From Desmond Mgboh, Kano
Retired Col. Yakubu Bako was the former military administrator of Akwa Ibom State during the Abacha administration. He has been in politics in Kano for time now, first as a member of the Peoples Democratic Party and later as a member of the All Progressives Congress. He was a member of the security sub-committee of President Buhari’s Transition Committee. In this interview, he responded to a number of issues such as the face off between the Senate and the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, their quarrel with the Comptroller General of Customs, the state of the economy and the need for the president to disclose in details his health status among others.
Sir, we will like your impression on governance in Nigeria since the coming of the Buhari administration. What is your take on the state of the nation generally?
I will start to say that the administration came into power at a time when things were not so good. And in the typical Nigerian manner, we wanted a quick -fix, something that would be resolved overnight. Some kind of magic! Something that by tomorrow, it is done with and resolved. But if you look at the way the administration has so far gone, you will agree with me that we have passed through various stages of turbulences and we are now approaching a point of fresh air. Things have started to improve gradually and why do I say so ? If you look at the exchange rate in the past few days, you will see that the Naira has been appreciating and as you know a lot of things in the economy depends on that. The people engaged in importing will tell you that they depend on the dollars, the traders selling rice would tell you that their market depends on the dollars and even the local people would say the same. The improvement in the exchange market is already having an effect on the system in the sense that things are getting cheaper across the country.
Some critics have argued that some of the marginal improvements are coming far too late in the life of the administration. How come it took this long for any sign of progress to be recorded by an administration that had promised quick solutions?
I am not in this government as you know, and I definitely have no knowledge of what must have been behind the slow pace of the movement in the administration. But given the antecedent of President Buhari, I think that he is a person that usually takes his time … and I think that now that he has started, there is no turning back. The whole thing is like a child: You crawl, you stand and you start walking. So his administration had crawled, stood and it is now beginning to walk and I believe that very soon, Nigerians would start seeing the positive impacts of the administration. I feel also that the initial slow pace of action may have been informed by the fact that he wanted to get all his facts correct before taking his decisions.
Some Nigerians are of the view that this is the right time to change some members of his cabinet and bring in some new blood. Do you share this view?
I believe that cabinet reshuffle at this moment would be good for the country. We certainly need that to rebut the system. And I had just read in one of the papers- was it yesterday or today that he has sent some names to the legislature; that he had already nominated new cabinet member to replace the lady that went to the United Nations and the other minister that died. I believe that given the next few weeks to come, maybe there would be some changes in the cabinet.
I am talking about the reshuffling of the incumbent ministers …
(Cuts) …My belief that it is likely that after this nomination, he is likely to bring in new faces who would help him move the economy and the country.
There is the notion in some quarters that the administration of President Buhari has been hijacked by some cabals, the reason it has failed to perform to its optimal range.
Well, one thing I want you to take home is that under the Nigerian system, there is no government that we did not say that it had been hijacked. Just think back! All the past governments were accused of the same weakness of being hijacked by a cabal. If it is working well, it is the cabal that is making it to work well and if it is not working well, it is the cabal that is making it not to work well. But each of the presidents we have had in the past or the president that we have now, they are all men of integrity that take decisions on their own. So, the issue of hijacking the administration does not arise. I believe that in the final analysis, the decision is the one taken by the president. I used to remember those days when we were in government house as military administrators, after all the advice from all the quarters , I would say look I am the number one citizen in this state and this what I want to do. No matter the number of policy advice or whatsoever, the president has the final say. This means that it is not likely that a government can be that hijacked by a cabal. He is the president and the buck stops on his table. You see even if he delegates power to his senior special advisers, to his assistants and aides, they are all working for him.
The Senate has just asked the President to sack the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu and we have also seen a lot of drama even before this decision was taken. What is your take on this unfolding saga?
First and foremost, I am not exactly privy to the security reports that the president has on Magu and maybe what is before him may not be what is before the Senate. It is now a case of both institutions working with what they have on the subject matter, which I doubt are in agreement. But I think that there is still room for a compromise position on the matter. I think that the president could initiate a meeting with the leadership of the Senate where the issue of Magu would be thoroughly thrashed and a solution found. Maybe the president could sit down with the Senate president and say this is what you people had about Magu and this is what I have about Magu. Again I look at it this way. The report on Magu was written by the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Department of State Security (DSS) is not working for the Senate. It is working for Mr. President. Honestly, I had expected the Department of State Security (DSS) would first report their findings to the President even before the appointment. I expected them to take whatever were their findings on Magu to the president. And say “Sir, you want to appoint Mr. So and So, but this is the report we have on him, please do not appoint him.” I expected them to go the president instead going to submit their report and findings to the Senate, which is the body to screen him. That, in my view, is a little bit faulty on the part of the Department of State Security (DSS). Don’t forget that usually, they sent reports to the president on matters like this. Even when he (the president) was about to appoint the Inspector General of Police , they sent their official report- I think the whole report went to him and he sifted it out and said, “oh let me appoint this guy although he may be junior to all the rest of the candidates.” That report did not go the Police Service Commission (PSC). It went straight to the president. If they had done it this way, all the whole drama would have been avoided and Nigerians would have been saved this trouble.
What in your view is the middle way out of this face off?
Yes that is what I am saying…. that there should be a compromise between the two arms of government- the Presidency and the Senate. Let them sit down and compare notes and then take a decision.
Some people have said that the Senate is acting out of mischief against the chairman of the EFCC, given his fight against corruption, that they are just trying to mess up the man…
But even if their action is intended to mess up the young man as alleged, whoever is coming after him would still work with the record or reports handed over to him by Magu. He would not throw away the information gathered by Magu. The issue of whether it is Magu or not Magu does not arise. Even if Magu is not there, the EFCC would still act on the reports that are on the ground.
The Senate is also embroiled in another face-off with the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs, Col Hameed Ali (retd)
The whole thing is getting out of hand in the sense that the issue of uniform should not be the topic of discussion between the Customs and the Senate at this time. Many people have been going to the Senate before now without wearing uniforms. Magu is an Assistant Commissioner of Police and he has not worn uniform for one day during his visits to the Senate and the Senate has not for one day, insisted that he must wear his official uniform as a condition to be welcomed in the Senate. And he is a serving officer. They interviewed him twice without wearing uniforms. So why then should they insist on uniform when it was the case of Col. Ali? Well, if I were Ali, I would have rested the dust a long ago. All they had said is wear uniform. They didn’t say that you should wear the uniform of the Comptroller General of Customs. He could have told his deputies or any other officer, please give me your uniform, let me wear it to the Senate. Uniform is uniform. And there is really nothing special in wearing uniform if that is all that would end the unhealthy atmosphere.
A lot of people feel that the Senate deserves better respect from the principal officers of President Buhari ……
Yes I agree with them, but I also say that there should be maturity on the part of the Senate. Maturity begets maturity. If there is that maturity from the Senate, I think the Presidency would react with similar maturity. That is the way I am looking at the whole issue.
Recently, Professor Wole Soyinka and a couple of Nigerians have insisted that President Buhari should disclose the nature of his illness to Nigerians. What is your take on this?
I don’t share their position on this. I do not think that it is right for the President to travel out and come back to tell Nigerians in details the whole nature of his ill health. Presidents had travelled out for medical check-ups and come back to chose what they tell Nigerians. I remember that President Babangida went out and came back to say that he has had issues with his knee… I have forgotten what he called it then. And that is all. No one said disclose all the problems because you are the president. Buhari went out for medical check-up. He was not flown out of the country to London for treatment. He just went abroad and while there, he said let me do my check up and he did and the doctor said he had to rest. If he were flown abroad because he was sick, then we can demand to know the problem……
But the president was in a health related condition for a substantial number of days and this condition was such that there was quite a swell of anxiety and don’t forget that even the treatment may have been paid with public funds. Some people are saying that it is wrong to be silent about what transpired.
Well, If I were within the Presidency I would have advised that there should more disclosure about what happened, maybe a nationwide broadcast soon after his arrival. That would give him the opportunity to brief the nation on the situation and tell them this is what happened, to tell them that right now ‘I am okay, there is nothing to fear and there is nothing to worry about and thank you for all your prayers.” I should allow him to talk to Nigerians upon his arrival. This is better than letting him keep quiet and allowing people to keep on speculating about his health and future. I certainly would have encouraged him to converse with Nigerians instead of silence and fuelling different kinds of speculations
Some Northerners are already thinking of a replacement for President Buhari in case he decides not to run a second time. Do you see this as a veritable move?
Yes of course. If the North is assigned a total of eight years and they have spent just four years, I think that it is worthy to start thinking of who to be deployed to complete the tenure, should the president decide to discontinue. There is the need for the North to complete its own tenure of eight years in power.