Mark Terseer Gbillah is the member, representing Gwer-East/Gwer-West Federal Constituency of Benue State in the House of Representatives. He was the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Resources in the 8th Assembly. In this exclusive interview with JAMES KWEN, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) lawmaker spoke on a variety of national issues. Excerpts:
The National Assembly just resumed from Yuletide break. So, what should be the expectations of Nigerians from the parliament?
Let me correct the expectation of the media and Nigerians to always say what do they expect? No, they should tell us what they expect us to deliver. Give us deliverables. Nigerians should start to take their destiny into their own hands. They elected us. They should come together and say these are what we expect you to deliver for us. They should stop waiting for us to give them an agenda. That is not the expectation of a democracy. Perhaps, all of us in the National Assembly which is a fact might not have the same level of patriotism or understanding of why we are there. Some of us might be there just for political benefits. Some probably for political ambition but the mission which we have been sent to is the highest call in the land to represent our people and deliver on the mandate for the benefit of the people. So, the people should start to rise up to begin to demand what they expect from the National Assembly.
That said, I want to assure Nigerians that for those us and I am speaking for myself and some of those that I know that are committed to the development of this country, because some of us appear to be partisan and are too concerned about not disturbing their party reputation instead of looking at the national call. There is a lot to be done with regards to the issue of our economy. We can assure Nigerians that we will continue to defend our democracy, continue to defend their interests and well being and fundamentally their security.
The primary role of government as enshrined in the Constitution is the welfare and security of the people and these are two cardinal points we are going to be focusing on and as members of the opposition we are going to hold this administration and leadership in the House and the Senate accountable for whatever decisions that are not taken in the interest of the people. There are several issues: Constitutional amendment, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the Electoral Act, all gear towards these fundamental issues because the welfare of the people has to do with proper leadership and representation. That is where the Electoral Act comes in, that is where the PIB comes in – to be able to get the resources that will enhance the welfare and well being of our people. When it comes to security, it is a Constitutional matter which we want to start to address. One of which I want let you know, we are trying to find a bipartisan approach to and that is the issue of bearing arms. It has come to a point in Nigeria where we need to realise that we should stop deceiving ourselves and stop playing the ostrich, Nigerians need to be licensed to carry arms. Our security agencies will never be capable of defending us the manner in which our security system is structured. Bandits and herdsmen are running rampant in our communities and then they expect us to sit down and watch?
After all, our statues already indicate we should defend ourselves but do you defend yourself with sticks against people who are heavily armed or with cutlasses? Let us be realistic. So, we are going to look at legislations that really impact on these issues of insecurity for the benefit of the people.
When a Bill relating to issue of bearing arms came to the House, there were so many arguments that if allowed, the arms will be misused for criminal activities?
You see, this is always the problem with Nigerians. We think more negative and never look the other way. It is the same thing with the State Police. We look at the negative; we don’t look at the positive. There is never a situation that is perfect even now that we are not licensed to carry arms are there no crimes? Even it is seemingly getting worse? So, for me that is not an excuse. These are the things that stop us from moving forward as a country.
All the supposed concerns are about what the negative aspect could be, instead of looking at the positive and looking at examples from other parts of the world where these things are but still are restricted. We can put a control, that’s why we said you should not just go and buy it, it is licensed. It will go through an approval process. We will know the status of the person; we will know which area you are, if you are under siege in that area with herdsmen. We will know it is licensed, it is traceable, we can trace every fire arms. These are ideas I am starting to mention on how to manage fire arms. You know who is licensed, their details, their finger print, their National Identity Number (NIN). You know the rounds of ammunition they use. If a crime is committed somewhere, that is why we should have Forensic Department that can trace these rounds to a particular gun that they came from.
You just made mention of party interest and that reminds me, recently the National Assembly postponed resumption simply because of APC membership registration. Do you think it was right for the entire activities of legislature to be shutdown just for internal party affairs?
That was an embarrassment and a disservice to the nation and the people who elected us, who have issues bordering on life and death which they expect us to look into. Unfortunately, because the leadership of both Chambers is headed by the APC, they are abusing that privilege at will but I believe that it will come to haunt them as a party when they are displaying to Nigerians their disregard for the issues at hand. What stops us from going on with our activities while they continue with their registration? Why do they schedule registration at the time when they knew that matters of state are critical to be attended to? None of us, and I am saying as a member of the House was consulted when that decision was taken. It was just a decision taken at leadership level of those which is headed by the APC. This is what I always have an issue with, when the leadership does not realise that we are all equals. We only elected them and gave them that privilege to lead. They are not better than us, they are not our bosses.
At the last Public hearing on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by the House of Representatives, host communities rejected the 2.5% host community funds and demanded for 10% and they alleged that they were not consulted in the drafting of the Bill hence their interests are not protected in the piece of legislation? With these concerns and even those of the oil companies and other stakeholders, should or will the House go ahead to pass the Bill or make amendments?
First of all, you know that I was the immediate past Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Resources, Upstream. I was a member of the PIB Ad-hoc Committee in the 8th Assembly and did an extensive job on the House Bill that we brought. Unfortunately, this administration because of whatever agenda they have refused to approve that Bill which was robust and covered extensively these issues.
Of course, there is no perfect Bill, it is always better to pass it; then make certain amendments. But, you can see now in this present Bill that is sponsored by the executive that they did not do proper consultation before allowing executive bills of this nature to come to the House. It behoves on us now, not just the two-day public hearing, we need to, and I’m advising the Committee headed by Rt. Hon. Monguno to advise the leadership of the House, we need to consult extensively with these host communities even if it requires going around those communities to see for ourselves the degradation of their environment, the abject penury, to appreciate why that 2.5% is not enough. I personally do not believe 10% is enough and just for the sake of equity, I can speak to assist them. I’m not from the Niger Delta; so, I’m not saying this from a point of bias. I’m saying this from a point of experience. My experience in that industry has made me privy to the level of squalor in which these people live when they are around so much wealth, what drives the economy of this nation; there is no benefit to them for it. It is totally unfair.
As much as we are in a hurry to pass this Bill which has been largely the fault of the executive, we should make sure a proper analysis of the situation of the host community is done to stem every restiveness. If we shove this down their throats, we are only giving recipe for anarchy in the future; work will still not go on. You have to carry the host communities along. It has to be to their satisfaction so that when work commences, everybody is carried along and everybody is happy.
So, I agree with the agitations, 2.5% is not enough and the executive should ensure that they do not have any ulterior motives. These issues that border on oil companies are all issues some of us have with the amount of power they want to still retain with the Minister. This is one of the fundamental issues I believe they have with our own Bill (8th Assembly) and we will not allow anything to pass that gives undue power to a Minister with regards to our national resource.
During the debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill, you raised concerns about non-adherence to the Fiscal Responsibility Act by MDAs and in the revised 9th House Legislative Agenda, there is a proposal for the amendment Act. Can we know the status of the planned amendment of the FRA?
The Act as we speak, is in the process of amendment but the area which I was talking about with reference to Appropriation is already a subsisting legislation that is always abused by this administration. It gives limit to the ratio of GDP percentage to debt ratio that the government can take and adopt in each year’s budget. The administration keeps flaunting it, keeps giving us explanations as to why they are exceeding that threshold. It said 3% and yet, they keep exceeding it in terms of the debt GDP ratio that they want to take every year and the law clearly stipulates it should not be more than 3%. In the last two years I think it has been 3.6% and they keep giving reasons for it. There is no reason you can give for breaking a law. It’s just like saying, oh! Sorry, I killed somebody because of this or that. Does the law allow you to kill somebody?
So, it all bores down to this administration’s lack of adherence to the law, the Constitution and due process. Several courts pronouncements have been ignored by this administration. You flaunt the law and believe you are running a government? You know we’re just running a dictatorship and banana republic where laws don’t matter. So, this aspect of Fiscal Responsibility is something that has always been ignored by this administration and it is something that in the National Assembly we are not enforcing obviously for political reasons which is unfortunate. With regards to the FRA, second amendment is important to ensure that it has efficacy and it is important to point out that till date, the Commission has still not been constituted by this administration which does not also show any commitment to fighting corruption. That means you are not allowing them to do their job of checking your expenditure and your fiscal discipline which is their job.
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came into office on the tripod of security, war against corruption and economy. So, on the issue of corruption, a recent report by the Transparency International ranked Nigeria 149 out of 183 countries surveyed for the 2020 Corruption Perception Index. Does this show the administration is being defeated in the war against corruption?
I always want to point out to Nigerians to take note of the fact that under this administration, corruption, has taken a new dimension that will make the 16 years of the PDP government look like a joke. I am saying this as somebody who came in as an APC member who was hopeful that the promises of our party at that time were true, only to come in to notice that they appear to have paid lip service and it was just a manifesto promise that they were not serious to enforce. Why do I say that? In this administration, there were several issues about funds from the NNPC which all Nigerians know is headed by Mr. President as Minister, issues of corruption between the Minister of State then and the Group Managing Director (GMD) we heard nothing about it till date. Several contracts issued to Julius Berger, inflated beyond normal engineering estimates, all facilitated from the Villa-Abuja-Kano road, the second Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, several examples abound. There are transactions going on in the subsidy regime with no records of where those monies are going. Remittances expected from many revenue generating agencies do not seem to be tallying with what is expected.
So, I’m not surprised, Transparency International used different parameters to arrive at that index. It’s unfortunate when the Presidency always rebuff Transparency International instead of looking inwards to see what they can do. These parameters that were given, have they come out to defend each of those parameters that what Transparency International found out is not true? They should stop deceiving themselves. What is factual is factual; there is nothing that can be said about it. So, with regard to corruption, obviously this administration has failed. When they leave and when Nigerians vote them out, the revelations of monumental issues of corruption that will be found in this government will be mind-boggling to Nigerians.
The fundamental issue Nigerians should know is that corruption resides with the executive and the over-bloated incompetent civil service that we have as a country. Let me give you the numbers, every year, the budget of the National Assembly is just 1.2% of the entire annual budget of this country. The budget for judiciary is about 1% or 0.9%. The executive every year sits with about 98% of Nigeria’s budget and funds that are supposed to be administered by the Presidency and the Ministries headed by these civil servants I was talking about. You see how Nigerians are misguided. When they were doing #EndSARS protests, some were doing #EndNASS pay. Even if you wipe out the entire National Assembly budget every year, the Presidency will still have 98%. The issue the media should really highlight is to bring to the knowledge of the people to rise up and demand accountability and support the National Assembly that is given the job to help check the executive. The executive is part of the campaign of calumny against the National Assembly to always pitch us against the people so that the people don’t realise they’re the problem. National Assembly is not the problem of this country.
There was this call by the Governor of Ondo that armed herdsmen should live the forests in his state and that raised a lot of concerns even from the Federal Government. What do you have to say about that and other security issues?
I am happy that even members of the APC, as you know the Ondo State Governor is an APC member, have started to feel unfortunately that which we have been feeling in Benue State. A situation where we in Benue were crying out and they turned it to a party matter, criticising our governor as if it was a partisan issue.
Fortunately, now they can feel the pains we are feeling. So, the Ondo State Governor should be commended for rising to show leadership against the interest of his party which is clearly shielding these herdsmen because we have groups, let me call them out, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and whatever names they call themselves who have been admitting the responsibility for certain attacks and they are still walking around the streets. So, his ultimatum was completed justified.
People should stop talking about the Constitution and freedom of movement. Yes, that is guaranteed in our Constitution but first and foremost, that should not be to the detriment of other people. You don’t go around killing people and you said the Constitution allows you to move around. Welfare and security are the priority and when it comes to issues of security, the Governor has every right to issue such directives to secure his people first and foremost. Then the statement made by other Fulani groups across the country is unfortunate and have you heard the Presidency? The Presidency was quick to respond to what the Governor said but have you heard them respond to that statement made by that Fulani group that was warning people, giving the Governor an ultimatum before they start attacking people? I’m not sure I have heard any response to that yet.
What kind of government do we have at the moment? Do they think this is a Fulani nation? This is not a Fulani nation. This is a secular and detribalised nation protected by the Constitution and unless, this government starts to rise up to its responsibility and hold all people accountable, regardless of whether they’re the President’s kith and kin, then we will never make progress. The Governor’s statement was in order and there was nothing unconstitutional about that; if there are people that are harming your people, you have every right to ensure that they leave your territory.