Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on NNPC. In this interview with reporters in his home town, Yandoton Daji, in Zamfara State, he spoke on the challenges of getting bills passed in the Senate; accusations that Senators collect N35 million naira salary monthly; the emergence of APC, among other national issues. Reporter, IDRIS SALISU, was there. Excerpts:
Recently there were reports that 34 Senators, including you, throughout your two years in office have not presented a bill. What is your reaction?
Well, thank you very much for this your question, let me start by saying that what they said was true, but all the publication is mere mischief. Presentation of bills is not the only work of the members of the national assembly and I don’t see how presentation of bills will affect my constituency now.
You see, before now, when I saw the publication and told the reporter of such media organization that yes, what he said was true, but he should know the Senate is an institution and a very big institution for that matter and is not a place that you will walk in and start talking, it is about talking sense and is about identifying what you need, about the various need of your people in your constituency. I think they elicit a kind of an unhealthy competition which I considered it to only blackmail. I don’t present bill and so what? Nigeria is not having a problem of laws but implementation; I was disappointed by the report.
You said some members didn’t present bills and you didn’t say how many bills presented were consented and how many of the bills were signed into law? As a corporate organization I thought they would focus more on the executives and other aspects, but they didn’t. You see how you can call somebody like Senator Ahmed Makarfi who has served as Governor for eight years a bench warmer, this is somebody who has governed a state, a complex one, and managed it well for eight years. I don’t know how you will call Senator Goje who was a Senator and became Governor for eight years, and people like Professor Adeniyi, a renowned Professor and Member, House of Representatives and a Member of the present Senate to say all those people did not present a bill, then the question.
You see nobody can blackmail or intimidate me as I know I am not a bench warmer. Somebody want to sell his paper and because of that you went to touch the integrity of important people in the country, no it is unfortunate and can never be possible. I think Senators deserve some respect as the Senate constitutes both male and female of reputable integrity.
There was another report that Senators are earning more than N35 million monthly, much more than what your contemporaries are earning in advanced countries?
You see the issue is the same and it was done to discredit, us and it is unfortunate. The same report stated that 34 Senators didn’t present any bills in two years, and went further to say “these same Senators were paying Salary of N35 million per Month and also said, from the information in their possession from revenue mobilization and fiscal commission, that those Senators have more than a billion naira in addition to allowances they are collecting”. Now I challenge the paper to produce the evidence before Nigerians that Senators are collecting 35 million naira as Salary per Month and if that reporter can do that then I will resign as Senator. I think it is quite unfortunate and time has come when people should look beyond themselves. If you don’t have integrity others have, and if you don’t value integrity others do and I can go to any length to protect my integrity. Nobody would stop you from writing your rubbish and if I am paying one billion naira say I have no apology and I didn’t ask for it. What the writer wrote is not the truth and his sources are quite rubbish and I challenge that (news) paper to produce a supporting document to that effect and I will resign.
The Early Marriage Bill has generated a lot of controversy in the country and even protests. How do you see it?
Well, I think I have talked too much on the issue; so, I think we are over flogging it and this is another area of hypocrisy among the elite. And, with all sense of responsibility, I call on the Nigerian elite to be more God-fearing in their attitude and in their action. This is one thing the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and, in fact, the National Assembly should consider in constitution amendment. Because of the importance attached to that exercise, three days were earmarked for debates on issues brought out by the Committee and a day was set aside for the voting. Under normal circumstances, the Senate used to have one day of live coverage by the media and House of representatives one day. But because of the importantce attached to constitutional amendment three days were dedicated for live broadcast of the proceedings in the higher chamber and this issue was thoroughly discussed. Suddenly we find out that somebody was saying that the Senators are doing this and that sponsoring early marriage and all this sort of rubbish. So I have spoken about it quite at length, that it is not a bill and the whole brouhaha is about section 29 which relates to citizenship denunciation. The present constitution provides in it that for any Nigerian to renounce his citizenship he or she must be of full age, that is what the section said. Now by saying full age, it means attainment of 18 years.
Any woman that is married is deemed to be of full age. Now in the wisdom of the committee they started saying a married woman is of full age and they cited the child’s right act as their reason and I don’t know of their reason. For God sake, we are Nigerians and we have more than 250 ethnic groups and we came from different groups and cultures. My religious culture permits me to marry out my daughter at an age that I deem she is grown up enough to marry. My religion says I can marry out my daughter when she attains the age of puberty, therefore 18 years is an opinion by somebody where somebody sat somewhere – and I don’t know where – and started saying that the age of puberty is 18 years.
My own Book (Qur’an) told me what puberty is and once I see their signs or their manifestation in a woman I can marry her out, and it is not any body’s business; as far as I am concerned, the constitution is balanced. It gives you your right and opinion and if you feel the age of puberty is eighteen years, it is there to allow your daughter to attend the age of 18 or you decide to keep your daughter until when she reaches the age of 30, 40 and that is your own business, not mine. If I want to marry out my daughter at the age of 13, you should allow me to do it, for God sake, it is not your problem.
There are cultures in Nigeria where men inherit their father’s wife when they die and even send them to farms. Some inherit, including their own mother, and we didn’t come out to say that this thing should be abrogated because it is their own culture and also it is their own problem as well. If they don’t like it then they can now come out with a bill and lobby us as Senators and say we want this thing to be abrogated. This Country is a very funny one and is only in Nigeria you see somebody who prides himself with laughable names such as homosexual, or whatever, presiding over an event that a lot of people don’t sanction, parading young girls dancing almost naked, receiving awards, and they don’t see anything wrong in it. But they would rather call a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria names just because he believes in what his religion has provided. This is quite laughable and unfortunate. The whole world is watching young girls dancing with only brassiere and pants in the name of beauty pageant. I have my own culture and I have my own way of doing it and I didn’t say your own is wrong.
Therefore, the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of religion, etcetera-etcetera. I think it is time Nigerians learnt to respect themselves. You cannot, and I repeat, nobody can define me as I have my religion, tribe and my culture and I am very proud of all of them.
You have your own, so please practise your own and allow me to practise my own. Even in the religion I practise, there is no compulsion and no enforcement. You see, in my religion, even though we are practising the same religion, still you can find out that one person prays at 1 o’clock and the other at 2 o’ clock while somebody else is not even praying and don’t call them names. In Nigeria we saw on national television a ‘factory’ where young girls are paid to get pregnant and give birth to children for them to give them two to three thousand naira and, in all this, we have not seen NGOs staging protest calling National Assembly or leaders in the country to do something about it. How many prostitutes do we have outside this country and how many prostitutes do we have in all streets of this country and a lot of them are at younger age.
On the Security issue, what do you think should be done to tackle this problem in this country?
Well, all hands are on deck to address it as it has become a monster in this country. It is a very serious problem and we should be given all that is necessary to tackle the situation. And you know the Federal government and state governments are looking into these problems and, from what we are hearing and seeing, government is making a headway in that direction and it is our collective responsibility to all pray for peace and learn to be our brothers’ keepers.
Now coming down to your constituency, within the period of your stay in the Senate of more than two years now, what can you say you have brought to your constituency?
You see, like I have said severally, the issue of youth unemployment is something that I told myself on resuming the 7th National Assembly that it is one area that I am going to concentrate on, even if it means that it is the only thing I would be able to tackle.
I prayed to God to give me the opportunity to make an impact in that area as I believe that it is one area that if I am able to address, it would have effects. You see, if you employ one person, that person would even, if he doesn’t have a wife, at least, he can take care of his aged parents and even some relatives around him. And again that person I assisted to get employment can as well expand his assistance to even beyond his relatives, that is he can assist his Community, his local government and even the state in general. So that is one area that that I was interested to look into. You see, I thank God that I have been able to make significant impact in this area of assisting the unemployed persons from my constituency and state in general.
Even though I don’t have the record here with me, but I believe a lot of people can bear me witness concerning my efforts towards that direction where the unemployed in my zone have got jobs from federal agencies. On the educational sector, I have been able to sponsor some programmes that cater to the issues of education. You see, before now a lot of our youths, for one reason or the other, were unable to get admission into tertiary institutions because they didn’t have 5 credits. In that case, I introduced a programme where those Secondary school leavers from the 4 local government areas I am representing and who do not passed their papers up to 5 credits to gain admission into tertiary institutions were given second chance and extra lectures were organised for them under the programmes and finally they sat for their exams, NECO and WAEC.
In fact, I was very glad when I saw the results of many of them and they passed their papers successfully, and I thank God for that.