The setting in his well-appointed bar, located in a corner of his residence at Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja, last Saturday, had the trappings of a ‘People’s Parliament’. He, the leader of the ‘Parliament’ sat opposite ‘members’ comprising some of his top associates and constituents in Osun State, very much at home as they bantered and shared experiences. The small ‘crowd’ came with one agenda: how to better deliver the dividends of democracy to his constituency and fortify his position and love in the hearts of the people.
Suddenly, stillness fell on the bar as everybody turned their gaze to the television set where a panel was discussing the aftermaths of the EndSARS protests and the way forward for Nigeria.
“If we don’t handle this ENDSARS thing well,” said Francis Adenigba Fadahunsi, Senator representing Osun East Senatorial District in the Senate, “it may lead to bigger problems. But if we listen to what the youths are saying, fix the problems that have caused so much anger and pain, Nigeria will be better for it.”
That submission by Fadahunsi, a retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, ACG, and 2002 National Awardee of the Member of the Order of the Federal Republic, MFR, landed with a blast. It changed the focus of discussion to the EndSARS protests. And everyone at the bar freely voiced their candid opinion on how best to turn the protests and the tragic situation that followed into blessings for the country.
Then Fadahunsi, Chairman of the Board of the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, CRIN, Ibadan, who spent 33 years in Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, dropped a bombshell. He did an unbiased assessment of the NCS and declared matter-of-factly that the service was more brutal than the police, and deadlier than the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS.
“#EndSARS is just a little contributor to the agitation,” submitted Senator Fadahunsi. “There are a lot of #EndSARS problems that the Nigerian youths presented. It is not only about SARS, it is not only about police brutality, it is also about Customs brutality and good governance.”
The senator spoke on more burning national issues, including how, in his estimation, state governors across the two parties, are shortchanging the very people whose lives they swore to improve. Well, as they say, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Please, sit back and enjoy the encounter as present by SHOLA OSHUNKEYE.
Sir, what is your reading of the #EndSARs protest and the way it ended?
#EndSARS protest is an expression of accumulated frustration by the agitated youth of Nigeria who have been holding the short end of the stick for almost 21 years of democracy and several years of misrule, albeit since 1966. Since 1966, Nigeria has never had it well. From one military regime to another, from the military to civil rule, then to another military rule, finally to this democracy. This country has never had it good in terms of governance and service delivery to the people. The only time I can say we had real civilian government was under President Shehu Shagari. Then, we had the President Olusegun Obasanjo’s civilian-cum-military government. Although Obasanjo really tried, Nigeria is still in the woods.
You said governors don’t stay in their states. Is it the progressives or which particular segment of the country are you talking about?
Not just the so-called progressive states. It’s almost all over. Virtually all the governors live in Abuja as if it’s their constituency. Rather than sit down in their states and think creatively and execute programmes that will alleviate the sufferings of their people, they come to queue in Abuja, leaving their people to their fate. That is what led us to where we are. That is why the youths are saying enough is enough.
Many of the agitators are growing old. Age is not on the side of many of them. That’s why when they started this agitation on a right note, we all supported them We all said they had a good cause.
Even the federal government agreed that what they were asking for was not too much…
Yes. They asked for good governance that would provide at least something for them to live for, because they have been living life on their own, struggling, toiling. But they allowed hoodlums to take over. Maybe, if they had gotten leadership, maybe things may have been different. Again, maybe the government would have used its power to arrest the leadership. But they didn’t do that. And the hoodlums took over.
Is it really possible to organize a protest of that magnitude without having leaders?
I don’t think so. The leaders were faceless.
They were so organized they knew where and when to bring food, water, and other supplies to the protesters. They knew when to bring artistes to entertain. Everything was structured.
Yes. And everybody was talking. You will never see a spokesman. None of them came on television. You just see all the youths coming from all directions. You have never seen this kind of thing before. So, we now said: Okay, Federal Government, please, take it easy with them, because snake has its own hand inside. Since these people are leaderless, you should take it easy. The problem of this government is the internal mechanism in the generation of information, security, intelligence, etc. How can they, for almost 14 days, not be able to pinpoint their leaders? Which means part of the government supported them, even the apparatus of government.
What do you think would be the greatest achievement of these #EndSARS protesters? What is the greatest goal that they have achieved for themselves and, by implication, for the country?
Generally, #ENDSARS is just a little contributor to the agitation. There are a lot of #EndSARS problems that the Nigerian youths presented. It is not only about SARS, it is not only about police brutality, it is also about Customs brutality and good governance.
How do you mean customs brutality? The Department of Customs and Excise is your constituency. You retired as Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs…
They (Department of Customs and Excise) have been abusing Nigerians too. They have been taking the laws into their hands. Their own problem is worse than SARS. The borders are closed against our neighbours, preventing free flow of trade between the youths of other countries and the hard-working youths of Nigeria. The Nigeria Customs Service, the Immigration Department are supposed to facilitate international trade between Nigeria and other countries. But they closed the (land) borders for almost a year now. Customs brutality under Col. Hameed Ali (incumbent Comptroller General of Customs) is worse than police brutality. It is deadlier than police brutality.
But the federal government said they did it because the other countries were taking us for granted. That they were taking advantage of our kindheartedness. That there was trade imbalance and the problem of insecurity and insurgency was growing essentially because of our porous borders.
But Nigerians are now protesting violently that they you should let them do their businesses and collect your duties and revenues. They are ready to pay. By the way, Nigerian youths are only protesting locally, Nigerian youths in the diaspora are also protesting. They are protesting internationally because they cannot come home with their goods. They are having goods there; they are working tireless; they are bringing things, but what they would see at the ports is not good at all. And these are the same ports you restricted them to. If they were coming to the borders and you gave them duties, they would pay. Which means, among the millions of people going across the border, Nigerians are so many. For instance, Benin Republic is populated by Nigerians, one quarter of Nigerians from the south-south is in Cameroun. Togo and Ghana, all of them, have millions of Nigerians living in their territories. Yet, you said they shouldn’t bring in anything. They cannot come home because there was curfew. Now the curfew has subsided and they must bring all their goods home, still you have prevented that. Imagine, you are saying they cannot take the goods we are producing here abroad. As at today, only BUA cement and Dangote cement can go out.
They said they were the only ones given approval by Mr. President. The same group misadvised Mr. President about rice importation. They said rice was being smuggled, that if it continued, it would kill local rice production. They said people were bringing in arms and ammunition using rice. So, Mr. President said: okay, since you want protection for your agric rice, I will do it for you; not knowing that he has been misinformed.
I don’t think many Nigerians will agree with you, because the economic point of view is that, banning importation of rice would encourage local production and by so doing, it would empower farmers and encourage others to go into production.
You will now agree with me that the policy has failed. Or is it a success?
I don’t have any figure to answer that question.
Okay, how much is a bag of rice now?
It is #27,000 sir.
Before the imported rice that was banned, how much was it per bag?
What is the result now?
To me, I supported that initiative because…
(Cuts in…) So that you people would be buying it at #30,000?
But let’s develop our local production first.
Have we not developed it?
The development is work in progress.
Till all of them die finish? Nigerians consume 7.3 million tons of rice a year. The local rice growers can only give them 3.5 million tons. How do you get the balance? Meanwhile, rice is the staple food of most Nigerians. They are now forced to consume garri. Who are the people planting? Unfortunately, the rice growers are having serious problems. Take this from me: we are going to have famine this year; and this is not a fake prediction. The rice growers in Sokoto, Kano, etc. are going through hell. Flood has swept half of their rice farms away.
How efficient were the customs before the ban? Our borders are porous. The Customs are there and contrabands go unchecked right under their nose. Even the areas that are manned, people still bring things through illegal routes. And after watching all these happening right before their very eyes, the Customs would still go to town and begin to raid people’s shops, businesses. Why would you fail to police the borders effectively and you move to town to harass people?
That is one of the #EndSARS agitations. You are at the border. Another major thing is, the Tokunbo cars. With the prevailing economic situation in the country, how many people can buy a brand-new car? No matter how high their level of income, people cannot buy a new car. Even most of the cars that are assembled here, you can’t buy the spare parts that are brought in. Nigerians are used to Tokunbo cars and they are collecting duties in billions on these Tokunbo cars. Then, one soldier woke up one day, wrote a memo, and banned them.
Who is this soldier?
That is Colonel Hameed Ali. By the time you know it, he has run to NSA (National Security Adviser). By the time you talk about it, they are already with the Major-General, and then to the President of the country. They will not consider the implications. The implications are: the youths who are bringing in Tokunbo cars are in millions. What you needed to do was to fortify your officers, give them enough equipment, scanning machines, everything. Let them allow these things to come in but let them pay correct duties. Now, you banned all these things. And Tokunbo cars are not coming in. But Tokunbo cars are still there in the market all the same. The same people who banned them are the same people who would allow it for a bribe. At the end of the day, no kobo is paid to the Federal Government. It is when you, press people, start criticizing them at the National Assembly, you will now see them carrying guns, going from one house to another seizing cars. And the cars they have seized, they won’t pay duties on them. They will sell them illegally, or dash them out to cronies and girlfriends. Move round Abuja and see the cars small girls are driving. Girls without verifiable means of income, and see what I mean.
What you did at the port on rice, goods, Tokunbo cars, has now affected the port, because you are forced to go to the port and go through the tortuous journey of clearing, spending like almost a month at the port because of congestion. The same Customs don’t have any good valuation unit that can give you a correct transactional value. They still depend on Emefiele, the governor of CBN to give Customs valuation.
There is also the element of corruption, because many people accuse the Customs, your primary constituency, as one of the most corrupt organisations in Nigeria.
It is because of corruption they brought in a retired Colonel to sanitise the place. The question I ask now is: has the corruption subsided? I asked him when he came to the National Assembly: has the corruption subsided? He said ‘no’. Then, I told him to his face: you are corrupt. Why don’t you give a professional, a man who has been trained to do this job, to do his job? Why would President Buhari do such a thing to his country because of military solidarity or friendship? The corruption in Customs before Colonel Ali wasn’t up to this. In fact, it came down in President Obasanjo’s time. But now, it has escalated. Not everybody in this government is corrupt. Not all of them are corrupt. Maybe just 2% are corrupt, and they are those favoured by the same cabal. That’s all.
What are the various shapes that corruption takes in the Customs? Beyond stopping people on the road and collecting N20,000, N50,000 bribe on one car, what are the other shapes of corruption that are presently rocking the Customs Service?
For now, the government itself does not trust Customs. The corruption going on in the oil industry is massive. What is going on in NPA is big. The one in the civil service is heavy. But right now, the military has never trusted Customs. Even in their jokes, when we are messing, they still say: you corrupt people. If you go to any Customs officer’s bank account, hardly can you see N100m of stolen money. When this man (President Buhari) came on board, and they entered military solidarity, you see a military commodore putting about $1m inside his toilet. The same corruption is still going on there, but military will always cover themselves. I can tell you that a Customs officer does not have the heart to have N500 million in his account. But in the same regime, we have had to be chasing one (ex-)military man who, as a minister, refunded N2bn.
A minister? Is he still in service?
No. He has been retired.
He didn’t make it back?
No, but they know how to cover themselves.
He was asked to refund N2bn, and he did…
He did, and left quietly, and you don’t hear him again.
A top military man?
Yes. When he was there, he was always seen with the President.
You don’t want to mention name?
I won’t. They know. The (ex-)military people in government is a problem till tomorrow in this country. When you are talking of land, who owns one quarter of the land in Abuja? They are military people. Who owns the most beautiful areas in Abuja? Military people. But for them to use their money to campaign and come to democracy, you will never see them. But, if there is any position of, say, minister, you will see them lobbying. Once there is a new government, you see them wanting to be Director-Generals, MDs, board chairmen, etc. That has been Nigeria’s problem-military incursion. The youth will not see it.
They did not mention it in their agitations.
They were even agitating against National Assembly that has only #120 billion out of the #13.2trn budget, which is not up to 1%. You know it is only three tiers of government we have-legislature, executive and judiciary. Judiciary has only #110 billion, and you don’t want them to be corrupt? It is the same executive that invites EFCC, ICPC, and police, that will run after the small legislature money. The remaining almost 99% has gone with the executive. What has the state government done with it?
When you say small legislator’s money, is N24 million or N25million per month chicken feed?
It has never been that. Maybe it was so during (former Senate President Bukola) Saraki’s time.
Ex-Senator Shehu Sani said it publicly and nobody countered him.
I don’t want to comment on Shehu Sani. I am involved and I can show you my salary.
Not your basic salary, sir.
My basic salary is N360,000. The allowances they are giving to us are about N10million per month, and they wrote what we should do with it. I am your senior brother and I will never lie. Even the money I have spent on palliatives, buying rice for your people and my people is more than N60 million. During last Ramadan, I had to give someone N30 million to go to Maigatasari to buy rams for the Muslim communities.
Every day, you will see people requesting for money. There is this woman who is asking that I should help her. She had delays in delivery. Then, people come with requests for burials upon burials; some come for money to buy food, pay school fees, etc. If we reel out all, and meet everybody’s needs, at the end of the day, me and my family will have nothing to eat. But I try to reach as many people as possible. Even if it is N5,000, I will send it. Governors don’t go through all that because they are not reachable. They are never to be found. It’s only the senators and the reps. At the end of the month, you will see that the senator is in the red. He is in debt. Many of us are just there.
They voted N120bn for the National Assembly, which is divided into five places-Senate of 109 members, House of Reps of 360 members. Those are the real members. There is still the National Assembly Service Commission with its staff; there are legislative aides being paid by the National Assembly Commission.
There is the legislative school, just like a university. The professors there are so many. The school is headed by Professor Suleiman. If you go to that school, you will know that is the research arm of the National Assembly. It has its own account under the same N120bn.
Where is it located?
It is towards airport road in Abuja. They have not finished it. Then, it is from the same money you pay all local contractors. What we are given, as money for the legislators is 20% of the N120bn.
Is this the reason why legislators always struggle to pad the budget?
I don’t know what you mean by ‘padding’. I don’t know what you are talking about. The person who wrote that a senator earns N24 or N25 million per month was just being mischievous. God will forgive the person. I will show you everything if you don’t mind. At the end of the month, we have to be borrowing to help my constituents. How many people will you explain to? And they cannot even work because government actions and inactions do not allow them to work. If the governors are really doing their work, if the Federal Government, with the chunk of money that accrues to them, do the roads well, fix power, rail and water, as well as infrastructure, these youths will stay at home in their villages.
But the local government is already gone because most of the money goes to the executive, the state governors, and they sit on it. We have separated it, but most of them still go against the constitution. If you remember, most of the local government funds are being used by the governors to borrow money for development. I can remember my state, Osun, is still owing about N180bn.
But the records show N174.7bn…
That’s as at June 2019. There is another N7bn they collected for the maintenance of hospitals. Most of the local government funds have been swept away by the state governor, to the extent that the state government is going into cooperative money, which is criminal. Pension money is taken. These youths, seeing their parents dying of poverty, would not want to follow suit. That is why they are out. We have heard them. We have shouted the government should go and talk to them. Let’s see what would happen.
But when you say ‘the government’, it is not all about the executive. It includes the judiciary and legislature. I’m saying you, legislators, also have a role to play in ensuring that Nigeria works for the people.
It is the legislature that bears the problem. We bear the brunt. When they were shouting, is it not the legislators’ houses they went to? Did they go to any governor’s place? Whether the former governors, the ministers who have squandered their money, the DGs, the MDs that have ruined their economy, did they go there? Why did they not go there? It is only the legislators they go to. They are free to go their houses. If you come to my house in the village, you will see them. I have no privacy. If they say I’m in the room, they will say, stay in the room there, we are coming there.