SPACES FOR CHANGE’S (S4C’S) INTERVIEW WITH HONOURABLE PATRICK OBAHIAGBON

In a no-holds-barred online chat with SPACES FOR CHANGE on Sunday, March 25, 2012, Honourable Patrick Obahiagbon, the former lawmaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, who represented Oredo Federal Constituency in Edo State enlightened on the rudiments of lawmaking, the legislative processes and procedures at the National Assembly. Known for his progressive contributions to legislative proceedings as well as his famed use of grandiloquent grammar, he outlined opportunities for engaging the various committees of the National Assembly. 
The current face-off between Herman Hembe and Arunma Otteh demonstrates the need for citizens to understand the nature and scope of the legislative powers that lawmakers can exercise, and how
citizens can engage the various committees of the National Assembly in their pursuit for transparency and accountability in governance. This interview was conducted under the auspices of SPACES FOR CHANGE’s PGI (Project Get Involved) program which seeks to inspire the youth to embrace new ways of thinking and acting by helping them understand the significance of their contribution and participation in public decision-making.
The interview was moderated by Allwell Okpi, a correspondent with the Punch Newspapers
Here are the excerpts:
S4C: Democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people. Considering the House members and the senators are representatives of the people, how do people of a particular constituency ensure that their representatives reflect their opinions exactly on every issue? Simply how can Nigerians hold their representatives accountable?
Obahiagbon: The starting point of holding our representatives accountable is to ensure that we vote in those with the requisite capacity for the job. We must question their sybaritic modus vivendi when they are in office rather than adoring and hero worshiping them. In other words, we must not masturbate their egoless ego.

We must also take advantage of the recall process enshrined in the constitution and we must be guided by the Burkian apothem that “evil men progress only when good men fold their hands and do nothing”.

S4C: There have been several scandals in the House of Representatives and no one seems to have been convicted in court or sentenced. In light of the recent scandal involving the Securities and Exchange Commission, do you think the National Assembly can stand against corruption as a reflection what the Nigerian people want?
Obahiagbon: True, the National Assembly has been buffeted with graft allegations bordering on defalcation and malversation. This gives copious room for mental pabulum given the fact that the National Assembly is supposed to be the moral police man of our society. But the bitter truth however is that corruption has become a national gangrene and must be dealt with holistically.

S4C: Sir, what do you mean by ‘national gangrene’ and how do you think this can be dealt with? For example, what can Nigerian people do about the situation?
Obahiagbon: The National Assembly has no business asking agencies of government to sponsor its probes. That is the beginning of compromising it’s attempt at cleansing the Augean stables. And more fundamentally is the fact that the anti corruption agencies must be extricated from executive suzerainty, and be independent to deal with both the plebeians and political patriachs without fear or favor.
By the way, national gangrene means national cancer.
Nigerians must habiliment themselves with a toga of recusancy

S4C:
Is there a programme of induction in place that seeks to bring ‘non legal’ members of the honourable house (lower and upper chambers) to speed on the components of the constitution. For instance: How laws are written; Why laws are written; How to understand and interpret the laws. It does appear that majority of those elected come across as ‘bench warmers’ as quite a number of them have been caught sleeping, ‘chatting away on mobile phones’, ‘exchanging pleasantries’, ‘chewing gum’,  and the like.

There is no serious program of induction to get non-lawyers to acclimatize with the nuances of parliamentary work. Little wonder most parliamentarians are like fishes out of water.

S4C:
The National Assembly asked the Executive Arm of Government to reverse the pump price of petrol to NGN65:00/litre and this was not done. What further actions is the National Assembly doing about it or is just gain saying to show to Nigerians that you people are working?
Obahiagbon: Resolutions of the House consequent upon a motion does not have the force of law. It’s only persuasive on the executive and that was why the House resolution on fuel subsidy was treated with levity by Mr. President even though in advanced democracies, resolutions of parliament are accorded utmost respect by the executive organ of government.
S4C: But there is no provision for the legislature to compel the executive to listen to the people?
Patrick Obahiagbon:  The legislature can bring this about when they stop passing frivolous motions that are most times deficient in moral and national fibre.

S4C: Can you now help us out with what we can do the make the National Assembly do exactly what the people want, and not what their political parties or godfathers want?

Patrick Obahiagbon: Maybe we should be hostile to zombie parliamentarians rather than indulging them. Yes it has reached that level.

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