I want to start by congratulating Media Trust Limited for this very praiseworthy effort at establishing a television station. I have followed with very keen interest, the progress your organisation is making in the media industry. I am really impressed, and I am sure I am not alone in this. The only thing I can do is to pray that the Almighty God would continue to guide your efforts and ensure that the success you dream of is realised.
Having said this, I want to identify myself with the efforts of this administration to ensure that agriculture receives a new lease of life. Since President Muhammadu Buhari came on board in 2015, he made it very clear that agriculture must be placed in the front burner.
So, on our part as members of the National Assembly, we are required to look at it and identify where there are lapses and intervene by way of legislation. We will give every support to ensure that the president’s commitment to agriculture is achieved.
What specific support have you given to agriculture?
Financing. We passed varieties of legislation aimed at giving smallholder farmers the opportunity to have access to funds.
We have heard stories of a lot of problems associated with it. For instance, there is a huge lack of repayment. At a time, the banks were complaining that 70 per cent were not paying back these loans.
Unfortunately, different parts of this country are facing different types of problems, including insecurity, and these have impacted negatively on agriculture.
When he appointed the new service chiefs, the president assured that within a certain period, before the rains, they should be able to solve this problem.
It was only last week that we finalised the screening and clearing of the Chief of Army Staff.
Let’s be very practical. Nobody who is fair to his mind and the government would expect that within three months, these problems we have been going through for the past eight years would become a thing of the past. It is just not practicable. But a lot of progress is being made.
Would you say there’s progress when some states like Niger, Kebbi and Sokoto, which were hitherto relatively peaceful, have come under bandits’ attacks and farmers are deserting their communities?
I think we should be a little more pragmatic on the situation we have at hand. We are not fighting a conventional war. We are dealing with terrorism, which is a very new phenomenon in our security architecture. As such, you need to readjust the focus of your security structure and have a new orientation for your men and women in uniform, who are directly involved in this battle.
We have had these challenges in the North-East for more than a decade; how long will this take?
Nobody prays for it to go for a long time. Nobody who is patriotic and in his true senses would want this to continue.
People are saying that corruption is playing a big part, especially in arms purchase. We have also heard whispers from the National Security Adviser that some Army generals have been compromised. In fact, one of them is presently under court-martial for diverting a lot of millions. What do you have to say?
I am not in the position to deny or endorse that. As a lawyer, I have no place to pre-judge any accused person, and till such an accused person is found guilty in accordance with due process of law, he is innocent before the law.
The fact is that we are in a very deep winter on these security issues and everybody’s hands must be on deck. There’s almost a total collapse of the security outfit, and the terrorists are taking advantage of this.
All the solutions we have been proffering haven’t solved the problems; instead, they have become worse. Why?
I share your sentiment on this, but it takes a process. The media will be the first to criticise if the government tries to do anything outside the norm. The government has to be very systematic and follow due process in approaching these problems, no matter how pressing they are.
But the government is elected to lead, not to fall victim of criticism or recoil when there is a lot of it, what do you think?
The President Buhari I know is not the kind of person who will recoil. He speaks straight, but we are in a very deep trend on this security situation. I try to check my emotions when I am discussing this matter.
You don’t have to lose a relative to understand the gravity of the situation we have in our hands. We have met with service chiefs and visited some of the troops in the battlefront as a committee of the Senate.
It is one thing to wish this away and quite another to face the realities of getting it down within the timeframe that everybody will be happy.
Part of the realities is that governors in your party, like that of Niger State, have been expressing a lot of anger and disappointment with the federal government, which has the exclusive right over matters of defence, over the way it is handling this matter. People are now resorting to self-help, which itself will be dangerous because people are arming themselves in all the villages for self defence because they feel there’s a failure of the state. Are you not all concerned?
Inasmuch as I appreciate the concerns and appreciate what the governor of Niger State is saying, the fact is that no country in the world will face a situation like this and sleep few seconds without treating it.
There are so many diversionary issues. It is easy to say we made a promise to secure the country and to ensure the welfare of our citizens, but this is not in a vacuum. Buhari has no control over the migration of these terrorists. On the control of the borders, there is a limit to what he can say, you and I know.
Immigration will tell you how many borders and potential entry points we have; not just for smugglers, but also for terrorists.
The government has been trying, but the biggest problem is the fact that we have not been able to get the totality of our citizenry to stand up and be patriotic.
This security situation is everybody’s challenge and concern. It is not a matter of anybody folding hands and saying the Buhari government must take care of it. We are all part and parcel of the challenges.
What can communities do? Last week, somebody said there were bandits at the outskirts of our villages. And there are soldiers in the villages but they have never bothered to take the fight to the bandits. Do you have to wait for them to kidnap students before you go after them?
In this situation, I expect everybody to stand with the government instead of engaging in diversionary criticisms. Let us be together.
I cannot comment on the allegation that some terrorists have occupied certain locations because I don’t have any intelligence on it. I don’t have anything to confirm it. In the National Assembly we only deal with what comes to us.
It appears you are trying to absolve the National Assembly and pushing everything to the executive.
No, I don’t go for blame games. I stand shoulder to shoulder with this government and the president.
But government officials sit in safe places with security agents while ordinary people are dying, yet government is saying it is not being given enough cooperation, what’s your take?
I cannot pretend. I have heard various complaints from every part of this country. But one thing I know is that as lawmakers, we have had many sessions on this matter, but we are not the end producers of what it takes to bring peace from the battlefront. I am not a member of the security committee.
I know the commitment President Buhari has in this matter, but the elite are the ones posing the greatest problems, criticising the government.
Do you think criticisms are not good?
You can criticise positively, there is nothing wrong with that. No good government would say it doesn’t want criticisms, but it should not be negative. The sooner we realise this, the better for all of us.
Talking about respect for the rule of law and judicial processes, as a lawyer, do you think the judiciary is up to its task, considering the way cases linger? We have a lot of cases the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has prosecuted for almost a decade without closure.
I want us to get something straight. You don’t just plant solutions. Situations in other countries are not the same in Nigeria.
What should be done? Do we continue to say that Nigeria is not UK, France etc?
That would be pessimistic. I am talking about being realistic. Here, you have a situation where a policeman investigating a case has not been paid and you send him for an assignment. You are also talking of judges who are complaining of salaries and welfare and you want the same kind of result?
Who is not paying the policemen? Who creates the situation where the police do their job and don’t get paid, or don’t even get the necessary equipment?
I am talking in aggregate terms. We expect some leverage with the revenue available to the government. We can’t ignore these factors in Nigeria.
But Nigerians elected you to fix these problems and challenges because some of them revolve around corruption. That is why there are ghost policemen or workers and there are no consequences for them? What is your take?
When we get such persons we put them before the law.
Every person who offers himself to the electorate for election has a vision and mindset of what he thinks he can do with the team he is bringing on. And some of the factors change. For instance, you campaigned with a clear understanding of what you wanted to offer, but when you get out there and there’s nothing in the treasury, what would you do?
But the same government has taken so many loans. I have nothing against any government going for loans. What I am concerned about is what you do with the money. Do you think this is sustainable?
If you can’t have the money in your kitty, you have to borrow. What’s wrong with that? As far as I am concerned, the issue of sustainability is what you do with it.
As a former governor of Nasarawa State, did you meet empty treasury? What was the situation? What did you do?
I inherited a loan of N22 billion when I took over. And when I started, the state was only getting N680 million to N700 million from the Federation Account. As a new state, there was nothing you could touch as internally generated revenue.
Did you borrow?
Not in the context of your question. If I found out that I was going to be unable to pay my first line charges, like salaries and wages, if I could make arrangements with the banks to provide absolute funds, why not?
When I left the Government House I didn’t have arrears to pay. The only month that remained was the month I handed over because it was the policy of the government that in the month of handing over, they won’t release money from the Federation Account.
Apart from salary arrears, did you leave any big debt?
No. I paid for most of my projects before I left.
What was the magic?
Well, along the line, there were some improvements, and we got something like excess crude and ecological funds from time to time. Revenue also increased.
Did you also set up a retirement package for yourself?
I have severance benefits. And I am sure you also have severance benefits in Media Trust.
Do you think it is justified for people like you to retire from one cozy job to another, getting double income?
Well, it depends on what you call cozy.
You expressed your views on agitations across the country, especially in the South East, restructuring etc. Recently, governors from the South East declared support for one Nigeria, do you think that would douse the clamour and killings in that zone?
I am sorry to say that while I welcome such a development, I am not yet convinced. We have to give it time and see what happens. People just don’t sit down and make a pronouncement and think we should go by it. We are wishing Nigeria’s situation disappears.
I believe the issue of insecurity in the South East and the pronouncements by their political leaders is because they did not see anything good coming their way. Sometimes you will just wonder what they are complaining about. If you take all the strategic offices in this country, you would see the Igbo, Yoruba and people from the South South. This hullabaloo is about the presidency. To them, why must any northerner take the presidential seat after Buhari? I don’t beat about the bush; I am old enough. And I know Nigeria enough to know that at the moment a pronouncement is made, I want to see it pushed to test.
What about your colleagues in the National Assembly? Do you people sit together and discuss this matter because it is a challenge to Nigeria?
As much as possible, the leadership of the National Assembly has tried to be bipartisan. They have tried to carry everybody along as much as possible. But sometimes there are some hiccups, depending on what is under discussion. Sometimes the opposition want to play their cards, and when that happens, we respond to it. But on the whole, the 9th Senate has reduced partisanship to the barest minimum.
Is there any effort to call a meeting among the different groups?
You must be careful not to fall into somebody’s trap.
What they are saying is that in terms of current appointments, they are not considered for lucrative ones, do you agree with that?
What do you call lucrative? For me, every arm of government is very important. Who is the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria? Who is the minister of works? Who is the minister of health? Who is the minister of information? Who is the minister of finance? Aggregate all these appointments and put them on a scale: How many northerners are there?
But they say the security sector is dominated by northerners.
What do we call domination? Security is a professional regime, they go by seniority; and the moment you take a step and appoint somebody that destabilises the system, problems lie ahead. We just want to create distortions that are unnecessary.
Let’s not deceive ourselves, somebody is talking about breaking this country and he wants to be chief of army staff or chief of defence staff? Is that how they run government? I won’t do it. At this level we must tell Nigerians the truth as we understand it.
With the charged atmosphere, where do you see Nigeria going?
Well, I believe very strongly that the president is doing the best.
We are doing constitution review right now in the National Assembly, that’s how it should happen instead of bringing this issue. When it comes to the constitution, there is a procedure, and the president has consistently said agitators of restructuring, for example, should go to the National Assembly.
Are you fundamentally changing the constitution?
I don’t want to pre-empt anything before somebody would say Abdullahi Adamu said this in an interview with Trust TV. I happen to chair one of the zonal public hearings.
Is there any determination on your part?
There is a determination to listen to Nigerians and take a look at the very serious cases as we understand them.
Fortunately, the police participated in the zonal hearing we had, so we hope that state assemblies, when most of the work would have been done, would get quick assent.
One of the fundamental issues I believe you dealt with it as governor is local administration. Even President Buhari lamented how governors more or less abolished local governments because they have taken over most of their funds and duties. At the last round of this constitution amendment exercise, efforts were made to change that, but it was shut down at the level of the state legislators, they didn’t open some of the fundamental issues that would have brought a lot of changes, more independence to the local governments, are you politicians making efforts to abolish that layer of government in Nigeria?
I will resist with my last breath, any attempt to abolish local governments. There are a lot of injustices that have been meted out on the local government administration in this country, to the extent that it seems not to even exist. Every month, there is a financial account meeting. Just as the federal government gives allocation, states get their allocation; local governments that are in the constitution should get theirs. The laws have not changed. But sometimes we are very pretentious. We sometimes refuse deliberately to be honest with ourselves.
Why are state governments getting away with this?
We make it possible for them. When I was governor, I didn’t do it this way. The moment federation account was over, there was a committee. And I didn’t get involved in it.
Source: Daily Trust