BY OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
The fear that President Muhammadu Buhari may dump the recommendation of the last confab put together by former President Goodluck Jonathan has sparked off a wave of reactions from among concerned stakeholders. In this interview, a notable member of the Arewa Consultative Forum, (ACF) Senator Joseph Waku, dismisses the report as an illegality and, therefore, not binding of the new administration. He also speaks on the litigation battle over the Benue State governorship contest, warning that APC may lose the state to the PDP. Excerpts:
How would you react to the media report that President Muhammadu Buhari may dump the recommendation of the confab put together by his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan?
In the first place, the confab was an illegality. Agreed, the President has the right to assemble his friends and give them launch. But if I were President Buhari, I will question from which account he (former President Goodluck Jonathan) put these Nigerians together because it was an illegality using tax payers’ money for that kind of jamboree. The confab was not constitutionally approved, but Jonathan went ahead to create two parliaments in one country at a time, which was uncalled for. Of course, the law permits him to assemble his friends and give them dinner, but the law does not permit him to use tax payers’ money to entertain them. So, it was a diversionary mechanism to keep Nigerians busy, while using their money against them. The present government has the right to reject that advice. Buhari doesn’t need the advice. The law is very clear on that. So, I thank Mr. President for ignoring the advice of some selfish individuals. The advice Jonathan needed was for him alone and not for the nation.
But this is not the first time Nigeria would organise such conference.
(Cuts in)….Which other one do you have?
That of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, of course. You recall that he also organized a similar Political Reform Conference to restructure Nigeria. That was most irresponsible because Obasanjo wanted to use it to divide this country. He also used it to witch hunt. Besides, it was unconstitutional. Did you see any implementation after the gathering of his friends?
But do you believe in the need for restructuring of the present federal structure?
If you need to restructure, you make your request to the parliament to debate. You have the right to make suggestion on how this country should run. There is a system in place to do that. The National Assembly is there; forward your proposal to the lawmakers on how you want the law to be made. You have to bear in mind that at the end of the day the National Assembly must adopt it as a form of law. So, why don’t you go straight when you have direct route to the parliament? You can even raise a private bill and forward it to the constitution amendment committee.
A prominent member of the conference said the reason Buhari may not be able to implement the recommendation is because the North is the beneficiary of the imbalance in the federal structure. What is your reaction to that?
I don’t know about that. He has to explain how imbalance the structure is. You see, you cannot stop people from holding their personal opinion.
Part of his argument is that the present arrangement gives more local governments and states to the North as against the South.
Are you, therefore, considering reducing local governments and the states in the North? Why is he not talking of equality? Local government creation is based on population. Is he, therefore, insinuating that the population in the North is overemphasized?
That is part of his insinuation. In actual fact, he is suggesting that the arrangement gives more resources to the North as against the South and therefore there is a need for restructuring.
Where did he conduct his census that gave him accurate figure? Was it Buhari who did that?
He said the military leaders who were largely from the North were responsible for the imbalance and that because Buhari is from the region, he does not have the courage and commitment to implement the recommendation to address the imbalance. Buhari is just two months in office and the confab ended long before he became the president. Why didn’t Jonathan implement the recommendation before he left office? He couldn’t implement it because he knew he was just playing on the intelligence of Nigerians by bringing those delegates together. I think we have more serious issues to talk about in this country than this confab thing. Did he give us the yardstick of how the local government will be reduced?
He is proposing regional system.
I will prefer parliamentary system myself because of cost saving. But I am too old in this country to take someone’s myopic idea he is trying to promote.
Since Jonathan handed over the recommendation to the new government, don’t you think the president owns this nation a duty or responsibility to look at the document?
He should wait for Buhari to study that recommendation to see whether it is worth it or is not worth it. Not all the aspects of the recommendation will be totally useless. He should wait. Why is he putting the cat before the horse? Why is he not talking about corruption and the insurgent Buhari is waging war against? These are the things this country needs now immediately.
In your view what is the significance of Buhari’s visit to the US to the Nigerian economy?
I have not been able to sit down and analyse his visit, but from what I have read and seen on the screen, I discover that it is one of the most important visits Nigeria has ever had. First, American government has agreed to support the effort of Nigeria in fighting the insurgent and I think that is a good move. They have also agreed, including some other friendly countries, that Nigeria’s money that has been stolen should be repatriated. That again is a good move. The President also addressed American commerce and business communities as well as the Nigerians in diaspora who might have had negative feeling about this country and they now know that there is a leader who wants to move this country forward. He went further to say that he has no friend to shield in terms of corruption. America went further to suggest that he must engage technocrats to run the economy so that the issue of corruption can be dealt with. I think this is a wonderful meaningful trip that we should all congratulate the president for.
What is your reaction to the crisis in the National Assembly?
The best thing that has happened to this country is that election that brought about the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President. That is the dividend of change Nigerians are yearning for. Saraki has bailed out the APC that is now talking about party supremacy from the mould of ridicule and disgrace. If Saraki had not shown up at the National Assembly at the time of the inauguration, APC would have been ridiculed and disgraced. The President and Commander –In- Chief of the Armed Forces gave a directive to the Clerk of the National Assembly to supervise the inauguration of the National Assembly on June 9. Any responsible member of APC who also wanted to become a principal officer of the National Assembly would have been in that place at that time. Saraki honoured the directive of Mr President by being at the venue at the time, while some people decided to ignore the president’s directive. Now, APC in its primitive response is talking of party supremacy. Is it not the people who refused to be at the venue of inauguration that the party should be looking at the way of sanctioning? If Saraki and his APC loyalists had refused to be at that chamber, the PDP would have conducted the business of the day, elected themselves as President and Deputy President of that parliament and nothing would have happened under the law of this country. The constitution does not say that the ruling party or the majority party should elect among themselves the leaders of the National Assembly. Rather, it says the members of National Assembly should elect Senate President, Deputy Senate President and other principal officers from among themselves. What it is needed to form a quorum out of 109 members is just 36 and the PDP had 49. The PDP would have elected themselves as Senate President and Deputy Senate President and nothing would have happened. So, the days of impunity and arrogance of power have gone. Nigeria is desirous of change and that is the wind of change. Saraki saved APC from total embarrassment. He should be honoured by APC, if they have any award of credible performance. If not for irresponsible act of other members, they have no business being where they were on that day of inauguration. All meetings should have ended on the eve of inauguration. They should have respected the constitution and the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari. For me, anti-Saraki lawmakers are saboteurs.
What is your latest position on the Benue State governorship contest?
Here again, we have seen another serious form of impunity and we are still in court. If the decision of the court comes before the PDP’s, APC will retain the seat. If the PDP’s case comes before ours, we may lose the battle and then our effort will be an exercise in futility. Therefore, APC will lose Benue State. There was no primary for the governorship contest of Benue State that is why we went to court. And not only that we went to court, we also made a case before the national secretariat of our party to change the decision of one man who imposed a person who was not a member of our party and who lost an election in another party which followed a due process. The case will continue because it has gone beyond an individual.
It’s like you people are taking a gamble here.
It is a dicey situation. Isn’t it?
It is not about me, it is about APC. It is because of corruption in the national secretariat of the APC that we are taking this risk. Until December 9, 2014, the so-called candidate of APC in Benue State, Samuel Ortom, was a member of PDP. On the same 9, he said he joined the APC.
On the same 9, he wrote a letter for a waiver and got the letter of waiver that same day. On the same 9, he wrote a letter to the police and the INEC for the primary. Thereafter, he bought a form on December 11, which was the day of the primary. Where did he get the mandatory approval to contest the election when the sale of form and the screening of candidates had already closed? We are fighting against impunity and injustice.
We are in court to protect the integrity of the APC in Benue State. But if the leaders believe in the immediate benefit and are ready to sacrifice the future of the party in the state and the good governance so be it. But I can assure you, as long as I am still alive, I will fight against impunity and injustices. And no man born of a woman or a man will sack me from APC. Rather, I will sack that person who wants to subvert the rules of our party. The waiver Ortom claims he got from the national secretariat can only be recommended by the National Working Committee (NWC) and approved by the National Executive Committee (NEC). And, of course, you are aware that the NEC met for the first time after the National Assembly election.
So, where did they get the approval?
We are here to protect and defend the rules of our party and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
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