John Dyegh who holds a doctorate degree in Economic History represents Gboko/Tarka federal constituency of Benue State and is aspiring for the position of speaker of the 9th House of Representatives. In this interview with some journalists in Abuja, the third-term lawmaker speaks on his ambition and why the north central should produce the speaker. JAMES KWEN brings the excerpts:
Why did you throw yourself into the ring to contest for the office of speaker? How prepared are you for this position?
I believe that I have the requisite experience and competence to lead the 9th House of Representatives having spent eight years in the Green Chamber. I am mentally, physically and psychologically prepared and it is my conviction that my colleagues who know my abilities and capabilities would like to have a speaker like me. Remember, I am coming in for third term and in the legislature, the longer you stay, the more experienced and efficient you become. So, I am coming into the race with a rich wealth of legislative experience that will benefit Nigerians. Again, my decision to contest for speaker is also a response to the clarion call by my Constituents, Honourable colleagues in the House across party lines, party faithful and other stakeholders in the North Central geopolitical zone and Nigeria in general, for me to offer myself for this office. And like I said, when I was making my declaration, I am ready to offer my time and talents, and make sacrifices for the good of every Nigerian. Also, my decision to join this race is based on my unyielding faith in a united and prosperous Nigeria.
So, what exactly are you bringing to the table should you be voted as speaker?
We intend to ensure enhanced capacity of Legislators and Legislative support services through training and retraining to enable the 9th National Assembly pass National Priority Laws in critical sectors such as Security, Employment and Productivity, Power and Agriculture. Thirdly, we will deepen oversight processes of the National Assembly to ensure value for money and project performance by MDAs in compliance with the Appropriations Act. My administration will also instill openness in the financial operations of the National Assembly to guarantee accountability, transparency and responsiveness.
Most importantly, we intend to initiate Legislative measures and Laws that will promote and engender national unity, providing equal opportunities to all Nigerians irrespective of ethnic, political, social and religious affiliations; and work with Legislators in a multi-partisan manner for the stability of the House and Nigeria at large. We will also work round the clock to create effective collaboration with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Groups and Development Partners for active participation of all sectors of the Society in the Law making and Legislative processes. Then, we will sustain and deepen independence of the National Assembly and ensure harmonious interdependent working relationship with the Executive arm of Government without undermining the principles of Separation of Powers.
Your number one agenda is to seek for the amendment of the Constitution to prolong the tenure of legislators from four to six years. How feasible is this?
It is not a personal or partisan stand. It is a proposal that when implemented will benefit Nigerians; it is an idea that will deepen and strengthen our democracy. Don’t forget that the legislature is the only arm of government that has suffered so much interruption and legislative knowledge is garnered over time. But with what we have today, not much of the institutional knowledge is there because of the high turnover of legislators. Lawmakers are elected for four years and most of them are not return; and then we have a new set, so a lot of experienced lawmakers are thrown out. If you look at the judiciary, judges spend many years on the bench and this gives them enough experience to deliver quality judgments. Again, look at the executive; for example the civil service. Civil servants are allowed to grow on the job and by the time they get to the position of directors or permanent secretaries, they become authorities in their fields. This is adding value to their job. But when a lawmaker comes in and spends only four years and leaves, Nigeria loses her investment in the person. So, straight six year tenure can help to improve our legislators.
You said you are 100 percent loyal to the party, but why did you join the race for speaker less than 24 hours after the APC publicly zoned the position to south west and even endorsed Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila?
My loyalty to the party is not in doubt. I did the party’s bidding in 2015, in spite of the odds against us then. I worked for Gbajabiamila and supported him fully. But this time around, we are giving the party an option. We are giving members of the Green Chamber an option to look at fair play. We are insisting that there must be fair play in Nigeria. We are insisting there must be fair play and justice in the Green Chamber. We have no quarrel with that. My loyalty to the party is 100 per cent. When I was doing the party’s bidding in 2015, everybody said I should go the other way, I said no let me do the party’s bidding. I am a party man. So, if I am giving the party an option today, they should also look at what I did for the party yesterday.
What is your relationship with Speaker Yakubu Dogara?
The Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara is our leader in the House of Representatives even though he is one amongst equals. I have nothing against him. It is true that I worked against him in 2015, but the moment he was elected speaker, we accepted him and we do not have any problem. We relate very well. That is politics; the fact that I did not vote for him in 2015 does not make us enemies.
There are insinuations that you belong to a coalition of lawmakers led by Speaker Dogara, which is looking for a north central candidate for speaker, and you are being favoured by the group. How true is this?
I will be happy if this is true. But I want people to know that when you are canvassing for votes, you do not restrict your campaign to a particular group or political party. We are 360 in the House and each of us has a vote; but we are from different political parties. So, being an APC member should not make me to limit my campaign to only APC members I must seek for votes from my colleagues in APGA, Labour Party, SDP, PDP, AA, APM, APC and indeed from all parties. In fact, the coordinator of my campaign in Benue is a Labour Party lawmaker. He is not even an APC member. I am the only APC lawmaker from Benue state in the House, so if I say I will go only for APC members, it means I will lose all lose votes from my own state. You have to understand that if I become speaker by the grace of God, I will not be the speaker of APC, I will be the speaker of the House of the Nigerian people and that is the House of Representatives. So, we have to get this right in our minds. I don’t think there is any of us contesting for speaker that would not seek for votes across party lines. Even in the general elections, it was not only APC members that voted for me to return to the House for the third time. The votes came from party members and non-party members. People from different walks of life voted for me. I know as a fact that PDP and SDP members voted for; It is a fact that Labour Party and APGA members voted for me; PRP members voted for me, ADC members voted for me and so and so forth. So, don’t expect me to be a divisive speaker; I will be a speaker that will unite the House to be able to pass quality laws that would stand the test of time and improve the lot of our constituents.
How do you intend to resolve the perennial unhealthy fight between the legislature and the executive?
Everybody is concerned about the constant misunderstanding between the legislature and executive arm of government. I believe there is no harm in disagreeing in order to agree; but when it degenerates to a level that the Nigerian people are left to suffer, it does not augur well for us as a nation. We intend to run a responsible House that will be anchored on the principles of separation of powers and check and balances. We will work for Nigerians and Nigeria. Whatever decision we would take will be in the interest of the nation. We will not allow our personal biases or interest to override national interest.