THE Urhobo nation yesterday denounced its membership in the proposed map of Biafra by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
Making the position known yesterday in a statement, National Publicity Secretary of the Urhobo Progress Union, UPU, Alhaji Mumakai-Unagha, warned that Urhobo and its territories should be counted out from any IPOB plan.
“IPOB have their rights of agitation for freedom of self determination as enshrined in the united nation declaration stressing that other ethnic groups should not be dragged along to avoid the mistake that led to the civil war.
“The magnanimity of Urhobos in allowing Igbos celebrate the Igbo Cultural Day should not be taken for granted as we urge IPOB to delist Urhobo from its proposed map.”
Fielding the former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, in the 2011 and 2015 presidential elections was a costly mistake by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Chairman of the party’s national conference organising committee, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, has said.
Dokpes, who spoke at a media briefing in Abuja, Tuesday, said the imposition of Jonathan by the PDP might have been responsible for the party’s loss of the presidency in the last general election.
He said the zoning formula put in place by the party’s founding fathers was jettisoned by its leadership at the time.
According to him, the PDP made the first mistake when it failed to retain the party’s 2011 presidential ticket in the North after the death of former President Umaru Yar ‘Adua.
The second mistake, he said, was making Jonathan the sole presidential candidate of the party in the 2015 general election, adding that the action caused disaffection among party chieftains from the North.
Dokpesi apologised to all party chieftains who felt offended by the action and extended the apology to the Nigerian voters who were denied the freedom of choice by the PDP.
He said having retained power for 16 years at a stretch, it was normal for a party to make mistakes, adding that the party was in the process of repositioning ahead of the 2019 general election.
The PDP committee chairman said Nigerians should forgive the party for the many mistakes it made while in power, assuring that the party was restructuring to enable the youths play active role in the future.
He identified lack of internal democracy in most of its nomination processes, adding “there was impunity, imposition of candidates, breach of the zoning arrangement and lack of a level playing field for members.”
“Make no mistakes, the PDP is aware that there were errors made along the way. We admit that at certain times in our past, mistakes have been made.
“We did not meet the expectations of Nigerians. We tender our apology. But the past is exactly what it is. We call on all party faithful, supporters and sympathisers to partner with us going forward.”
A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday ordered the remand of former Benue Governor, Gabriel Suswam in the EFCC custody pending perfection of his bail conditions.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed ordered the remand of Suswam and his ex-Commissioner of Finance, Omodachi Okolobia, while ruling on a bail application, moved by Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, counsel to the defendants.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Suswam and Okolobia were arraigned before the court on a nine-count charge, bordering on criminal breach of trust, conspiracy and money laundering.
The two respondents pleaded not guilty to the charges when read to them by the court registrar.
Prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacob, SAN, did not oppose the bail application of the defendants on the ground that they had been granted administrative bail by the EFCC and had not jumped bail.
Justice Mohammed held: “The respondents are granted bail in the sum of N100 million each and a surety each in like sum.
“The surety must be a civil servant of not less than the cadre of Director in the federal, state or local government service.
“In the alternative, the surety must have a national honour and must swear to an affidavit of means.
“The defendants shall submit their international passport to the registrar of the court.
“Failure to meet these requirements, the defendants shall be remanded in the EFCC custody pending the perfection of their bail conditions.’’
Suswam and Okolobia were charged by the EFCC for alleged diversion of a total sum of N3.1 billion, realised from the sale of shares owned by Benue State Government and Benue Investments and Property Ltd.
Justice Mohammed adjourned the case till Dec. 8 for trial.
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, says public officials getting involved in graft and bribery that undermine the country would no longer be tolerated.
He said this at an interactive with staff members of the Nigerian High Commission in London.
He added that no country would survive with high level of corruption.
“No country can survive with the level of corruption we have experienced in Nigeria; you should fight against corruption not only as a moral value but also as a matter of survival.
“If public officers steal and take bribe, it is undermining the country and we intend to challenge the trend because it is not tolerable,” he said.
The Vice President also said that the Nigerian armed forces were defeating Boko Haram and other security challenges in the North East.
“The major challenge is the emergence of teenage suicide bombers among the insurgent group.”
He told the workers that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the Army to end insurgency by the end of the year, adding that the mandate was being achieved while the government was going to de-radicalise and educate the people as well as rehabilitate the victims.
“Sometimes, we are shocked that very young girls are used as suicide bombers. But at home everyone has come to terms with the fact that we have to live together as Christians and Muslims.
“We must not allow division in us as Nigerians; we must come together to fight this menace called Boko Haram; no religion will accept these atrocities of Boko Haram,” Osinbajo added.
He said the responsibilities facing the High Commission workers were many but ones that impact all over the world adding that the Federal Government was interested in the progress the office was making.
Osinbajo said that the administrations had taken the supply of electricity as a major programme.
He noted that the focus on providing power through solar was to ensure that more Nigerian rural homes were connected faster, cheaper and with reliable electricity.
According to him, Nigeria is blessed with various sources of power including hydro, coal, solar, wind and will not have to wait for only the grid system which is very expensive and takes longer time.
“Solar is available everywhere in the country and you do not need to put it on the grid.
“The cost of using our fossil fuel is very high; if we want to deliver power at cheaper cost we must take the solar option.”
According to him, the country’s power generation is about 4,000 mw adding that by early 2016 it will rise to 5,000mw which he describes as “ridiculous” for a populous country.
“Once we start manufacturing our own solar panels, the solution will be quicker,” he said.
Osinbajo explained the country’s exchange control policy was aimed at conserving external reserves to attract Foreign Direct Investments.
The Vice President noted the adverse migration issues affecting the nationals in UK and assured that it would be addressed following due process.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State who accompanied the VP on the UK trip asked Nigerians to disregard the social media falsehood that he and the VP were not in good terms.
He added that he was privileged to be invited for the trip among the 36 state governors.
The acting High Commissioner in London, Mr Olukunle Bamgbose, said a lot of British investors were interested in bringing businesses to Nigeria.
“This is because of their belief in the administration’s capacity to tackle corruption and protect the business environment.”
The Envoy, however, said that about 29,000 UK residents were tagged as Nigerians facing deportation, but said the High commission was verifying the claims to ensure that every Nigeria having the problem was treated in accordance with the law.
In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, human rights lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, speaks about President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments
You are from the South-South. Why have you come out to defend President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments which are largely in favour of the North?
I am not a tribalist. If I was, I wouldn’t have campaigned for Buhari. I just wanted the best for Nigeria. I agree that some of the best brains are from the South while some of the best are from the North. We have brains everywhere. However, why people are clamouring for these positions that have just been filled is that people see them as juicy positions and this is my problem. About 95 per cent of the positions are yet to be filled. Buhari has filled just about five per cent of positions. For me, no government position is different from the other and that is the ideal situation. We should not classify some positions as more beneficial than others because that is a euphemism for corruption. It is a euphemism to say that some positions are better than others. People were clamouring for the position of Secretary to the Government of Federation and Chief of Staff because in the past, the Peoples Democratic Party turned those positions into money-making machines. Nigerians have seen the ostentatious lifestyles that others who have occupied these positions have lived. And the nation allowed them to get away with those crimes. And yet we say we want a change. We must begin to change our orientation. So, we are saying that we cannot make a holistic assessment until the President fills all these positions. For those positions he has filled, they are supposed to be occupied by those who are personally loyal to the President. I do not expect him to leave those positions to be filled by his political party. For example, you cannot say the chief of staff should be someone that is loyal to a power bloc in his party. That kind of person would close everyday from work, pick his telephone, and report all the activities of the President to his political camp. That would not be fair because that kind of person would not be loyal to the President but by the person who nominated him for that office. There are many positions that the political party can fill that will not have direct access to the itinerary and activities of the President. That is why I said people should be calm. There are ministerial positions to be filled, heads of agencies and many others.
We must change our orientation such that any appointment given to anybody from any part of the country must be accepted with dignity and pride and patriotism. The argument is that certain ethnic groups have seen some positions as being exclusive to them. They argue that since the presidency has gone to the North and some positions have gone to some other geopolitical zones, the next one must come to them. The clamour is because they see these as hierarchies of juicy positions and I say no.
Is it coincidental that the South-East, where Buhari got low number of votes, has not received any political appointment?
Buhari got the lowest number of votes from the South-South. But as I said, the appointments are not yet complete. You say he has not appointed any Igbo but the biggest position so far has gone to an Igbo man: Emmanuel Kachikwu who is the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. It is just by modern political divide that the man falls within Delta State but he is a Delta Igbo. They speak Igbo. It is only by political delineation that he falls within Delta State but there are Igbo speaking Deltans. He is an Igbo man but only on the other side of the Niger. He is not an Urhobo man. What language does he speak? Is it not Igbo? So what are we talking about? That is the biggest position and they have it already. So, you can see that all this noise is being made by frustrated and jobless politicians who just want to use ethnicity to get juicy positions. It is orchestrated. We the elite should not be moved by this noise and selfish agenda. Imagine a whole ethnic group campaigning for a position! Initially, they said chief of staff, then SGF. Now, with all the noise they have been making since May 29, imagine if one person from that region is appointed to that position. That person will then see himself as a champion of his ethnic group and his kinsmen will descend on that office in the area of contracts and gifts. He will destroy the sanctity of that office and turn it into a political chessboard because that person will see himself as representing a region in that position. It removes professionalism from that position. So, we should not campaign for offices on the basis of representing an ethnic bloc. Yes, every region will get appointments but once he is appointed, he should not see himself as representing that ethnic group but the whole country.
But Section 13 of the constitution states that the composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity.
Yes, I agree but the government has not been fully composed. Is it the SGF and chief of staff that constitute the government? So what is the noise all about? Five per cent of all appointments have not even been made. All these noises would have been validt if positions had been filled and it is lopsided. What if the next 10 appointments made are all Igbo? Wouldn’t those people castigating the government look foolish?
Do you think these fears are misplaced in the light of Buhari’s statement that constituencies where he didn’t get many votes would not be treated equally with areas where he got many votes?
It is very simple. It doesn’t mean that they would be schemed out. But if he says that, it is his prerogative. If the President says he will leave certain sensitive positions to certain areas because those ones directly have to do with his security and if he leaves these other positions to a certain area, what is wrong with that? It is the President’s prerogative. Like I said, all appointments should be received with dignity and pride. That is why he is the President.
The constitution states that each of the 36 states must produce a minister. However, you have said that all the appointments could be made at different times in order to save costs. Do you think this would be wise in the light of the recent allegations of marginalisation?
I believe that our priority as a people should not be appointments but conservation of national resources. If I know that a minister is supposed to be appointed from my state but the President is making appointments in bits because we cannot afford 36 ministers at the same time, why shouldn’t I make the sacrifice because by the time it is the turn of my state to produce the minister, another state would not have. That is balancing and nothing is wrong with that. If for two years, a person from Delta is heading a ministry and within that same period, Edo State doesn’t have a minister and after sometime, the role is reversed such that Edo has a minister and Delta does not have, is that not equity? But the real issue is that people cannot wait to touch public funds and that is why they are complaining.
Chairman of the seven-man Presidential Advisory Committee on War Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU and TOBI AWORINDE, speaks on what Nigerians should expect from the ongoing anti-graft probes
In the simplest terms, what are the responsibilities of the panel set up by President Muhammadu Buhari on his anti-graft war which you head?
We are not a probing organisation. The (anti-graft) agencies are already there. Our job, really, is to provide support. We are first to promote the fight against corruption generally, then to intervene comprehensively in the whole process in order to promote and support the existing agencies to be more effective and to have more capacity. We are also to make the administration of criminal justice more effective; produce results quickly and efficiently. Very broadly, that is what we are supposed to do.
Can you break it down into specifics?
There is no need breaking it down because our mandate is very wide. But, I can give a few examples of what I am talking about. For example, in the area of giving support to the anti-corruption agencies, we are going to interact with them; and when we do, we will find out what challenges they have. Why are so many cases stalled? Why are so many cases lost? Is it that they lack technical capacity in terms of equipment for investigation or in terms of training and manpower or people who can do forensic works effectively? Is it financial or is it a question of integrity; are there people in their midst who are colluding with the people being investigated? These are some of the things we are going to look into. Where they have challenges of the sorts I mentioned, it is our job to recommend procedures and actions to the government to take care of such problems and eliminate them. That is one aspect of our work.
Then, if you go to the area of administration of criminal justice, we are looking at a number of things. These include the speed with which corruption cases are held and concluded and how corruption cases are stalled in courts. For example, we are looking at adjournments, which, luckily, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 has now taken care of by eliminating any adjournments, and by stating that once a case comes up in court, it must be heard from day to day – Monday to Friday – without any adjournments. But where an adjournment is inevitable, because certain things can happen, it must not last for more than two weeks at the most. Also, there must not be more than five adjournments per case. But we also need to monitor the process to make sure that these rules are kept.
We also have the issue of judges who are hearing a case and they have almost concluded the case and they are promoted to the Court of Appeal. Under the present law, once that happens, they drop the case. A new judge will start afresh, as we have it in the case of Intercontinental Bank, which Justice Habeeb Abiru virtually concluded before he was promoted. Now it has started afresh. Who knows whether it will take another five years? That has been eliminated under the new Act. Whether you are promoted or not, once you are already hearing a case, you must conclude it. You cannot abandon it to take up your new post. You can take up your new post but you must conclude the case. That too has been eliminated.
Another thing is that we now have a new genre of senior advocates whose sole means of existence is to stall cases, especially corruption cases. And the way they stall cases is very simple: once the charges are filed, they look at the charge. Instead of tackling the charge and providing answers for the issues raised, they simply file a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case. And many judges, in my view, foolishly in the past, play along with these senior advocates. They abandon the main case and concentrate on the preliminary objection, which may take perhaps a year or two. Meanwhile, the substantive issue of corruption is suspended. When the judge finally arrives at the conclusion or judgment or ruling that he has the jurisdiction, the chap (defendant) appeals straightaway – still abandoning the substantive issue for the issue of jurisdiction – to the Court of Appeal. At the Court of Appeal, if he fails, he takes it to the Supreme Court.
How does the accused escape in that type of circumstance?
By the time the Supreme Court finally decides that the court has jurisdiction, 12 years or so might have elapsed. By then, the investigating police officer (prosecutor) is retired; the officials of the Ministry of Justice, who handled it (the case) at the early stages in the High Court, would have been promoted and the judges themselves could have retired. Thus, many things would have happened; and what we call prosecution fatigue sets in. What happens after is that the case dies a natural death. It is not that the accused is innocent but the state does not have enough stamina to pursue the case to the end. That is what has been happening.
For instance, governors, who were being investigated for what they did as governors, are now senators or occupying various important positions in the country without questions. What this Act has done is what any judge with common sense would have done before. The Act has decided to do it for them by stating that if anybody files a preliminary objection, the judge is compelled to take both the preliminary objection and the substantive issue together. He must no longer abandon the substantive issue.
Then, to make sure that there is no loophole, the Act also provides that where any party disagrees with any ruling of the court and appeals, the court must not stay proceeding because of any appeal; it must continue the day-to-day hearing regardless of any appeal. With that setting, we ourselves have set to do a number of things. One, to try and assist the judicial system and the government to ensure that we have in place a judicial structure that can hear corruption cases without any problem; without any issue of compromise or integrity. We are going to look for judges who have the honour and integrity, who are upright and have passion for justice and who can never be compromised. They are going to be indentified and transferred to the criminal division of each court; they will be there. We are not the ones to do this; it is for the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the heads of various courts to do. Once this is done, it will take care of the issue of quality and character of judges and the law. Then, we are ready to meet the challenges of corruption cases.
All the judges are meant to be incorruptible, but where the incorruptible ones are to be picked from among their colleagues for this anti-graft war, it means some of them are corruptible. What will be done to the corrupt judges and lawyers?
In our democratic system, there has to be proof before someone can be convicted or punished for anything. You may have judges who are rumoured or, in fact, known to be corrupt. But unless they go through the process of being tried, there is no form of punishment that can be inflicted on them. The best thing, for now, until such evidence has been concretely established, is to avoid them and let them deal with cases other than corruption cases. We need people who can resist the blandishment of material things and those are the ones that the system is going to try and pick up.
Some people are of the view that special courts, like the election petitions tribunals, are redundant since the accused will end up appealing a verdict in the conventional appellate and Supreme Court. Why the special courts?
There is no anti-corruption court right now. If we want that, we have to submit a bill to the National Assembly to amend the constitution to now include an anti-corruption court among the series of courts that we already have. That is a long process but it can be done; I don’t know yet what the government is going to do. It is likely as a future measure against corruption that that is going to happen. We don’t have that now. For now, we must work with the tools that we have. What is likely to happen now is to make the criminal division of the state high courts into, sort of, anti-corruption courts. We can use them for that purpose.
What will your committee do about the case of some VIPs on trial, who find their way to five-star hospitals in the name of illness while their trial is pending in court?
There is no doubt that Nigeria is a very difficult country. No matter what you introduce, the enemies of the country will introduce some counter moves to water down whatever you are trying to do and make it ineffective. That is the problem we have. But for you to be sent to the hospital during the period of conviction, you need a very credible medical certificate from a highly qualified doctor in the area of the illness, which states that the prisoner can only be attended to in that hospital such that he cannot be looked after in prison. It is a difficult thing when a doctor says that because if you, as a judge, reject it, supposing the man dies, that creates a big problem. To avoid such a thing happening, the tendency will be if there is a very cogent reason given by a doctor in a certificate, that person will be allowed to go to a hospital, which is unfortunate but it can’t be helped. Eventually, you have prison officials and policemen being detailed to that hospital at extra cost to the state, to ensure that he does not escape while he is in the hospital. Altogether, it will be an unfortunate thing, which possibility cannot be ruled out.
What is going to be done such that crimes, especially financial, will attract commensurate punishments?
These are the areas that we are going to look into to ensure that the punishment fits the crime and that the law is no respecter of persons.
Do you think the removal of the immunity clause being enjoyed by certain public officers is a necessary measure to curb corruption?
I have never been a supporter of those who want to remove the immunity clause, because one has to really look at the character of our countrymen. Nigerians are fond of litigation; they will go to court at the drop of a pin. If a governor or the president is subjected to such litigation, I don’t think he will have one minute’s rest to do his job. He will be so distracted that governance will become more difficult than it is already, knowing the nature of Nigerians. Thus, I still support that clause. After he has left office, you can go after him; why not? We can wait for four years, or a maximum of eight years.
Some people believe that such officials under immunity cover should be tried for a criminal offence, if not civil offence. Do you agree?
That distinction should not be made at all. All cases should await the person leaving office.
There has been a controversy over Buhari’s decision to limit his probe to the last administration. Do you think this is appropriate, looking at how deep the cankerworm of corruption has eaten into the fabrics of the country?
You are right, the cankerworm has eaten deep. At every level or segment of society you look at, corruption has eaten the heart out of this country. It is an enormous task and I think what the President really meant was that he would operate within this period; he has only four years, unless he is re-elected. How much can he achieve within that period? I think he is looking at what is immediately obvious and apparent. I refer to them as low-hanging fruits. It is just like you going into an orchard and you want to pick some mangoes. You pluck the big ones that are closest to the ground; you won’t climb to the top and leave the ones below. If you still need more, then you can go higher. I think that is really what the President meant. If it is possible to conclude all the cases, which are so obvious; where the evidence is recent and easily obtainable; where we are being offered assistance from all over the world to identify and detect, then we move on to the next stage.
But looking at the power sector, for instance, there are some controversial contracts under ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, especially the $16bn said to have been spent to revive the sector. How can the sector be probed under Jonathan without going beyond the last administration?
I don’t think he (Buhari) is looking at it as Jonathan’s time or Obasanjo’s time; he is looking at it as what is so obvious and what is so clear and attracting immediate attention for action. When that is done, any other one even farther away will be tackled. All these are based on evidence.
Is it advisable to invite looters for talks to save the time and resources to be spent on judicial processes against them?
Yes, that can still operate in conjunction with taking them to court. That is very close to plea bargaining. I think that this government and the Nigerian State, through the administration of the Criminal Justice Act, has accepted that there could be plea bargaining.
If such a person releases the loot, should the person still be punished or allowed to go for returning the loot?
This is my view: There will be some punishment, but it will be very much mitigated; instead of the person going to prison for, say, 10 to 15 years, he may just have about three months—that sort of thing. Definitely, there will be a difference.
Is your committee also looking at recovery of loots stashed away in foreign banks?
I would say the government as a whole is very much involved in that. We can assist in our own way, but already, the government is in contact with many overseas authorities who have an idea where some of these loots are.
Are you expecting stiff opposition from these countries who are believed to be using the looted funds to develop their economies?
I don’t think so. My impression so far is that most, not all, of the countries in which these monies are deposited are practically in developed Western countries, and are anxious to cooperate with the government to recover the loot. I know America has recovered almost $500m, and they held on to it because they did not want to hand it over to the last government. They are going to give it to this government. So, there is a lot of cooperation going on.
Are you saying the West did not trust the Goodluck Jonathan’s government for fear that it was too corrupt?
Obviously, they did not. Corruption in Jonathan’s government was an international fact known everywhere. Thus, they were not very happy with that government because of how corruption was so rife at every level such that everybody in the government was involved in it and it brought down the image of the country totally.
What do you think was responsible for the former President’s inability to tackle corruption?
I don’t think he saw it as a wrongdoing; that is my impression. A man who could say stealing is not corruption just shows you he didn’t even understand what corruption is. He didn’t seem to realise that stealing is equally a crime. It is as if to say, ‘He merely stole, so we should leave him alone and not bother about that’. There is a certain lack of awareness of the gravity of corruption and its associated concept — a combination of ignorance and a certain, very dangerous innocence, I would say. If you don’t know anything is wrong at that stage and you’re head of a country in which a state is controlling hundreds of billions, meanwhile everybody is helping himself; it is very dangerous for the country.
Jonathan’s loyalists are now fighting back, lamenting their media trial. Do you think all these shouts of probe are a mere noise?
Those who are corrupt are very powerful people. We are talking of people who are sitting atop billions of dollars, not just naira; and money is power. Thus, they will fight back and this is what they have done. There is no subterfuge they have not yet devised. First, they accused Buhari of selecting them out and my answer is that it doesn’t matter if you are selected. If you are innocent, you are innocent and there is nothing anybody can do to you. It is only someone who knows he is guilty that begins to cry out and try to intimidate the government from trying to find out what happened. What happened to all the billions of dollars that disappeared? The government should just look at it and let it go? Buhari, while addressing the Nigerian Bar Association, was the one who said it is the greatest crime against humanity to steal so much money that leaves a whole country grounded and a few of them impossibly wealthy that for the next 100 generations, they can be spending without working. Our patrimony? Unacceptable!
If corruption is seen as the greatest crime against humanity, do you think it should attract capital punishment like it does in China?
No, I think that would be too extreme. My attitude is that if you do not directly kill a human being, or do something with the intention that a human being will die, you should not be subjected to capital punishment, because once life is taken away, we cannot bring it back and we cannot create life. I think severe imprisonment coupled with recovery of stolen wealth is enough for now.
Obasanjo said Jonathan’s performance would affect the likelihood of another Niger Delta indigene emerging as president. Do you share this view?
I am also a Niger Delta indigene and I always felt the way Obasanjo was feeling that if in future any of us brings out his head and says, ‘I want to contest the presidency,’ they will say, ‘Ah! But we gave you the opportunity; see how lousy, dismal and devastating failure you were. Why do you think we should give you another chance?’ That issue will arise in future, there is no question about it. The first time somebody came from our zone and was given power, he just wasted it in such a dismal and disastrous manner. It is unbelievable what happened under Jonathan. If people use it against the Niger Delta people, I can understand, although it would not be a logical thing because the next person from the Niger Delta will not be the same. But I can understand that sentiment. What happened was a disgrace to all of us.
Are you saying his performance will haunt all the people of the Niger Delta, including those with outstanding track records?
Yes, it will definitely haunt us, but it is our job now to convince Nigerians that every Niger Delta person is not the same. Let me give you an example which has nothing to do with corruption. It takes a Buhari from Daura in Katsina State to decide to organise money and expertise to go to Ogoniland, which is part of Niger Delta, to recover that land from the destruction that the oil companies have subjected it to. There was a Niger Delta indigene there; for six years, Jonathan was in power. What did he do? His mind did not go there. That is why I always say I am not bothered about where whoever is ruling comes from. I never supported Jonathan because he came from the Niger Delta; that is not important. What is important is the quality of the man, what he is doing, what his programme is for my part of the country. If he comes from Sokoto State, I don’t care. What programmes do you have for my people in the Niger Delta? If the programme is good, you can rule forever as far as I am concerned. I don’t want my brother in the village to go there (presidency) and steal all the patrimony of the country and neglect that village; then I say, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’ That’s of no use.
But Jonathan’s loyalists are pointing at the Federal University, Otuoke, as one of his notable contributions to the Niger Delta during his presidency…
In fact, for me, that is a negative in two ways. Jonathan created nine new federal universities, when the existing ones were crying for lack of care, finance, facilities and so on. For me, that is a sign of very poor leadership. It just shows he did not understand what governance is about. One doesn’t just create things that he cannot support. That is a big mistake. Secondly, you want to look at leaders, who are not mentally matured in terms of politics; look at what they do with various institutions and other things they create. When you see a man putting something in his village, you know that he is mentally underdeveloped as a politician. It shows he is still a local, narrow-minded individual, who has not developed at all. He is a village man put in a central position. Let’s look at our great leaders; where did (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo put the university he created? In Ife, Osun State, not in Ogun State, where he came from. Where did Sir Ahmadu Bello put the university he created? In Zaria, Kaduna State, rather than his hometown in Sokoto. Where did Dr. Nnadmi Azikiwe put the university he created? In Nsukka, Enugu. That is the difference! I always tell people that those people of the First Republic are the greatest we’ve ever had. Since then, we’ve had diminishing returns, smaller people—not smaller in size, but in mentality, culture, civilisation, values and every other way. We are almost at the bottom.
Should this philosophy be applied to the recent appointments made by the President, which is viewed as lopsided?
The South-Eastern people are complaining bitterly. What I will tell them is ‘Be calm, what if an Igbo person is given a ministry? It is just one family that is enjoying’. Rather, look out for the programme of the government; what plans do they have for south-eastern Nigeria? Once they have good plans, whoever is appointed to any position is irrelevant.
For example, does Buhari have plans for the Second Niger Bridge? What plans does he have for erosion and all those bad roads in the South-East that connect other parts of the country? Those are the areas where they should be tackling him, not who he is appointing. If they keep on pressing and he now appoints south-eastern ministers and officials in various other places and those major things affecting their lives are not tackled at the end of the day, then the appointments would be of no use and will make no impact; they will not improve on the South-East or the standard of living there. It will just be one family that is living a rarefied life for four years and then they’ll go back to the people. What’s the point? It is misplaced priority that I am seeing in this country when people talk of ‘This man didn’t come from my side’ and ‘That fellow didn’t come from my village’. For me, that is immaturity and mental underdevelopment, politically.
But do you think the South-East, which doesn’t have a single person in the current government, will be satisfied with your explanation?
People will be appointed eventually. But that is not the priority; they should take their programmes to the government. They have powerful leaders; they should get together and ask each other, ‘What does the South-East want from this government?’ Not appointment of people. Go there and present programmes and hear what the President says. That is where you will now know whether he has good plans for the South-East or not. Not who is appointed to various positions; for me, that is very secondary. In the light of this, I know (recently appointed Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Ibe) Kachikwu is technically from Delta State, but he is an Igbo man. He’s controlling an organisation that is responsible for 90 per cent of the wealth of this country. Whether or not he is west of the Niger River does not make any difference; he is still an Igbo man. I think we should take that into consideration.
Barely six days after he was involved in a car accident on his way to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, Senate Minority leader and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, has broken his silence from his hospital bed, where he is currently recuperating.
According to government sources, the lawmaker, who was on Monday, earlier rushed to the National Hospital, Abuja, for urgent attention, reportedly left for the United Kingdom aboard a private jet last Tuesday.
Akpabio who just opened a Twitter account on Saturday, and have gathered about 495 followers, tweeted via his handle @SenAkpabio that he was only down, but not out.
He said: “Though down but not out, I will rise again. I also thank former President, Goodluck Jonathan, members of our party, friends and loved ones for their calls and show of affection. God bless you.
“Thank you Nigerians for your prayers. I appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President, Bukola Saraki and others for their calls.”
Recall that Akpabio was last Monday involved in a car accident on his way to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to catch up with an international flight.
He was said to be travelling abroad to visit his wife and children when the unfortunate incident happened.
The accident reportedly took place at Bolingo Hotel junction, in the Central Business District, Abuja, where his car had collided with a United States embassy vehicle after beating the traffic.
Controversial former spokesperson of the State Security Service (SSS), Marilyn Ogar, has been compulsorily retired from service following investigation into allegations of bribery and professional misconducts against her.
Mrs. Ogar was alleged to have collected several trucks of DPK (Dual Purpose Kerosene) as bribe, playing partisan roles, among other breaches of service codes.
Although no official statement has been issued by the Service regarding the compulsory retirement of Mrs. Ogar and others officials, a security source confirmed that the former spokesperson was retired on Wednesday – seven years before she was due to leave service.
PREMIUM TIMES had on March 26 exclusively reported how Ms. Ogar received trucks of kerosine in bribe, and then proceeded to disparage the then opposition APC on television and other media before and after the Osun governorship election.
In the exclusive report, which sources in the service said triggered internal investigation by the new service leadership, this newspaper reported that Ms. Ogar was treated to a special offer the former Nigerian administration utilised in appeasing dubious officials hired to do hatchet jobs, and other Nigerians regarded as troublesome.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the new Director General of the service, Lawal Daura, set up a panel headed by a retired director of training to investigate the allegations against Ms. Ogar and other staff of the agency.
Mrs. Ogar, our sources said, was found guilty of the corruption allegation against her as well as for playing partisan role that ridiculed the agency in the eyes of the Nigerian public.
The panel therefore recommended that she be compulsorily retired, alongside others also found guilty for professional misconducts during the last administration.
In the PREMIUM TIMES story that exposed the bribery, it was reported that within government circles, the offer made to her, which was direct allocation of fuel products, was termed “settlement” by agents of the immediate past administration.
“That is what the government uses if it wants to settle you. If you are settled once, you are made,” one source told PREMIUM TIMES in March.
Mrs. Ogar was referred to the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the government-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in charge of marketing and distribution of petroleum products.
According to elaborate details of the transaction obtained by PREMIUM TIMES in March, the PPMC was directed to allocate 10 trucks of DPK (Dual Purpose Kerosene) to Mrs. Ogar.
The sacked spokesperson accordingly met with the then Managing Director of the company, Haruna Momoh, and the deal was struck, this newspaper reported.
With little or no previous fuel marketing experience, and more importantly, without a registered company for that purpose, Mr. Momoh, suggested the allocations be channelled through known fuel independent marketers who will receive the allocation, sell them and deliver cash to Ms. Ogar.
According to the PREMIUM TIMES report, the former spokeswoman agreed, and the PPMC selected three marketers to deliver four, three, and three trucks apiece on her behalf.
An agent at the PPMC triggered text messages to the respective marketers. In one, sent by the coordinator of a private depot in Apapa Lagos via 08064387579, the firm wrote, “Please be informed management has approved three trucks of DPK to your company. Kindly make arrangement for payment. Thank you.”
To finalise the deal, the PPMC introduced Ms. Ogar to the three marketers and all sides agreed she be paid N1.5 million for each truck of DPK.
In all, Ms. Ogar was paid N15 million for doing nothing beyond meeting the PPMC boss having been recommended by the higher authorities to do so.
To this day, Ms. Ogar never responded to calls and text messages seeking her comments over the story.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, ICPC, has commenced investigations of four former governors following petitions against them.
The four governors are former governors Rotimi Ameachi of Rivers, Sullivan Chime of Enugu, Ibrahim Shema of Katsina and Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano.
Already four teams have been raised to visit the states to check the books of the states to establish the allegations against the governors.
Sources at the commission told Vanguard that the teams departed Abuja, Monday morning, to the various states to carry out their investigations.
A source at the commission, who does not want his name in print because he is not authorised to speak on the matter, told Vanguard that the allegations borders on dubious awards of contracts as well as contracts awarded to cronies and relatives of the former governors.
According to the source, the commission is committed to ensuring that all petitions are investigated to a logical conclusion and those indicted or found to have compromised would be brought to book.
“We will ensure that we thoroughly investigate all allegations brought before us so that nobody would be left in doubt about our commitment to fighting corruption. The chairman has dispatched a team to the affected states and they are expected to report back in the next two weeks. No body would be spared if found culpable,” the source said.
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.
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.