Kawu Samaila, a former member of the House of Representatives, is the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly matters (House of Representatives). In this interview, he talks about the 2018 appropriation bill recently signed into law by the president. He also discussed the legislature/executive friction and politics in Kano State, where he hails from.
Interviewer: The President had faulted the 2018 appropriation act, but signed it. What led to that, was he coerced?
Samaila: I can say that he was forced to sign the budget. There were circumstances that forced him to sign the budget.
Interviewer: What are the circumstances?
Samaila: We are practising constitutional democracy, the executive and the parliament are the products of the constitution and they all derive their powers from the constitution. This budget has been in the National Assembly since November. We anticipated having the budget ready by January. We wanted to change the budget cycle but unfortunately, the budget spent about seven months in the National Assembly. If the president had returned the budget, it would have taken more time before it reaches him again. So, he decided to sign the budget as it was presented and use other mechanisms such as supplementary budget or virement to correct the anomalies.
Interviewer: The National Assembly has the power to make laws and the budget is also a law. Don’t you think they are also exercising their powers by tinkering with the budget?
Samaila: Nobody is saying they are not exercising their constitutional powers, it is part of their job. The same constitution that gave the National Assembly power of appropriation is the same constitution that gave the executive powers to propose to the National Assembly. The proposal will emanate from the executive and constitutionally, the president is the chief economic manager of Nigeria. Therefore, he must have the knowledge of how to manage the economy; how much is coming, how much is going, where and what he can do to save the economy. Therefore, there must be talks between the executive and parliament whenever appropriation comes up.
One thing I want Nigerians to understand is that the only reason the executive always wants its party to be in the majority in the legislature is on this kind of issue. So that they can defend the president whenever he sends his proposal. That’s the essence of having the majority and that’s the role of the political party.
Interviewer: Many legislators, mostly from the opposition PDP have complained about the low implementation of previous budgets…
Samaila: (Cuts in) I think in terms of implementation, in the 2017 budget we have reached at least 70 per cent implementation. It is one of our highest implementations. During the 16 years of the PDP, the budget implementation never got to 50 per cent. There was a time (during the days of PDP) we operated about three budgets.
When the president was signing the 2018 budget, he stated that he released almost N1.6 trillion capital expenditure and nobody contested it. Therefore N1.6 trillion constitutes almost 75 per cent of the total capital expenditure. The main area of contention is the capital expenditure. When you are talking about overhead and running cost, you are talking about 95 per cent.
Interviewer: There has been a perceived rift between the Executive and Legislature. What really is happening?
Samaila: Politics! We are in a democracy and whenever there is an election, there must be a rift. Most especially in a democracy like ours where whenever there is an election, some people take it as a ‘do or die affair’. We are approaching a political year and rival political parties are trying to make sure they retain power or unseat each other. Even within a party, there are disagreements among members.
Interviewer: As a special adviser to the president on the parliament, do you think the president gets the maximum support he requires?
Samaila: From the House of Representatives, yes. At least by percentage, they are above average. You cannot expect the parliament to always be on the same page with the executive at all times. Whenever there is an argument, people shouldn’t see it as a rift.
Interviewer: Back to your home state, Kano. There is a ‘war’ going on between the state governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, and his predecessor, Rabiu Kwankwaso. Many Kano politicians have taken sides with either of them. What really is the problem?
Samaila: I don’t like talking about the rift between Kwankwaso and Ganduje because before the 2015 elections, I told them to do the right thing, to make sure there was justice in the selection of candidates. I advised the then governor not to impose any candidate on the party but he went ahead and he is now facing the consequences.
When we started APC, our anticipation was that we’ll have a party that will give an opportunity to weaker politicians. It was an opportunity for Nigerians to have a platform for those who are deprived to come and showcase themselves. But in the end, the reverse was the case. During the selection of our leaders in 2014, it went the same way as the old order. We did it the way it was done in the PDP and we knew it won’t lead us to anywhere.
The same thing happened during the primaries, the governors handpicked their cronies against the tenets of democracy. I granted an interview in 2015, drawing the attention of Kwankwaso to do the needful. If you support someone because he belongs to your kitchen cabinet, there will naturally be problems. We’ve seen it before; Aleiro vs Dakingari, Ali Saadu vs Sule Lamido, Saminu vs Sule Lamido, etc.
We anticipated it and it happened.
Interviewer: Do you belong to any of these two camps?
Samaila: Of course I belong to the governor’s (Ganduje) camp because he is with Mr President.
Interviewer: Considering the fact that he was your opponent during the 2014 primaries?
Samaila: There is no permanent enemy in politics, only permanent interest. The interest is Buhari. I was with Buhari and then he wasn’t, now that he has agreed to work for Buhari, I’m with him. The interest is Buhari. He met me where I am, therefore we’ll put our hands on deck and continue the business.
Interviewer: What about the Kano politicians that have decided to pitch their tents with Kwankwaso? What becomes their fate?
Samaila: It is a game of interest and choice. They have their choice while I have mine.
Interviewer: There are rumours that Kwankwaso may likely dump the APC for another party, do you think it will affect the fortunes of APC in Kano State?
Samaila: Actually as a former governor of Kano, it means a lot and he has his followers. Politics is a game of number, if you have three, you have defeated those with two. We are always looking for addition and not subtraction. We won’t be happy if anyone leaves us. We are all from Kano and we are going for elections and I assure you that Kano people are politically conscious, they know their choice and they will make it.
Interviewer: You are aspiring to represent the people of Kano South in the Senate, what are your track records as a former member of the House of Representatives?
Samaila: I think my years in the National Assembly can speak for me, I served there for 12 years, part of which I spent eight years as a principal officer. It is a rare opportunity for an individual to serve twice as a principal officer.
If my 259 colleagues, who are all equal to me invited me to serve for another term after my first term as a principal officer, then it shows there is something (in me). It clearly shows the confidence they have in me. My achievements in the 7th, 6th and 5th Assembly will speak for me. The 2015 change we are enjoying today is our handiwork. If not because of our consistency, and defence for democracy in 2015, there wouldn’t have been an election. The electoral process that brought Buhari is our handiwork.
Interviewer: Do you think you stand the chance to defeat the incumbent senator for the party’s nomination?
Samaila: I’m a founding member of this party, we started this party together with all the bigwigs you can think of, some of them were not with us when we started. Secondly, in this business, our achievements as I told you, will speak for us.