17 July 2017

Nigeria: Amnesty for Treasury Looters Will Further Encourage Corruption - Lawmaker

interview

Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno represents Monguno/Marte/Ganzai Federal Constituency of Borno state in the House of Representatives and is the chairman, Committee on Agricultural Services. In this interview with KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL, he speaks on a range of national issues including the anti-corruption war of the Federal Government.

One of the key priorities of the Buhari administration is diversification of the economy to Agriculture and some other areas. As chairman of the committee on Agriculture, would you say any meaningful progress has been made in this area?

Yes, there is significant progress in the agricultural sector. There is significant improvement in budgetary provision for agriculture as compared to the past. Although, we are yet to meet the 20 percent Maputo Declaration requirement but there is significant improvement in agriculture and this clearly signifies the commitment of the government towards diversification. But you should also know that agriculture is in the concurrent list and the local government, state and federal government also funds agriculture, and for the first time, we exported yams to Europe to boost our foreign exchange; and we have also significantly reduced our rice import. We are also recapitalizing the Bank of Agriculture to enable it give loans to farmers at single digit rate because right now, our farmers cannot access loans from the commercial banks due to the double digit interest rates.

There is also a paradigm shift in driving agriculture from a business perspective rather than a developmental perspective so that we encourage our youths to embrace agriculture as a means of livelihood. We also have earmarked about N5 billion for the empowerment of youths and women through agriculture. Remember, majority of rural farmers are women and we want to support them to increase their yields. So, I think the government is not paying lip service to diversification with emphasis to agriculture.

The yam exportation programme has generated a lot criticism as many Nigerians argue that the policy has resulted in the rise in the cost of yam and that there are not enough yams in the country. Do you think this programme is sustainable?

It is sustainable; we have enough yams because we are the largest producers of yams in the world. We account for 70 per of yam production in the world. Before now, farmers in Nigeria exports yams to Ghana where it is re-packaged and exported to other parts of the world. But instead of that, we have decided to package and export directly from Nigeria. something we ought to have done a long time ago. We will not have shortages because there are enough yams to meet both local and international demands.

The University of Maiduguri has become the major target of Boko Haram yet, you raised a motion urging the federal government not to shut the school down. In the event that the government does not yield to your advice, what other step would you take?

I don't want to believe that the government is not going to abide by the prayers of our motion. The University of Maiduguri is one of the pioneer second generation universities and a center of excellence not just in the North-east but in the entire country and, coupled with the fact that the ideology of Boko Haram is 'western education is evil' which is why it has sustained these attacks to make sure that the school is closed down. In view of that, I don't want to even in my wildest imagination think the government would close the school down because of these attacks from the insurgents. I also know that the state government has already taken steps to secure the school by digging trenches around the forest area of the school so it will be inaccessible to Boko Haram. The governor is determined to do all within his power to secure the school.

Sectional agitations for self-determination, secession and restructuring are the order of the day in the country; and these are unfortunately creating tension. How best can this tension be doused and ensure peace in the nation?

I think the only way this tension can be doused is through the restructuring of Nigerian federation. As it is now, too much power is concentrated in the centre; so there is need for devolution of powers to constituent units that make up the federation. This will allow states to exercise these powers on behalf of the people. I am referring to what people call true federalism because right now, we are practicing more or less a unitary system of government. So, we have to restructure especially with regards to the exclusive list so that some of these items can be transferred to the concurrent list, whereby both the states and federal government can make laws to govern.

With the magnitude of hate speeches and deliberate divisions going on, would you say Nigerians have learnt any lessons from the civil war that was fought about 50 years ago?

The people making these hate speeches are those who read about the civil war from history books. They did not witness the horror of the war because most of them were born after that. So, they do not appreciate the dangers associated with war which is why they can make these hate speeches. Those who witnessed the horrors of war cannot be promoting these hate messages and activities. I always believe that there is unity and strength in diversity. We should harness our diversity to its full potential and not use it divide us. Nigeria is a great country and if we unite, it will be better for us all.

There is a bill currently before the House seeking amnesty for looters which gives the impression that the House is supporting corruption. Is this bill not counter-productive?

I do not support a bill seeking amnesty for people who have looted the treasury to surrender their loot and go scot-free. By passing that bill, we will be encouraging corruption in this country. Instead of doing that, we should strengthen anti-graft agencies. Their investigative machinery and powers should be strengthened so that they can properly investigate and track the stolen funds; and there is need to also overhaul our administration of criminal justice system. Also, we need special courts for cases of corruption so they are dispensed with quickly rather than adjudicating in ordinary courts because the practice whereby corruption cases drag on for 10, 15 years in our courts is not healthy. Because, the magnitude of corruption in this country is even threatening the corporate existence of the country. The special courts should also be properly funded.

Since the passage of the 2017 budget, the relationship between the executive and legislature has deteriorated. How can this problem be solved to allow for smooth running of the country?

The problem is the debate about the powers of the two arms when it comes to budget. But I believe the best way to resolve this is to seek judicial interpretation. Any arm of government that is aggrieved whether the legislature or the executive, should go to the judiciary for interpretation so that we can put this matter to rest once and for all. But in my personal conviction, the constitution has given the National Assembly the powers to work on the budget and since the budget is a bill and National Assembly tinker with bills, it can also amend the budget. Ordinarily, this should not be causing any friction in the first place.

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