Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Amidst growing agitations over the geopolitical zone to produce the next president in 2023, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, has revealed that the North is not insisting on retaining the presidency at the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure.
In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, Na’Abba who gave nod for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023, however, said that the would-be president “has to convince me that he has the competence, capability, capacity, tolerance, acceptance, consideration and empathy necessary for me to entrust him with myself and my family. And it will be the same if the person would come from Kano.”
Amongst other thought-provoking issues, Na’Abba recalled his stint in the House of Representatives, saying that he is bewildered by the bizarre interaction between the National Assembly and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in its ongoing probe.
How has life been with you since you left office as Speaker of the House of Representatives?
Life has been good for me since I left the House of Representatives. I have been in private business since I left the House.
Your inability to return to the House was attributed to your leadership style. Looking back, do you have any regrets?
I have no regrets for conducting the affairs of the House of Representatives the way I did. What I did was to operationalise the principle of Separation of Powers as I understood it. Of course, this was alien to the leadership of the executive arm as it was constituted. It was regarded as confrontational by them. The executive arm regarded politics as power play instead of regarding it as developmental. So, two distinct philosophies were at work, working against one another. Inevitably, there was no love lost between the House and that arm of government. It is the healthiest thing to happen in any democracy. The principle of Separation of Powers among the three arms of government is designed to protect the people from tyranny. Friction among them is, therefore, inevitable. If that friction is absent, then some degree of collusion must be going on. When collusion becomes a feature of the system, then the system is undermining the people. The mindset of the executive arm was such that the legislature should be a rubber stamp, particularly that our party, the same party with the president was in the majority in the Assembly. I resisted every attempt by the president to turn the House into a rubber stamp. I did this with the active support of my colleagues. I believe that it is not how long one serves in politics, but how effective one was. Today, that House of Representatives of 1999-2003 is still a reference point in any political discussion in this country. Even vendors, when they see me in traffic, tell me that they don’t sell their newspapers as much since June 2003. This was because the stance of the House made the system so vibrant as any true system could ever be. So, there is nothing to regret in what we did. In fact, I take a lot of pride in what we were able to accomplish.
Since then, not much has been heard from you politically. Are you done with politics? What is your next political move?
It is not true to say that since then not much has been heard from me politically. After I left the House, President Obasanjo, with the active collusion of some legislators, embarked on a programme to terminate term limit in the constitution through a process of constitutional amendment. I was a strong pillar in the move to truncate that misadventure. If we had not done that, Nigeria would still be under his presidency today. I have also been participating in many lectures and seminars all over the country. In this country, once one is out of office, the press becomes disinterested in him/her. Suffice to say that I had been granting press interviews since then. I also participated in the 2014 National Conference.
Recently, your state, Kano, was in the news for the sack of Muhammad Sanusi 11 as Emir of Kano and the Coronavirus pandemic. How did you see the two incidents?
The dethronement of Muhammad Sunusi 11 was very unfortunate. It was a lesson in the misuse of political power occasioned by, among other things, institutional weaknesses. Nothing was more frightening than the speed with which the Kano State House of Assembly passed the bill with which and within which the governor drew the power to dethrone him. For an act that will have such a profound effect, albeit negatively, on the lives of the people of a state to be passed within two days and without a legitimate public hearing, speaks volumes about our democracy, our legislature and even the quality of the legislators. It is a sad commentary on our political system that most state legislatures have become rubber stamps. It is hard to accept that his removal was done in good faith. The determination to remove him gathered momentum when he exposed what was in his opinion, a waste and an exercise in corruption. The governor planned to borrow money from the Chinese to embark on a light rail project, which is regarded as a white elephant project by the majority of the people of the state. It is not light rail that should be the priority of the government. Apart from not being a priority, people do not see any propriety in borrowing funds that there is no clear-cut repayment plan. There is great apprehension that the governor is going to mortgage the future of generations of unborn children. The idea was shelved then. But now that he has got rid of Sanusi, he has resurrected the scheme. There is no one in authority to stop him. On the COVID-19, the lack of trust in the governor by the people, occasioned by many instances of maladministration, has resulted in most people not believing that the disease even exists. The belief is that he wants to use COVID-19 to divert funds to his pocket, especially with the N15 billion request he made to the Federal Government. It is only through the special grace of God that more people than what has been recorded have not been infected.
How did you feel when you lost some of your kinsmen?
Naturally, I felt very sad. In fact, I also lost a most cherished brother in-law to the pandemic.
How would you rate the 9th National Assembly, which many people believe is mere rubber stamp to the executive?
The 9th National Assembly, is in my opinion, a victim of the political circumstances that characterize our polity as many members as possible got into the National Assembly, courtesy of the absence of internal democracy. In other words, they are there at the behest of their governors. Naturally, they would do only what these governors want them to do. This will definitely impede their effort to maintain the independence of the National Assembly. Therefore, no matter how hard they try, they will always come short in their quest to do so. No matter how hot the water in your well, it can never cook your rice. But the leadership is doing its best. It will not be fair for me, therefore, to describe them as rubber stamp.
If you were presiding over the affairs of the National Assembly, what would you do regarding current happenings, particularly the NDDC probe where the Speaker gave 48 hours to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, to produce names of National Assembly members involved in NDDC contracts which the minister churned out, including the decision of the House to sue the minister?
I must confess that I am bewildered by the bizarre interaction between the National Assembly and the NDDC recently. My heart bleeds whenever I remember how NDDC is being run today. In June of 2000, I mobilised 306 members of the House to override the President’s veto because he refused to assent to the bill when it was presented to him, on account of our increasing the contribution of the Federal Government and the oil companies by two per cent and three per cent respectively. We increased the percentages because the committees on petroleum and environment of both the House and the Senate recommended such after we sent them on an extensive fact-finding tour of the oil producing states. After we override it, I went to the late Chuba Okadigbo, the then President of the Senate, and exhorted him to persuade the Senate to follow suit, which they did. In doing so, I put my political carrier at risk due to what happened subsequently. After we achieved this feat, the President’s men convinced him that if I could mobilise such a number of members, over two thirds of the House, to override his veto, it is certain that one day I may remove him from office. Since then, the president instigated my impeachment and removal as Speaker in perpetuity, albeit unsuccessfully. Even though I have no regrets for my actions, because the objective was to help the people of the area overcome the challenges facing them, my political carrier became checkered because due to the machinations of the president and the party, which he had pocketed, I became neither appointable nor electable under the party. It is, therefore, a great source of worry for me to note that NDDC has become a den of thieves, having done all I did. If I were presiding over the House today, what I would do in the matter between Akpabio and the House is definitely going to be a function of the powers the constitution granted the House under the 1999 constitution as amended. Definitely, there are ethical and moral challenges in what obtained. I will begin by referring the matter to the ethics committee. What happens next will be a function of the recommendation of the ethics committee.
What is your assessment of the Buhari administration in the last five years, using the three major focus of the administration, namely: Security, economy and corruption?
My assessment of the Buhari administration is that it is doing its best in the three areas Buhari kept mentioning during his campaign, i.e, security, economy and corruption. A lot, however, remains to be done. In the area of corruption, there appears to be no philosophical framework for fighting corruption. The social problems that lead to corruption are not being addressed. Only the criminal aspect of it is being addressed. So, the administration’s policy on corruption is more reactive than proactive. In the area of security, while we have witnessed the total elimination of the incidences of bombings of our churches and mosques in many cities, it is sad to note that virtually all our forests are now being colonised by bandits and kidnappers, with people being attacked massively on a daily basis. Travelling by road from one city to another has become a nightmare. The frequency with which people are killed and in the numbers they are killed is quite disconcerting. In addition to Boko Haram, we are now contending with banditry and herders/farmers’ clash. In the area of the economy, the story is the same. When the administration came in in 2015, the dollar was selling at about N160. Today, it sells for about N480. This is enough to show you how much poverty is ravaging the citizens of this country. It is a measure of how much the economy is unimportant to the administration that an economic team comprising of purely economists was only put in place in the fifth year of the administration when much damage has been inflicted on the economy. The number of people that saw their capital wiped out is uncountable. This notwithstanding, all types of taxes are being imposed on the people, the most recent one being taxing tenants, that are paying for rent. I believe it is the highest form of callousness to impose any form of tax on people who have no shelter of their own. An additional cause of worry is the continued accumulation of debt without regards to how such debts are going to be repaid. It is disheartening to note that as important as PENCOM is, it has no board in the last five years. The same with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, all parastatals under the Aviation Ministry and many other boards. And all these decisions to do or not do are taken not in the national interest, but in the interest of a particular people in the administration. Therefore, questions arise on a daily basis as to what kind of leadership we have, if any.
The North is still insisting on producing the next president in 2023 and some are of the opinion that it is the turn of the Southeast. What is your view about this?
The North is not insisting on producing the next president. Personally, I have a long time ago taken the decision not to support the presidential ambition of anybody on account of his/her place of birth, whether it is the North or the South. This phenomenon has not helped all the states that produced our four presidents since 1999. If anything, the office is only enjoyed by the cronies of these presidents. If you ask the average Bayelsa man or Katsina man or Ogun man, they will all tell you that they are not better off today than they were before the presidency went to their states. I very much support the idea of a president from the Southeast, but he has to convince me that he has the competence, capability, capacity, tolerance, acceptance, consideration and empathy necessary for me to entrust him with myself and my family. And it will be the same if the person would come from Kano.
The alleged aspiration of former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu to become president in 2023, some believe, will signal the end of the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the election if Tinubu is denied the party’s ticket. As someone who has been in the party, do you share this view?
Today, I am not a member of the APC. It will be presumptuous for me, therefore, to speak on the presidential ambition of Bola Tinubu.