INTERVIEW: We’re not rubber stamp Senate | #socialmedia | #education | #technology | #infosec

Sani Musa, senator representing Niger-East (APC), has been in the 9th Senate for over two years now. In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he spoke on sundry issues, including his stay so far in the senate, vis-a-vis his legislative contributions, his controversial bill on social media regulation, empowerment programmes for his constituents, state of the nation, the chances of the APC retaining the presidency in the 2023 general elections. He also dismissed the popular notion that the Senate under the leadership of Ahmad Lawan is a rubber stamp legislature.

Read the excerpt of the interview below:

PT: You have been in the senate for more than two years. Can you briefly tell us what have been your contributions in terms of bills, motions, oversight functions, among others?

Sani Musa: That’s a good one. I have been in the senate for almost two years now or more and it has been quite a good experience. You meet diverse people, you sit together with all common interests, and that is how we can make Nigeria better. In terms of my contribution to law-making, I think I have been up and doing because, so far, I think I have presented almost 28 bills and out of these 28, I think that four have been passed, waiting for harmonisation and then transmission to the President for his assent. Some of the bills or almost half of them have gone through the second reading; some are awaiting public hearing from the various committees they have been taken to.

In the area of lawmaking, I believe that we as a country still have a long way to go because the National Assembly needs to be strengthened; we need to make human capital development to also reach institutions like the National Assembly because most of the senators are like me, new in the system and we are beginning to catch up with the rudiments of law-making but we still have a long way to go and in so doing, I also want to call on the National Assembly leadership to see how they can also strengthen the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies(NILDS) to make it strong in developing capacity for lawmakers.

Senator Sani Musa

PT: How do you assess the senate under the leadership of Ahmad Lawan?

Sani Musa: The 9th Senate under the leadership of Senator Ahmad Lawan has done very well in the areas of lawmaking . For example, we have been able to regularise our budget cycle. You may recall that budgets would not be passed until some time around July, August or June, which was not good for the economy in the past. Since we came on board, for the third consecutive time now, we are working on presenting the appropriation bill by December so that the President will assent to it and it takes off by (implementation by January) next year. That helps to stabilise the economy and also gives investors some confidence that the economic climate in the country is normal.

You may want to take a look at the Petroleum Industry Bill that was practically becoming a ghost for almost 20 years; we have been able to pass the bill and the President wasted no time in assenting to it. That’s what gave rise to the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA). I have no doubt that the petroleum sector will be the better for it by the time all the reforms intended in the Act are implemented. All the previous assemblies found it very difficult to deal with it head-on. I must commend the National Assembly and also commend the good relationship between the National Assembly and the executive which has facilitated all these things to have a smooth ride. We have been able to also pass so many other bills like the sexual molestation bill, the rape bills, which are all under consideration. I have also proposed a bill that has gone past the second reading which is an Act to end the stigmatisation of victims of insurgency and banditry in terms of sexual abuse they are getting, among others.

We have also been able to deal with some of the controversies in the Electoral Act which, when resolved, will help deepen our electoral process and ultimately our democracy in the long run. On the electronic transmission of results by INEC, we as a senate have been able to look at the law and then amended it again. Honestly, the intention of the senate was never to disagree or refuse to agree with the transmission of election (results). We only felt that if we were going to do it electronically, it was imperative that all parts of the country have network coverage so that some voters will not be disenfranchised and when you say no it’s not an issue of disenfranchisement, how do you look at it, where you will say ‘okay Lagos, Ibadan or some areas will have network and they are free to transmit and you go far North and you will be writing on the paper; you know that there can be a lot of discrepancies and a lot of issues which are all what we are trying to avoid’. But generally, if you look at it, INEC was not even doing electronic transmission of results before. When they are always citing examples of Edo, saying INEC transmitted results in Edo; there was no electronic transmission; INEC was only publishing results, and when they publish, they take a picture of the results and then send. It is not like it is being collected as a raw result. The results were not livestreamed. So it’s not real-time coverage. We considered all these before we decided to pass that amendment though we did not also want to breach the Constitution as it relates to INEC, because we did not want to usurp the functions of the electoral body. I think it is always good to have laws that are very very direct, that you understand (that are unambiguous). So, I think to cap it finally, I will say this 9th assembly has done very well. The senate has done quite tremendously, and we believe we have a lot more to do.

PT: Senator, let me take you up based on the concluding part of your response to the preceding question – first that the senate has done so well tremendously under Lawan. But, how do you react to this popular perception that the current senate is a rubber stamp senate always in bed with the Presidency?

Sani Musa: (Cuts in) You as a journalist, I want you to define what rubber stamp means.

PT: Rubber stamp means, to my understanding, whatever the executive arm of government wants, the senate just approves. You may want to clarify this issue of rubber stamp tag, sir.

Sani Musa: Let me be honest with you, I think it is the imagination of the press to have looked at us and think that we can be rubber stamps. If we were rubber stamps, why did we decline to clear Lauretta Onochie as a national commissioner of INEC? Why did we decline to approve the other nominee for the position of national commissioner from Osun State? Why?

So, going back to your question, we are not rubber stamps, we cannot be rubber stamps. We are one arm of government and we act based on the provisions of the Constitution. Although there is the issue of separation of powers, in whatever we do, we cooperate. If there is no synergy between the three arms of government, then how do you want to see progress?

Senator Sani Musa

Imagine what happened in the last 8th assembly that the President refused to sign the Electoral Act. Why? Because there was no synergy. Whatever you are doing, even in your own home there is need for compromise in order to move forward.

Going forward, I must add that democracy is alien to us. Democracy just came in and we are trying to now see how we can be able to tolerate our differences despite our diversity. So, in so doing, when you have a government that is not in harmony with each other, then there will be disunity. There cannot be development, there cannot be progress.

As a senate, I will still say that we have done very well and when you call us rubber stamps we don’t understand what you mean by rubber stamps. Why didn’t you talk of rubber stamps when the PDP government was there and the President was doing everything at will? Why did you not talk about rubber stamps when President Obasanjo unilaterally would leave what was in the Constitution and did whatever he liked?

When you are looking at positions, you should look at both positions and compare. Today, you as a Nigerian should be very happy that the National Assembly, the executive and the judiciary are working in harmony, because this is what will sell our country; this is what will move our country forward and the prosperity we are talking about can only be attained in a situation where there is peace and unity. We have too much in our basket to move on; is it the economy that the government will face or the security? And when two heads are fighting, when the executive and the legislature cannot come together and understand each other, see how they can synergise and attack whatever enemy they have together, what makes you think there will be a smooth sail for the country? There cannot be. It’s just like you have a ship, I mean a captain in a ship who is sailing and then you as the passenger you came in and you said ‘no, captain you are not sailing it well, this is the way you do it’, when you cannot even navigate, you don’t know, you don’t even know how the GIS works. And this is the point of those calling us rubber stamps; they don’t even know what legislative functions are. And I will say the media in this country are not helping us in terms of giving the country a good image unlike what obtains abroad.

PT: But the media only report what is factual and verifiable.

Sani Musa: We are not just being honest; the press in this country prefers to just see a crisis. Imagine what you see being reported everyday. If you travel to countries such as the U.K., the U.S. and other advanced countries where democracy has been in practice for years, you will see that 70 per cent of their reporting, 70 per cent of the contents of their newspapers are very positive. Why is it in our case it is 90 percent negativity?

PT: (Cut in) But these are not creations of the media. We only report what we see.

Sani Musa: No, no, why is the media not reporting something positive? When they see a positive thing, why don’t they elaborate on it? Why do they capitalise on the negative ones?

PT: But the Nigerian media still report the positive ones like social projects of the government and the rest.

Sani Musa: Yes, just 10 per cent. I feel somehow that we, in this country, have relegated the position of giving our country a positive image. It is all about negativity. When they want to hear anything about Nigeria, you will not hear something positive. That has become a very major problem and we need to look at it. So, you understand. The Nigerian project is for everyone of us.

PT: Okay, senator, that takes me to the media not living up to expectation. Could that be the reason you want the social media regulated in Nigeria?

Sani Musa: You see, this is why I said that that our understanding is quite different. I have not seen anybody among you look at the laws, the amendment, the new laws that both the United Kingdom, France, Canada have been doing on social media. None of you has made any comments; Even Premium Times, I have not even seen you look at that and say ‘oh, let’s look at what this country is trying to do’. You guys have not done it, the only thing you know best is to tell the whole world that we are trying to gag you.

PT: But it does appear you want the social media censored and that is why Nigerians are opposed to it.

Sani Musa: Well, the intention of the bill is not to gag anyone from using the social media as he or she likes. What we seek to achieve is to ensure that social media users don’t use their platforms to propagate falsehood and fake news that can jeopardise the peace of the country. You are a living witness in this country about what happened in Jos where somebody posted false claims and people were killed. The same thing in Benue State. Nobody has bothered to say, ‘why should we allow such to happen?’ Why do you make laws? Laws are made for proper governance of the society. And when you breach it, you face the penalty which will deter others from doing the same thing.

Fact is, when I initiated the bill, I made it clear that this bill is never meant to suppress anyone. In my case, I am 24 hours on social media. All the platforms you think of, from TikTok, poppular with young people, to Twitter, to WhatsApp, to Telegram, to Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, everything. I am in there, my kids are there, they use them, they use them to study, they use them to do researches, then I will just wake up and then say: ‘I don’t want any Nigerian to use social media’. This is the notation you give when you report that we want to disallow Nigerians free use of social media and it’s not true. When we say that we want to do is to curtail, to check on the management of good news and fake news. We said ‘let’s make some laws that would be a deterrence’. Some people, if they remember there is this law, will not post falsehood on their social media platforms. I can sit in the comfort of my room now and post, in just a minute, it will go viral.

PT: You don’t want to restrict Nigerians from using social media, yet, want to regulate it to check the spread of fake news. How exactly are you going to achieve this?

Sani Musa: Ours is to find a way to regulate the the intermediaries via which information flows. Who are the intermediaries? They are Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, among others. Let us now work on them, let’s come up with a code of conduct and what is that code of conduct? You cannot post falsehood ; you will be punished for it if the court finds you guilty. You can do a video with my face now; all I need to do is to get the app, remove your face, just a picture of you and then I put it on that app and then I will be able to manipulate it the way I want. That app can show you that you are on top of a woman. By the time that thing becomes viral before you can go and clear your name, the damage has been done. And we said ‘no, the intermediary should check’. Are you telling me that there is no freedom of expression in Dubai? Why do you run to Dubai for holidays? Why do you like to go there if there you cannot even use social media, so what enjoyment? Why do you go there? But you will use social media even in Dubai. You can interact with anybody, you can chat; you can do anything, but you know there are certain things you cannot do and there are certain sites that even if you want to log in to, you know that it is restricted . Why have people in Dubai not shouted human rights abuse or that their fundamental human rights have been breached?

When you want to make a society, you don’t copy. Even in Canada today that they are talking about freedom, there is a limit, because you can’t go on social media and start chatting with a girl of 16.
Can’t we do it here? Can’t we even take the picture of a 16-year-old girl and post it and then play around with it? What we are trying to do is to get the intermediaries to put firewalls on our platforms, just as they did in other countries to curtail the spread of unethical stuff.

Nobody is saying you have no right to criticise the government or call on government leaders to live up to expectations. And even when you breach the law, it is only a court of competent jurisdiction that will listen and hear and it is only the court that can define what fake news that you presented there is. The proof of not being fake news is on you. You are the suspect and once you can prove it, you are a free man.

So, social media is good. If a country like the UK can look into their social media fake news issues, then why can’t we do the same? We heard what happened in the UK based on this COVID-19 vaccine and isolation issues. They decided that they should rebuild the laws and successfully they did. So why is it difficult for us to do here?

PT: What is the status of the bill now in the National Assembly?

Sani Musa: It is still at the committee level. After the committee level, they will make their report to the committee of whole and from there we will take it up.

UK censored their social media, but Nigeria, when we say censor, they said ‘oh you want to gag us’, ‘you want to refuse us’, Okay, tell me what you are reporting that is even positive.

PT: No, we are not creating all these things especially those of us from the mainstream media, we only report what we see.

Sani Musa: How many times have I seen the mainstream media talking about a report that is fake or factual?

PT: We as an organisation do that. There is what is called fact-checking. Whenever we are unsure of the factuality of a report, we fact-check it. That is a way to halt the spread of fake news.

Sani Musa: No, what I am saying is having something something like having Premium Times Newspaper, and then some persons will clone Premium Times Newspaper and credit a particular fake story to it. It happened to ThisDay. See what they did to Governor Hope Uzodinma. So, you are saying with what is happening and there shouldn’t be censorship? They shouldn’t censor platforms that are doing that, and you said it’s a decent society, it’s a free society? That’s not freedom. Where your freedom ends is where mine begins.

PT: The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which will be winding down by 2023, seems to be completely overwhelmed by insecurity, poor economy, among others. How do you rate the government?

Sani Musa: If not for the issue of insecurity in this country I don’t think, I can say it that I have not seen any civilian administration that has done very well the way this administration is doing in terms of major critical infrastructural development. And if not for the coming of COVID-19 coupled with economic recession, things would have been much different. But as you can see the government is still doing very well. And honestly, the President is overwhelmed. You can see when we shouted and made a lot of noise, the President listened and decided, ‘look, let the service chiefs go’. They have appointed new ones and they have been trying, and you can see now that they have done very well in trying to see how they can curtail the Boko Haram insurgents

PT: (Cut in) And the bandits, too?

Sani Musa: Our military are still engaging the bandits, but the Boko Haram they have neutralised so many of them because we can see that they are no longer as strong as we used to know them. On that note alone, we must commend the President and our military. If you look at it, those days you were scared to join a crowd. You could not go to Emab Plaza here in Abuja because of the fear that terrorists might come and bomb the place tomorrow. But now everyone is free to move about.

PT: Because of the issues of the economy, Boko Haram insurgency, banditry even in your state (Niger State) and general insecurity, don’t you think these issues will still work against your party APC- in 2023?

Sani Musa: No, no, no, this can’t work. What we are saying and what we are facing…. You see we Nigerians forget things easily. Can you drive from here to Emab Plaza now? You could not even drive from here to the airport in the past, you’d think there would be one killing or the other. I am not saying there are no killings now, there are still killings, but not like what it used to be when bombs would just go off… you understand, in a place that is not unexpected. So, I think we must be honest with ourselves. The security situation is bad, we all know that. But at the same time, we cannot deny the fact that this government is doing well in trying to confront the challenges.

PT: And are you sure the opposition is not going to use all this against the APC…?

Sani Musa: (Cuts in) What did the opposition offer you in the 16 years of their administration? When there was oil boom and everything?

PT: But that was why Nigerians voted the PDP out in 2015 and brought in the APC.

Sani Musa: Then, go and aggregate the successes and the failures and see which one is more. Is it this one or the previous administration? Will the PDP have the gut to come and sell themselves to Nigerians and Nigerians will listen to them? When they are in governance, you cannot govern your states very well. The best thing you can do is to abuse the President… Show us your scorecard.

PT: So, you think the APC will still retain power in 2023 and beyond ?

Sani Musa: By the grace of God, Nigerians will still believe that we can do better than the PDP. I am very optimistic about that.

PT: Sir, you have less than two years to spend in the senate. What should the people of Niger East be expecting from you?

Sani Musa: You know, those days you had a lot of people blowing your trumpet, but today, you blow your trumpet; nobody does that for you. The last two years have been very tremendous . There have been, as I said earlier, ups and downs. I did my bit. And I can claim that I have, averagely, done well compared to how others have done. I have a lot in terms of empowering the youths; I have a lot in terms of uplifting our educational system, providing infrastructure and training the teachers. I have done very well in the area of agriculture, providing the necessary implements that are needed. When you talk about physical structures, buildings, I have done well; I have built health facilities, so, if I am to give myself a scorecard and you are taking a rating between 1 and 10, as of today, I can tell you that I am at 5

PT: And that is average

Sani Musa: Yes, that is average, and by the time I will get to conclude my remaining two years or so, I will be able to reach 9.

PT: Sir, you are a first term senator and most first term senators always want to come back for another term so they could become ranking senators, become more influential and perhaps be able to chair a committee. Do you plan on returning to the senate for a second term?

Sani Musa: I am a first term senator; I am not a ranking senator, yet I am chairing a committee. So, what are you talking about? Chairing a committee in the senate is not being a member of a particular cabal or caucus. There is a selection committee that looks at the capacity of senators. Look at Senator Tokunbo Abiru that came in last year after the death of Senator Adebayo Osinowo. He is chairing a committee. It is more about capacity and the ability to deliver.

PT: Are we expecting you back in the 10th Senate or do you want to succeed Governor Abubakar Sani Bello?

Sani Musa: I am not the kind of politician that will sit down and say this is my target. 2023 as far as I am concerned is still far away and I am halfway into the mandate given to me. Let me see how I can actualise the mandate. Thereafter I can now assess myself to see if I did well or not. If I did very well then, I will start thinking to say ‘yes, I am going to come back’.

PT: But it’s possible your people are mounting pressure on you to come back because most Nigerian politicians always say their people want them to run or seek re-election.

Sani Musa: That is why I said my kind of politics is completely different, pressure doesn’t make me do what I feel is not it. I act based on my conviction. If I feel it is the right thing to do, of course I won’t hesitate to do it.

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