Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed is a Kaduna-based politician. He was Secretary to Kaduna State Government and has been part of several boards at the federal level. An APC stalwart, he spoke with OJO SOLA on burning national issues in this interview.
YOU were one of those who believed that the government of former president Goodluck Jonathan was not doing much to better the lots of Nigerians. You also worked very hard to bring the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari on board. Would you say that what you envisaged then are coming into play now in terms of good governance?
We envisaged changing the ways Nigerians had lived. We envisaged a progressive government, a compassionate government, a government that will defend the lives and economic prosperity of Nigerians. We did not envisage that we would be governing under extremely challenged economic circumstances. This is not our own making and that is the truth. We had a new government ushered in by Nigerians. There were great hopes but the economic context has not allowed us to fully make that impact.
But then, there are areas we have made impacts. We have made impact in the area of security. We have made impact in fighting corruption. We could have done a lot better. We are hoping that some of the key policies of the government will take effect in the near future and Nigerians will begin to see elements of what we promised them.
The same Buhari who convinced Nigerians to vote for him is the same person, nothing has changed about his personality. Most of our governors are trying to do well. If anybody tells you that he is happy with the way Nigeria is today, I think that person is lying to you. There are challenges we wish do not exist. We have pushed out, virtually destroyed Boko Haram. We now have new challenges in the Niger-Delta, and there are lots of internal security challenges. So, on the whole, we have a good government operating in a very poor economic environment.
Your assessment in clear terms sir…?
Cuts in… My own assessment of the situation is this. We wanted President Buhari to replace an incompetent and corrupt government and he did that. We wanted our party, to replace incompetent and corrupt governors in most states, they did that. What is left now is to work very, very hard and see how we can address the new challenges we did not anticipated but are now part of us. I have faith that the God we prayed to, to give us this opportunity to turn around the way the country is being run, the same God will come to our aid and I also believe that President Buhari will not disappoint Nigerians.
You mentioned that the Buhari=led federal government is committed to the war against corruption and Boko Haram, but are we really winning the war against corruption?
See, many people do not understand what it means to fight corruption. They think the fight against corruption is simply arresting people who are corrupt and then processing them for prosecution. For me, it is not so much that you have a government which is trying to say, you cannot just steal people’s money; if you had stolen money, we will prosecute you and from now on, nobody will steal people’s money.
The future is more important than the past if President Buhari has succeeded in stamping integrity and accountability in governance, it is in the longer term, a million times more effective than just simply catching thieves and putting them in prison. In that way, institutional reforms which include reinforcing the integrity of government, improving the levels of accountability that is going on. the fact that the President cannot simply turn his head away when his lieutenants are stealing billions of naira, that is more important. And for me, that is the way to go. You should address it why it is so easy for corruption to thrive and you block all the loopholes through institutional reforms. Make sure that people who are stealing money do not find it so easy to steal. Address issues that make it easy for corruption to thrive. Discourage it by not doing it. Don’t tolerate it under your system and you will see that accumulating to a point that the next government will enforce this, and another government will reinforce it even more. That is because if you just focus on fighting corruption in terms of how many people have been arrested and prosecuted, how much money have been recovered, you will not see the effect of corruption as much as Nigerians want to see it. The reason being that you have to operate it through the judicial system, through witnesses or investigative institutions; and a lot of them and that takes time.
For me, the most important thing is that President Buhari is saying to Nigerians that under his watch and hopefully under the next president’s watch, whoever they are, nobody will touch Nigeria people’s money and not just that, we will understand why it is easy to steal people’s money. How people’s money is being stolen and that those who may be tempted to steal people’s money see what is happening to those who steal the money. That is how we fight corruption.
What is your position regarding the ongoing prosecution of the President of the Senate, his deputy and two others, don’t you think that can affect smooth running of President Buhari’s administration?
I think there are many facets to the trials of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. My view is that there are obviously the political side to it. I also think that we need to watch the developments very, very closely to make sure that one, we achieve whatever objectives these prosecutions are intended to achieve. We must also ensure that they do not cause more political damage than is necessary. I believe that there were a number of critical tallying points that we missed in the past in relation to issues related to Senator Bukola Saraki, but I think that the political process needs to be more actively be as enough as possible. We are all in the same party. Nobody will condole corruption, forging of documents. But I will strongly suggest if one was in the position to do so that, we recognize the fact that the political process is very wide and flexible and as much as possible, we explore all the avenues available to make sure that we do not do more damage in trying to seek solutions to problems that were already done.
Some political analysts are of the view that the anti-graft agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is pursuing only the people with PDP background whereas, others who had been mentioned in the past to have stolen from public treasury, are walking freely because they are members of your party, APC. Do you also share this view?
Honestly, I think that if there is evidence against anybody irrespective of his standing, whether he is in APC or PDP, to be honest with you, I will like to see such people prosecuted. I will like to see evidence brought up against anybody that is being looked into. I agree that what appears to be at this stage is that only PDP are stealing money, but please in the name of God, if anybody has evidence that APC people had stolen public money in the same way PDP people stole, they should make that information available. And if our government is sitting on that information, then it is most irresponsible. There is no way you can fight corruption when you are only targeting people from one political party. But I would not wholesomely agree with the idea that there are criminals and corrupt people in APC unless people bring out evidence and show it.
So in my view, our anti-corruption agencies need to be totally independent. They need a level of independence that will be enough for them to bring to book people from APC if there is any. If people from APC had stolen public funds, they must be exposed. If there are senators or former governors who had stolen money whether they are APC or not, they should be prosecuted. What we need to do really is to address issues related to the process. The legal process is cumbersome, the judicial process is cumbersome, the investigation process is cumbersome. Is there a way some of these cases can be disposed? Are there ways through which the capacity of the anti corruption agencies to actually investigate everybody else? I will like to believe that President Buhari has not told anybody not investigate or arrest any APC person. And if that is the case then, I expect that people from APC against whom there is evidence to be prosecuted. I would like to see that because I genuinely believe that is the only way you can depoliticize the anti-corruption war and it is important that it is depoliticised. But until that evidence is proven, it is unfair to continue to allege that APC people have stolen money when there is no evidence against them.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant Gen. Buratai has been in the news in recent times. It is not the news about Boko Haram, but alleged property scandal in United Arab Emirates, Dubai to be precise…?
The Minister of Defence has defended him. If people think the Minister of Defence was lying in defending Gen. Buratai, they should say so. I think that too many Nigerians want to operate outside the law, yet they want the same law to protect them. The rule of law says if you have evidence that I have committed an offence, bring the evidence. If you don’t have that evidence, then for goodness sake, don’t judge me. People are alleging that Gen. Buratai owns property in Dubai but the federal government says we have investigated that and have established that yes, he has property. These are circumstances, this is the nature of the property and we have not established anything wrong in that.
If that does not satisfy the people, they have two options; one is to go out and find evidence that will disprove what government said. The other one of course is to accept that position of government as final but we should not do what will appear to be wrong. If you don’t like something, you destroy it irrespective of the principles of justice and fairness but if it is you, you would now call on God and everybody else to protect you, it is wrong. We don’t understand the damage we are doing until this kind of things affect us and you cry to high heavens that you are innocent and people say no you are not innocent. It is wrong. That somebody is in a position of authority does not mean he’s not entitled to basic principles of fairness and justice.
Do you agree with the likes of Atiku Abubakar, Shehu Sani who are calling for restructuring?
The Federal Government cannot keep doling out money to states. Obviously, that is not sustainable. The FG itself needs resources to work with. We are dealing with a very serious issue. State governments have to sit down and do some serious analysis on how can they meet basic requirements of governance with the resources they have or receive as federal allocation and what they can generate internally. They need to also reprioritize their priorities. These are not easy choices.
I think Nigerians need to come to terms with the fact that we are going through a very difficult process where revenues are crashing beyond what anybody expected. So, as we said, you have to cut your cloth according to your size. What needs to be done? How do you prioritize? How do you cushion the effect of this economyicmeltdown? Payment of salary is so central to governance that it should constitute the only source of expenditure? Are there things we can do to reduce the cost of governance? Are there other economies to be made? Are there cuts to be made? But sadly, you are right, FG cannot continue bailing out, it is wrong.
People say if you restructure, you will solve the problem. Alas! You won’t solve any problem with restructuring! You can restructure Nigeria anyway you want to, you can create a hundred more states. You can create six states from the present states so long as the economic circumstances under which all governments operate is the same, it won’t change anything.
If I could advice anyone, I would say put this issue about governance and the economic context which is taking place on the table. Call a national conference, national dialogue, summit, whatever because it needs to be addressed. It needs to be understood by people who are actually involved in making key economic policy decision. It needs to be appreciated by people who are at the receiving end and it also needs to be made clear to Nigerians.
It will be a long time before we go back to the situation where we can both pay salaries, do this and that. It will take a long time.
Nigerians are calling on the presidency to dust up the recommendation of 2014 National confab and see if it can address some of the security and economy challenges the country is currently faced with. Can the reports be looked into in spite of the fact that your party, APC did not participate in the said confab?
Let me ask you a question. Do you know how many recommendations the last conference made? More than 900! Are you aware there is not even one report to that conference? There are many reports to that conference. People keep saying the last confab. There are many! Virtually every reports of that last confab is disputed, disputed by the same people who did the conference. So which one do you want implemented? Which elements of it do you want implemented? What do you prioritize? What is the purpose and significance to our situation today so that its implementation will address either the economic adversity we arre going through or the situation of security in the Niger-Delta or Boko Haram or internal security challenges or IDPs, or the strength of the naira or declining revenues? What is in the report in 2014 that we can lift out and bring here now and be useful?
For me, that is the more intelligent way to go about it. Even then, you need the consensus, if you get 300 people in the same room and you say gentlemen is this the report of the last conference? I’m telling you, there is going to be riot in that room because a large number of people do not understand and accept that a particular report represents them. There are reports in the reports, there are allegations for instance that 18 states were recommended overnight in the hotel room of one of the people who attended the conference. Eighteen new states in this situation when we are saying states cannot pay salaries? So, if I ask you what part of the report should be implemented? Shouldn’t the question really be, is there something in the 2014 national conference report that we can lift and bring in as additional input to governance today? If there is nothing that will stop the SGF who has the report from going through it –economic management, security issues, political issues and said to the President, by the way the last conference in 2014 there were very good recommendations I think you need to look at them. You don’t need the whole self-implementation of the report. What you need to do is intelligent analysis of the reports and the degree at which they address your problems today. There is nothing stopping government from taking the advantage of the fact that they have the report or reports. And it not the only one.