A former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu and the outgoing Senate President, David Mark, on Monday disagreed on the need for National Assembly to cut its budget in line with the current economic realities in the country.
They spoke at a retreat organised for the Peoples Democratic Party National Assembly members-elect in Port Harcourt, Rivers state.
Ribadu had stirred up a hornet’s nest by calling on the lawmakers-elect to make their monthly salaries public and also cut their budgets. His call immediately attracted side talks by the participants which included governors and the leadership of the PDP.
Obviously aware that his advice was not being welcomed by majority of the lawmakers-elect, the former anti-corruption czar, reminded them that they would be going to the National Assembly as the minority.
He said that Nigerians would not support the PDP if they (Nigerians) did not know what was earmarked for the National Assembly and how much a senator or a House of Representatives member earns.
Ribadu, who was the PDP’s Adamawa State governorship candidate for the March 28 election, pointed out that patriotism and quality contributions by members of the PDP in the National Assembly would go a long way in reinventing and preparing the party for a successful comeback in future elections.
He said, “If Nigerians do not know how much is earmarked for the National Assembly or how much money a senator earns, they will not support you. We must understand the pulse or the mood of the nation.
“The first step, therefore, is to open up the National Assembly by ensuring transparency. Public office is what it is; public. Also, at this critical time of austerity, be champions by slashing your own budget.
“My very good friend, Ben Bruce (a senator-elect) has already spoken about this. There are many others already saying it. For you to excel, you must put in extra effort than your colleagues in other parties.”
He stressed that the PDP lawmakers-elect must not only be champions of probity and discipline, they must wage war against corruption in the system and ensure strict compliance with appropriation as well as due process.
Ribadu added, “As legislators, you will be going to the National Assembly as the minority. There is a sense of personal loss no doubt; but there are good opportunities for all and democratic practice in Nigeria.
“Your patriotism and quality contributions as members of the National Assembly will go a long way in reinventing our party and preparing it for a successful comeback in subsequent elections.
“You must demonstrate personal will and commitment towards being above board if you really want to checkmate others. The first charge for you is to be champions of probity in the workings of the National Assembly as well as the Legislature-Executive relations.”
But Mark, who showed his dissatisfaction with Ribadu’s charge, wondered why “every time, people will talk about National Assembly budget.”
Explaining that the budget of the Assembly had always been in public domain, the outgoing President of the Senate argued that Senators and House of Representatives members had always made sacrifices in line with the nation’s economic realities.
“Every time, people will talk about National Assembly budget; for Heaven’s sake, unless you would say you have never seen the national budget, it is a public document. The National Assembly budget is there with every other budget,” he stated in an angry tone.
Mark,who added that the National Assembly members “ were the first to make a cut in 2015 budget,” said that “ people should appreciate what we are doing and not to come and give an impression that our budget is bloated while every other person had made a cut.”
He stated further, “We are trying our best more than any ministry today. I can put my hand on my chest without fear of contradiction at all and say we made a lot of sacrifices in our budgeting system.
“Our budget is open; what we earn as National Assembly members is open. If anybody wants to receive his salary and donate it, he is free to do so. He does not need to consult us. I think we should not play politics with what is a very serious issue. Our budget is in the open and everybody can see it.”
Mark however charged the PDP lawmakers-elect and other PDP members to always speak in one voice.
He said, “We must subject our individual interest for our group interest. In the election of principal officers of National Assembly, we must vote in one accord. We must know that united we stand, divided we fall.
“We must take our destinies in our hands. We must be ready to provide credible, vibrant, determined and focused opposition to the party in power in a manner that would guarantee development and good governance.
“In doing so, we must maintain a strong synergy between our members in the National Assembly and the National Working Committee. The PDP is still a brand all Nigerians know. We just need to reinvent the wheels and move forward.”
He decried the spate of defections from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress after the elections and appealed to those remaining to be steadfast with the ideology of the party.
In his keynote address , Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu maintained that playing the role of the opposition was not a death sentence, but a soul searching for the way out of the predicament.
Ekweremadu stated that the PDP stood a great chance of regaining power in 2019 should its members put their house in order.
He added that the governors elected on the platform of the PDP were expected to play a major role in restoring the party’s fortunes.
Ekweremadu said, “May I also remind you that you have a big role to play in restoring the political fortunes of the PDP because PDP governed-states will now be the major yardsticks for evaluating our performance in the next four years.
“I call on you to demonstrate unbeatable and undisputable capacity for good governance such as would stand the PDP-governed states out as models in uncommon transformation and actualisation of all the blessings and promises that democracy holds.”
Earlier, Governors of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa; and other governors, who were elected on the platform of the PDP gave various strategies on how the party could regain power at the centre in 2019.