Workers in Kwara State – one of the first states to enjoy the N338b Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)-guranteed bailout loan – have started getting their backlog of salaries.
The payment began on Monday, with scores of excited civil servants queuing at banks in Ilorin, the state capital, to receive their salaries.
Twenty-seven states are to get the loans, which are to be disbursed by 14 banks.
But as at yesterday, many of the states were still fine-tuning the paperwork to enable them access the money.
Most of the states allayed workers’ fears that the cash could go into financing projects, leaving salaries unpaid. Officials promised that this would not be the case.
Labour leaders in Oyo State said yesterday that they had reached an agreement with Governor Abiola Ajimobi to use the N26.601b being expected to clear all salary arrears.
The state has four months outstanding salaries to pay workers in its employ on Grade Levels 1 to 12. Senior officers on Grade Level 13 and above are hoping to receive five months salaries.
The government last month paid April salary to workers on Grade Levels 1 to 12.
The local Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) Chairman Comrade Waheed Olojede, said labour leaders held a meeting with the governor where it was agreed that the fund would be spent on clearing outstanding salaries.
He said labour would continue to be on its guard to ensure that the funds are not diverted to other purposes.
Olojede said: “We have been on guard in Oyo State. We read in The Nation yesterday (Monday) about the sums of money approved for states. We were happy that Oyo State was among them. Immediately after reading the story, we sought an audience with Governor Ajimobi over it and he met all the labour leaders in the evening. The meeting was successful.
“The governor confirmed to us but informed us that the money was yet to be accessed due to the conditions yet to be met. He, however, promised that all the conditions would be met soon and the fund would be accessed.
“We also agreed that as soon as it is released, it should be spent on salaries of workers.”
Some of the conditions for accessing the loan include:
resolutions of the State Executive Council authorising the borrowing;
State House of Assembly consenting to the loan package; and
issuance of Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) to ensure timely repayment.
In Ekiti State, the government and labour disagreed on whether the state had accessed the loan or not.
Ekiti State Commissioner for Information, Youth and Sports, Lanre Ogunsuyi denied that the state had received its own share.
Ogunsuyi, in a telephone chat, explained that the money was still domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and “every state is just applying for it now”.
He insisted that the money was not a bailout as believed in many quarters but the commonwealth of all the federating states in the country.
Ekiti State’s share is N9.604 billion.
NLC Chairman Ade Adesanmi could not be reached for comments, but Trade Union Congress (TUC) Chairman Kolawole Olaiya maintained that the government had received N9. 6 billion.
Olaiya, who spoke with our correspondent on telephone, urged the Fayose administration to ensure that the outstanding September 2014 salary, 2014 and 2015 leave bonuses are paid to workers.
The TUC boss praised the Buhari administration for the package, which he said to rescue states from insolvency, noting that it was good news to workers in Ekiti who expect the state government to do the “needful”.
He said: “The Federal Government is desirous to ease the burden on workers and I don’t think anybody can hide under any guise to punish workers. The Federal Government meant well and I want to commend the Buhari administration for this bailout because the workers’ conditions are bad.
“The bailout has been paid (to Ekiti) and I want to rely on the facts published by The Nation on Monday. We have been hearing that Ekiti had just received the money.
“It is just unfortunate that most of the labour leaders in Ekiti are not supposed to be in Labour. They are conniving with the present government to rob workers of their reward and they are contributing more to the plight of workers.
“They are not supposed to be labour leaders, they are usurpers. September salaries, 2014 leave bonus and 2015 leave bonus have remained unpaid.”
A leader of the TUC in Osun State, Comrade Akinyemi Olatunji, said there was no indication that the cash had come to the state.
Olatunji said the labour unions were monitoring the release of the funds through their various national secretariats.
According to him, workers in the state had only collected half of their January and February salaries so far.
The state government said it was waiting for the N34.9 billion allocated to Osun to drop into the state account after it had been approved by the Central Bank.
Former Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Sunday Akere said the payment of workers’ salaries would begin as soon as the funds drop into the state’s account.
Akere, who disclosed that N9 billion of the N34.9 expected was for local government workers’ salary, said a staff audit was on, pending the receipt of the bailout.
Ondo State has not collected the N14.68b bailout.
Sources at the Government Secretariat, Alagbaka, Akure said the government was awaiting the funds.
A cross section of workers, who are being owed three months salaries arrears, said they were eager to hear that the money had been accessed.
Christian Ita spokesman of the Cross River State Governor, said: “We are waiting for the money. We have not received it yet, but we are expecting it any moment from now. We are borrowing the money to pay back debts we owe. The state is not owing civil servants’ salaries and that is because we borrowed money to pay them. So right now, we need the bailout fund to pay the debts we owe.
“Since Governor Ben Ayade came on board, he has made sure salaries are paid on time, so the state needs to pay back those loans. the Federal allocation when it comes is less than what we need to pay salaries. So, even when it comes, we are in deficit.”
The N1.28 billion share of Bayelsa State from the CBN-backed loans is meant for cash-strapped workers in the eight local government areas.
Governor Seriake Dickson has been paying salaries of civil servants and pensions despite the dwindling revenue from the Federation Account.
But the chairmen of the eight local government areas are owing arrears of workers’ salaries.
A principal officer of a local government area, who spoke in confidence, said the governor promised to get the loans for the local governments.
He said: “There has been crisis in the local government areas over inability of the chairmen to pay salaries. The chairmen even appeared on the floor of the House of Assembly to explain the reasons for their financial crisis.
“But the governor, who was not happy with the plight of the workers, promised to secure the CBN bailout loans for the local government employees. We are happy the money has come. He is a worker-friendly governor and that is why we are supporting him”.
Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, confirmed that the money was meant for local government workers.
“It is meant for local government because they are the ones owing salaries”, he said.
The N14,152 billion bailout loan the Abia State is expecting will be spent on settling
outstanding staff salaries, emoluments and entitlements to pensioners.
The remaining, if any, will be used to provide infrastructure.
The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to governor, Mr. Godwin Adindu, said the fund had not been accessed though there were indications that the disbursement will soon start.
Adindu said: “The state’s economy will stabilise once the salaries are paid and it will cushion the effects of hardship being experienced by workers.”
Abia State labour union chairman Comrade Uchenna Ebigwe said the fund should be spent to pay outstanding salaries, pensioners and other emoluments of workers.
Ebonyi State government said it had not got the money.
Commissioner for Finance Dennis Ekumankama said the ministry was still processing it.
He said: “As I’m talking to you now, I am in Abuja, trying to process the fund for the state”
He, however, declined comment on the modalities for the fund’s disbursement.
The State House of Assembly has given the government approval to take the loan –
N4.6 billion loan.
The workers are owed two months salary arrears (July and August).
But the government has refused to pay the workers with the salary table used by the last administration.
The table with about 50 per cent increase in the salary of the workers was implemented by the last administration following a strike.
Umahi, then the PDP candidate, encouraged the NLC to continue with the strike and promised them 100 per cent increment it he won.
But Umahi, who paid the June salary with the new structure, has vowed to revert to the old salary structure from July.
The governor told a PDP stakeholders meeting at the party’s secretariat in Abakaliki that after paying the 50 per cent increment in their salaries for June, the state had a balance of only N35 million.
According to him, he will pay the 50 per cent increment only when the economy improves.
He said: “After paying June salaries, we were left with 35 million naira; I will not pay the demand of workers for increment in salaries but will increase their pay only when the economy improves. They fought for us so much but they should not be gods to us. It is not that there is money and we have refused to pay.”
But the NLC chairman disputed the governor’s claim.
He said the state government, after paying workers, will have enough money for projects.
“If the government does not pay us with the 50 per cent increment, it will not be acceptable to us,” he said.
Delta State is expecting N10.036 billion, which will be spent on salaries.
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa said the funds will soon be received.
Although Delta State is not owing salaries, it is owing over N15 billion in arrears of pension
The N3.167 billion bailout loan will be used by the Edo State government to pay local government workers.
Only three council chairmen, Abdulmalik Afegbua (Etsako East), Joseph Ikpea (Esan Southeast) and Jimoh Ijegbai (Owan East), have paid salaries.
The other 15 are owing workers between five to 10 months’ salaries.
Members of the National Union of Local Government Employee (NULGE) embarked on several weeks of protest over the unpaid salaries until Governor Adams Oshiomhole ordered the council bosses to forfeit their security votes and allowances to pay salaries.
Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Louis Odion confirmed that the loan will enable the defaulting local government areas pay their workers’ salaries.
There are indications that Plateau State Government is yet to cash the bailout loan.
The government is expecting N5.7 billion.
NLC chairman Comrade Jibrin Bancir said: “The state government has always told us they have not received their own share. When the shares accrued to all the state were published on Monday, I called the accountant general of the state and he told me he was on his way to the CBN in Abuja to process it.
“Not withstanding, the state government has cleared four of the seven months arrears inherited from the last administration. The government has always carried us along on the cash flow and financial challenges.
“Governor Lalong may not have fulfilled his promise of paying the salary arrears twice in a month, but he has demonstrated a high level of transparency in the financial management of state resources and we appreciate his financial challenges.”
Apart from the seven months’ salary arrears, there is also unpaid pension of state and local government retirees.
Local government workers are also being owed two months’ arrears of salaries. Local government teachers are being owed one month salary.
The CBN last week announced that it had approved that Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) lend money to requesting states to pay salary arrears owed their workers.
Some of the conditions for accessing the loan include:
resolutions of the State Executive Council authorising the borrowing;
State House of Assembly consenting to the loan package; and
issuance of Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) to ensure timely repayment.
With the signing of the ISPO, “it is clear that the facility is not free as the states’ financial exposure to the banks becomes first line charges deducted from their monthly allocation”.
The CBN official explained that specific figures were attached to the facilities to be disbursed to the states is because “every state is to come up with its specific needs in order to access the facility from the commercial banks. They’re (states) working out what they need from the banks according to the conditions they reached with the banks”.
The decision to borrow money from commercial banks is sequel to the decision by the National Executive Council (NEC) at its June 29 meeting, requesting the CBN “in collaboration with other stakeholders to appraise and consider ways of liquidating the outstanding staff salaries owed by state and local governments.”
The Buhari administration announced a bailout package for states to take care of the backlog of workers’ salaries and access funds for development through the rescheduling of their debts by banks with the CBN’s guarantee.
Eleven states have had their commercial debts to DMBs restructured with a proviso to pay 14.83 per cent of the value of their bonds which their commercial debts were converted to. Eleven others are also to have theirs restructured.
Debt Management Office (DMO) Director-General Abraham Nwankwo said “the restructuring was effected using a re-opening of the FGN-Bond issued on July 18, 2015 and maturing on July 18, 2034. The pricing was based on the yield to date of the bond at a 30-day average, resulting in a transaction yield of 14.83 per cent.”The impact of the restructured states’ commercial debts to domestic bonds, he said, is that “management operations will include: monthly debt service burden will drop by a minimum of 55 per cent and a maximum of 97 per cent, among the 11; and interest rate savings for the 11 states ranging from 3 per cent to 9 per cent per annum.”
SOME ministers who served under former President Goodluck Jonathan have warned President Muhammadu Buhari to give the former president his “due respect.”
The former ministers said they had observed that the Buhari administration and members of the All Progressives Congress had been condemning, ridiculing and undermining the efforts of the Jonathan administration.
Jonathan’s ministers said both the President and his party had also been rubbishing the integrity of the individual members of the past administration.
A former Minister of National Planning, Dr. Abubakar Suleiman, said this on Sunday in a statement on behalf of other ministers who served under Jonathan.
But the Presidency, while reacting to the Jonathan’s minsters’ statement, on Sunday said Buhari’s war against corruption was not negotiable.
Suleiman said the efforts of the Buhari government had been to portray all members of the Jonathan administration “as corrupt and irresponsible, in an orchestrated and vicious trial by the media,” which he said had created “a lynch mentality that discredits our honest contributions to the growth and development of our beloved nation.”
He said while he and his colleagues believed that each administration had the right to chart its own path, the Kwara State-born former university lecturer said the alleged vilification of the Jonathan administration was ill-intentioned.
The Buhari administration has alleged several fraudulent practices against Jonatha’s ministers, including a recent allegation that the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison Madueke, illegally took $6.9m from the coffers of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to fund the bogus purchase of three mobile stages for Jonathan’s public appearances.
The Suleiman statement partly read, “We, the ministers who served under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, have watched with increasing alarm and concern the concerted effort by the Buhari administration and members of the APC to condemn, ridicule and undermine the efforts of that administration, in addition to impugning the integrity of its individual members.
“While we concede that every administration has the right to chart its own path as it deems fit, we nevertheless consider the vilification of the Jonathan administration, to be ill-intentioned, unduly partisan, and in bad faith.
“We are proud to have served Nigeria and we boldly affirm that we did so diligently and to the best of our abilities. The improvements that have been noticed today in the power sector, in national security and in social services and other sectors did not occur overnight.
“They are products of solid foundations laid by the same Jonathan administration.”
He said that contrary to what the APC and its agents would want the public to believe, the Jonathan administration did not encourage corruption, “rather it fought corruption vigorously, within the context of the rule of law and due process.”
“For the benefit of those who may have forgotten so soon, it was the Jonathan administration that got rid of the fraud in fertiliser subsidies, which had plagued the country for decades. This helped to unleash a revolution in agricultural production and productivity,” he added.
Suleiman added that it was also the Jonathan administration that supported the institutional development of strong systems and mechanisms to curb corruption in the public service and plug revenue leakages.
He listed these to include the development of the Government Integrated Financial Management Platform, The Single Treasury Account, and the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management Systems, in addition to the biometric registration of civil servants and pensioners which he said saved the country over N100bn paid to ghost workers and ghost pensioners.
Apart from that, he said that the Jonathan administration equally ensured greater transparency and integrity in the oil and gas sector by ordering investigations and put mechanisms in place to check the theft of Nigeria’s crude oil.
He said, “It was also under the Jonathan administration that a Nigerian Content policy was introduced, which opened up that sector to Nigerians in a manner that was not previously the case.
“It was also the Jonathan administration that mobilised and secured the support of our neighbouring countries to ensure a robust multinational response to the menace of terrorism and insurgency, resulting in notable advancements in the fight against terror.
“President Jonathan personally initiated the collaboration that led to this advancement and ensured that Nigeria provided the needed financial support for the Multinational Joint Task Force.
“It was the Jonathan administration that repaired and rehabilitated over 25, 000 kilometres of our nation’s roads.
“Nigeria also became a profitable and preferred investment-friendly destination.
“It was under President Jonathan, for example, that Nigeria’s electric power sector became more competitive and attractive to local and foreign investments.”
Suleiman added that the same administration promoted the rule of law, free speech, fundamental human rights, and a robust freedom of information regime.
Apart from that, he said women’s rights to participate in public life and the Federal Character principle as well as other constitutional principles were also respected.
“No administration can be either completely bad or completely good. President Jonathan’s achievements in moving this country to greater heights deserve to be duly acknowledged.
“We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to build on these achievements,” he argued.
He challenged Buhari to be fair and non-partisan in his anti-corruption crusade.
Suleiman added that “the various lies and fabrications being peddled by some self-appointed spokespersons of the administration may entertain the unwary” but added that such sensationalism may achieve the unintended effect of de-marketing the country within the international community.
Suleiman said that he and his colleagues had reserved their comments until now in the hope that the euphoria that inspired the various attacks on the past administration would wear off and that reason would prevail.
“But we are constrained to speak up in defence of the legacy of the Jonathan administration, and shall do so again, for as long as those who are determined to rubbish that legacy, are unrelenting in their usual deployment of blackmail, persecution and similar tactics,” he warned.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, reacting to the Jonathan’s ministers asked the affected persons who he described as “members of the country’s latest trade union formation, the Association of Ex-Jonathan Ministers” to do a bit of self-reflection on the sort of government they handed over to Buhari on May 29.
He said such self-reflection would make the former ministers decide for themselves if it would have been right for any incoming government to ignore the issue of the brazen theft of public assets, which he said appeared to be the first of its kind in the country,
He said, “This war against corruption knows no friend nor foe. There is no intention to deny anyone of their good name where they are entitled to it and President Buhari reserves the highest regards for the country’s former leaders, including Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who he continues to praise to the high heavens for the way and manner in which he accepted defeat in the last election.
“That singular action remains a feat that has earned the former President and Nigeria as country befitting commendations all over the world, the latest coming from Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who visited a week ago.
“For the purpose of emphasis, the issue of fighting corruption by President Buhari is not negotiable.
“It is sine qua non to the overall reconstruction of the economy and social systems, which suffered destruction and severe denigration under the last administration.
“President Buhari will not be deterred or blackmailed into retreat and surrender.”
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has listed new instances of the insane looting of the treasury by some officials of the Jonathan Administration, saying the corruption mess that characterized the Administration was so pervasive that until it is cleaned, Nigeria will not be able to actualize its potentials.
”Those who would rather give comfort to the looters by dismissing the media exposure of looting cases as mere hell-raising should realize that no sane person can be silent in the face of what is unfolding as the worst cases of brazen stealing of public funds in Nigeria’s history,” the party said in a statement issued in Abuja on Sunday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
”On Aug. 16th 2015, we listed some instances of the breath-taking looting of the treasury by some officials of the immediate past Administration. Today, we bring three more heart-rendering cases to the attention of Nigerians. We will not relent until closure has been brought to this issue,” it said, listing the new cases as:
– A mind-shattering 2.2 billion-US-dollar arms scandal.
– A 6.9 million-dollar fraud by the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to
President Jonathan, committed under the guise of buying three mobile
stages for the President.
– A 2.5 billion-Naira scam involving the rent of house boats.
”While those charged with handling these cases are finalizing the details of bringing the suspects to justice, our immediate concern is the attempt by the PDP, under whose umbrella the looting took place, to blame the Buhari Administration for the mess and then infer that things have been worse in Nigeria in the past 3 months under the APC-led federal government than in the 16 years under the PDP. This is totally provocative, shameless and uncharitable.
”They say we are yet to fulfil our campaign promises to Nigeria, but they have forgotten that if only the PDP/Jonathan Administration had not stolen Nigeria blind, there would have been more than enough money to give school children in Nigeria not just one but three meals a day and even pay 5,000 Naira to 50 million most vulnerable Nigerians, not just the 25 million we promised in our manifesto,” APC said.
Despite the almost daily discovery of cases of corruption under the Jonathan Administration, the party assured Nigerians of better days ahead, as all its campaign promises will be kept because of the commitment and determination of President Buhari not only to cleaning the Augean Stable but also ensuring purposeful governance for the benefit of all Nigerians.
”It is clear to all Nigerians that the debilitating impact of 16 years of PDP’s misrule cannot be reversed in just 3 months. It is an obvious truth that it is always easier to destroy than to construct, but nothing will stand in the way of the Buhari Administration’s commitment to improving the quality of life of Nigerians and making our country to function again,” it said.
It said that a major cog in the wheel of faster progress for the new Nigeria under President Buhari has been the discovery that the pot housing the commonwealth has been licked dry by the looters of yesterday, hence the need to work meticulously to recover the looted funds and facilitate the delivery of good governance that will manifest in abundant jobs, strong economy and improved welfare and security for Nigerians.
APC said while the PDP, ever steeped in the pursuit of lies, presents the recently released data on job creation and economic growth as ‘clear signals’ that President Muhammadu Buhari is failing Nigerians, the disgraced party mischievously omitted the fact that those numbers are basically a manifestation of the disastrous final days of President Jonathan’s failed economic policies.
”The PDP omitted the fact that these numbers measure job creation and economic growth for the second quarter of 2015, which covers April to June 2015, a period in which President Jonathan was in office for 2 months while President Buhari was only just settling in to discover even more of the mess left for him to clear. No one in his or her right mind will hold someone more accountable for actions in just one month and exonerate another who was in the same office for two months.
”Since the PDP has become insular to global events, the APC will also like to educate the party that every country in the world is struggling to adjust to the effects of a global downturn at the moment. Only very few countries, if any, are growing as fast as they did, in say two years ago. From China, India, Russia, South Africa, to Ghana, Malaysia and Brazil, every country is feeling the effects of a sustained slowdown in global growth.
”The APC will also like to categorically say that it supports the policies of the CBN in its quest to ensure greater transparency in the Forex market and eliminate currency substitution in our economy. The CBN’s policy to stop cash deposits of foreign currency is in line with global best practices and has led to a drastic reduction in the BDC exchange rate for the Dollar, the party said.
It commended Nigerians for showing absolute understanding and faith in the leadership of President Buhari to change the way that Nigeria has been misruled in the last 16 years, and assured that, in the days ahead, the painstaking efforts of the President will manifest even more than Nigerians have already witnessed.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ team of Musikilu Mojeed, Bassey Udo and Lere Mohammed, Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central, speaks about speaks about federal lawmakers’ controversial jumbo pay, his disagreement with his state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, and other issues.
PT: How has the transition been from activism to parliament?
Sani: The transition from activism to parliament gives me a new experience in governance. The fact that we are from a journey of struggles, that found us in the trenches, organising protests and standing up against injustice and tyranny. This is an opportunity for us with this background to make positive impact in our societ by seeing the realization of those very ideas and ideals we stand for over the years.
We have been used to throwing missiles. Now we are in the position to receive them. We have been used to criticizing. Now we are in a position to be criticized. We have all along lived our lives in the opposition. During the military era, we were in the forefront of the struggle against military rule and for the restoration of democracy.
Many of us were pushed to exiles. Others were jailed or even killed in that struggle. Now, we are in government, specifically in parliament. From my experience, I can say this is different from what we have been used to in the last decade in the history of our nation.
PT: When people like you indicated interest to run for parliament, expectation heightened. With characters like you in the National Assembly, the hope was that there was going to be some radical changes in the way our parliamentarians carry themselves. So far, there has been so much controversy. Even the way your party, APC, elected its leadership. What’s wrong? Is this the change Nigerians worked for?
Sani: The APC is not a communist party. It’s not a party with a specified ideology. It is a convergence of people from different tendencies, ideas and backgrounds. It’s also a convergence of people from different political thinking. There is the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria), that was basically present in the South-West, from where most of the leading characters play the south western Nigeria politics. There is also the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change), the party that was formed around the shadows and image of President Muhammadu Buhari. You also have ANPP (All Nigeria Peoples Party), seen basically as a northern Nigeria party, as well as the new PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), which is a break away from the establishment.
What brought all those forces together was the common goal of evicting the Jonathan administration and bringing about the fundamental change that Nigerians so desired. With the eviction of the common enemy, the reality of the differences comes to foreplay – people with divergent thoughts coming into conflict with themselves. The individual ambitions that were inhibited, or hidden by the reality of their existence under a common enemy, came to the open.
So, it is not peculiar to the APC, or Nigeria. In post-apartheid South Africa, there were conflicts within the ANC (African National Congress). Even in the Arab Spring, after the ejection of Gadhafi, or the removal of Mubarak in Egypt, conflicts happened. This is the reality of the situation.
In the course of time, how the party is able to navigate its way through these landmines of individual interests, ambitions and personal goals would determine the survival of the party and its relevance in the Nigerian political scene.
PT: Do you think the APC has handled the crisis well so far?
Sani: The crisis that is most official is the one in the National Assembly. How did we come about this? The mistakes that were made were from the very beginning. After the party won the 2015 election, what the party ought to have done from the first week of that victory should have been to invite all the legislators – the Reps and the Senators – and sit them down and let everyone know what the party was planning to achieve, and let everyone bring his or her own idea.
If the party had put its house in order in a closed-door, there is no way we could have come out with so much rancour. But, all the Senators and Reps were allowed for a whole two months to stay at home and do nothing until two weeks to the election in the National Assembly, before they were called to come and settle our differences. The differences that had existed for almost two months was expected to be sorted out within a day or two. That became impossible because individuals, who had already shown interest in certain positions, had not only made themselves known, but had entrenched themselves. Already, a division was created, and it was so deep to a point where it became impossible for anybody to do anything about it.
There were two contenders in the race for the Senate Presidency –Ahmed Lawan and Bukola Saraki, all seasoned administrators, who have a lot to contribute to the development of the party. Each one of them had also contributed to the victory of the APC at all levels. They are persons who, under normal circumstances, could easily have been be supported by all, but, the very fact that there was no attempt to get people together, and unite them, made things difficult.
On the day of the elections, we got a text message that there would be elections in the National Assembly, as the President had given an order for proclamation. But, that morning we had another text message that the President wanted to see us at the International Conference Centre, ICC. Despite the fact I got the text message, and had also received the earlier message that we should be at the National Assembly, I thought maybe I should go to the ICC because I believed the meeting there was an attempt by the President to reconcile the differences.
But we sat down. At the National Assembly, members’ phones were switched off. Within an hour, we got a report that the elections had taken place in the National Assembly and Saraki had emerged.
When Saraki emerged, we moved from the ICC to the Villa to meet with Mr. President, to say this is why we have come, and this was what happened. He expressed his own displeasure that there was no reconciliation and such things took place in the National Assembly. But, a day after, as far as I am concerned, when he said the process that led to Saraki’s emergence was constitutional, and he was ready to work with him, and had no reason to fight him, I simply had to go along with what the President said.
PT: Obviously, the party dug itself into a ditch. How do you think the party can dig itself out of the hole?
Sani: Yes, the party has gotten itself into a deep hole. It’s like an arrow that got deep into a skin. You don’t pull it off by force. It was easier for members of the House of Representatives to address their problem than the Senate, for two reasons.
One, APC does not have an overwhelming majority in the Senate. The difference we have is about eight senators, or to a certain level seven, because there are some other persons in court. But, in the House of Representatives, there is an overwhelming majority of APC members.
Two, Ekweremadu is now the Deputy Senate President. It is easier to play safe than to try to remove him. The dilemma the party is in now is that that PDP Senators see Ekweremadu as their own representative in the principal officers’ cadre, and because he is there, they do not oppose any motion, bill or anything coming from the Presidency.
If Ekweremadu is removed, though I would want to see APC from beginning to the end, we must be ready to contend with a very potent and angry opposition in the Senate. In the event that we are in need of two-thirds on members to resolve certain issues, we are definitely going to have a problem.
Again, the other problem on Ekweremadu is that the issue has now taken an ethnic colouration. He is being seen as a representative of a section of the country, South East, in the power equation of Nigeria. If he is ejected, there is no way the people in that region would not be provoked to stand up against this administration.
So, those who voted for Ekweremadu to be deputy to the Senate President had gotten the party into a difficult situation.
The only way the party can find a middle way out is to see to it that, despite having eight Senators ahead, how can we work together to see to the success of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. There are a good number of APC Senators that are aggrieved with its leadership. With that division, if one decides now to antagonise the PDP members in the Senate, one can imagine the chaos that is likely to break out there.
PT: Would you say the President on his part has acted right so far in his handling of the crisis?
Sani: The President’s philosophy is that he is for everybody, and for nobody. Clearly, that is the best the President can do in the circumstance. He cannot do otherwise than to seek to work with the National Assembly if he is to succeed in the execution of his programmes, rather than to be bogged down by the problems in the National Assembly.
If the PDP, as the opposition, made a clear statement that they were prepared to see to the success of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, it’s a victory in itself. Nobody in the PDP can dare challenge good programmes that would be of benefit to the socio-economic and political dynamics in Nigeria.
PT: Let’s talk about the alleged forgery of Senate rules. You were of the view that the matter should not have been allowed to degenerate to the extent the Police were allowed to come in. Why do you think that if there was forgery that the Police should not investigate?
Sani: Anybody who decides to go to the police or the court is performing his constitutional duty as a citizen. Anyone has a right to go to court or the police. But, the question is: Would that help the process of reconciliation? Those opposed to reconciliation in the Senate would say ‘since some people have gone to court, let’s wait till the court resolves, while the status quo is maintained.
What the Senate and the National Assembly need is that people should sit down and discuss issues and find solutions to them. Involving the police is constitutionally right, but the question remains: Would it help in bringing about the much needed reconciliation at this time?
If one is living in a house as a tenant, if there is a conflict with your co-tenant, the case could be resolved in two ways – either sit down inside and resolve it, or take it to the police. If you choose one, you cannot go for the other.
That is why I am saying that the case of the House of Representatives was not addressed at the police station. With the intervention of well-meaning Nigerians and the progressive governors, who have gotten themselves involved, a middle ground would be found. But, everyone is waiting now for the police report, and if we continue to wait, when would the police report and the court case be over? Meanwhile, in the Senate there are those who are waiting for the police to bring the report, how do you get them along?
PT: Perhaps, the crisis in the House of Representatives was not as complicated, but there was no case of forgery of any document. Are you saying such a criminal act under our laws should be overlooked?
Sani: I have been in prison for so many years. Nobody can tell me about the consequences of an offence. I have not just been in police station, I have been a prisoner and wore aprisoner uniform. I am telling you the fact that I believe that anyone who wants to go to a police station should go, or to the court. However, if the person goes there, the idea also of sitting down to resolve the problem in a roundtable would certainly be pushed away.
That is the option I talked about. If the police will solve the problem, well and fine. But, for me, I am for the resolution of this crisis through the contending forces of the Unity Forum and the Like Minds sitting down with our national leaders and seeing how we can work together and solve this problem.
PT: Regardless, do you believe at all there was forgery?
Sani: It is difficult for me to know whether there was forgery or not. If you say there was forgery, it means there was an original one and a fake one. When I came to the Senate as a fresher and given a document, and I know that every Senate session has its own documents, and the document I have with me is written the 8th Senate, so those who would know whether the document of the 8th Senate is forged are those who were in the 7th Senate.
PT: But those who were in the 7th Senate, like Senator Ita Enang, who was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, have spoken that the document was forged?
Sani: Yeah, it is good for them. All the people who have spoken have the knowledge. But, what I am saying is that for one to know a document is forged, one has to have the knowledge of the other one. When these senators stood up to say the Senate Rules were forged, they did so because they were in the 7th Senate and knew what they had. I do not have that privilege.
PT: But the rules of the previous Senate are available online or in the library of the National Assembly? Are you saying that it is not important enough all this while for you to take some time, in view of the controversy, to look for them and compare with what you were given?
Sani: What I am saying is this: Let us wait for the police to finish its investigation. If the choices are two, the way to go is for us to sit down and reconcile, or we go to the police. But, if going to the police will solve the problem, then we should wait for the police report.
PT: At a time the whole world was condemning popular comedian, Bill Cosby, over his alleged sexual escapades with women in the United States, here you were busy tweeting that you still loved him. Why did you do that?
Sani: Well, on a lighter mood, I don’t even know who Bill Cosby is, or what he stands for, beyond the fact that he is a popular comedian who has done a lot as a black man from our own race. I believe he has contributed a lot in his field of arts.
You are a journalist today doing your professional duty. If by tomorrow you are caught doing bad things, it would not be said that from the beginning of your life to the end that you have been a bad person.
What I was saying in that aspect was that we should appreciate the contributions he made to the field of art. But, as far as the allegations are concerned, that is his business. I only appreciate the role he has played in arts, not necessarily sharing the condemnable criminal act, which, for now, still remains mere suspicion.
I have told you, I have been an old prisoner for a very long time, and I have learnt to be very cautious in condemning people. Before I went to prison, I used to think that everybody there was a sinner. It was when I went there that I found out that what one was seeing was not the same. Since then, I have learnt not to easily reach a conclusion on an issue that remains an allegation based on suspicion. I prefer a conviction before I make a clear position.
PT: Did you say you were also a sinner when you went to prison?
Sani: Yeah, I have been a political ‘sinner’. Anybody who is taken to court, sentenced to prison and given prison uniform and number is political sinner. I was charged for treason for managing an illegal organisation and sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the government of General Sani Abacha.
PT: Let’s talk about the lawmakers’ salaries and jumbo allowances. What’s your view about the so-called jumbo pay that the lawmakers take, especially now that you are there?
Sani: The Senate is very sensitive to the position and concern of Nigerians over the ‘huge’ sums being spent on our legislators. It was because of that the Senate resolved to set up an ad hoc committee headed by James Manager to look at the issue. What the Senate President did was to make sure that the composition of that committee was made up of people who understand the issue. It was deliberate that he included Senators Dino Melaye, Ben Bruce and myself, so that we would be able to make the necessary changes that would reflect the interest and desires of Nigerians.
At the committee, these issues were tabled and it was generally agreed that we should cut down our salaries to reflect the current state of the country’s economy. We decided to do away with the controversial wardrobe allowance and reduce our pay by 40 or 50 percent.
The report was tabled before the Senate and it was debated in closed session. But the issue raised were not that the Senate dismissed the report completely, but that the Senate cannot take a decision on itself without due consultation with the House of Representatives. If the Senate wanted to cut the salary of its members, they needed to harmonise it with members of House of Representatives, to see how that would reflect generally on all the legislators.
We also needed to consult with people working in the National Assembly that are not politicians, who are simply civil servants. These consultations are very necessary. If the Senate would wake up and say it was cutting its budget by 50 percent, including the staffs of the National Assembly, that would be unfair.
Therefore, the idea was to sit down and harmonise the issues. The last has not been heard yet of the issue, because the Senate is certainly going to come out with a position on the salary that would not in any way impinge on the right of the staff of the National Assembly, and also would be in harmony with what members of the House of Representatives want.
It was generally agreed that the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Committee (RMAFC), who are the ones who fix these salaries and allowances, should make open all entitlements due to a Senator or Members of the House of Representatives.
PT: Did your committee also discuss the illegal allowances that lawmakers take every quarter, which for Senators come to more than N40million?
Sani: No, No No! There is no quarterly allowance any more. It has since been stopped.
PT: When did they stop it?
Sani: In the 7th Senate, there were more resources in the Senate than now. That is why the payments could come in quarters. Now, with the economic situation the country is facing, it was resolved generally that the Senators be paid monthly. Many of the last legislative aides of the 7th Assembly are yet to be paid their entitlements. The agreement we had now was that since the proposed budget was N150 billion, it was cut down to N120 billion. But, now it is also said that it should not simply be a block cutting, but the RMAFC should make it open for all to know those items that would be spent on. It was also generally agreed that those who should speak on the issue, to avoid conflicting positions and versions, should be either Senator James Manager, who is the Chairman of the Committee, or the Chairman of the Information Committee of the Senate, Dino Melaye. We all generally agreed on that. And that is why these two persons were authorised to speak on the issues that have to do with the allowances and the finance of the Senate and public complaint on these issues.
PT: What I can get from your explanation is that it is not as if the allowances were stopped, but that rather than taking the money quarterly, the Senate has now cleverly split the illegal allowances into monthly?
Sani: There is nothing illegal that would happen under President Muhammadu Buhari that he would keep quiet about. There is no way any illegal funds could be paid and the government would simply close his eyes to them. If any payment is made, it must be that it is legitimate. The new order in the country is not one where illegality would be going on without any action being taken.
PT: You said the Senators resolved that their pay be cut. Was it the salary that was cut or allowance?
Sani: What I am saying is that the debate in the committee ended abruptly, because even the issue of allowance could not be thrashed for the fact that somebody brought a point of order that the Senate could not go ahead without a joint sitting with the House of Representatives. By name, a Senator has bigger portfolio than a member of the House of Representatives. But if one looks at it closely, the Senators have five aides, like the House of Representatives. The difference is in what grade level the RMAFC gives to a Senator and member of the House of Representatives, which is less than five percent.
One would be able to speak authoritatively after the harmonization of the issues. For now, only those two persons were authorised to speak on the issue.
PT: You are now talking like a politician, now that you are on the other side. As an activist, you once agreed that these allowances were illegal. What has really changed?
Sani: No, when you say an illegality is happening, you are indicting the government that an illegality is happening and nothing is being done. And if you say an activist, who was once one of you, if I am one of you, you would not be asking me questions now. You are asking me a question about an issue you do not know, and I am answering you. If you have the question and the answer, then you do not need to ask. What I told you is a narrative and not simply an opinion.
PT: So, how much do you earn as a Senator?
Sani: What I earn as a Senator is there in the National Assembly – only N1.2 or N1.3 million.
PT: Does this include allowances?
Sani: That is the salary. If you are talking about the allowances, the chart given by the RMAFC is the fact of what it is. If the RMAFC gives you N20 to pay rent, the only item you cannot present a receipt for is the salary.
PT: The Senate is on holidays again. Why are you people always on holidays? Is there no work to do? Committees are not even in place?
Sani: If I was not in the Senate, these are issues I would have mobilised the people to the National Assembly to protest. Why our Senators should be earning such jumbo salaries and simply going on recess. But, now, since I came into the Senate I was provided with a legislative calendar, which is statutory. There are periods the legislators can work and times they can go on recess. Except we will jettison that legislative calendar, there is nothing anyone can do. The legislative calendar is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is normal for every parliament around the world. When they say Senators have gone on recess, it is the plenary; sitting in the Chamber and raising motions and passing bills. Going on recess does not mean that the committee work would stop, or the processes of the motions and bills that were put forward. All the offices are always open, and Senators who were appointed into committees are still there working. It is not that the whole National Assembly is shut down for the next six weeks.
PT: But, how can you reconcile your explanation that the Senators continue to work while on recess, with the reality that there are no committees in place and no public hearings?
Sani: Well, I expect journalists to speak in a more informed position than I do. There are few committees in place – on aviation, works, information, power, which will keep the Senators busy within this period of recess. We must understand that the standing committees will be in place by the time the Senators are back.
PT: In your constituency and home state, you seem to have some friction with your governor and friend, El Rufai. What is really happening?
Sani: What is going on in Kaduna State is not personal, but more ideological, particularly the way our people are treated and governance is going on. I wanted to contest the governorship of the state in 2015. I opened offices in the three senatorial zones of the state. Later, there were pressures on me to step down by people who said there was a preferred candidate, who was Nasir El Rufai. I listened to them and stepped down. I went on to contest for the Senate. But, there was incumbent Senator, that contested the primaries, and I ejected him, by winning the ticket.
Nasir did not contest against an APC governor. He contested with others who were also not governors and won. Nasir and Isa Ashiru were the two major contenders out of the five that contested the primaries with Nasir. Nasir got about 1,600 votes in the primaries from the three senatorial zones. I got over 920 votes from one senatorial district. If I had contested the governorship, he could not have beaten me.
I contested the Senatorial election and won. And the two gubernatorial candidates all have their preferred senatorial candidates. Nasir had his own preferred senatorial candidate, who was the incumbent, General Sani, whom I removed.
The other candidate also had another preferred candidate, Sani Suleiman, the former local government chairman. One can see that the two gubernatorial candidates had their own senators they want to work with. And I combined both Nasir and his opponent and thrashed all of them in the election.
I told them that I was going to win this seat without giving anybody any kobo. I challenge any politician in Kaduna under APC to come and say that he did not give people money to win elections in the state.
Having won the primaries and general elections, we decided to say let’s work together for the success of the party. I won my senate elections before Nasir won his gubernatorial elections. After the victory, Nasir set up a transition committee and put all the other senators, and even the senatorial candidate who lost the elections, without my name there. I had to draw his attention to that omission. As a sitting senator, there is no way a transition committee would be set up without my name there.
He said it was an oversight and assured me that my name would be included. During his inauguration and swearing in, I was there. We went round during the campaigns. After he won, it came to the point of sharing positions, he asked me to send the list of my people for appointment, which I did. But he threw the list away and decided to allocate some Commissioners to the other senator representing zone 1, and from my zone, he gave it to the person I defeated in the primaries. Even my local government, no appointment, not even a councillor was considered.
Will Nasir El-Rufai be happy for the President to giving appointment to the person he defeated in primary elections without consulting him? Will he be happy for the President of our country to be asking his opponent to give the list of ministerial and Board appointments, only for it to be thrown away?
So, what he was doing was simply gathering opposition and empowering people who are determined to fight me. He never knew that I am an old fighter. He said he is stubborn, but he cannot be more stubborn than a person who spent so many years in jail. I believe Nasir’s men came to the political scene in 1999, whereas I have been in the trenches even before anybody heard of Nasir’s name. You go back to Abacha and Babangida eras and see how we stood up against military dictatorship and tyranny.
Kaduna is a place I was born, live and won my election. I never lived in Abuja. All my family are in Kaduna. There is no street in Kaduna that I don’t know people and people do not know me. Since 1998, when we came out of prison, I have never stepped out of Kaduna for more than one week. So, one can see how entrenched I am there. That is why I said I will win election without giving anybody any kobo. And people never believed. But, by God’s grace it happened. I did.
With all these appointments Nasir did, he had simply drawn a line for the first issue. The second issue is the way he is running Kaduna State since he took over. First, he appointed about seven party executives into his government, namely the state Chairman of the party, who is now the deputy governor; State secretary, who is a Commissioner; the auditor, also a Commissioner; assistant Legal Adviser, now also a Commissioner; Financial Secretary, organising Secretary, now the Chairman, Publicity Secretary, Auditor, ex-officio members are all Chairmen of local government councils.
You don’t do things like that and expect people to keep quiet. You must separate the party from the government. Effectively today, in Kaduna there is no APC executive, because all members of the executive are in Nasir’s cabinet.
Three, on the issue of demolitions, I could not have said anything if Nasir said he was recovering lands from hospitals, schools, and the affected persons have been given alternative lands or where to go. When you see a house, one is talking about the entire family, consisting husband, wife, children, grandchildren and livelihood tied to the family.
Nasir simply gave them two weeks to vacate before sending bulldozers to pull down everything. Abuja of 2007 is definitely not the same thing as Kaduna 2015. In a democracy, whatever you want to do people must be carried along.
Now, Nasir sent bulldozers to demolish houses belonging to families, rendering them homeless, particularly women and children, who were scattered everywhere. Nasir does not know Kaduna, because he has spent so much time in Abuja to the point that he does not know what Kaduna is about. He does not know the sensitivity of those places, and the problem that action is going to generate.
Most of these people were given their land papers by the previous administration. Nasir says he has brain. But, all animals that have brains have hearts. But only human beings have a human heart. You met a people that were impoverished , destroyed, exploited and demoralised by the PDP in the last 16 years, and at one go, out of all the policies and programmes in the whole world on health, education, jobs and empowerment, for Nasir, what is priority is demolition of houses belonging to the people. I told him that that is not going to work in Kaduna. You demolish in Abuja and get away with it, where you have rich and power people, who most of them must have built their houses from questionable means, but not in Kaduna, a rural state where people are struggling to survive. Here people are prepared to die for their family land.
After he did that in Zaria, he has not been able to do the same in Kaduna, because people rose up to resist it.
On the hawkers, students of political science and political economy would know that whatever policy direction is taking place, one must decide which side one belongs. Nasir belongs to the ultra-conservative rightist reactionary group. They are for privatization, elite, bourgeois and bourgeois reforms and capitalist ideas. They see people as statistics for GNP (gross national product) and GDP (gross domestic product). Nasir is a man, who, all his life, has espoused capitalist ideas and conservative rightist philosophy. I am from the political left, rooted with the masses. In all our ideas, we are concerned about how we can carry the people along.
The hawkers we see on the roads are the by-products of an exploitative and repressive socio-economic system to which the likes of Nasir El Rufai have propagated all the years. You don’t address the problem of beggars by packing them in a vehicle and sending them to their state of origin. The same people in the North who cried that Lagos, Port Harcourt and other states in South were throwing away beggars are the ones now doing same in Kaduna.
For me, before one takes an action there must be an alternative. For those he demolished their houses, he never gave them an option. For the beggars he sent out of the streets, he never gave them an alternative means of livelihood, by giving them capital to start their business. All the three attempts he has made have failed. The beggars are back in the streets. The hawkers are back to business. His demolition cannot proceed. This is to show you that if that policy was actually in the best interest of the people, they could have been effective.
You cannot have dirty underwear and lock it up in a cupboard and say you have solved the problem. You are deceiving yourself. You have to wash it.
PT: The concern really has to do with reports that the beggars have allowed themselves to be used by insurgents throwing bombs and causing security concerns.
Sani: The insurgents do not use beggars and hawkers. A man who is determined to kill himself uses suicide bombers, not beggars. If you say a leper, cripple or blind man is a suicide bomber, I think you are being unfair to the person.
But, the truth is that Nasir had since apologised to the people for calling them that. He said he did not mean it. He ate his words. If he takes them to the rehabilitation centre, is he going to feed them? And where is the rehabilitation centre in Kaduna? There is nowhere in Kaduna that I do not know. He can talk about Wuse, Apo, Nyanya, Games Village and other places in Abuja. But Kaduna is our city, nobody can deceive us. We are the sons of the soil. If you come to Kaduna, you must respect the sensitivity of people’s life.
PT: But, if government does not offend the people, how can it carry out reforms and effect the desired change?
Sani: You can achieve that. I want him to succeed. I am not being personal about it. It pains me to see people in Kaduna praising the former governor of the state. Many PDP people that we defeated and ought not to be moving round, are the ones that are being hailed in mosques in Zaria.
PT: If you were a governor, what would you have done differently on the issue?
Sani: If I were governor, I would recognise that the problem is systemic, as a result of an oppressive, repressive and exploitative socio-economic system. What should I do to remove the people from this system? If you are a hawker, I will know that you have interest in trade, I will find out how I can move you from being a hawker to being a trader and shop owner, rather than clearing you from the streets. I will take statistics of those affected and see how the government can assist them with capital for them to grow.
What Nasir is doing is what a typical elitist reactionary bourgeois would do – to clear those by-products of the system from the streets and give a semblance of normalcy, development and growth. He is simply hiding the problem, rather than solving it. Anybody who comes to Kaduna and sees no beggars and traders on the streets would go away with the false impression that everybody is comfortable. That is not my interpretation of solving the problem. You can get the beggars out of the streets by helping them to grow their businesses. It is because his approach is wrong that the people are resisting.
PT: You sound as if he had integrated you in his government or asked you to ‘come and chop’, this crisis would not have been?
Sani: I don’t know whether his government is that of chopping. But, for now I can say that I am not interested in any of my men joining his cabinet. The philosophy he has and the road he has taken is not the one I will, for now, want to take. I thought from the beginning he will take cognizance of the fact that we won this election after a hard fought battle, because Kaduna is not 100 percent APC. We have only two senators from APC, and the one from southern Kaduna from PDP. So any attempt by anyone to joke with this balance is going to be catastrophic. So, that is why I am speaking out for the underprivileged and the down trodden.
PT: Recently, you were reported to have bought Army Recruitment forms for about 190 youths from your constituency, and some people said you were quietly building your own army for the future. How do you react to this?
Sani: This is something he (Nasir) should have done and not necessarily me. Part of my programmes is to assist young people. If forms are being sold for anything, I have resolved to use what I have to buy forms for them.
PT: But, why did you not buy JAMB forms for admission into universities for them?
Sani: I bought so many JAMB forms for them. The moment it is made open, I will certainly buy for them. In the next four years, any form that is available, as far as it is employment, I will buy. My role is to facilitate the process and not for any other purpose than that.
PT: On what condition can reconciliation be achieved between you and Nasir? Sani: I do not need to sit on the same table with him. If he starts doing things right, which our people will be comfortable with, I will never speak a word again against him. But, I don’t believe that when he says because we are from the same party that I should not talk. We are not a secret society. I should be able to speak my mind.
Sir, science capacity building is essential for effective long-term development of a nation. A recent research puts Nigeria’s scientific literacy below 10%. This is way below what is required in the 21st century. Yet, one must also admit that there is a high degree of cultural and religious misconceptions about Science. In most schools, teaching science has converted from exciting student’s curiosity to become thinkers, to a dictation of science stories, which many students often consider stories of magic, miracles or myth. These factors strongly hinder the curiosity of students to be open to new discoveries and enjoy the fascination and excitement in science.
I have previously written to you after your electoral victory about the need to change this trend by supporting and promoting science as one of the goals towards long-term national development (See http://leadership.ng/features/428456/a-letter-to-president-elect-general-muhammadu-buhari). Today, I write to reiterate on my previous propositions and to plead specifically with you to consider some qualities for your proposed Ministers for Health, Education and Science and Technology. To begin with, I belong to a group of continental scientists under the umbrella of TReND in Africa (www.trendinafrica.org), who since 2011, have voluntarily supported Africa, mostly Nigeria, with laboratory equipment, free summer courses for scientists and teachers, and science outreach programmes. I mainly belong to the outreach team, through which we have run dozens of school outreach activities, educated thousands of students in Nigeria and other African countries. I also did my studies up to the undergraduate level in Nigeria, and now doing my Ph.D. in Neuroscience in the UK. Hence, I am relatively familiar with the current state of our Education, Scientific Research and Health.
Sir, considering the significance of the education sector, your education Minister should be in-touch with the disparity between the education system in the West and Africa, have definite answer on how to minimize or tackle this vast gap; should be tough and ready to fight indiscipline and corruption. Evidence from our events shows that students readily respond to our outreach strategies and often asked questions that only future scientific discoveries could answer. This clearly demonstrates the curiosity within young Nigerians, which if properly utilised can ignite a generation of talented scientists. Let me also stress that scientific research to diseases has gone increasingly molecular, informing why in the West, young students are taught at the earliest stage about cutting-edge sciences. An obvious example is the case of Krtin Nithiyanandam – a 15-year old British schoolboy who recently developed a test that could diagnose Alzheimer’s disease ten years before symptoms appear.
This demonstrates the high level at which the system in the West grooms students to become thinkers at a very young age. Nigeria should be ready to develop similar strategies, such as the introduction of science fair project into our school curricula. With the support of the University of Sussex and Cambridge, UK Biochemical and Physiological Societies, TReND’s outreach team is set to launch a project through which selected primary and secondary schools in North-eastern Nigeria will get free microscope and low-cost equipment for measuring electromyogram in science teaching. Such approaches would potentiate the development of future scientists that can challenge the numerous scientific problems facing Africa. These equipment are affordable; nothing, therefore, prevents the education sector from ensuring that our schools are well equipped for hands-on science teaching. Another aspect bordering on our science is the emphasis on curricula theoretical rather than practical education from primary school to the university. This has to be modified by employing state-of-the-art approaches for teaching.
I have previously written on the dilemma of Discrimination, Inadequacy, Corruption and Sabotage (DICS) in the academia. Many institutions condone discrimination, corruption and sabotage in dealing with research funding made available to schools. Despite the TETFund intervention, evidence suggests that some schools have failed to provide the most basic subscription to online journals. Others have resorted to award research support only to family and friends. These have strongly affected the zeal of motivated scientists, setting back the little progress made. Moreover, the funds presently made available for research development in institutions are inadequate compared to what is obtainable in other places. Some modern day laboratory equipment needed to run standard experiment cost millions of Naira, while some reagents required for a single experiment cost hundreds of thousands. Hence, the success of standard scientific research is largely dependent on support fund. This need to be increased many folds and the way and manner of allocation should be through on time and rigorous unbiased peer review process. All these demand proficient, competent and trutsworthy representatives in the educational sector, who would recommend and guide robust policy decisions, while adapting to changes and reforms.
Sir, history has shown us that the advancement in science is a panacea to development in other sectors of the society. While we have many indigenous talented scientists at home and abroad, they need the right science infrastructure if their talents is to be harnessed towards nation building. A clear example is a recent phenomenal discovery made by the Professor Isa Hussaini’s laboratory at the University of Maiduguri. Hussaini’s team made an in-depth research which identified Nigerians medicinal plants that demonstrated strong anti-cancer properties in vitro, way better than the currently used cancer drugs. If they replicate their findings in animal and human trial, this would be a big boost to the reputation of Nigeria, considering that cancer is a notorious disease affecting millions worldwide. Sir, there is no argument to the fact that developed nations prioritize scientific research. The United States and the United Kingdom for instance invest billions of dollars towards research per annum. Nigeria needs a Minister in the science area that would be willing and would go the extra mile in listening to, and supporting ingenious scientists. Being that science is a multifaceted field, there is also a need to have science advisers that can provide guidance on different aspects of the discipline. These advisers should be selected not just based on their integrity, but their knowledge and experience, which can be easily accessed by their international publications, influence and contributions.
It is also important to draw your attention to the numerous challenges in Nigeria’s Health sector, the topmost being the absence of proper patient care facilities and lack of state-of-the-art equipment for diagnosis of diseases. The near absence of scientific research on diseases has exacerbated this problem. Hospitals are supposed to serve not only as beds for treatment but also as centres where significant research into causes and cure for diseases are done. This is a common practice in developed countries of the world, and I think we have what it takes to pursue and have same. Your recent policy initiative to convert some hospital to oncology centres is a commendable and promising step towards reforming the system. What is crucial now is for these centres to be home for intense research between basic and medical scientists in the quest to advance aspects that border on understanding the cause, management and cure of cancer. Furthermore, understanding diseases and finding cures is a collective effort between basic and medical scientists. The inherent rift between these two groups of professionals should also be tactically addressed in a way that conflict would be replaced with cohesion and harmonious working relationship. I have previously written about this unwarranted institutional discord (See http://leadership.ng/news/408473/rift-medics-asic-scientists-nigeria). The lamentable state of this is seriously affecting our health research, as it hinders collaboration between basic scientists and the medics. Respect and cooperation between both are important, as they must collaborate for any proper research to be successful. An obvious example is the cancer discovery made in the Isa Hussaini’s laboratory. Professor Isa Hussaini is a Pharmacologist, and his team is comprised of Medical doctors, Surgeons, pharmaceutical Chemists, Pharmacognosists and medicinal Herbalist. This indicates the clear benefit of collaboration, and why respect and collaboration between the basic scientists and the medics is imperative. Sir, I urge you thus to nominate a very competent, research-minded and reputable Minister in the health sector who is capable of mending this rift and support the upgrade of our hospitals and restore discipline in the system.
Sir, based on all these, integrity and patriotism should not only be the selection criteria for your Ministers in the Health, Science and Technology and Education sectors. Excellence, reputation and exposure to contemporary advancement across the globe should also be part of this criteria. I quote Christopher Bond who said “Advances in technology will continue to reach far into every sector of our economy. Future job and economic growth in industry, defence, transportation, agriculture, healthcare, and life sciences is directly related to scientific advancement.”
Mahmoud Bukar Maina is TReND’s Coordinator for Outreach, a Ph.D. Neuroscience Student at the University of Sussex, UK
Chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, Mr. Elias Mbam, disclosed yesterday that the Commission had started the process of trimming down the pay packages of the President, Senators, members of the House of Representatives, governors and all the elected public officials to reflect current economic realities.
Speaking with journalists after meeting President Muhammadu Buhari, the RMAFC Chairman said that no federal lawmaker received N1 million monthly as salary, adding that their salaries would be pruned down to reflect the current economy status.
Asked whether the parliamentarians would give a nod to the idea, the Chairman said it was a constitutional mandate, which no one should argue about.
He said: “We are here to brief the President on the activities of the commission, the challenges and the way forward.
“The President advised us to ensure that we use all legitimate means to ensure all public office holders take home remuneration as determined by the commission and also block all leakages.
“We have done a lot in informing the public on the true position of the remuneration packages. It is on our website; it is clearly written there and we have published these remuneration packages in many national dailies several times.
“We have also had interactions with the press at different fora.
“What we read on the pages of newspapers is not known to the commission because there is no member of the National Assembly, based on what we determined, who earns up to N1 million per month.
“Presently, we are reviewing the subsisting remuneration packages and it is going to reflect the socio-economic realities of today. We expect that before the end of next month, it will be ready.
“When I talk of packages, the responsibility of the commission is to determine the remuneration for political office holders, both elected and appointed, from the national level to the local government level.
“Of course, National Assembly members are elected. It will include them, it will include the judiciary, it will include the state legislature, executive and of course, the local government will be included.
“Recently, the oil price dropped. Many government agencies, the states and local governments have not been able to pay their salaries. These are some of the issues that made it necessarily to review it. It did not start with this administration; we started the review as far back as last year. It is not because of the present administration that we commenced it.
“They do not have a choice. We are guided by the constitution and we are going to be guided by such laws that are provided for in the constitution and the oath they swore to obey the laws of the country.”
Mbam, who recounted the challenges of the Commission to include insufficient funding, urged the authorities to amend the Act setting it up to grant its financial independence.
Asked when the new revenue sharing formula would be ready, the chairman said it was beyond his power to comment on.
He said: “One of the challenges is that the commission is not properly funded and we are saying that we expect that the commission should be one of the agencies of government that should have financial autonomy.
“The best way to do that is to include it as one of the agencies that will benefit from first line charge.
“The second is to give the commission the power of enforcement. They should review the Act establishing the commission so that it can have power of enforcement and sanctions on any of the defaulting MDAs.”
Much of the routine criticisms of Nigerian politics has to do with the seeming of absence of ideas and ideology in organising political competition and contestation for public office from where service can be rendered a population desperate for leadership so as to realise the promise of a great African modern nation state. It is useful therefore to situate the current campaign against corruption and buildup of consequence management in public life in Nigeria, in that context.
Something about the mood of the moment, in spite of those who as usual suggest the anti-corruption crusade may be targeting more of the opposition, suggest the a refrain from a hymn I have chanted for a quarter is finally beginning to resonate among a broad part of the population. Corruption is far beyond good cop, bad guys moral issue. It has indeed crippled the possibilities of progress in this land of great potential. But today it is desired to bring to the fore how that has harmed the place of ideas in politics and governance.
First, too many people in Nigeria have either lived in denial about the extent and effect of corruption; wish it away as a moral issue divorce from performance outcomes or seen it as nitpicking by those ‘unfortunate’ to be outside the arena of ‘chopping’ and so should want their turn for God to butter their bread. But the cost is so high and stirs us in the face all the time. Among the points I raise on this score is how it shapes perception of national character with costly consequences for our economy and the dignity of the Nigerian travelling around the World.
This denial on our side has not changed our reality and how we are seen. I often draw from the opening paragraph of a book on corruption and development in Africa by Kempe Ronald Hope Snr. and Bornwell Chikulo. Those first lines of the book suggest that corruption runs the range in Africa, from rare, in Botwana, to widespread in Ghana and systemic in Nigeria, tells a sad story.
I like also to recall an encounter with American investigative journalism great, Mike Wallace, while I was on sabbatical leave, writing a book on uncertainty and strategy in emerging economies, in 1996, in the United States. Wallace in an interview with Nation of Islam leader, Loius Farrakhan, challenged Farrakhan with questionable associations, industry visiting, in his words, the most corrupt country in the world, Nigeria.
I thought the reporting unfair and sent a fax to CBSTV expressing surprise that a thorough bred like Wallace would violate a law laid up for would be journalists in Journalism 101 classes, care with the use of superlatives. Mr. Wallace on receipt of the feedback called me and suggested that sometimes hyperbole is used to make a point. He noted that Nigeria had disappointed many who wished it well by allowing corruption to cripple it. He said he had come to Nigeria in 1970 to interview the Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and presented an optimistic story about the coming of the first black power. He said corruption had prevented Nigeria from claiming that promise. I insisted that even though his observations on corruption were not inappropriate it was still unfair tarring all with same brush.
I said to him, I am a Nigerian and have served in government at a presidential advisory level, in industry as an executive of a multinational in manufacturing, in thought leadership and journalism as columnist, and at the time in academia and I could state with certitude that I had never asked or received a bribe in my life and I was sure there were many Nigerians better cultured than I.
Wallace expressed a wish he could correct the impressions and return to Nigeria with me and do such a story but regretted that in those Abacha days he could not expect to leave Nigeria alive after the stories with the hidden cameras and policemen extorting money on the streets now compounded by the Farrakhan interview.
The bigger irony of that encounter was that I had told Wallace I was a member of the board of the Transparency International, Nigeria, as it was in those days. Barely a few months after the encounter Transparency International published its first corruption index and Nigeria came out the most corrupt country of those surveyed in the world, in the perception of the businessmen surveyed. Wallace could then have been justified in his use of superlatives.
With these images dogging Nigeria from corruption one would expect it to be a central issue in how social, economic and political reforms are engage in Nigeria. But this has not been quite so until recently because the market place of ideas has been the arena of a few civil society types shouting themselves hoarse on the matter. The powerful, who profited from the corrupt and corrupted order, somehow were successful in tagging the anti-corruption crusaders as impractical iconoclasts or even freaks angry with the world. So the mainstream saw the crusading with the bemused understanding reserved for those who have growing up to do.
For me the big challenge is in the effect corruption has on allowing for the flow of ideas that improve policy choice and reduces the extent of iatrogenic choices where the policies do more damage to the patient than the original problem policy intervened to solve.
Who are the kinds of people that engage in debates in the electioneering campaign process and how are they funded. No doubt just as people complain of the role of lobbyists in many more mature democracies we can complain about the place of corruption in determining share of voice. The bigger part of the problem is that many people of ideas, who could enrich the process, exit the arena, which for me is fleeing citizenship, but it is hard to be too hard on them.
The bottom-line outcome is that the system is denied a body of ideas that can lead to consistency of superior ideas for progress. It is even more in the choice of political association and body of ideas, as ideology, that the trouble with corruption does even greater harm. Many move from one party to the other; opposition to ruling and back, if there is change.
In pursuit of the gains of being close to power in the ruling party, some of those crisscrossing blur what the parties represent. If the lure of corruption were not there the tendency would be for belief systems to orient how and who people associate with. It would therefore be easier for people of ideas to coalesce into followers of approaches on how to organise society in advance of the common good.
The lack of ideological movements make recruitment into political parties more challenging for people motivated by more than just raw power has meant that our society cannot find the right footing for sustainable growth.
As we hear the speculations on how bad things got with abuse of the commonwealth, it has become clearer that if we had a proper market place of ideas, parties that were based on an articulated view of how human progress is made, things would not have gotten as bad as they have become.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship, is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.
Not a few Nigerians have reacted to the comment of fiery cleric Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, on President Muhammadu Buhari’s resolve to bring to justice those who plundered the nation’s wealth. In the article below, Moses Akinola Makinde, a professor of Philosophy and Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Letters (FNAL), feels such remark shouldn’t have come from a respected Nigerian in the mould of the former Secretary-General of Catholic Secreatriat.
No case of corruption against Jonathan–Kukah” (Punch August 17, 2015, p.19). Concerning a probe that is yet to take off, the above statement was not a hypothetical, but most certainly a categorical assertion (of sureness and certainty) by Bishop Hassan Matthew Kukah, the Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Sokoto. It was Bishop Kukah’s definitive – though imaginary- judgment before a possible judgment on Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and others, whose involvement in the looting of Nigeria’s treasury is common knowledge. Either a probe or an investigation? The one shares the same connotation with the other. Talking of any difference between both, as Kukah might think, is a terminological howler.
Our Roman Catholic cleric spoke eloquently on the Channels Television’s evening and morning programmes respectively on August 12 and 13. I was baffled at the palpably incoherent presentation of what the Peace Committee, headed by Gen. Abubakar Abdulsalami (rtd), had asked Kukah to disseminate to the general public. After introducing him, in glee, as the spokesperson for the Committee, Kukah began to speak as if he was afraid of something. He kept on repeating himself, saying one thing and then another, changing or correcting his previous statement up and down like yoyo, thus getting trapped in what is known in logical parlance, as contradictory supposition. The reason for this was obvious. He wanted to hoodwink the public that the committee was in support of Buhari’s anti-graft campaign that will enable his administration to recover every public fund looted from the treasury and, if found guilty as charged, prosecute them according to the laws of the land.
On the other hand, and from the other side of the mouth, he spoke as if he was denying his feigned support against corruption but then said, that a probe was unnecessary and that President Buhari should not waste his time on his anti-corruption agenda “at the expense of providing good governance for the country”.
Despite the identified $11 trillion allegedly stolen from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) alone (see Punch, & Nation 17 August, 2015, front pages 1 & 2) and many trillions from others yet-to-be named government agencies under former President Jonathan’s administration, Kukah spoke as if he was “charged” or under a spell, in favour of the looters. He was almost pleading that Jonathan and his disciples should be left alone or given soft landings. In fact, he said that President Buhari, who got into power through his vigorous campaigns against corruption should stop his anti-graft crusade and put aside probes (which he prefers to call investigation) and, instead, face the business of governance, as if fighting greed, lawlessness, corruption, impunity and all other vices that characterised Jonathan’s administration which brought Nigeria to this sorry mess are not, indeed, the beginning of good governance, or that the woeful economy handed over by Jonathan to Buhari is something that we should hail and not deal with decisively once and for all, if the present administration is to ever start off on a reasonably strong footing. Or, he meant that Buhari should go on with the kind of crude governance that consisted mainly of looting, dishing out of oil money in hard currency to selected Nigerians, including clerics and rented protesters while the Jonathan “governance” lasted. Even right now, there are rumours that a lot of stolen money are kept in huge, “golden” vaults underground of some of the looters’ mansions (see Chukwudi Emekwedu, “The alleged hiding of stolen funds in private homes” (Daily Sun, August 20, p19).
Now, people have said that the Peace Committee was fronting for Jonathan when they visited Buhari in Aso Rock Villa on August 11, following Jonatan’s previous meeting with the President also at the Presidential Villa on August 6.
At the Peace Committee meeting with Buhari, Kukah had defended Jonathan and his ministers against Buhari’s intended probe by making his second categorical assertion that, after all, “there are no charges against President Jonathan or anybody for that matter”.
Yes, there have not been charges. But, trillions of dollars had been identified as stolen under Jonathan’s watch as president, and this is why a probe or investigation is absolutely necessary. And this is why Kukah, as a man of God, should have praised Buhari to high heavens over his intended probe. But then, Kukah would not have any of what he called “lynching” of Jonathan. Rather, he wanted everybody to just go to sleep and forget everything about the ugly past and let the sleeping dogs lie after many Nigerians had lost their lives as a result of Jonathan’s mismanagement of the nation’s economy. Yet, Kukah wanted the looters to be left to enjoy their stolen wealth, irrespective of who had died, are dying and will die as a result of the looting of the people’s money. Kukah is even predicting that it might be Buhari’s fate of looting the nation’s treasury “tomorrow”, which means he does not trust Buhari’s avowed discipline, incorruptibility and transparency for one second, but harping on the over beaten “spectacular benefit” of a spectacularly defeated President, handing over power, as if that is not the normal thing to do in a civilised democracy unless of course, our own is a morbid democracy in a primitive society.
He (Kukah) said: “What everybody should focus on is that it might be Jonathan today, and we don’t have a case against Jonathan on the table. Even if we do, this public lynching is not going to help anybody. Nobody knows whether when Buhari steps aside, he might face the same thing. What we are talking about is that we are not in a military regime, we are in a democracy. Even if we are going to go into probe, it is not a substitute for governance, and we are interested in the fact that every sane Nigerian must be conscious of the fact that it might be another person today and might be you tomorrow.
“And I think that we should not become so preoccupied with Jonathan to the extent that we forget the spectacular benefit that we gained under his presidency. Politics has ended and now is the time for governance.”
If I may add to Kukah’s statements, “not the time for probe and recovery of trillions of dollars of people’s money looted by Jonathan and members of his infamous administration.” But, this is precisely what the electorate who had voted Buhari into power, wanted him to do with all the ammunition at his disposal – to recover every kobo stolen, without remainder, and bring the looters to the book of punishments.
I believe the All Progressives Congress (APC’s) publication of more than $11 trillion stolen by the Jonathan administration from just one of the many agencies is mind-boggling enough. Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s revelation (The Punch & The Nation, August 17, 2015, front & p2) was an appropriate response to Matthew Kukah’s gesture as supported by his rremarks. It is for the same reason that the highly revered Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, told Buhari to “go after the looters, prosecute and send them to jail” (Punch, August 18, front page) and quickly followed by The Nation’s editorial titled: “Sultan’s Salvo” (The Nation, August 20, p.19). It is also in response to Kukah’s attempt to find a soft landing for Jonathan and his followers that Buhari, in anger, vowed to “resist pressure on the anti-graft war” (The Punch, August 18, front page) and to “seek fearless judges to try looters” (The Punch, August 17, 2015) for which he is to “set up special courts in each state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for looters” (The Nation, Sunday, August 22, front page & p3). It is also in a response to Kukah that Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and others “urged Kukah not to obstruct loot recovery” (The Nation, August 18, pp 14 & 58). Even Malam Nuhu Ribadu, the former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chief, backed Buhari on the recovery of looted funds, claiming that by punishing those looters, “Buhari would have solved the problems of Nigeria”. (New Telegraph, August 20, pages 5 & 11). For Gen Oladipo Diya (rtd), “the only opportunity, which must not be lost, to salvage Nigeria of corruption is through President Buhari’s administration” (Silverbird T.V, 10pm, August 23) while for former President Olusegun Obasanjo, “there is no alternative to Buhari or his leadership style at this peculiar period of the country’s life” (The Nation, August 23, p4).
Right now, some people are already thinking of probing those kicking against the probing of looters. For those crying about selective probes, it is important to let them know that the present probes affect mainly the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its corrupt administration under President Jonathan. I do not see how anybody, who was not in Jonathan’s government or its beneficiaries, could be a candidate for the ongoing probes, and certainly not the APC, Labour Party (LP) or All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), whose members had no access to the nation’s treasury, let alone looting it.
And it is known to the ordinary man on the street that the Buhari’s fight against corruption is economic and not political. Perhaps the probe should be extended to the National Assembly which consists of different political parties.
Now, it appears the die is cast and looters, small or big, no matter how highly placed in the Jonathan’s administration, must face the music and realise that they cannot escape justice, hoping that some commercial clerics will not be caught in the looting bazaar.
After all, some of them had prayed and boasted that God would not allow Buhari to become President. But God did not answer their prayers. Instead, He installed Buhari as a divinely ordained popular President in a grand style!
Right now, Buhari does not need the hypocritical advices and prayers of clerics, who preach morality in the morning and break it at noon!
When everything is considered, we believe that Bishop Kukah spoke for members of the Peace Committee, which means he was not acting alone. After introducing Kukah as the person to speak on behalf of the Peace Committee by Gen Abdulsalami, we may now ask a legitimate question: was Kukah on his own while he was delivering the cruel message, supposedly for the Peace Committee, to the public on Channels Television on August 12 and 13, and which has been repeated several times since then? This question is in need of an answer, just in case Kukah turned out to be a mere scapegoat, but nevertheless a scapegoat that deserves serious bashing. When all is said, we believe that the duties of the so-called Peace Committee should have ended after the inauguration of President Buhari on May 29, and should not have been extended to the aftermath of “war” to the extent that the committee took undue advantage of its continued existence to canvass a soft landing for Jonathan and his ministers over a serious matter that had gone beyond the shores of Nigeria – yes, serious matters, like looting of the treasury that belongs to all Nigerians, young and old, majority of whom had given Buhari the strong and irreversible mandate to rule and with the high expectation that he would fight corruption to a standstill or in his own words, kill corruption before it kills Nigeria!
Prof Makinde is the Director General/Chief Executive Officer,
Awolowo Centre for Philosophy, Ideology and Good Governance, Osogbo in Osun State.
Kukah’s comment that stirred the hornet’s nest
After the meeting of the Gen. Abubakar Abdulsalami-led Peace Committee parley with President Muhammadu Buhari, spokesman of the committee, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, briefed State House reporters on the mission of the group to the seat of power.
He said the committee was not at the State House to plead for former President Goodluck Jonathan, even as he confirmed that the committee had earlier met the the immediate past leader.
According to him, the committee also met with Senate President Bukola Saraki and had plans to seek audience with House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
He described the sessions as ‘a hearing-out process.’
“We gave a bit of update about the relevance of the Peace Committee itself and how we can help to nurture what God has given to us. Anybody is free to come to our committee but President Jonathan never by telephone or another means talked to the committee. We went to see him, but that was after we had already seen members of the political party, members of the civil society; we plan to see the Speaker because we couldn’t see him yesterday.
“This is a very planned series of interventions essentially just to hear out everybody and I think the good news is that Nigerians are committed to a new nation. They are committed to ensuring that the gains and blessings God has given us come to fruition.
“This is not an intervention. It is a hearing out process. When we had election, it was like a wedding, now the reality of government is the marriage and people need to be encouraged. We need to reaffirm that this is our country and the only thing we can collectively be opposed to is injustice, inequity, corruption and in that regard we all had one single conversation.
“The President has also reaffirmed the need for this committee to continue and the international committee has very much welcomed the contributions of the committee. Essentially we are not policing, but when the need arises, we will help to build confidence in the process.
“It is not heating up the polity. In our conversation with former President Jonathan and members of the parties, I don’t think any Nigerian is in favour of corruption or is against the President’s commitment to ensuring that we turn a new leaf. I think what we are concerned about is the process. It is no longer a military regime and under our existing laws, everybody is innocent until proven guilty.
“Again, our own commitment is not to intimidate or fight anybody. The former President’s commitment and what he did still remains spectacular and I think that President Buhari himself appreciates that. So, our effort really is to make sure that the right thing is done,” Kukah said.
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday urged lawyers to back his admistration’s fight against corruption and impunity.
The President, who acknowledged the lawyers’ professional responsibility of defending their clients, urged them to do so without compromising their professional ethics and the integrity of the legal system – no matter how lucrative the brief may be.
President Buhari spoke in Abuja last night at the opening of the 55th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
The cream of the legal profession, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) and Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Mahmud Mohammed, were at the ceremony.
He urged lawyers to see corruption as a gross violation of people’s rights, because pervasive corruption in the country has continued to deny the people access to basic needs.
“For the masses of our people, the millions still wallowing in want and diseases, corruption is a major reason why they cannot go to school; why they cannot be gainfully employed; and why there are few doctors, nurses and drugs in their hospitals and health centers.
“It is the reason why pensioners are not paid and potable water is scarce. In effect, corruption diverts public resources meant for millions of people into the private pockets of a greedy few, thereby causing a lot of suffering, deprivation and death. In my view, there can be no greater violation of human rights.
“Viewed in this way, I think we can all fully appreciate the gravity of this oppressive and destructive evil. This should rouse us to fight it with the same zeal and doggedness as we deploy in the defense of fundamental rights.
“I am convinced that law, law-makers, lawyers, law courts and the law enforcement agencies all have pivotal responsibilities to discharge, if the change we seek is ever to materialise.
“As you all know by now, this administration has taken on the challenge of improving security, fighting corruption and revamping the economy, among many others.
“The fight against corruption is in reality a struggle for the restoration of law and order. Corruption and impunity become widespread when disrespect for law is allowed to thrive in the society. Disrespect for law also thrives when people get away with all sorts of shady deals and the court system is somehow unable to check them.
“Ability to manipulate and frustrate the legal system is the crowning glory of the corrupt and, as may be expected, this has left many legal practitioners and law courts tainted in an ugly way.
“In a gathering such as this, I do not need to elaborate on the way that corruption and impunity have damaged our economy. But I would like to say more on what, I believe, should be your role as legal practitioners, in helping us back to the path of rectitude.
“First, we need to make our courts functional and effective again. This means that we must have lawyers who take the ethics of the profession very seriously; lawyers who will not frustrate the course of justice, even though they defend their clients with all legitimate means and resources.
“Nigeria needs ethical lawyers who always keep the end of justice in mind and will never sacrifice the integrity of the legal system to cover the misdeeds of their clients, no matter how lucrative the brief may be,” the President said.
President Buhari, who noted that a functional court system will aid the nation’s quest for foreign investment, said the current regime, where simple civil cases take ages to be resolved in court discourages investments.
He assured of his administration’s willingness to support needed legal reforms to enhance the effectiveness of the court system.
“Increased engagement with the outside world is called for as we seek public private partnerships in our quest for enhanced capital and expertise.
“There is no doubt that all these depend on enforceable agreements and a reliable legal system. Contracts are only good to the extent that they are enforceable without undue delay.
“If by the default of lawyers or the law courts, it is found that cases take ages to conclude or that the judicial system is somehow corruptible, we obviously cannot attract the kind of partnerships which we need or which our large vibrant economy would ordinarily have attracted.
“The world today has been correctly described as a global village. Capital and expertise are readily mobile. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between our country and others when the choice of where to do business is being made.
“Our current position in this respect is not good enough. Our process for obtaining licenses and permits are too slow. It takes too long a time to enforce contracts in our law courts and our regulatory and administrative processes are not noticeably predictable or efficient.
“In all these lawyers have a key role to play, whether in the reform of our laws and regulation or in the integrity of our judicial systems.
“It is my fervent hope that this conference and other fora of lawyers and non-lawyers will closely and quickly work out ways of making our legal system much improved in terms of integrity, the human touch, efficiency and rigorous dedication to the cause of justice,” the President said.
Chief Justice Mohammed, who assured the President of the support of the Judiciary, blamed the delay in court proceedings mainly on lawyers.
The CJN, who assured that the on-going reforms in the Judiciary will be sustained, sought an enhanced collaboration between the Bench and the Bar for the court to effectively play its role of justice dispensation.
“This is a very good sign of the cooperation that has developed between the Judiciary and Legal Profession on the one hand and the Executive branch on the other.
“Rest assured we shall strengthen our own efforts by giving full support to our President in laying a solid foundation for good governance in accordance with the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
“A major criticism of our system of justice delivery in Nigeria is the incessant delays in the administration of justice.
“Lawyers now insist on pursuing cases and interlocutory appeals based on nebulous points of law, regardless of the length of time or the expense involved in doing so to the detriment of their clients.
“Whilst it must be acknowledged that our Judiciary is not perfect, we cannot overlook the role of counsel in facilitating the onset of delay.
“As we all are aware, delay in most instances are either occasioned by the lack of diligent prosecution of a case, antics of counsel such as the use of interlocutory appeals to stall and frustrate a legitimate expectation of justice, or indolence on the part of some Judges.
“My learned colleagues this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. It is one thing to talk the talk, but I am also determined to walk the talk.
Justice Mohammed, who stressed the need for enhanced deployment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools to enhance court operations, noted that the reforms recently introduced in the judges appointment process was yielding results and will, in no distance future eliminate indolent and unqualified judges from the Bench.
“It is for this reason that, as part of our determined effort to ensure that our Judicial Officers are alert to their responsibilities, the National Judicial Council has constituted an Inspection and Monitoring Committee for on-the–spot assessment of Judicial Officers on duty.
“As we continue to fish out and discipline indolent and lazy Judges by showing them the way out of the system, we must also acknowledge and praise those judges that are diligent and hardworking. To this end, the NJC’s Judicial Officers Performance Evaluation Committee has also been strengthened to perform its functions,” the CJN said.
He called for enhanced financial allocation to the Judiciary to enable it meets the expectation o the society. He also frowned at the increasing rate at which lawyers write frivolous petitions against judges, when they ought to utilise available avenue of appealing decisions they are not comfortable with.
He said henceforth, only petitions that dwell on abuse of ethical conduct and are supported with sufficient evudence would be treated by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The CJN, who urged lawyers not to rely solely on litigation as a means of resolving disputes, called for more application of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms as a way of decongesting the regular courts.
”We must all work in unison to address the problems militating against our collective drive for quick disposition of cases and speedy administration of justice.
“To our colleagues on the Bench, I wish to appeal for total commitment and due diligence in the performance of our duties. We must eschew indolence and resist the evil temptation of corrupt enrichment, ensuring that we uphold the right of our citizens to fair hearing within a constitutionally prescribed period.
“I believe that where there is a unity of purpose by the Bar and Bench then discordant attitudes will be sifted out. ”That is why we must all speak with a unified voice after this Conference, regardless of what differing opinions we may have had at the start of it. ”There must be greater emphasis on working in tandem to provide speedy dispensation of justice, engender rule of law and endue our citizens with a healthy respect for the institutions of the Judiciary. To put it bluntly, it is time for the Legal Profession to revisit the issue of justice.
“I must re-iterate that the legal system and by extension, the Legal Profession must see to it that Justice is done. Key to this are the twin virtues of excellence and anticipation.
“We must attain mastery of the challenges that face us, develop the knowledge to tackle those challenges and ensure that the more we gain, the more we desire to achieve.
“I therefore believe that by working together, we can take the necessary steps towards ensuring a world class legal system,” the CJN said.
The NBA President Augustine Alegeh (SAN) commended both the President and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for gracing the occasion.
He assured the President of the support of the Bar in the government’s anti-corruption efforts.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has said there is no alternative to President Muhammadu Buhari or his leadership style because of the peculiar period in the country’s life.
He urged Nigerians to support Buhari to bring about the desired “change” in the country.
Obasanjo noted that a lot of things that were left undone in the last six years are hurting the country today but said there is a ray hope in the government of President Buhari that the expected change for the better would soon come.
The former President made this declaration at the weekend when a delegation of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), led by the Vice – President, Ogunkunade Oluwatoyin, visited him at his residence on Presidential Hilltop Estate, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
Obasanjo who is a former Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before quitting party politics early this year, said he stuck out his neck for change during the last general elections because things were no longer going the way it ought to be for the country.
The former president spoke in response to the demands of the students, particularly as it concerns fighting corruption, security, economy, unemployment and improvement in the standard of education.
He noted that God loves Nigeria and that he would continue to support and pray for the success of President Buhari and his administration.
Obasanjo said: “ I will underline what I regard as the most important right now which is key that deals with almost all the points that you raised and that is the issue of leadership. I believe very sincerely that God loves this country.
“I have said it on a number of occasions that when you go through the history of this country, particularly during the pre-independence and how many times we have gone through difficult times but we have not fallen over, you would say like I have said over a number of times that God really loves this country.
“And the general elections you talked about is a typical section of it, many people believe that after that election there will be no more Nigeria, many had even sent their families abroad, to some of us there is no where we can live abroad they will say you with all your mouth that you were running so you can even run out of Nigeria and come here.
“I have nowhere else that I can go and live in except Nigeria. Some said that they know the NADECO route but I do not know the route and I do not want to know it. So God did it almost miraculously and the election took place although some did not want it to take place but it took place.
“And some did help in no small measure to make sure we that got what God has destined for Nigeria. But in the first instance, we must give thanks to God and in the second instance we must thank those that made sure that we had a change and a credible change and the relative peace that we enjoyed before, during and after the election.”
The former president continued, “The issue of good leadership which was what many of us were clamouring for. There is no angel, for me there is no messiah except Jesus Christ, but there are leaders who are concerned about what is happening in this country, leaders that are so passionate about this country and who are ready to stick out their necks for this country and God has given us such an individual as the President of the country.
“What has happened is an indication that change has come and that our dreams may come true. But all that is required of everyone, young and old, youths and even students is to give unalloyed support to the government and where we believe that we should give criticism that is objective and positive we should give.
“For me these points that you have made about what is going on in this country, about corruption, about the economy, about security, we all know these and that is why some of us prepared to stick out our neck to achieve change because most of these things have not been addressed for the past six years.
“And how can anybody tell us that they will be addressed the next four years but now we have seen a ray of hope, so I will say let us encourage where we need to encourage, let us be objective where we need to be objective, let us show solidarity where we need to show solidarity.”
He added that nobody is too young or too old to give meaningful contribution,” even what you are doing here is part of it, but do not limit it here, let us take it to them, those at the Senate, House of Representatives, those at the state level men and women of goodwill in this country.”
According to him, “God forbid that this present democratic dispensation should fail, because we have no other alternative and that is why I said that the present administration should succeed there is no excuse and that is why I am so concern about the success of this administration.
“Say whatever you like about me, I pray and I will work for the success of this government. There is no alternative to democracy, the alternative to democracy is even worse than the imperfection of democracy.”
Going down memory lane, the former president said, “I am a victim of military regime, I was put in jail and meant to be killed by (the Sani Abacha regime)..If there was democracy there might have been fair amount of trial. So I heard you, I note your request and as time goes by when I do have opportunity in the community of leaders when you want me to pass your message, I will deliver your message.
“But one of the things that gives me great concern is youth employment, there is no employment for the youths in this country. Somebody told me that we can admit about seven thousand students in a year but those who seek admission into the university probably double that number.
“We need to be mindful of job creation and wealth creation, it does not matter what university you attended, you must be mindful that job creation and wealth creation to the next generation.
“If you don’t have a target about the actions that you are about to take then you do not have anything to work up to. I believe that having a target is necessary. Let me give the history of the Nigeria’s civil war. I was one of those who did the appreciation of the war and wrote the order (plan) we thought that the war would end in six months and we made a plan for six months, but the war took 30 months but you cannot just leave it open, it must be an open ended, now fix a target and then those who are to carry it out will know that they have time and space within which to work.”