Hon Oker Jev represents Buruku federal constituency of Benue State on the platform of the PDP. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the chairman of the House Committee on FCT affirms that the opposition PDP has learnt its lesson and is prepared to take over power after next general elections.
Some Nigerians were shocked that a group of lawmakers booed Mr President when he presented the 2019 budget estimates. Were you surprised?
Let me say that in a democracy, you have contending ideas and views. When mr. President came to present the budget, some were cheering him while others booed him. It’s not strange. Some people made it look like it is only in our clime that such happens, but it is not true. We look up to America for our democracy and the president of American was heckled. Obama was heckled, Trump has repeatedly been heckled. There was a time Obama was presenting something and a lawmaker shouted ‘liar, liar’. Obama had to pause to look at him and continue. Nothing happened to the man. It is democracy. The most important thing is that the budget was laid by Mr President. If members had refused to come out to collect the budget, it would have been something else. It’s a constitutional mandate that the National Assembly come out to receive the budget. But to me, it shows the current president’s lack of capacity to hold us together. You have a president who started with leaders of the National Assembly in his party but they abandoned the party before the end of his tenure. It shows his capacity to disagree. This is my third tenure in the House and we have had cause to disagree with serving presidents, but it has never led to this discontentment. The president has a lot of work to do to hold this nation together.
There are people who believe that the 2019 budget was presented late. Do you share this view?
This is a party and a president made some promises when they were campaigning. Incidentally, I was part of them. We promised Nigerians that we will present the budget in time, things will be done differently. Yet we have a budget that was presented in mid-December and once they do the presentation, they start harassing the National Assembly as the cause of the late passage of the budget. Last year, during the budget defense, it wasn’t until March that the president gave directives to heads of MDAs to come to defend their budget which is a national mandate. If you bring in the budget early enough, the National Assembly will do everything to pass it early.
What is the level of implementation of the 2018 budget?
I wish I knew exactly but going by the releases which the capital component contained, because there are usually no issues with the recurrent, the capital component is the one some have said is at 20 to 30 per cent level of implementation. Nobody can really know the level of implementation.
Is there anything that can be done to improve the implementation level?
We can judge it based on the promise they made from the onset. They haven’t kept their promises to Nigerians including the much touted security. According to the global terrorism index, Nigeria is the fourth most terrorised country in the world. The number of people including soldiers that are being mauled down in the last few months has not been experienced in the history of this country. So we have not fulfilled our promise in terms of fighting security. In other areas, you can see that when the president talks about economic gains, you see how members shout because that is not what is happening in the economy. Whatever economic gains you have made must be reflected on the economy. It’s common knowledge that Nigerians are finding life difficult. The price of goods have not decreased. The Bureau of Statistics revealed that about three million Nigerians have lost their jobs within one year. This government promised that when they come in, they will create one million jobs yearly. So if you go by what they promised, it means they have failed Nigerians woefully.
The issue of fuel subsidy is becoming a sour point for this government. What is your take on this?
Again, we will judge them going by what they said. There is a video trending currently where the president said there was nothing like subsidy, that anyone claiming subsidy is deceiving Nigerians. So if today the government is talking about subsidy, that they don’t give it to marketers but to government suppliers, we know that subsidy is subsidy. It means they have failed.
Do you think the Buhari government has the capacity to give Nigerians free, fair and credible elections?
If they can’t do that, they should at least take us to where we were in 2015. Nigerians had a semblance of free and credible elections which brought this administration to power in the past. We expect nothing short of what we had in the past.
Were you disappointed when Mr President refused assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill?
I was surprised because the other time they brought it back, they pointed out some errors here and there. As chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business then, I know that when the president has some reservations, they note the places out and return it with a letter silently and we do the correction behind the scene and nobody will be any wiser. But here we are, they are talking about clerical error and they didn’t do it quietly like they have done in the past, which was why I smell a rat. To fulfill all righteousness, we took it back, drop the correction and sent it again to the president for assent and now, nobody is sure what is their grouse I and why the president refused to sign the amended act. I suspect that somebody, somewhere wants to use the loopholes to rig elections. But Nigerians will not accept anything less than the type of elections we had in 2015 if not better.
What would be the impact of Mr President’s refusal to assent to the bill?
Since we had fairly decent elections without the amendment to the electoral law as it was in 2015, if we had the kind of elections we had in 2015 even though there were flaws here and there, it could be done again. It is important that Nigerians stand up to protect this democracy whether they sign it or not. It is more important than signing the amendment.
Some Nigerians are beginning to think that INEC is partisan, and that it could work to favour the ruling party. Do you share this fear?
Like I said, I am an optimist when it comes to INEC preparations for election, we are going into elections with understanding. We have a generation that will be voting for the first time. So people will be more vigilant this time and with the hardship Nigerians have experience. The ultimate in this year’s election is the people who will guide their votes and ensure that, their votes count.
With the tension the campaigns are generating in the polity, some are afraid that it could wlead to violence before and after the elections. Do you share such view?
At the president’s age and considering the tremendous support Nigerians gave him in 2015, he wouldn’t want to preside over a nation with violence and protest. Mr President must ensure that the elections are free of violence. The body language of the president is important in the build up to the elections. It is up to the president to determine if it’s free and fair. . If he shows that he is desperate, there are people out there that will enforce it. So he must not give the impression that it is a do or die affair.
Is the PDP now more prepared than it has ever been because it has learnt its lesson?
They used to be arrogant and thought they will always have their way. They saw how their attitude led to their defeat in the last elections. Their impunity and high-handedness led to their defeat. Like in Benue which I’m a part of, the primaries were free and fair, unlike the APC which came on the mantra of change and integrity, but with the PDP’s defeat, they have learnt and are ready to take over from the APC, which has obviously disappointed Nigerians.