… Ekweremadu, not I, called legislators illiterates
From AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, Abuja
Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Ahmed Ali Gulak, has said the budget standoff between the Presidency and the National Assembly may not be unconnected to the 2015 presidency.
Gulak also spoke on the altercations between the Presidency and the National Assembly, saying it was not him but the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who called his fellow legislators illiterates.
Hear him: “I didn’t call them illiterates. Let me tell you: just yesterday, I was reading in the papers that the Deputy Senate President, that is Senator Ekweremadu, said some legislators can barely write their names. He said so.
“Go and read it. He said so. I did not say it. So, if most of them can barely write their names, then how will they understand the intricacies of budget? I did not say it. It is the Deputy Senate President that said it and if he really said it, so, it means the National Assembly has a long way to go.”
Gulak further said: “You cannot rule out 2015 because what I always say and I keep on saying, is that people should not use their ambition to jettison national issues. Let’s wait. When we reach the bridge, we will cross it.”
Gulak, former Speaker of the Adamawa State House of Assembly, spoke on these and other sundry issues. Excerpt…
The 2013 budget has generated much controversy between the Presidency and the leadership of the National Assembly. Why the exchange of words?
I don’t think the 2013 budget should have generated the controversy people are talking about. The 2013 budget was a comprehensive document submitted by the Presidency to the National Assembly as required by the constitution. And I believe that budget is a comprehensive document carefully worked out by experts and submitted to the National Assembly and the National Assembly, as required by the constitution, is supposed to look at the budget, approve it so that Nigerians can have benefit of the budget.
I was saying that if the budget is not implemented to a level, a reasonable level, I don’t think the executive should be blamed for it. I said, and I will still say it, that part of the blame must be shared by the National Assembly in the sense that if a budget is passed in April, that is four months into the year and you expect 70, 80 percent implementation by September, October; then you know that it is not feasible. It is not possible. But if the budget is passed and it is effective from January 1, and by September, October, you don’t see the implementation of the budget up to 70, 80 percent, then you have quarrel and your quarrels must be genuine. And that is why I always say that the budget as submitted by the President should be effective from January 1, so that it will have reasonable implementation.
You know the procurement process. There are due processes for you to procure certain items of the budget. You must publish it, it must be advertised and all the due processes must be followed. And if the budget is not passed early enough, how do you expect the executive to implement the budget by 100 percent?
Secondly, I said and I will continue to say that if the executive submits a budget which is a careful preparation of documents of expenditure and income and it goes to the National Assembly and certain projects are inserted into this budget that were not conceived by the executive; because certain projects like road construction need feasibility study, need soil test, need engineering design which the executive did not foresee and has not done and it is inserted by the National Assembly, how do you expect this item of the budget to be implemented by the executive within that year? So, what we are saying is that if the executive says road from point A to point B is going to be done this year for N5 billion, this road from point A to point B, the executive must have done the soil test, must have done the engineering design and must have done everything necessary before inserting that item on the budget. And if the procurement as determined by the executive is for example, N5 billion and it goes to the National Assembly and they reduce it to N200 million, how do you expect the executive to conclude that road within that year? It is not possible. For example, the executive is buying an ambulance for a National Hospital, everybody knows that the price of ambulance is N6 million or N5 million. It is an international price and it goes to the National Assembly and the National Assembly reduces this price to N1 million or N2 million, how can the executive implement such item of the budget within that year? It is not possible.
So, this is why we are saying that the National Assembly and the executive should be partners. They should collaborate. They should be partners in the Nigerian project so that Nigerians will enjoy the dividends of democracy. The project inserted must be executed within that year. But what people are saying -and I believe their fears are genuine, is that instead of partnership between the National Assembly and the Presidency, it appears there is a contest for power.
I don’t really know because that has been in the burner. There should not be contest for power. The President is the President of this country. He was elected to serve Nigeria as President for four years and he has his constitutional power. The National Assembly have their constitutional power. Everybody derives his power from the constitution. And what I am saying is that Section 8 (1) of the Constitution should be carefully looked at. Who presents the budget? Definitely, it is the executive. What is the budget all about? The executive will not just present a document. They have to go into careful analysis. What are the priorities for this year? What are the roads you must concentrate on this year? What of electricity supply? All these items in the budget are carefully studied and they are not things that you say maybe, you just go into the shelf and pay your money and pick. No! They must work on it. So, what I think the executuve is complaining about, is certain items being inserted into the budget at the National Assembly that have not been planned for by the executive for execution.
From your statement, there is the contest for power. What accounted for this?
Is it because of the 2015 presidency?
Well I don’t know. I cannot say but you cannot rule out 2015 because what I always say, and I keep on saying, is that people should not use their ambition to jettison national issues. Lets wait. When we reach the bridge, we will cross it. Everybody has the right to aspire to the highest office in this land.
You also mentioned the reduction of the budget by the National Assembly. What is the idea behind it?
Well, I cannot answer that question because it is the National Assembly that should answer that question, why and how. But what we are saying is that it will have negative impact on the implementation of the budget.
The National Assembly warned the Presidency last week, saying that Doyin Okupe and yourself were deliberately stoking impasse between them and the Presidency. What is your take on this?
First and foremost, the first test in politics I had was that I was a parliamentarian. I was the Speaker of the Adamawa State House of Assembly. So, I respect that institution because that was where I started. And I couldn’t have called the National Assembly bunch of stupid people. It is not possible.
Are you saying you didn’t call them illiterates?
I didn’t call them illiterates. Let me tell you one thing: I did not know and I couldn’t have because what I am saying is that they know the law. They are not ignorant people. Only ignorant people would say that we don’t know the law. But they know the law. They know the constitution. They have the constitution. In fact, the constitution is their document day-in, day-out. So, the constitution is clear on who has which power.
You see, the problem in Nigeria is that you leave the substance of the discussion and go and harmer on something else. What we are saying at our level is that budget implementation must be done in full collaboration and partnership between the two arms of government: the executive and the legislature.
Let me tell you: just yesterday, I was reading in the papers that the Deputy Senate President, that is Senator Ekweremadu, said many of the legislators can barely write their names. He said so.
He said so.
I have not read that…
You better go and read it. He said so. He said most of the legislators can barely write their names.
Doesn’t that suggest that they are illiterates?
I don’t know. But that is what they said. The Deputy Senate President said. Go and read it. He said so. I did not say it. So, if most of them can barely write their names, then how will they understand the intricacies of budget? I did not say it, it is the Deputy Senate President that said it. And if he really said it, so it means the National Assembly has a long way to go.
The National Assembly also said that there is overzealousness on your part and that of Okupe. How true is this?
Well, at the time we worked for the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, we did that because we love this country. I did that as a person because I believe in Goodluck Jonathan. I did that because I believe that this country belongs to all of us irrespective of where you come from, what language you speak and the religion you practice.
I am from the north, north-east in particular. Atiku is from the north-east. He contested this election but I worked for Goodluck Jonathan to clinch this presidency because I believe in him. So, whatever somebody is saying that I am being overzealous, that is not true. I am just doing my job. I have to explain the issues to the public as a political adviser. I believe the budget of the executive was carefully worked out item by item for this year and I expected that the implementation of the budget must be by collaboration.
How about the issue of bills awaiting the president’s assent which you were quoted to have said that they won’t be signed. Did you actually say it?
No! Maybe it was a response. What was the context? You have to understand the context within which I spoke. If I was asked a question that there are some bills lying with Mr. President for example, and the President is not assenting, I have to ask: these bills are they really before Mr. President? Secondly, the constitution is clear about it that if a bill is passed by the National Assembly, whether executive bill or private-member’s bill and if such bills are passed by the National Assembly, it is for Mr. President to assent and if he withholds his assent, after 30 days, or he signifies his withholding of assent, after 30 days, the National Assembly, by the constitution, should know what to do. That was what I said. It is a constitutional issue. It is not Gulak saying it, it is not President Goodluck saying it and it is not Senator David Mark saying it. It is this constitution that is the grand norm from which every other person derives his power. It is not being overzealous. I am not being overzealous. I am just explaining to the public what is involved.
It was also reported that the Presidency said you and Okupe are on your own. What is your reaction to that?
Is it a crime if I express my personal view on an issue in Nigeria? It is not out of context. It is not. I am entitled to my own views as a Nigerian not withstanding that I am a presidential adviser. I am entitled to my own view and the view is; as it relates to this budget, it is a clear explanation that the executive and the legislature should be partners for full implementation of this Act. So, where are we faulty?
Ekweramadu said if he were the President, you will not last one day in his office because you are just putting the President on the part of confusion. How do you see his comment?
Unfortunately or fortunately for me, the Deputy Senate President is not the President of this country. The President of this country gave me a job and I am doing my job to the best of my knowledge and ability. By no means, by no means, I repeat, by no means will I ever disrespect the institution of the National Assembly, more so, the Senate. But, like I said, the Deputy Senate President said it and he was quoted in the newspaper that many of the legislators can barely write their names. That is what he said and I read it. But if he comes to say that if he were to be the President, I will not last one minute in office, well, unfortunately or for fortunately, he is not the President. Let him mind his duty, his constitutional duty. As the Deputy Senate President, we respect the young man for that and we respect the institution. Today, I am the political adviser and tomorrow, I may not be. This time, he is the Deputy Senate President and next time, he may go for a higher office or he may not be. Today, Goodluck Jonathan is the President, next time he may not be. Last time, he was not. Obasanjo was there for eight years.
All I am saying is that now that Goodluck Jonathan is in the saddle, all hands must be on deck to support him so that we can succeed. There is no point distracting the man. There is no point for some of these people who have hatred for his presidency because this is much more than criticism. I believe because this is a man who came on board and people elected him. Right from his election, there have been crises. As a result of that election, some people said they were going to make the country ungovernable for the man. It is on record. I can start calling names if you want. People made these statements. Why should they make Nigeria ungovernable under Goodluck Jonathan? Why didn’t they make Nigeria ungovernable under Obasanjo? Why didn’t they make Nigeria ungovernable under Yar’Adua? So, let the will of the majority carry the day. We have some few people who will never, who will never, I repeat, never appreciate the good work the President is doing for this country. We have a lot of them.
The House of Representatives has just challenged the Presidency to make public the documents indicting the National Assembly over the alleged N60 billion constituency project execution. What did the document say?
I don’t know.
Are you saying you are not aware?
I am not aware.