Hon. Timothy Golu represents Pankshin/ Kanam/Kanke federal constituency of Plateau State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the House of Representatives. In this interview with PHILIP NYAM, he speaks on the remuneration of lawmakers and how states assemblies are stifled by governors. Excerpts:
The issue of salaries and allowances of lawmakers has been a major source of concern to Nigerians. Would you subscribe to a downward review of your emoluments?
As it is now, we need an increase in the allowances and emoluments of National Assembly members; in fact even civil servants. I believe that wherever you work, there should be commensurate emoluments in view of the hardship in the country.
We have enormous responsibilities, so the call for a cut in our remuneration is not welcomed. Look at the way our democracy is structured; it is not a conventional democracy. The same people accusing us of collecting jumbo pay have not taken their time to talk to our constituents to expect only legislative results from us.
As a legislator, I am here to make laws; to oversight and to represent. But we have a peculiar system in Nigeria because by the time your constituents ask for your stewardship, not many people will ask you about the number of bills or motions you have sponsored. They will be asking you about how many boreholes you have drilled; how many roads you have built; how many people you have employed. There are processes for employment but you have to lobby and go the extra mile to ensure that you get jobs for your constituents for them to accept that you are working for them. So, there is no luxury in the salaries and allowances we get here because except you are not a good leader, whatever you get, you share with your people.
What we get here is not enough to do what the people expect us to do. You pay school fees of indigent constituents; you settle hospital bills; you buy food for families; you even provide shelter in some cases; all from your allowances. People are suffering and the executive has not taken it upon itself to address the issues, so the whole burden falls on the legislators. I understand that in the US, a legislator gets a little over $1 million a year.
They have about 600 members in the House of Representatives and about 100 senators. But they do legislative work and community service with this money. They don’t do boreholes; they don’t do electrification projects with this money because the executive is responsible for all these projects.
So, if those criticising us will ingrain this in the consciousness of our people and the executive is also alive to its responsibilities, there will be no problem. In fact, the executive is responsible for the problems we face as legislators. We are really doing the work that is not ours and leaving our own work to suffer. But when we try to ensure that our work moves on smoothly alongside the other responsibilities that the executive ought to do but is shying away, people start raising questions on our emoluments. So, I think the federal government should even increase the budget of the National Assembly.
Some legislators spend four years without sponsoring a bill or motion. What is your take on this?
It is the responsibility of their constituents to take them to task. The constituents have to serve as a check. The nation as a whole should also ask questions about such legislators because as a member of the House of Representatives, I am not only representing my constituency but the entire country. I make laws and provide oversight on behalf of Nigeria.
So, there should be a process by which the public through civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations should assess legislators. There should be a mechanism to assess us to know who is really working. But to generalise is not fair because some of us are really doing our work.
You were formerly in the state House of Assembly; would you say there is democracy at the state level?
Democracy is not working at the state Houses of Assembly because the governors are suffocating democracy at that level.
And in my contribution to the debate on our legislative agenda, I said there is need for a very strong institutional oversight from the National Assembly over states assemblies. If not, the governors will kill democracy. It is the governors that are killing democracy at the state level.
At the federal level, even if the president wants to be dictatorial, it will be difficult for him because of the size of the parliament. Although so many people have called for the trimming of the size of the National Assembly, that will be very dangerous for us. I came from a House of Assembly with just 24 lawmakers and the governor knows everybody by name. Only 16 members could form a quorum and if the governor decides to corner 10 legislators on his side, the remaining 14 cannot do anything for the rest of the four years.
You cannot pass a bill or motion. They will frustrate you. But the size of the National Assembly is an asset and not liability as some people would want us to believe because its mere size is intimidating to any potential dictator. It is not possible for the National Assembly to be controlled by one party but at the state level, it is possible. Before now, in Plateau State, it was a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) affair entirely; the same thing in Benue and some other states.
Today, if you go to Katsina State, it is all the All Progressives Congress (APC); if you go to Kano and Kaduna, it is only APC members. So, the governors have made the states assemblies a family affair but in the National Assembly nobody can do that. I am saying there is need to put an eagle eye on the type of democracy that is practised in the states.
Even the process of budgeting at the state level is not ideal for our nation. So, there should be a committee on states Houses of Assembly, and granting of autonomy to state legislature is just part of the solution. For example, the governor of Plateau State just dissolved dulyelected local government executives. It is illegal. If we allow this to continue, our democracy will not grow.
A cross section of Nigerians have complained that the National Assembly oversights Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) every year but the results are nothing to write home about. What is your take on this?
I don’t agree with that submission. I think there are results. If you go to a state where the governor has no respect for the legislature, the commissioners, permanent secretaries, directors will also have no respect for the legislature.
But I can tell you that our democracy is being sustained by the National Assembly. The National Assembly is the last hope of democracy in Nigeria. If the National Assembly was as weak as the states assemblies, democracy would have collapsed in Nigeria. But both the Senate and the House of Representatives can face the president squarely. The motions that we pass here are keeping the executive on its toes because the executive does not believe in law.
They just sit and create some policies, which to them have taken the place of law in our country. But with the oversight by the National Assembly, some of the excesses of the executives are curtailed. In fact, our oversight has reduced corruption, executive arrogance and lawlessness. It has also helped people to behave well. But we have strengthened our oversight and we even oversight ourselves too.
The current recess has been trailed by criticisms. Would you say it is justified?
I want to appeal to Nigerians to bear with us. We are just coming out of a general elections and a new leadership in the National Assembly, so there is bound to be teething problems. There is nothing wrong with this recess because it is not a time when you go home to feast and while away time.
You can see that majority of the lawmakers are still around working. If you don’t give a window for lawmakers to reflect on what they intend to do then the legislature will suffer. Lawmaking is a very difficult job. So, this recess is an opportunity for legislators to go and sit down, reflect on what they have planned to do and consolidate. With the recess, lawmakers can have time to also confer with their constituents on what they want and what should be done.
BY PHILLIP NYAM, NEW TELEGRAPH