Senator Chukwuka Utazi was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes in the 8th Senate. He spearheaded the passage of major bills. He also pushed for the completion of the headquarters of EFCC in Abuja.
In the current 9th Assembly, he heads the Senate Committee on Primary Health and Communicable Diseases. In this interview with fred itua, the senator, who recently clocked 60, spoke on how powerful forces almost derailed the anti-corruption war between 2015 and 2019. He spoke on other issues.
Since you came to the National Assembly in 2015, what would you say have been your achievements so far for your constituents in terms of projects that are beneficial to them and the legislative process?
I have done a lot. But one of the major things I want to achieve and still pursuing here is the creation of Adada State. I was a secretary of that State Movement. During the period in question, we begged senators before me to help us in the pursuit of that noble enterprise. It was not forthcoming. Those before me did their terms and left.
Senator Ayogu Eze for instance did his best and left. At a certain stage, I had to throw my hat into the ring and I wanted to represent my people, so that we would not be begging people to come and see things the way we saw them here. As for the state creation, we will no longer be begging somebody.
You have somebody that is there in the pursuit. I told them also that I was going to be very visible, not only on the floor but in the constituency, bringing projects to their areas to touch them. And I make promises to them that things that need to be taken home will never be lost on the way. And I came here, and all the projects I bring – of course I’m not blowing my trumpet. But if you go today, check what the people who are there before me did, their impact and what they have put in the area.
Their impact is not much, unlike me. Nobody comes near, in terms of boreholes, renovation of hospitals, building schools, I have done well. I have done a lot of things to touch their lives. There are empowerments running into millions. The last that I did that got my fingers burnt was in 2019. It was almost N170 million. Nobody believed that somebody could do that, but because of my orientation and the way I see life, I had to do what I did.
In 2016, we did a very big thing. We brought so many generator sets, motorcycles, sewing machines. I did all that and I told the people who work around me that these are gifts for my people, and that nobody tampers with them. I did the first one, the second one, the one that burnt my finger was the third and biggest one.
I caught the attention of people, they blackmailed me. When you set out to do good things and people who don’t want it, they went out there and they painted me black to keep me quiet and all that. I have built good will. I told them that I was not distributing them, those tricycles that I bought, for election. I said they must be shared after the election.
What I also did that annoyed my colleagues, the politicians, was that I went to the priests in Nsukka Diocese and asked them to go and nominate the poorest of the poor in their areas. They nominated them and they distributed them. I said I did the first one, the second one. I said, give to the person you are better off than, but you ended up taking it for you and your family members.
You can say whatever you want to say about me. So that’s what we have been doing. And I told them that after we stay here and I have gone, it will be difficult to get somebody who will do better than me in constituency outreach, going out looking for employment for people, going to office, being insulted by staff and aides of ministers and all that. I take all those insults with happiness because it is what I said I would do.
I’m happy doing that under this administration as an opposition party. God knows that if we were here when PDP was in charge, I would have done more. I built a new police station with quarters for them and several others, built new roads and we are still doing more.
You were the one that spearheaded the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). We have today, the Economics and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) building. You were the one that went to the Federal Government to beg, but you hardly talk about those things. How were those things achieved?
Like you said, when I came here in the 8th Assembly and we studied the EFCC, it was handicapped. We did oversight there. They showed me offices scattered in Abuja and I said that was not good for anti-graft agency to be there. They told me and I wrote straight to Mr. President. I had an appointment to talk with late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari and all that. He said I should discuss with him so that he would brief Mr President. I told him that PDP started that EFCC headquarters. It was an ambitious effort by the Obasanjo admistration to do something that the United Nations Convention against Corruption can come and say that Nigeria was actually taking the lead. I said if PDP could do it, why shouldn’t Buhari whose mantra was anti-corruption complete it? So why not complete it? I came back, met the Budget Office, met the Appropriations Committee and I said, we have to up the EFCC budget.
During that budget that year, they were calling padding, we came back and talked to the Senate President and he gave us go ahead and we talked to Senator Danjuma Goje, the Chairman of Appropriations. He agreed and we were able to get the resources we needed from N1.5 to 2 billion to almost N5 to 6 billion for the first year we did all that. That Office is the best in the country here. There is no Office in Abuja here, not even the Presidency is as sophisticated and as modern as that office.
To fight for NFIU, when I came, I was attending International Corruption Taskforce meeting in Paris almost every two months or thereabouts, and the kind of cold shoulder I received on behalf of the country touched me. Each time you came and announced your presence, you came for a meeting, they just barely looked at you and everybody would mind their business. So I looked at all that. One day I was insulted politely and it didn’t go down well with me. I asked why was I given cold shoulder. They all laughed and said after this meeting, you are not going to come back again! He said that’s how Nigeria does each time they do election. Like true to the fact, I came back here, the next meeting was not to be because Magu was funding it. The money for our travel was domiciled in the EFCC. I came and I gave them assurances that this President is different, under him you get a lot of things done. Next time I said Magu the time to travel has reached, but he declined. That was the end of our ticket. I don’t know whether the promises I made about the country annoyed him. I don’t know. So, he refused. So when matters came to a halt in 2017, when Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units suspended Nigeria, Magu got wind of it and was hiding it.
I took it up on the floor of the Senate. I brought a motion and told Nigeria that this is the whole thing and they gave a threat that if we didn’t do anything by the end of December 2017, Nigeria would be expelled entirely. It was then that the Presidency started looking for the files of all those memos I sent to them. So they quickly found those things and invited me to a meeting. Before then, we were almost going on break for that period, they called a meeting in the Office of the Vice President. The Attorney General was there, all the line ministers were there. I left and travelled for my summer break in the United Kingdom. While I was there, just two days in the UK, then my office sent me a message of a letter from the President appointing me as Chairman of the Presidential Ad-hoc Committee to reposition the NFIU for the country. I looked at it. I quickly cut short my stay and returned to Nigeria that weekend. Monday, I was in the Presidency. So, throughout that vacation. Magu didn’t like the job we were doing. Before we would finish our meeting, everything we said in the meeting would be in the press, but I was undaunted.
I stood my ground. All we needed to do was to do the template and domesticate it. All the other countries did the same thing. After all the attacks, we did our report and got EFCC to agree. They signed our report.
I also came with my bill, the fastest bill in the history of the National Assembly. Just one week, and we were able to do that. With that passage here, we faxed it to the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units not to make good their promise of extending this thing to expulsion. We were able to fight to pass that bill against all odds. There was no threat I didn’t receive doing that bill. They gave me instances of people who tried and what was their fate? But I believe in the God that I serve. Was I doing it to injure anybody? The answer is no. Was I doing it to make sure that the country moved forward? The answer is yes. So I stood all my grounds. I was alone, going to television stations, nobody agreed to follow me to canvass the issue with me. To pass the bill was an issue. To sign it was an issue. To get a chairman for it was an issue. But I thank God for the civil society organisations and journalists that worked hand in hand with me to make sure that all those things were advertised and today the country is better.
Buhari became the champion of anti-corruption as a consequence of that bill that he signed into law. The European Union also came with their sanctions after the suspension of Nigeria. But by the time we presented our report, they rescinded.