Rep Kyari Gujbawu (PDP, Maiduguri Metropolitan) in this interview reacts to the threats to override the president on the issue of budget explaining why he believes the matter will not get to that extent before it is resolved.
Your colleagues in the opposition parties last week told President Goodluck Jonathan that should he continue to delay in signing the budget, they will override his veto.. How do you react to this?
A precursor to that statement was that, if two heads are better than one, then certainly 360 heads are better than one, meaning the 360 members of the House position on the budget is being compared to the head of Mr President. I think you can hardly find a deliberate attempt in distorting facts like this kind of statement. We are not saying that we're not going to veto or override the veto of the president.
Now, when you compare the House of Reps to the Executive, Mr President is not the author of this budget; he is only the head of the Executive, which consists of all the ministries of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The budget as presented by the president to the National Assembly is not authored solely by the president. It is a product of probably well-grounded career civil servants who may even number more than 2000 or 3000.
So, saying it is the product of just Mr President is a deliberate distortion of facts, ands that is the antics of the opposition. The leadership of the National Assembly, is being led by PDP; both the Senate President and the Speaker, we believe are loyal members of PDP; they respect the leadership, and they are executing the agenda and manifesto of our party, which is to take Nigeria to the comity of developed nations in the foreseeable future.
And as we're talking, Mr President and the National Assembly leadership are meeting to sort out the problems about this budget in amicable and diplomatic manner, without any rancour.
If Mr President eventually fails to sign the budget, what is the other option?
Well, I think this thing has never happened. We have been in this democratic dispensation since 1999, that is almost 14 years now, and ever since then, this thing has been a routine ritual every year, when budgets are presented by the executive to the National Assembly, you have these problems of the NASS having imports and the executive will now say 'no, we don't want it!' But in all cases for the past 14 years, such things are amicably settled behind closed doors, and budgets are signed into law by the President in the presence of the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. And I don't think there will be any difference from the proceedings of 13 years in our democratic practice.
Is the current situation similar to what played out some time back when the President was persuaded to sign the budget four months after implementation?
I don't think so. You see, that is the beauty of democracy, checks and balances. Budgets are initiated by the executive, while the legislative arm, which I belong to, has the constitutional mandate of appropriation and stamping it after fixing, if there are any errors in the budget. And we represent Nigerians. So, it is natural that if there are different opinions as regards the developmental strategies in this country, it is only healthy that all of us will sit down and jaw jaw! I think that is what is happening. I don't think that implementation per se is an attempt by the executive to short-change the gentleman agreement.
Probably there are certain economic indices that are not available. And then again, at times you also find out that members of the executive too are not helping matters, because they probably don't advise Mr President appropriately. In such cases, we cannot hesitate but to give the proper advice to Mr President as the leader of our party, and not only as the leader of the PDP, but by the grace of God, the leader of nearly 200 million Nigerians as at this time. So, whatever we should do, I think we should learn to support our leadership.
You have seen what just happened in the United States of America about the financial cliff that was being talked. The strategy that was adopted as was presented by President Obama to the legislative arm was founded on the principles of Democratic Party's philosophy covering American economy.
The PIB, which is under debate, had your own bill which has to do with the frontier exploration services agencies consolidated, but the bill s under attack in the Senate; what is the problem?
From the feelers we are getting, I think our elder brothers from the Senate, particularly maybe from other five geo-political zones, are having problems with the issue of 10 percent tax by the oil companies to be invested in host communities. But on the other hand, in the House of Representatives, if you recall, the PIB consolidated the Frontier Agencies Bill and got a smooth sail without any rancour. I believe, to a large extent, you'll allude that to the fact that there was a give-and-take. The House members were okay; there was no big deal. The 10% is coming from oil companies, so what's the big deal if you invest it in the host communities who are also Nigerians?
And our South-South counterparts and the rest of us agreed that, 'look, why don't we also promote the establishment of a frontier exploration agency, which is going to be financed through a first-line charge - through the sales of certain amount of sales from crude oil and gas - so that it will cater for the exploration and exploitation of gas and oil in the frontier sedimentary basins that are scattered in the other five geo-political zones of the country. Which basins am I talking about? The Dahomi Basin that covers parts of Lagos, Ogun, and in that same basin, Ghana, which is a neighbour to Lagos, has since started explorations; they've started selling oil in the international market.
Now, when you come to the Anambra Basin, which carters for Anambra, Kogi and Imo, there is oil there too. When you go to Sokoto Basin, which carters for parts of Zamfara and Katstina too, Niger has since started explorations and selling crude oil to international market by using their own side of Sokoto Basin. Then, of course, there is the Bida Basin. And if you go to the Chad Basin where it comes from, Chad has utilized their own side of the basin, and as at last year, they had shipped their 111th shipment of crude oil to the international market, whereas in all these five basins, our own NNPC is yet to produce one drop of crude oil.
It is because NNPC's hands are folded as well as other international players in the oil industry. They have enough oil to explore in the Niger-Delta at a cheaper rate, so the frontier basins are not attractive to them. But if the federal government starts investing in the frontier basins directly through the Frontier Agency, you'll find out that there are other players in the oil market who are not in the Niger-Delta region today that will be interested to come along with the Frontier Agencies in those five sedimentary basins in the country.
Recently, there were reports that Ali Modu Sheriff is likely to move to the PDP with some of the reports suggesting that he is moving with the governor...
To be frank with you, nobody has sought my advice; nobody called me for any meeting. But let's look at it; what is politics all about? It is about keeping the ally and the friends you have and winning the opposition into your home. So, if anybody has something good to bring to PDP, I think we'll welcome him (laughs).
The vice president recently visited your state; Borno, would you say this will facilitate the attainment of the desired achievement?
Of course it was a fundamental achievement, because that was a visit that was long a bit overdue, but they say God's time is the best.
The visit has really brought about a lot of positive things for the people of Borno State, because it has accorded my people the opportunity to sit with the Number Two citizen in the country for them to air their grievances and also ask questions where there are certain things that are unanswered concerning the approach or the strategy of the Federal Government in bringing lasting peace to the state and the country at large.
The VP, representing the president, said frankly that Federal Government has been investing and will increase the investment in major areas of the economic development. One, there is the issue of exploration of oil and gas in the Chad Basin, which Mr President has suggested the appropriation of about $1 million which is about N17 billion in the 2013 budget to expedite action on the oil exploration in that basin; that much I know is true because it is in the budget.
Also, the South-Chad irrigation project which holds a lot of potential not only for Borno or Nigeria but the entire African continent, because it may interest you to know that as a people in Nigeria, we import N4 million metric tonnes of wheat from abroad every year at the cost of N635 billion, that is about $4 billion, where as the South-Chad part of Nigeria from Borno State has the capacity and irrigable land fertile enough to produce well over five million metric tonnes of wheat every year.
The other one is the Maiduguri - Kano dual carriage way which is almost 70 percent completed. Then the rail line from Maiduguri to Nguru and the one to Kano which has also left the drawing board because the design is already fully done; as well as the 330KVA power line from Adamawa to Gombe and to Maiduguri which is also well over 80 percent completed.