The member representing Ekeremo/Sagbama federal constituency of Bayelsa State in the House of Representatives, Mr Fred Agbedi (PDP), says the Students’ Loan Act recently passed into law by President Bola Tinubu has raised serious concern because it lacked the support of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). In this interview on Channels TV Politics Today, the lawmaker also said the allocation of principal offices in the National Assembly showed a lack of transparency in the handling of issues by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), David Lawani monitored interview
Why were you not picked as the minority leader in the House of Representatives, are you not one of the most senior members of the House?
It is not always that you aspire to hold a position. You know as in our situation, in the 9th Assembly, we had Kingsley Chinda that we supported as minority leader of the House, and we suffered the consequences of that. If that had happened in the 9th Assembly, then there is no reason we should not make him be in the 10th Assembly. So, we are happy that we conceded to him.
What would you say Senator Aminu Tambuwal and others who lost out?
Did you hear them?
No, I didn’t. I think for some time now, I am not a newspaper reader. You could have those screaming headlines all over the place, but because I know what happened in the House of Representatives, I can tell you for free that there was no issue with G5, G2, or G3.
You conceded to Chinda, no doubt?
Yes, of course. There was no contest at all. Yes, there were ambitions here and there, but we reconciled among ourselves, and we said no, you have it. So, we didn’t have an issue of any external influence coming to say whether this should be or not.
What was the reaction of members to the announcement of the Speaker of some of his roles? What was the mood like?
For us, we are excited. Even across the majority party. Even in the APC, people are happy that someone like Prof Julius Ihonvbere emerged as the leader of the House from the APC. It is a welcome idea. He was welcomed, and of course, I don’t think we have any issues.
What was the undercurrent between the political parties and the leadership of the National Assembly?
This is the kind of association that Nigerians gave powers to, from what the last Speaker said. INEC gave them the power. What played out in the 9th Assembly in terms of minority leadership is what is playing out in the APC. If you followed the reports, you could hear discordant voices. The national chairman of the APC claimed that they were not aware of what happened. He said this during a meeting with the governors. The governors came out and said something completely different from what their national chairman discussed with them in the meeting, and this is the party that we have given the power to lead this country. When the governors came out, they did only say yes, they have respect for the national chairman, National Assembly, and whatever they have done in their interest and support, and there are issues in the party they should go and reconcile them. Did they say this before the national chairman and that is the party in government?
Is that an anomaly?
Yes, it is. It is an anomaly and that is the truth of the matter. If Mr Speaker was announcing the principal leaders of the House of Representatives, he started with the minority and he did say that the minority members have been nominated, and their parties have also sent correspondence to that effect. Yes, because I was one of the members who approached Mr Speaker on this issue weeks back before we even adjourned and Mr Speaker said clearly that members should endorse. Yes, we have done that for our minority position. And he did, yes, our party is in sync with what we have done. So, we did as members while the party affirmed the decision of the members. We had no problem with Mr Speaker announcing what the greater majority parties did as it is. But talking about the APC. You are talking about a party where the governors, as you know the body of governors, are critical arms of the political structure in any party. They met with their governors and their party National Working Committee, and the party said there was an anomaly, and this should not stand. We are complaining about it and we will not allow it to stand. We will not recognise this leadership. Instead of the governors sorting out that issue with their NWC, they came out to align the National Assembly with the Senate. So, there is a misnomer.
What would you make of this whole development?
That is the character of the APC. And which we have handed over power to.
So, its principal leaders are not in agreement with the party?
The principal leaders are the party officials. They are there on behalf of the party, representing their members and the party. We have gone a step further to sign as members and the part based on the endorsement of all of us, wrote to affirm the decision, and that is leadership. The National Chairman of APC is someone who has gone through everything in the political circle. He was a party man, governor, and still a party man because I met him when he was still in the PDP as a governor. The role he played in the administration of the PDP.
So, where do you think the problem could have emerged from?
It is a lack of transparency, anywhere you see rancour, or disagreement someone is hiding something. If the APC in their wisdom had taken everyone on board, and taken those steps, it wouldn’t have been what we are talking about, and maybe sometimes you have to check whether it was an issue in the Senate where things were not handled transparently to the extent that people had cause to say no, yes, but we are querying the process. Once you try to doctor a process or compromise any process, there will be upheavals and reactions because some people or someone is shut out of a transparent process.
What is your fear, considering the rancour that is more visible in the Senate?
Maybe the banana peel era is returning to the APC government- that is what one can say. But you see, even with the choice of the presiding officers, you know that APC had issues among themselves. Where the party said okay, did a zoning, and went ahead to tie names to the zoning. And there were discordant voices. Like I said before. At any point where you take a decision that lacks transparency, there are bound to be challenges, reactions, and protests. Until you can deal with society transparently, you can never find things moving smoothly, and that shows that even as a government, we are bound to face this kind of problem because you are telling Nigerians what you want to deliver, and Nigerians understand where you are going, and they will go with you.
Do you fear that this might affect some kind of governance in the long run?
Certainly. Because once people react to things, there will be bad blood. There will be suspicion in the system. So, even among them in the APC, there will be suspicion here and there. So, if you want to take any decision everybody will want to know where the decision is coming from, and how.
How can this National Assembly work in the interest of Nigerians when we are already seeing internal wrangling?
The interest of Nigerians can very well be taken care of and accommodated when they participate in the process. If you don’t allow them to participate in the process, then of course, they will not have confidence in whatever decision you are arriving at. That is why if you are making laws, you must ensure that there is a public hearing. It collates the views of the public. Like the Students’ Loan Act. The views of ASUU were suggested but they were not taken. That is a serious concern because they are the people in the field and they are practicing it.
Didn’t the Students’ Loan Act go through a public hearing process because you people passed it, or is this an indictment?
First, it is an indictment for him, not me. I listened to the programme. For the ASUU President to say that their views were not taken into consideration, was an indictment. Take for example. I was Chairman of the Gas Committee, and we proposed some bills in the oil industry, and when we had a public hearing, I presided. The views of the industry players were that we want to stop shop. You want to do gas, crude and downstream. We want a point where we can certify this and move on, not different points. But today the PIA has different stop points. We are back to some years ago, what some of us proposed, but that was the view of the public, the players, and stakeholders, and we recommended back to the House the report I submitted over my bills. As chairman of that committee, this is the view of the public and stakeholders.
How is that now missing out?
No, what I am saying is that those bills could not continue. It means that the stakeholders rejected these different regulatory bodies, and so, ordinarily the bill will end at that. The stakeholders’ contributions and the citizens’ participation are very important, and if you are on a committee that is organising a public hearing, you must make sure that you capture the stakeholders’ views and ensure that, they are what you present to the House of Representatives.
Should Nigerians hold the National Assembly accountable?
Yes, that is the point I am making. It may not even be the Speaker, but it depends on who is chairman and the committee organising the public hearing to ensure that they convey exactly what the stakeholders want that bill to be.