to oversight. What we are doing is just a tip of the ice berg. So I think the Nigerian press and the Nigerian people should call on the National Assembly to carry out more probes and investigations because it is a constitutional requirement.
Many Nigerians are of the view that when you fight corruption you cover your own members. Why is it so?
Give examples of cases where we had protected our members.
The examples of Farouk Lawal and Hembe are still fresh in our memories. Or do you have a contrary view?
Farouk and Hembe are the only two you can give in a House of 360 people. Bring that to a percentage it cannot give you 10 percent of the House. Take a corruption index of Nigeria and you will find out that more than 60 percent of those in positions of trust are corrupt. Now the Farouk issue came up. The man who gave him money claimed he did in conjunction with SSS and the House subsequently suspended him from being the Chairman of House Committee on Education. The matter is presently with the police. In the case of Hembe, the matter is in the court. So now, in what way is the House covering its members? We beg the press to help us and show those we are covering up because we are not covering up anybody.
But the House Committee investigating that matter has deliberately refused to submit its report on the issue.
It is an internal kind of exercise and at the end of the day, the House cannot prosecute. We have our internal mechanism via the Ethics and Privileges committee that enforces discipline, but where a member is found wanting we cannot prosecute. It is only the agencies responsible that can carry out such actions.
As chairman of the House Business and Rules Committee, can you explain why, on daily basis, the House Order Paper is dominated by very trivial issues to the detriment of very important matters of national interest?
Every member is elected from a constituency and each constituency in Nigeria has its peculiar problems, and that is why I keep saying that if I am Mr. President I will do my budget in consultation with the grassroots. If we do need any airstrip or any airport in my place it is as good as not giving us anything. But if in my constituency, the only road we have has pot-holes that is killing people every day, that is something I should worry about and direct the attention of the Federal Government to. Other people may think the issue of pot holes is trivial because they have express roads in their places. In Abuja here, out of 24 hours, there is 12 hours of electricity. In my place, in a whole month, if we have light for 3 days, that is Christmas gift. So if I come to the floor of the House to discuss it you will term it as being trivial? Nigeria is such a big place, such an enormous place that the need of one area may not be the need of another area. So what is trivial to you may not be trivial to me. And what is important to you may not be important to me, that is why you have various motions. Actually what is representation? It is to represent what your people need in your constituency.
What option do you think is the best to adopt in fighting the menace of corruption in Nigeria?
I think death sentence will do the trick. Yes, we will look at it and see how a bill can be sponsored in that direction, but you will see how people will condemn the move. But we will not consider the quantum of the crime when doing that. The offence of the politician who steals one dollar and the one that steals one million dollars will carry same weight. By the time two or three people lose their lives to corruption, politicians will think twice before stealing government money.
Criticisms have trailed the on-going efforts by the National Assembly to amend the Constitution, like the view expressed by Kano State governor. What do you think?
I was very happy when I read it. This is a democracy. Kwankwaso, apart from being a governor, is a Nigerian and he is entitled to speak out his mind on the constitution amendment exercise. We accuse the military of imposing a constitution on us. Now an opportunity has come; let every Nigerian speak out his mind. And let us not condemn any Nigerian for saying what he wants to say. At the end of the day, we are going to have a Constitution that is Nigerian. Kwankwaso says it is a useless exercise, another person can say this is a beautiful exercise, then we consider all views canvassed. It is the opinion of the majority of Nigerians that we are going to work on. I want many Kwankwasos to speak out in the fashion of Kwankwaso and I want the anti-Kwankwasos to speak out in the fashion of the anti-Kwankwasos. So, there is nothing wrong in what he said.
But the House leadership, through the House spokesman, Zakari Mohammed, came out recently to condemn Kwankwaso’s views?
The leadership of the House did not make any pronouncement on that issue. You can say some members condemned the man. Let them also condemn the man; it is also their own way, their own approach to issues. You see, we cannot all be the same. You see, the resolution of the House is the position of the House. I am speaking here as the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, but you cannot say that what I am saying here is the position of the House. You can only know the position of the House through the resolutions it passes on the floor of the House.
The performance of the House since June 2011 is being called to question by many. What is it that is holding the 7th House of Representatives back?
The 7th Assembly started off by designing and setting a Legislative Agenda which was properly debated on the floor of the House, approved and circulated to all members and Nigerians. The document became a pact. We committed ourselves to it living and keeping faithfully to our duties as true representatives of the people since that time up to this moment. I am not saying Nigerians are satisfied but speaking for myself and the House, I am saying that we have lived up to our own expectation. But the next thing now is for Nigerians to look at what we have done and see whether we have really performed. You will recall that we have taken many firsts since we assumed office. We had to cut short our Christmas recess in 2012 when the Executive arm gave Nigerians a New Year gift that was not accepted by Nigerians. By that I mean the withdrawal of fuel subsidy. Our sitting on a Sunday was, for the first time in the history of the Nigeria legislature, to forestall the crisis that ensued which would have been more disastrous if we had not sat on that day. Although our sitting did not stop the crisis but it went a long way in watering it down. In a nutshell, we did a lot to water down the disaster to a reasonable extent. I will, however, give kudos to Mr. President who eventually reversed himself, in accordance with the needs of Nigerians. The Sunday sitting kick-started the probe into the subsidy regime in the country. Our findings and resolutions were that there was rot in that fuel subsidy regime. As you are aware, the Executive arm set up a committee which findings confirmed the House findings. I therefore say at least that our findings opened the eyes of many Nigerians to other areas of governance. I will equally say that this kick-started what is going on in various sectors of our economy.