Sunday, 25 September 2016

Dogara, others should step down — Transparency Group

In this interview with JOHN ALECHENU, the Deputy Publicity Secretary of the Transparency Group of the House of Representatives, Yusuf Ikara, speaks about the group’s demand for an independent investigation into the allegation of budget padding made against the Speaker and three others

You are a member of the Transparency Group, what is the crux of your agitation?
Justice and fairness are what we stand for. They are what we are agitating for in the House of Representatives. We are facing an economic crisis in this country and if somebody diverts funds meant for the development of the country to his personal business, that man is simply insane. This is what we are against and are agitating that justice should prevail. As members of this group, our agitation is not for personal interests; we are after the development of this great country. Our group is made up of members of the All Progressives Congress and those of the Peoples Democratic Party. If our party fails to deliver, we will be in trouble. We have chosen to join this movement in the House of Representatives to fight the leadership and the so called cabal in the House and to make sure that justice is done.
Some have said your group has as its sole aim the removal of Speaker Yakubu Dogara and that ex-Appropriation Committee’s Chairman, Jibrin is the face of this agitation.  Is this true?
I have nothing personal against Dogara but I stand for justice. We started this agitation here in my office long before Jibrin came up with his allegations. As far as we are concerned, Dogara and Jibrin are all the same. They are all accused persons.  This is our position but the problem is that a lot of people fail to understand. Some people are even moving around and soiling our names, saying that Jibrin did this or that for us and that is why we going after Dogara. Who is Jibrin? Our agitation is not about individuals, it is about restoring the integrity of the House.
Supporters of the Speaker are optimistic that those supporting him are more than those who are against him as demonstrated on the floor during Wednesday’s plenary. Do you agree?
Their optimism is baseless. Let me put it this way; I believe there is a lot of sycophancy in the House of Representatives. Some of our members can sacrifice their integrity for worldly materials. No matter what they do, the majority can always have their way but the minority will always have their say. That’s how it is; we will always have our say. Nobody can identify those for or against anybody during the rowdy session on Wednesday. Nobody can identify who among the lawmakers belongs to one group or another. So, nobody can determine which group is in the majority. I believe that we are going to succeed at the end of this whole thing.
Are you saying your agitation is not about the impeachment of  Dogara as widely believed?
Our demand is simple, let the accused present themselves for an independent investigation to prove their guilt or otherwise. Of course, if Dogara is found guilty, he must go. If he is innocent he will remain; and if they feel they are not guilty, why are they opposed to independent external bodies investigating the allegations made against them?
Is this to say that your group does not have confidence in the ability of the internal mechanisms of the House to handle the investigations?
Most of the chairmen of the House committees asked to investigate this issue are Dogara’s appointees. I don’t think justice can be done when you are the judge in your own case. Dogara appointed them, they are working for him whether or not you agree. Whatever instruction he gives to them, that is what they are going to carry out. That is our fear. We have not pronounced Dogara guilty neither are we saying Jibrin is right; they are all involved in the allegations and counter allegations, accusations and counter accusations.
The motion moved by Emmanuel Orker-Jev was referred to the Ethics and Privileges Committee. Will members of your group appear before the committee?
We are ready but our stand is that we will not appear until they invite the Speaker to appear before them. If Dogara appears before them, we are going to appear. If they don’t invite him, they don’t have any basis to invite us. I will advise Jibrin not to appear before the committee because there are two sets of allegations; he accused the Speaker and three others and they also accused him. So, both of them should be invited by the panel.
Anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission are also investigating these allegations. Is your group saying it has no confidence in the ability of these agencies to get to the bottom of it? 
We have some civil society organisations that have the mechanism in place to investigate this issue; we want them to also join in the investigations. I still have confidence in our anti-graft agencies but we still want independent investigators to come and make an input. This issue must be resolved before we can move forward as a House. The economic recession we are facing today affects all of us. So, you can’t avoid dealing with your problems because of the recession. As parliamentarians, we must first cleanse ourselves before we attempt to sanitise the larger society. This is a critical issue which we must deal with before we can move forward. We must make sure that we resolve everything before we move forward. The Senate is already discussing the economic recession and whatever they decide will be for the benefit of Nigerians and they will ask us to concur and we are going to concur.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once described the National Assembly as corrupt. Do you agree with him?
This is what led to the formation of the Transparency Group. We have started looking at the issues raised by the former president internally that is why, when the former President made his remarks, we voiced out our concerns to prove to Nigerians that not everybody here is corrupt. And if a few individuals are corrupt, most members are not corrupt including me.  My people voted for me to come and represent them knowing full well that I am not a corrupt person and that I am going to represent them well.  So, for anybody to call  me a corrupt person, a thief,  an armed robber, I won’t take it. That is why when a colleague asked me in the chambers whether I would want my children see me the way I was behaving, I said yes! I want to know that I am defending the truth.
What are the changes that you want to see at the end of this whole saga?
I want Nigerians and the world in general to see the House of Representatives as an honourable House. We want to uphold that honour everywhere we go. I saw an article by somebody where he wrote “An honourable House with dishonourable members.” The title honourable is a very serious one. I was in Saudi Arabia last week and a Nigerian lady approached me in the hotel and said, sir, you are an honourable member? I said yes, she said, “I learnt that you are going back to Nigeria because you are about to resume.” I said yes. She said, “fear God, you people are corrupt.” That is how she attacked me. Before I could respond, people had gathered. I asked her where she came from she said from Dawaki Local Government of Kano State and that she is a lawyer by profession. This is an insult of the highest order. One of our principal officers told me that his child ran back home from the university because they told him his father was a thief because he is a member of the House. Is that the kind of legacy we want to leave for our children? The issue of padding and senseless insertions must stop. Even those supporting Dogara and his crew failed to realise that what we are doing is for our collective good because a good name is better than riches.

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