As the contest for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly intensifies, a frontline contestant for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. John Dyegh who represents the Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency of Benue State speaks on his ambition. He also told Politics Editor Jude Opara that in equity and fairness, the North Central should be given the chance to produce the next Speaker.
Congratulations on your reelection into the House of Representatives; you are contesting to be the next Speaker of the House, why do you think, you are suitable for this huge task?
I want to go in for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives because I very strongly so and believe that the North Central should be given a chance, I feel it is the turn of the North Central, I feel we have worked hard enough to be rewarded. I feel that even if not for anything else but for justice and fairness, it should be the North Central. I feel that haven been in the House for eight years, that I have the requisite experience to lead.
For now, the North Central is in equation of leadership of Nigeria and the National Assembly, it should come to us.
We feel that in a democratic setup, sharing of political office should be based on what you bring to the table and based on that we very strongly feel that the table, North Central has done enough to deserve the support of everybody else.
The North West gave the APC the highest vote in the presidential election and they have the president and commander in chief, the North East came second and they now have the Senate President, the third was the North Central. The South West came fourth and already they have the Vice President. Let us look at it this way; if you are taking away the Senate President to the North East then the North Central deserves the Speaker. How can you zone the Speaker to the South West that produced the fourth largest votes, and who also has the Vice President?
But more than that, if I can narrow it to Benue State, we deserve to be rewarded handsomely because we were all labeled Boko Haram people, we were all labeled Buharists as if it was a crime to be in the APC. We were accused of trying to Islamize Benue State, we were called all sorts of names in Benue, but we tried, we believe in the man Buhari and all he stands for. We believe in his war against corruption, we believe he is a man of justice and fair play. We believe he will fight for all of us, so we went ahead and fought, it was like a real war not just election. People died in Benue, we were intimidated and in spite of all of that, we stood strong for APC and Buhari and the result is there.
You can see that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with a sitting government and so many other big names defeated us in the presidential election with just 7,000 votes, so I think we deserved to be rewarded in Benue for what we have done so that we will be encouraged to do more.
In the House, I mean it is no longer a secret that most people have endorsed the candidature of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamla, even the party as equally endorsed him, so with your ambition, don’t you think you are moving against the tide?
I am not working against my party, well I have not heard any official statement to that effect, nobody either the National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole, not any member of the National Working Committee (NEC) not alone another person in the party has talked about this to us as members of the APC caucus in the House that the Speaker has been zoned to the South West, nothing like that has happened. So all we are hearing are speculations, rumours and I am not sure you will want me to work on rumours.
Well you said that the APC in Benue were called names, and that you were aligning with President Buahri who seems not to have done enough to stem the ugly tide. We saw an IG who was sent to Benue but he chose to go somewhere else. Don’t you think that those Benue people who didn’t want a return of the APC have a point there?
I don’t know what you are talking about but I have told you that the Benue people have spoken with their votes; we have confidence in Buhari that is my take and what everybody can see. You have seen the overwhelming support for Buhari and the APC. Yes, some people are scared no doubt about that, some people even blamed the APC government led by the President of not doing enough to help the Benue people but that does not take away the cordial relationship between the Fulani and the Benue people for ages even before my father was born. Our ancestors have been relating with the Fulanis many years before I was born. We want to dwell more on the relationship that existed years back between the Fulaniman, the Tivman and the Idomaman even before we were born, so we have to dwell more on that relationship built on trust. I believe the Fulanis that came killing us, destroying our farms and source of livelihood are not the same ones we know; they are foreigners from Niger and other countries up there. They penetrated our borders illegally, rustled cattle looking for pasture for their cattle and in the process, and they started killing our people.
Well back to the politics of the House of Representatives, many APC stalwarts have insisted that the party has zoned the Speakership to the South West, how are you going to convince most of these your colleagues who may have bought into the position of the party to support your ambition?
Let me say this again that as far as I am concerned and I am still a member of the House of Representatives, I am still a member of the APC, there is no such information anywhere, I have not heard anything concerning the party endorsing Femi Gbajabiamila as the Speaker, there is no official statement to that effect. Nobody has called anybody to say it has been zoned to anywhere. I challenge them to tell us where the meeting was held and who and who were in attendance, there is nothing like that, these are mere speculations. These are their own imaginations, these are mere wishful thinking, if they feel this is the way it should go, then they should come and tell us in the House, come and convince us in the North Central with a superior argument that we don’t deserve this. And if you come with that argument, we will simply ask you why is North Central not good enough to produce the Speaker?
How are you relating with your colleagues on this mission?
My colleagues are people who are with reason, they are people who believe in justice and reason and fair play, they are people who believe in the unity of Nigeria and most of them are seeing reasons why this thing should come to the North Central, we are engaging them one on one. It is not about the sentiment of zone it to the South West, is that fair play when they already have the Vice President? If you take what should come to the North Central and give it to them, is that fair play?
We all own Nigeria, the Constitution talks about federal character and by that principle, I think we are on the right course. Are you going to give everything to one people and tell us you are obeying the Constitution of the country, is that federal character? No it is not what the Constitution we all swore to uphold indicated.
Now if you emerge victorious what are you going to do to end the seeming cat and mouse relationship between the legislature and the executive as we have seen in the outgoing 8th Assembly?
We learn from past mistakes and for us to move Nigeria to the next level, I believe rightly so that the legislative and executive arms of government must have a smooth working relationship. Deliberately, yes we are going to respect the doctrine of separation of powers, even as I know that the National Assembly must maintain its independence but we must also have a cordial relationship with the executive so that we can move this country forward.
You must agree with me that you need experience to pilot the affairs of the House; do you think you have it now?
I have been sitting in the Green Chambers for 8 years and I must have learnt and gained something from the two past leaders adding to what I already know. It is about legislature, it is about leadership and coordination and first of all, the position of Speaker of the House is just first among equals, as a Speaker you are not a boss, you are colleagues, you must know that and I am very conscious of it and it will guide me moving forward. I am very sure we will have a cordial relationship. There must be a mutual respect among us and I can’t go shouting on any member. That you are Speaker does not make you a boss, always ensure that mutual respect.
So where is your support coming from, who are the people sponsoring you?
My ambition is a clarion call by my colleagues who said they are satisfied with I have been able to do in the House. I don’t have a godfather up there that will say John let me contact this or that person for you, but the level of support I have from my colleagues and that is why they are always around me urging me to keep going and never to give up.
What difference do you think you will bring to the House?
I believe in a collective responsibility and that is why I have spoken to everybody including the current Speaker, the leadership of the opposition party, I have contacted the different caucuses we have, in fact I have spoken to Femi Gbajabiamila himself and we are on course. The level of support I have will be seen on the day of the casting of votes.
What will be your priority as Speaker of the House?
I believe in a legislation that will better the lives of the common man, reduce poverty and take our youths off the streets, improve on education and agriculture.
The level of insecurity in Nigeria is getting out of hands, what will be your agenda to redress this situation?
The issue of security calls for deeper reflection to ask why after several efforts we are not seeing results. It will not be the responsibility of the legislative arm alone but every stakeholder. We will have to ask relevant questions why things are not working despite huge investments by government. The Commander =in -Chief has tried to make some moves in the right direction by acquiring more equipment for the military and police, this is good and I will add that the personnel are not enough. The National Assembly especially the House of Representatives under my stewardship will push for more recruitment into the military and police.
For some time it has been very difficult for the fiscal year to begin from January, what are you going to do to see that this anomaly was reversed?
Some time the issue of budget delay is not the problem of legislature, today as we speak some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are yet to come and defend their budget. These are some of the challenges that outsiders may not understand. Some time you invite a Minister and it will take him over a month to answer the call. There are some questions that are meant for the Minister which the Permanent Secretary cannot answer. But some Ministers don’t honour invitations; they keep dodging and giving all manners of excuses.
I am sure things will be done differently, we are also interested in early passage of the budget.
You must agree with me that the perception out there is that the legislature earn more than they deserve, what are you going to do to change this notion?
The perception about the duties of the legislature and their allowances is rather laughable. All over the world National Assembly is never the best of friends to the people. Go to Singapore, even in America, it is the same thing. Unfortunately, it is a perception and the legislature may not likely win the argument.
It is an unfortunate situation where we have found ourselves. But we will be very open; the two Speakers I have worked under talking about Waziri Tambuwal and Yakubu Dogara have already started that. Our budget is very open. Our budget is a public document which everybody can see.
Let me add also that the quantum of money being peddled out there as being taken by the legislatures is not just true, I am not going to mention names, I know that there were our members that we have to put money together to say go back to your state these were not people that were extravagant, but it was not just enough. I for one stayed in a rented house for six years at Games Village before I could build my own house; if I did not return in 2015 I would have gone back to Gboko.
How are you going to streamline the oversight function of the legislature for effective service delivery?
Oversight is a Constitutional responsibility meant to ensure that money being budgeted for was effectively utilized. We can only make better our oversight function; we must ensure that the budget is implemented by the executive. Without the oversight functions, it may not be easy for us to track the implementation of the budget as it was passed.