By G9ija

The Chairman House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Media, Khadijah Bukar Abbah- Ibrahim, was emphatic in her assertion that the 9th House would rather employ diplomacy to get its ways with the executive for the benefit of Nigerians. In this interview with a number of reporters, Abbah-Ibrahim, who was a one-time Yobe State First Lady and former Minister of state for Foreign Affairs, said the 9th House is determined to reform its activities, among other issues. DELE ANOFI was there. Excerpts:

Do you think the 9th House of Representatives will be independent under the new dispensation considering the manner the leadership emerged?

Unlike the 8th Assembly, where there was lack of rapport between the executive and the legislature, the aim of this Assembly is to work together to achieve a common goal. We’re going to work together because nobody can deny the fact that Nigeria is our country, and we need to protect the interests of the country; even as we are mindful of the importance of the separation of powers between the three arms of government. Those three arms are separate in their entities and separate in their ideals, but that doesn’t mean that they must be at loggerheads. Rather, it means that they should work together in order to make the country move ahead. These are the things that the Speaker(Femi Gbajabiamila) emphasized, that he came to the office through the project of the Joint Task. The Joint Task is a combination of parties, including the majority party, APC, and other minority parties; so, it wasn’t as if it was only the APC votes… as he was brought to the office irrespective of party affiliations. Before he was elected, Mr. Speaker reached out to all the parties concerned to associate himself with them and to show to them that having been a Minority Leader, having been House Leader and also a fifth termer in the House of Representatives, he found it fit to be the major contender in the House of Representatives as Mr. Speaker. There was an attempt four years earlier to be Mr. Speaker, but God didn’t say it was time; so he said God’s time is the best and, indeed, on the 11th of June 2019, by the special grace of God, he was made the Speaker of the House. So, he re-emphasized the fact that Nigeria is a country with a diverse population, different religions, totally diverse.  And in the world, you cannot ever find a country like Nigeria. And to that we all belong. So, it is in our common interest to put our hands together to make sure that we work for our own country, to make sure that our country moves ahead and in the comity of nations, to be considered as a developed country, not an underdeveloped country. So, towards that end, he has shown a sense of brotherhood by pulling other party members along. And even in his nomination, it was Hon. Linda Ikpeazu from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from Anambra State, who seconded his nomination as Mr. Speaker. So, you can see democracy at play; a democracy without a minority or an opposition is not a democracy. What we consider a democracy is a healthy democracy that we need in this country. We need a democracy whereby criticisms can be taken as healthy and that is where the change we all craved comes from. So, we have to look inward, assess ourselves and see to it that indeed, we need to make changes where and when due and when appropriate.  These are the things that the Speaker emphasized.

Speaker Gbajabiamila is very strong on the fact that Nigeria is too great for wastage of time during budget and budgeting process, that all these will become a thing of the past with the 9th House. When the budget bill comes, we’ll be able to pass it in good time and it’s not as if we are going to be a rubber stamp parliament. No. We are going to work as partners in progress with the executive. Where there is any kind of objection to this, we will do it in a mature and concise manner because we are partners in progress. We are not enemies; we are not competing with one another

 It will no longer be business as usual, in addition to shaking the table a little bit; these were the assertions made by the Speaker. Does that not look like trouble for the executive from the onset?

It is no trouble. The determination of this House to work hand-in-hand with the executive has been emphasised over and over again. In his inaugural speech, the Speaker said it is not going to be to business as usual. That is something the Speaker has actually begun to demonstrate. For instance, the traditional victory party being held immediately after the election, he made a categorical statement that he was not in the mood for that kind of celebration this time around. In other words, the 9th Assembly under him will do things differently.

On the passage of budget, we have been having budgets staying for almost five, six months at times before being passed. This time around, this Assembly wants to do things speedily following all the due process but being more conscientious about the manner things are done, to even be more transparent in our activities and business doing things unusual.

To emphasize the business unusual stance of this House, critical ad hoc committees of the House were set up just two days after inauguration, which is not the way it used to be.

I think it’s also in the line of doing business unusual that for a Speaker, who wants to run an all-inclusive House, who doesn’t want to just come with his own idea and push it to the front burner that the Legislative Agenda was not unveiled the first day of his emergence. He needs to have a lot of consultation, take inputs from all the political parties represented in the House like it’s indicated in that logo, “Nation building, a joint task”. So, there’s no point rushing into releasing a document and then midway after discovering that it doesn’t have the inputs of everyone. He did not put the Legislative Agenda before the campaign, which is just Mr. Speaker’s idea; of course, he has it. He did his campaign with some of it, but we need to deepen it to add more spices to it. Now, all hands are on deck; the consultations are a priority because the document contains the details of the reforms that we will be bringing into the House. They are reforms that will be very good for the parliament and very good for Nigeria as a country.

To take it further, the issue of shaking the table, I don’t want to quote Mr. Speaker but it is the intention of this National Assembly that in as much as we are constitutionally guaranteed, we have our rules to do our things. We are not unmindful and we are not going to be unmindful of the vehicle that brought us in; we have political parties. We will really do things in consultation and in conjunction with the political parties. And very soon, you will see what it means by just to deepen not doing things as usual. You will see that even the major opposition parties will now be paying courtesy visits to Mr. Speaker. The Speaker is ready to open up to them. After all, during the campaign, he reached out to them. So, like the PDP with a major opposition party coming to pay a courtesy visit to Mr. Speaker, we are just trying to emphasize what Mr. Speaker said, that the intention of the 9th National Assembly is really a statement of fact, and there is no hanky-panky in it. In shaking the table a bit, the Speaker said he has to do it gradually in order not to grind to a halt the system. So definitely his leadership style in the 9th House is going to be different. So, everybody has his own style of leadership.

So, I think the question of guaranteeing or ensuring the independence of the legislature is sacrosanct. Yes, we respect the separation of powers but the constitutional intention of the authors of the Constitution is that all efforts should be geared towards nation building. In so doing, the legislature shouldn’t be seen to be a stumbling block to the executive and vice versa. But yes, where there are infractions by the executive, where there is a derailment from the set objective and the laws governing the country, this House will have to intervene in a manner that will not negatively affect the greater majority of Nigerians. After all, we are to provide laws for the good governance of the country. So, we will explore the many ways of seeking arbitration. There are so many ways of reconciliation; there are several ways of correcting infractions, and it must not be done with rancour.

He(Speaker)appreciated the fact that when the legislature comes out as a police, intimidating the executive, they might be afraid of even coming forth to render accounts or even to explain. But when a friendly, an enabling environment is created, they will be willing to come forth. You remember, I think either 2018 budget that we cried out, that most of the agencies are not forthcoming; that the Secretary of the Government of Federation had to issue a statement that they have to come. They were apprehensive; so, we learned a lesson from that. So these are all to say when Mr. Speaker says it is not going to be business as usual, we cannot be intimidating enough. In order words, we want to put corrective measures; we are going to use diplomacy.

There are some people from the executive who  look down upon the legislature and somebody feel since he has the power to hit an MDA, he is an Alpha and Omega, he can do and undo. No, we, as an institution, will find a way of bringing him to his level. In fact, before he even knows. The 9th Assembly came in full of spirit, learning from the experiences of the previous Assemblies.

With the rainbow coalition ensuring the emergence of the Speaker and now that he has the seat, is the promise of 60 committee chairmen and deputy chairmen for the PDP still on the table? 

Yeah. Well, you know, Mr. Speaker is a man of his words. I believe that if there are commitments he made during the campaign, he will live by them. We may not have the details of what those commitments are, you know, when you’re running for office, there are so many meetings being held here and there. But I want to tell you that with what I know about him, whatever he promises to do, he lives by them and he fulfills them. Recently, after a meeting with the Vice President in the villa, he re-affirmed that every promise that he made to all the parties and people involved in the campaign, he willfulfill them and I’m sure he is not going to go back on that.

Are you aware of the threats from and land mines to be laid by some members that are still aggrieved, like the G70; what are you doing about it?

The leadership of this House emerged through the rainbow coalition and there is no way we will allow the House we built to be destroyed by petty things. On the issue of the G70, yes, normally, after an election, where there was a contest, and that is the beauty of democracy. In democracy, the majority have their way and the minority have their say and it is the duty of those who emerge victorious to  extend the olive branch to the people who have been defeated so that we would portray a scenario of ‘No victor, no vanquished’, and I think the 9th Assembly is doing that. Yes, some people expressed re grievances on the electronic media but we are talking to the leaders of the said G70. We even held a meeting with them very recently and I think we are almost convincing them to sheathe their sword.

And I don’t think you can hear anything that will impact negatively on the House over this. So, the 9th Assembly leadership is really, really leaving no stone unturned as regarding defusing any other uprising.  This 9th Assembly is after result; it is a result-oriented kind of setup. How it is done is top of our priority list