From Murphy Ganagana and Gyang Bere, Jos
Senator Venmark Dangin was a former Permanent Secretary and Senator, who represented the Plateau South Senatorial district between 1993 and 1994. He speaks on the Buhari led government, the economy and insecurity.
.How long were you in the Senate?
I was in the senate for two years, between 1993 and 1994 when late Abacha took over from Ernest Shonekan’s Interim Government.
What is your perception on the state of the nation?
Well, we are in serious difficulties, covering so many aspects of life, from security to the economy, things have become so distorted that if a Reverend Father can be killed, then you should know that we are heading towards serious problem, because hardly will he be involved in politics and business that probably, he will step on somebody’s toes. If he can be abducted, then I am sure they will demand ransom which the Catholic Church refused to pay, if we have reached that level, then, there is a serious problem with the security. Consequently, I believe the whole of the Northeastern states that have Boko Haram difficulties, it is one of the factors that has influenced the economy of Nigeria, those states are no longer producing agricultural produce and therefore, there is a deficit and that would certainly affect everybody because all the fishes and other farm produce that used to come from those areas, have affected the whole nation, the youths are unemployed. The Boko Haram invasion actually started from Plateau and gradually moved to Maiduguri where they had a firm root; they kept on attacking innocent people; we have been fighting for about five to six years now, and those are some of the problems of the nation. What I fear also is the problem in the Niger Delta; we have heard and read so much about the problems in the Niger Delta. Agreed, that the destruction of the soil is bad, soil is a great asset that has no option, but what surprises me is that while the oil companies are not maintaining their pipelines, the citizens of those areas are also bombing the pipelines and the crude oil which is dangerous, is being spilled not in any other state, but in their land and I think with those forces working together, certainly the damage would be intensive. The young people there should think about what they are doing; the oil spilled cannot go to Taraba State nor will it go to Katsina or Ogun State; it is in their land. Will you collaborate with the oil companies in destroying your land? We know that the nation depend largely from the asset coming from there; we know when Cocoa used to maintain Nigeria from the West, there was palm oil from the East, we know when Cotton, Groundnut and leather were being exported; we sympathize with the Niger Delta people. If you come to Plateau, you will see the heaps of black sand that were massed as a result of mining in the 1960s to the 70s; Nigeria benefited from the minerals that were exploited from Plateau, the British benefited from it also. One region after another had supported the country at one point in time and the Niger Delta is no exception. Up till now, there is no reclamation; people are suffering in those areas in the Plateau as a result of mining activities. Our brothers from the Niger Delta should think of the contribution of other people in the past.
The contention is that when there was cocoa, groundnut and others, the principle of derivation was tilted in favour of the producing areas, now the Federal Government keeps reducing the percentage of derivation to oil producing Niger Delta Communities?
It would be wrong for them to keep on destroying their soil and their wealth to emphasize a point. During that time, some never got the 13% derivation now being given to them, and one local council in the Niger Delta, the income is more than a state. I have studied the statistics, so who is harming who? You cannot kill yourself to emphasize a point; will you live to benefit from that emphasis?
Don’t you think they are doing that because government has neglected them?
But they are destroying their land.
Their complaint is that they lack infrastructure and development, but government is tackling the issue with a military approach?
Have you studied the revenue allocation that goes to each state? If you do that, you will see the variance; what one local council in the Niger Delta is getting in a month or in a year and compare it with Jos East Local Government or the entire Plateau State. So I think we should not continue that way, it is an issue that should be considered in a clever, gentle manner.
How will you assess the current mood of the nation?
The temperature of the country is high which we don’t like; I have told you the issue of the North East, how it has affected the whole nation and that is how things happen, like in the cities that fought the Biafra war. It affected the whole nation and drew us backward. It is just like the Biblical assertion that says, if your finger is sick, the whole of your body become naturally sick. I think the political temperature of the country is high. Look at the people that are being kidnapped; how can somebody like Olu Falae who you should have the pleasure to help, he is being kidnapped for money; things are bad. We should collectively tackle the issues and make our nation come back to what it used to be; you could drive at anytime of the night, you could park your car in front of your door without fear that somebody will come and take it, but now, people can come to your room and cut your neck for money.
How can the present high temperature be difused?
The way we can difuse the temperature is to boost our economy because if you can go to a factory and work until evening, when you come back, you will be tired; you will prefer to eat and go to sleep, you will have no time to go out to kill or to kidnap somebody for ransom. But the economy cannot grow with insecurity; nobody will want to come and invest here, not even Nigerians, because the fear is that your products would be destroyed tomorrow. With insecurity we cannot get anywhere; it must be contained.
Can Nigeria come out of this problem soon?
Well, soon is relative. I believe in a difficult situation such as this, it will take about five to ten years to come out of the present challenges.
Do you think President Buhari has a vibrant Economic Team that will take us out of the woods?
If you look at the Economic Team assembled by the President, you cannot say Fashola is a nobody; who will say the Minister of Finance is a nobody? Who will say the vice president who is a Professor of Law is a nobody? I think the team is strong enough. When things get to a difficult point as this, you can’t fix within two or four years, it will take like ten years. Once the North East gets stabilized and commences production of food, the country will start getting some relief because the cost of farm produce is getting higher. There is food deficit.
How does that affect our foreign exchange crises?
When you cannot produce food, what happens? What have we been producing to end foreign exchange?
Was the situation as bad as this in the last two years?
I think you can answer that question easily. Did the present government inherit foreign reserve or it was squandered?
Well, I think there should be policies in place.
For instance, if you invest in industrialization…
Do we have money to invest in the industrialization? From the pronouncements of the Economic Team, you will know that these people know what they are doing. As some people said, we have been gradually descending and we have reached a dangerous point; therefore, it will take some time with good plans and commitment. People are talking of foreign exchange; we have just talked about breaking the pipelines in the Niger Delta which has made us fail to meet our obligation in terms of processing crude oil, it is now that the non-oil sectors are being considered. Is that not a good sign that we are on our way up again? It will take some time for the economy to come up; you cannot expect it overnight.
There is so much hunger in the land and there is fear of a possible revolution. Do you share that view?
No, I don’t.
You chaired a panel of inquiry in Plateau State set up by Joshua Dariye’s administration to investigate his military predecessor. Using your findings as a case study, do you think the military are good managers of public funds?
Have you heard the story of General Ogbemudia in the then Bendel State? We had meetings with him when we were developing the waterways from Sokoto down to the riverine states, because we had the river Benue here. Ogbemudia can hardly be outshined because he talks like a Professor and when he talked, he quotes his figures. During the administration of Late Joseph Gomwalk here in Plateau, some of the facilities that he built with poor income have been destroyed.
Who destroyed them?
From 1999 to 2016, not a single factory has been built in Plateau State and you know, when the oil boom came with over $100 per barrel of crude oil, money flooded everywhere in Nigeria but while some used it very well, others did not. One example is Audu Bako. If you fly over Kano, you will see the dams that he built and you think you are in Delta State. That is what is still standing in Kano state; he was the first governor to build a science school; all the prominent people that read science in Kano did that because of Audu Bako. Then you go to Brigadier Jonson in Lagos State, you will see what he did; so it cannot be in all circumstances. I only examined a case and I found that case to be every bad; they can say pay this person this or don’t pay this person this, you don’t know the person; I found inconsistencies in Plateau.
Can you share with us some of your findings?
Look, I am an old man; you think I have not forgotten? My findings were these which I can remember very well. We examined the procedures for giving out contracts, we examined the procedure for payment and they were incongruent because in government, there are three ways of giving out contracts; public tender, selective tender and negotiated tender. These are legitimate; you can’t call somebody and give him a contract. Public tender goes on newspaper that can be seen all over the country but for selective, you can say these are the companies that are doing well in Nigeria, please give them the job. Negotiation is when we are doing contract somewhere and we needed a spur, then we will call you and negotiate that when you finish, you should come and do the spur. So, I took a decision.
What was the scope of the inquiry?
The last four years before 1999.
What were your recommendations?
First, we set a procedure and those procedures were laid out and they can be changed as the environment demands because new problems emerge. The danger of inflating contract figure, the personnel handling this also might be responsible for what they do. I was a Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works, sometime.
Did you recommend any stringent measure?
Yes, I did. I recovered on the spot nearly N100 million; when we discovered that there were irregularities, we demanded that all the money should be returned and we got the list of all contractors who had done one wrong thing or the other and we blacklisted them. Thirdly, some are not even worth calling contractors; you give contract to them and they will go and give somebody else the contract to execute. That should be watched. We went to Corporate Affairs Commission and checked when they were registered, who registered them and their share capital; then, I found out that it was not worthwhile. I had an experience where somebody came and said he has done jobs in several places; I looked at one of the states and sent a senior officer to go and check at the record of that contractor, and the Ministry of Works there said they didn’t know him; he has never done any job in the state.
What action did you recommend against such contractors?
What I recommended was that they must return any approval that appeared wrong; I saw written authorization saying, I direct, and the next thing, I didn’t see I direct. What was the interest? We recovered the money.
No punishment against them?
That was the punishment, the recovery of money from them.
Do you think Buhari is on the right path?
I believe so. Once you can feed yourself, you see the good shirt you are wearing, if you are not healthy, that shirt cannot protect you; any disease can take you to the grave. The fact that he stopped bringing rice into our country, you know that Lagos state has started producing rice and that is happening during this time; Lagos state government has said it will feed Nigeria.
Don’t you think some of his policies lack human face?
Once you are on this kind of mission; look, yesterday I went to buy something which I used to buy for N2000, but I had to cough out N4000, so I am feeling it as much as any other person; that is why I believe when we are productive in this country, there would be no need for us to import cotton.
There is this feeling that his policies are not economically friendly?
You see, they say we are only nine out of ten, your own personality come to bear on your own administration. It is a matter of sticking to what you think is right; history will pass judgment on the current happenings; history has a way of passing judgment. When the economists and historians write about him, it is the time you will know what he has done.
It took Boko Haram to tell us that we had no Army, can you deny that? When the troops couldn’t face Boko Haram because they had no arms, they were blamed for cowardice; they had no arms, but N15 billion had been released to buy arms. About 5000 soldiers, some were to be killed, some were to be jailed and some were to be dismissed, because they had no arms and they ran away. But some people were sharing the money meant for arms, spilling the blood of our youths. I felt really sad; those involved in the shady deals, how can we allow this to happen in a country that we are saying is a super nation?
If you were to preside over a panel to try those military chiefs allegedly involved in arms racket, what will you recommend as punishment, life imprisonment or death?
Nobody thinks of death these days, it is just imprisonment.
You meant life imprisonment?
Yes, but not necessarily life imprisonment, if they get some 20 years in jail, it will instill sense in them.
The APC that is in power is made up largely of PDP…?
(Cuts in) Yes, even our Governor here, Simon Lalong, was elected by PDP because APC hasn’t any structure, they did not have even a councilor
.Can you point at any APC member that has been arraigned for corruption?
If the President of the Senate is asked to go and justify his action in court, what else do you want?
The general feeling is that his trial was because of the leadership tussle in the Senate?
Is it the Code of Conduct Bureau that did it or Buhari did it?
The same Code of Conduct Bureau had cleared him severally
No, I don’t know that.
The alleged offences for which he is being tried were not committed yesterday, but when he was a governor.
You can never know the other factors that ignited this, there could be other factors.
People are accusing Buhari of being sectional in the fight against corruption; do you share the same feeling?
It’s like you are in tune with Buhari?
No, in Nigeria today, nobody has his character. He has put his life at stake; it is either we go this way or you kill me, that is his character.
But Nigerians are complaining that in 1984 when he was a Military Head of State, the country passed through similar challenges we are experiencing through today?
No I don’t agree with you.
If Buhari was on the right track, why the high depression among Nigerians?
Using you as an example, nothing can be cured overnight. Do you believe we should keep importing rice from China? Do you believe that we should keep importing cotton from Mali?
What I am saying is that, if he was on track…?
(Cuts in) Being on track cannot give you an immediate result, it is gradual.
If Buhari contests the next elections, do you think he will win?
I cannot tell. If you want people to praise you as a leader, you are bound to fail. Umaru Dikko said Nigerians are not eating from the dustbin at that time, is that what we want? You must not be praised to say you are wonderful, you are this and that, what is right must be done, that is when you put your name into historical judgment.
If you are doing the right thing, you will have the majority of Nigerians supporting your policies; do you think Nigerians are happy with Buhari’s government?
How do you know that? Do you know that when Goodluck Jonathan was still the President, we were borrowing money to pay salaries of federal civil servants? Because the whole thing has gone down to virtually nothing, they have to be borrowing from banks. I have been in the civil service for a long time, what I know is that government pay salary first before any other obligation and when it reached a point that you can’t pay salary, what about other obligations? Where do we get money to pay salary?
Are you impressed with the performance of your ex-governors in Plateau State?
I am not impressed with the performance of former governors in the state.
What went wrong?
By my assessment, I don’t know what they have done and I know that Plateau got a lot of money during Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure when the oil price was very high. If you have been here for a few years, eight years of Joshua Dariye, not even one factory was built; eight years of Jonah Jang, not one factory was built. If they had built two factories after four years, we would have had many factories in Plateau and people will get employment. The main market which got burnt, nobody was ready to rebuild it; all the industrial and commercial setup like Lion Bank were taking away. At that time, I was a director in Diamond Bank; the Lion Bank which I was involved during the civil service of old Plateau, we had a farm off Zaria road that a Whiteman came to my office and said he has traveled throughout Africa and has never seen its equivalent. We had a Brewery here, it’s gone; the Steal Rolling Mill is gone; NASCO is struggling to survive, they have parked to Lagos. That is why the population of Lagos is bobbling; Dangote is putting factory there, everybody is struggling to put factory there and we are here destroying our own.
All the funds you said Plateau governors got during the oil boom, where is the money?
I ask you also, where is the money? I haven’t seen it being used to build factories, I wasn’t in government; I have never been there, I was a civil servant.
Is it right to say the governors were imprudent?
Exactly! No nation on earth can say we have enough money; the management of the meager resources you have makes the difference.
Were they on a spending spree?
If not, where is the money? How many months were civil servants owed during their tenure? The money was just wasted and not put into productive used. Do you know Acha that is produced in Plateau? When I was in service, I brought a man to come and study Acha on how to make bread out of it, the man spent two years doing research. After the pilot scheme, the idea was killed. I have tried to write to some of the people, believing that rather than sending Acha to Abuja or Kano, we could send the bread to them.
Was it by accident of fate that Plateau State had been governed by wasteful administrators?
On that, you can abuse me on and on, I will accept it. (laughter).
No, it’s true, don’t think am joking. It is amazing that people whom from their pronouncements of being religious and good people, you will go out and say this is the man that can care for us, then and again you will go for nothing. If you go round the streets of Jos and then go to Potiskum where the Boko Haram fighting is going on, you will not see a street like this, you either go to Postiskum or Borno whether you will see streets like the way they are here.
You mean they have better streets over there?
Sure, if you want to attest to what I am saying, go there but if they shoot you, don’t say I was the one who ask you to go (laughter)
Did you contest in the last governorship primaries in Plateau State?
No. I was approached to contest the election and I told them, I am on a wheel chair; I want if I go out to contest, I should campaign with strength. Secondly, I have no money. Thirdly, I am advanced in age, so I asked them to go and bring me N400 million because I have no money, I was waiting for that money but it didn’t come.
Were you expecting money for the election?
Yes, you want me to go and sell whatever I have at this age to contest election? No. When do you think I will make it up?
If they had given you the money, what would you have done?
If they had given me the money what will I tell them again? I will have nothing to tell them because of the condition I gave; I needed my account to be credited with N400 million and I can’t be such a crook to collect people’s money for a purpose, they gave me for a particular purpose and not doing it, but I can assure you that nobody would have defeated me; that I am sure, because those who came to me were people who established APC in Plateau State; that is why they turned round and voted Governor Simon Lalong.
Did you recommend him?
At that time, I was thinking of zoning and had the thought of people from Quanpan area because Shendam had produce a governor, same thing with Langtang; so I was thinking if Quanpan can produce a governor.
Looking back at the former governors the state had produced, do you have hope in Simon Lalong?
I am watching him.
What do you mean by watching him?
I am watching him to see what he is doing so that if it reaches a certain limit, just like I have done to others, I will write him.
So far, are you impressed with his performance?
I am not saying so far so good; I said I am watching him.
What can you say of his 16 months in office?
Well, I have not seen anything that he has accomplished; the major road is from here to Bukuru and if it can take so many years before he came, his tenure is just one year but there were some people before he came; yet, the road has not been completed. I am watching him.
Some people feel Dariye tried in terms of infrastructural development…?
(Cuts in) What infrastructure? From where to where? He constructed a road to his village in Bokkos and that was all.
You have been involved politics and I am sure you had a dream, a target you set out to accomplish. Are you fulfilled?
I was a first generation civil servant; I was employed during Sarduana, when we came down to the state under late Joseph Gomwalk. He gave us his vision, we were all out for it, to tell you that the Plateau State secretariat was built when our income was virtually nothing and now, they cannot even try to renovate it; can any governor build any structure like that? That is why I said it is not having all the resources that matters, prudency and the ability to manage makes that difference, and life is terminal, Prince Audu Abubakar won election and he died before he was sworn-in, life is so terminal and you shouldn’t worship riches beyond a certain point.
There is this feeling that Nigerian politicians have the tendency to grab and grab. In your opinion, do you think Nigerian politicians will ever change?
Let’s hope they will, not that they have changed. Somewhere along the line, Nigerian politics became so materialized that anybody who had a slight opportunity would want to go up at the higher level, so what do we do? You steal money to a point that you cannot even pay salary and that materialization of Nigeria politics has also encouraged them. I should ride a car which you don’t have; I should build a house which you don’t have. It is greed, which is why we have a great distortion in what is happening. Truly, except things change, we will not go far with politicians the way they are; there must be a change?
You were sometime at the National Assembly which has now become a subject of ridicule. What were the issues during your time?
We were paid N15, 000 monthly.
That was our salary.
Was that your entire take home pay, no other allowances?
Yes, we had two staff entitled to about N10, 000 each; that was all. Now, there was this case in the House of Representatives with the former Speaker Patricia Etteh, she said, I don’t have anything but this is what I have, I will give you. The woman was not ready for trouble. So when you are in an establishment, it is not for you to embezzle money.
What in your opinion would have happened in respect to the raging issue of budget padding?
Well, investigation is going on; the word padding, I didn’t know it until now. If the investigation is done properly, then, it will prove what we are talking about. To be sincere, when it is time for news broadcast, I used to switch to different stations; this is because if members were quarrelling over the economy of the country where somebody would say let’s borrow money and someone will say no, let’s go and sell this, then we will know that they are on the right track.
How will you described members of the National Assembly?
What do you do for a living presently?
I come to talk to people like you because I can’t do contract, I can’t do anything; I am on the wheelchair following a surgery that went awry.
I had an operation at the back, and it affected my spinal cord.
Was it an accident?
No. Not an accident.
How long have you been on the wheelchair?
Since 1996, I have been long on the wheel chair.
Not long after you left the Senate?
Yes, you are right.