Hon Gaza Jonathan Gbefwi represents Karu/Keffi/Kokona federal constituency of Nassarawa State in the House of Representatives. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the deputy chairman, house committee on media and publicity said he is in support of restructuring the country and also spoke on some other issues.
Some Nigerians see the suspension of Hon Jibril as an attempt to cover up the allegations of budget padding. What is your take on this?
Well, just as it has been established, there is nothing like budget padding. What does the constitution say and what does it empower the national assembly to do? We were only doing our constitutional duties and the interpretation is left for the law courts and the executive duty to execute it. So as far as I am concerned, we have exercised our constitutional rights and whatever nomenclatures you want to use, this house wants Nigerians to get the best of democracy. We have sworn an oath of allegiance to this country, we have a responsibility to leave a legacy for generations behind us and we are going to do this. We are not going to be distracted. What happened in the house is a normal part of parliamentary process. We don’t work on allegations, we work on definites. A petition was brought to the floor of the house. We treated it on the basis of its merit. If anyone had anything to do otherwise, the person should have used the instrumentality of the house of responsibility, not using another independent arm of government to execute their grievances. This is referring to my just suspended colleague. If he has an issue, he should have brought it through the instrumentality of the house and of course, it is the house of the people, you have divergent interests. He took it the wrong way. Even at that point, he had the opportunity for fair hearing when the ethics committee invited him for hearing but he refused to come which means he has made his decision. As a house, we are focused and intend to live up to the mandate giving to us. Nigerians’ confidence has been placed on us and we must fulfil it.
Hon Jibril has threatened to go to court if the leadership does not make public how much it has spent since coming to that position, what is your take on this?
He can go, the law courts are open, and no one is stopping him.
But don’t you think it is time for the leadership of the National Assembly to open up on how much they make and spend to assuage the angst of Nigerians on their issue of jumbo pay?
They have never been closed. No one has stopped anybody from finding out what the speaker has spent or the deputy speaker spends.
The crises created a dent on the house image, what is the house doing to repair its image in this sight of Nigerians?
I have been opportune to attend legislative leadership programs in the United States. It is a known fact that legislators can never win popularity contests. We are here to make sure Nigeria is a better country. We are now wiser than we have ever been. Nigerians know the truth, it is matter of perception. We are being judged in the court of the people. Look at the antecedence and performance of this legislative house. Look at the investigative hearing we have been involved in, look at the amount of motion and bills we have passed. Are we doing our oversight or not? We do our work according to the constitutional responsibility we have been given, while allegations try to divert attention of Nigerians from the main focus. We are in a state of depression. Our health sector, power sector, economy is in shambles. Should this be the time for us to be talking about wild allegations? Shouldn’t this be a time for us to put on our thinking cap to get us out of where we are? What Nigerians want is a prosperous Nigeria. We want a Nigerian that will flourish according to the colours of our flag where the green means prosperity and white, refers to peace. I believe that this assembly is poised to do this. One man is not bigger than the national assembly.
But don’t you think the padding allegation can affect the house’s relationship with the executive and this will in turn impact negatively Nigerians?
Don’t forget that the joint tripartite committee which has never happened, went through the budget. I said it before that this is the most scrutinised budget we have ever had. Are you trying to indict the president that he signed an illegal document? The president assented his signature to that budget because it was properly scrutinised. The minister of budget came out on national TV to tell Nigerians the budget was properly scrutinised. For the emphasis of continuity and stability, let us not allow ourselves to be distracted by baseless allegations that come out of self-justification, mischief and blackmail. Nigeria is greater than one individual. Nigerians are not dumb. We are now enlightened and educated. We have shown this again and again through open debate and on social media. You hear it through open debate how intelligent Nigerians are and how more aware they have become politically and socially. They are now more involved in governance as a people.
Now that you mention the budget, Nigeria has entered the last quarter of the year and so far, most Nigerian want to know what is happening to the budget. How has the implementation been and how will you rate it?
I think this should have been the main crux of our discussion because this has direct bearing on Nigerians. It is quite unfortunate and much more is desired. We are all worried vis-à-vis promises that were made and where we are now. Much more is desired of the executive and we, as a legislature, intend to redouble our oversight functions. We have been engaging the executives. We have met with MDAs and have been reviewing their performances and asking them about what is happening to the budget. I am equally on the committee on FCT and we have been asking the same questions. We have a duty to do this for Nigerians. We are already performing our oversight task and we will ensure that, what was promised because appropriation has been made, is done.
But is it possible for the FG to fully implement the budget now that the year is coming to an end
They brought the budget. He must have consulted with his minister and professionals and received a break down on how they intend to implement the budget. We are waiting for that.
Will you support the sale of public assets to reflate the economy?
Is it actually the sale of assets that is our problem?
I stand with the senate against the sale of our assets. In the word of the president, he said we must think outside the box. Nigeria is an endowed and blessed nation. Are we judiciously using our resources? Do we have an accurate data of the exploration of our natural resources? There are so many illegal mines. Millions of dollars are being carted away through illegal mining. Our expatriate quotas are full and capital flight is going. All these are areas we must think within and harness. We need to restructure this country. I am an apostle of total fiscal federal system. In the United States, every state is a federating unit. Our biggest problem is that everything is centralised and so the second and third tier of government does not take responsibly for what is in their domain, they are waiting for allocation to come to them, which is wrong. All these illegal mines I am talking about exist in local governments and they are aware. The chairmen don’t think of going there to enforce the law because they don’t have power to mine. All license fees go to the federal government. But by the time we reverse it, every local government will start generating revenue and report to the state government who in turn will give percentage to the centre, the whole system will begin to work properly. Development starts from the grassroots. When the local governments have complete autonomy like it’s done in other counties, you will be shocked to see the calibre of people that will contest for positions in the local government. Look at my local government, Karu, in Nassarawa State where I come from, how well are the resources being harnessed? If the human resources in that place are harnessed and the people pay their taxes to the local government, which is apart from auxiliary taxes it will get, Karu will become another Abuja. Till we go back to true federalism, things cannot work. Before the sale of federal government houses in Abuja, the houses were becoming slums but the moment they sold them, owners quickly renovated them.
Now that you mentioned your state, the civil servants and state government have been having a running battle over unpaid salaries, with reports of loss of lives. What is really happening in Nassarawa State?
It is unfortunate because it is not only my state that is having the issue of arrears of salaries, but it is only in my state that some people were killed because of it. I know the state governor is doing his best but more needs to be desired. I believe we need to begin to look inward and see how we can harness our resources. I don’t think the federal government should continue to sustain states, it will make them lazy. But the federal government can give them a leverage on how they can equally explore their domain and use the resources to develop their states.