NASS won’t stop agitating for sack of service chiefs – Kalu

The PDP recently warned Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila to stop intimidating the leadership of its caucus in the House, led by Hon. Kingsley Chinda. The party also reaffirmed its stand that the quartet of Hons. Chinda, Hon. Ajibola Muraino, Hon. Barde and Chukwuka Onyeama are their chosen leaders. What’s your reaction to it?

The joint task philosophy for nation building initiated in the wisdom of the Speaker Rt. Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, was intended to create an enabling platform for all the political parties to fairly participate in rebuilding the nation through the parliament.

This in fact has given a sense of belonging to most minority political parties. The above does not in any way mean that these political parties will now determine for the House, how the activities of the House should be run.

The House at all times functions through her House Rules and not by any political party’s bye laws or directives from national party executives. This is the legislative arm of government, distinct in its operations from other arms like the judiciary and the executive, whose independence at all times must be preserved and protected for the interest of Nigerians.

The PDP national executives should cease from giving directives to the House, but rather be better guided by our House Rules in their relationship with the House.

You will recall that the PDP caucus of the House of Representatives among others, elected their Minority Leader in the person of Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, who by the House Rules remains the highest office holder of the minority political parties in the House including the PDP where according to the INEC register he is still a member. He is as well the highest recognised leadership voice by the House Rules in matters affecting the minority parties. Based on this, any minority member of the House acting outside the parameters of the House Rules, will be cautioned or punished by the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

This is what is happening now, because the law is no respecter of persons and no one is above it. No individual political party interest should be used to distract the Joint Task Agenda of the 9th Assembly. We encourage all political parties to address their internal issues within the privacy of the party rather than making it a national public show with an attempt to drag the Rt. Honourable Speaker into it. The people’s parliament belongs to the people not just the political parties. After all, Some of our constituents are not politicians and yet they voted for us and we are accountable to them. PDP should consider this set of people as they attempt to distract the house.

What has happened to the investigation of Hon. Chinda and his group by the Ethics and Privileges Committee? Has their committee concluded its assignment and when will the report be submitted?

The spokesperson of the House speaks only for the House on matters affecting the entirety of the House. At the committee level, the chairmen speak about their ongoing activities unless where it is absolutely necessary for the nation to hear the position of the House in the form of an update. In matters of this nature, it will be “sub judicially”, wrong for me to comment on an internal hearing that is still being heard.

In the practice of the House, final hearing and committee resolution will be evidenced by the laying of the report of the committee before the House. At that point, I will be free to comment on the findings of the committee. The very intelligent senior member of the House, Hon Chinda whom I respect with other members of his group should focus on giving the best representation, which they are known for to their various constituents rather than engage in this distraction. That was not why the constituents voted them to avoid been recalled.

But looking at the House Rules or parliamentary convention, does the PDP have the right to run a different caucus from the House’ recognised Minority Leadership as represented by Hon. Ndudi Elimelu in this instance?

To my knowledge and like I earlier pointed out, the interference of any political party in the affairs of the legislative institution is frowned at by our House Rules, therefore, the PDP national executives have no business determining who is to lead the House caucus of their party, rather they can achieve that through the instrumentality of their members in the House. To the satisfaction of the leadership of the House, these PDP members chose Hon. Ndudi Elumelu as the minority leader, to head the leadership of their leaders in the House, why we are still on this? it is what bothers me.

Some committees of the House are complaining that the leadership is starving them of funds thereby making it difficult for them to complete their assignments on time. Why is the leadership hoarding funds, when the committee’s need to do their work?

Your observation about some of the committees’ financial problems is in order if there is any. I have said it over and over that the impression out there is that we have so much money in the National Assembly and this is not true. The House of Representatives is struggling without funds. The activities of the House are more than the funds available to us. This is a fact. Many people are not aware because they do not understand the workings of the House or the parliament. That is why we are working hard to open up the House and make Nigerians see what we do. The activities are enormous but the budget is not enough.

Many people won’t like to hear this; but the Speaker and the leadership of the House are struggling to manage the House responsibility with the available resources. And you will agree with me that this is management- the ability to harness the available resources to meet definite goals. Our goal in the 9th House is to give proper representation to Nigerians; to make good laws for Nigerians. We are not even talking about other aspects like constituency projects yet.

Let’s focus on making laws and oversight function. Yet, the money at our disposal is not enough. So, if any committee said it is struggling, it is not because the management deliberately does not want to release money, but the leadership is only trying to manage what is available. The management is prioritising what should come first. I want to say that I had cause to engage some of the technocrats in the accounts department- these are not lawmakers. But they agree with me that the funds are not sufficient. So, I am not surprised if any committee said it is not being energized to do its job. Funding is just not available. The House is conscious of its responsibility to fund the committees. All these responsibilities are important and are not supposed to be delayed because that is oversight function. But there is paucity of funds.

Look at the revelations and discoveries from the ongoing investigation on unaudited accounts of major MDAs. Are you not surprised? Who would have known if the House were useless and not carrying out its oversight function? A motion was raised and the leadership immediately mandated the ad hoc committee to investigate. That is why I will join my voice to those sincerely asking for more funds to be appropriated for the operations of the National Assembly. I do not want to know how some people would react, but the fact is that some react in ignorance. Once it is the House, everybody wants to attack. Nobody wants to do a critical analysis that is unbiased. It is high time we started changing this narrative.

We are struggling to get our jobs done with little funds. Since I came to the House, I do not have computer from government to do my job. All my aides do not have computers given to them by government to do their jobs. So, we have to ration the funds available. But we promised Nigerians to be patient and these committees will surely deliver on their mandates. I also want Nigerians to understand that we are operating the same budget the House operated with ten years ago. Look at the purchasing power ten years ago. I agree with you that we are struggling with lack of funds, but the leadership of Honourable Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila is doing its best to ensure that we deliver good legislation to Nigerians.

The security chiefs met with the leadership of the National Assembly during the week behind closed doors and no one was told what transpired at the meeting. Why keep the media in the dark on an important issue like security?

As you know, and as I pointed out executive sessions are confidential engagements. Even if you are my father or mother, I cannot tell you or discuss with you what happened there. It is an information code that guides the House. But what I can tell you is that the meeting with service chiefs bordered on security and you know it is not everything about security that should be announced to the public. But the Service Chiefs came to brief the National Assembly on its meeting with the executive arm; to give us a feedback, for us to be able to do our own internal critique and help in preferring solutions.

There are reports that the House has begun procurement of utility vehicles for lawmakers. Is this true? We also learnt that when the President of the Senate and Speaker met with President Buhari, they could not summon the courage to tell the President that they want the Service Chiefs to go. Has the House rescinded its resolution that they should resign?

On the issue of procurement, I am not aware that the National Assembly has started procuring vehicles. I am still using my car, which I bought four years ago and brought it to the National Assembly. I am still changing the tyres to the car myself. And as the image maker of the House, I should be one among the first lawmakers to be procured for because I do represent the House and I attend events on behalf of the parliament. I do not know of any procurement of vehicles by the House and I do not believe they will start procuring without doing so for me. So, there is nothing like that.

On the issue of the Service Chiefs, are you saying the president of the Senate and the Speaker can just sit and rescind a decision of the legislature? You know the processes of lawmaking and resolutions of the parliament. Every resolution reached by the House stands until a member comes by way of motion that it should be rescinded. Even at that, it is debated. So, until a motion is brought by a member of the House on the floor that the decision we took on the Service Chiefs be rescinded, no such thing will take place. As the spokesperson for the House, I am not aware that such a motion has been tabled and deliberated upon and another decision taken. Therefore, that resolution still subsists.

Many Nigerians are complaining about the tea break introduced by the 9th House. The complaint is that many lawmakers do not return to the chambers after the tea break. What is so important about this tea break?

In every office, when you resume work, you are advised not to sit for too long in one place. If you sit for too long, it is medically unhealthy. Nigerians are very intelligent people but sometimes, we choose to be unduly critical. There are researches on this matter.

The world over, it is being advised for us not to sit in one location for too long because it affects blood circulation. And you know that the members in the House are not young people; only few of them are young. Even if you are young, you are advised to take a walk after sitting for a while. Therefore, the House in its wisdom decided to apportion 15 minutes to members to take a walk during our plenary. And this walk is also important for Muslims among us to use the time to for their prayers.

Nigeria is a secular country and we must accommodate every religion. Some of our Muslim brothers complained that when they start going out for prayers in the middle of the plenary, it causes rowdiness or distraction.

Just imagine all the Muslims in the House stand up at the same time to go and pray, it will be very distractive. And we say, let’s give everybody 15 minutes; when the Muslims go out to pray, everybody is also free to take a walk. This is for efficiency and good delivery. I don’t think it is a bad decision. It is a healthy medically induced decision for fit purposes.

But the cup of Lipton tea that we take is what some people are complaining about. When in all offices in the country, they have tea being served. Some offices even have tea girls. Let us be fair to the lawmakers. We drink tea Nigerians complain, we wear suit, they complain, we drive keke NAPEP, they complain. We are even afraid to ride a motor bike now. Yet, we are the backbone of our democracy. I want Nigerians to remember that any day, you suffocate the legislature, democracy is finished and you won’t have a voice to say the things you say freely today. Nigerians have a voice now because there is legislature.

So, let us protect, preserve and encourage this arm of government. The attitude of being unduly antagonistic to the legislature is wrong. We must change our orientation towards the legislature. The expectations are too high, so much that when you give your constituent N5000, they expect that it should be N50,000. The false impression is that we are collecting so much and giving them little. Some even say we are stealing so much and not sharing it with them. This is not true and we appeal to the media to also help change this narrative.