…How National Assembly siphons funds
By Chinelo Obogo
Senator Rufai Hanga is a prominent Kano politician who used to represent Kano Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly. He was the founding chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). In this exclusive interview, he accused the National Assembly of a dismal performance, while stating that they have become a rubber stamp of the executive. He spoke on this and other issues.
As a former Senator, how would you assess the performance of the 8th Assembly?
I have said it many times that their performance is nothing to write home about; they are not doing fine and I don’t know why. Maybe, we can attribute it to many things like the distraction caused by the trial of the Senate President, because it has put fear into most of them. Most of them are living in fear because they know that they have cases to answer when the EFCC comes knocking.
Shouldn’t this alleged fear be enough reason for them to perform better?
No! Let me explain why I said that. There have been issues in which the Senate was supposed to firmly oppose, but they didn’t. For instance, almost all the nominations the president made scaled through smoothly without serious questioning. Nobody was disqualified. If you watch when the Senate was confirming the ministerial appointees, when it came to the turn of Lai Mohammed, the ‘nays’ were far more than the ‘yeas’ for his approval, which means the Senate with voice vote, rejected his confirmation as a minister. But the President of the Senate hesitated, meditated a little, smiled and said the ‘yeahs’ have it. He said okay, the ‘yea’ has it. These are the things I mean.
The Ajaokuta deal is another instance. That deal was faulty and fraudulent from the beginning. This government revisited it and approved it against the reality of the day. If the Senate and the House were not afraid of anything, they could have scrutinised and objected to it. Majority of them felt it was detrimental to the interest of Nigerians; yet they approved.
What is wrong with that deal?
When Obasanjo was selling out government properties; it was sold to a certain interest. Now, apart from the massive amount of money spent on the industry, there are other structures like housing estates that were incorporated in the deal, but only a component was removed from the industry itself and sold off. I said it was fraudulent from the beginning, because in the agreement, they anticipated a problem, and they all agreed that in case of any dispute or disagreement, it would not be taken to court; but would go through arbitration in the UK.
Meanwhile, the company that Ajaokuta was sold to exists in the Isle of Man, not in Nigeria; and many people know it is the world’s centre for fraudsters
The only thing different about this deal is that the company it was sold to, decided to come and register a subsidiary company in Nigeria. That is why I said the Senate and House should have done something about it; they all knew this is detrimental to our interest, but the Minister of solid minerals went ahead and approved it, and the Senate confirmed it. I am sure that if the President was fully aware of this, he won’t let it pass. The only thing I think they might have done is to do executive summary and present to him and he signs.
Another reason I think their performance has been abysmal is the budget padding issue at the House of Representatives. The National Assembly has the right to remove or to tinker with anything brought to them, but the illegality is when a few people do it without the knowledge of everybody. All the members must agree to it.
But the Presidency said the budget was not padded?
Who is the Presidency? Those who said the budget was not padded are products of the National Assembly. The Minister of Budget and Planning was a Senator; he was my colleague and was part of the system and he was also part of the leadership of the Senate. I was a member of the House of Reps and I was in the Senate, so I know the leadership there. Not every member of the National Assembly was carried along, so not all of them are guilty. The worst of all is that these monies allocated for constituency projects are normally siphoned; the projects are not usually done.
I said in a programme recently that I have evidence of one of such projects. That project was supposed to be a constituency project. Money was paid, but the job was not done. This is how they operate; they will think out a project, put it in the budget, help it scale through and get it approved. Later, they will go and arrange with the executive, remove the money, give out a phoney contract, but no job will be done.
Isn’t there a mechanism to ensure these projects are carried out?
Once there is a budget and approval is given, the normal thing is for the members of the Senate and House of Reps to go on oversight to confirm that the amount approved for them is being judiciously used and spent. Those to checkmate the House members and the Senators are the constituents, so the House and the Senate must always relate to their constituents. But many of them don’t do that. Some of them have been in parliament now for almost two years, but have never visited their constituency.
You said in a previous interview that it is time for everybody in the country to go his separate way. Can you elaborate what you meant by that?
People are asking for restructuring because they are either feeling suppressed or marginalised. Some people feel others are feeding fat on them and they are not willing to compromise. If such emotions continue, one day, there would be an implosion. So, I advised that before any of such happens, everybody should go his way. It is better for us to go our separate ways than for us to fight each other.
From your vantage position, would you say President Buhari has done enough to unite the country after the ethnic divisions caused by the 2015 elections?
I have not seen anything being done and I don’t blame the President because his advisers should be the ones advising him. There is so much tension all over the country and a lot of people feel marginalized, but unfortunately, the President does not have a political adviser because this is strictly politics.
If I were his adviser, I would advise him to carry everybody along. If people are not carried along, they will certainly revolt. The Igbo and the South South did not vote for him, but he can make them vote for him next time if he can make them happy. But nobody has advised him along this line.
But even the South-West that gave him support are already feeling marginalised…
It is common knowledge that they are feeling marginalised; that is why I am saying this that he needs a very strong political adviser. He needs a very objective political adviser whose office would be manned by people from all the geopolitical zones. Most of the things happening now are an indication that people are deliberately sabotaging him. They are doing things deliberately to make people feel unhappy with the government. That is why the president needs experts who can reach out to every nooks and cranny in the country to give everyone a sense of belonging and make sure they are carried along.
APC governors met the president some days ago and complained that they were not carried along in the process of selecting ambassadorial nominees. Do you really think it is necessary for the governors to be involved in such a process?
Why you appoint people into positions is to have trusted people who can reach out for you. If you appoint people who cannot reach out to even one person in their state, of what benefit would that be to you? The governors know their people and they know who can be appointed that can help in mobilising people for the President and the party in future.
Even if the President does not trust the governors, let him appoint people who can network with those at the grassroots. If he suspects that the governors are not going to vote for him again, let him appoint people that will be willing to do it for him.
The APC has been in the news of late for the wrong reasons. In fact, Timi Frank, the just suspended deputy national spokesman said if the crisis in the party is not contained, that it will implode in a short time. Do you think there is any way that the crisis in the APC can be contained?
People are not happy and they want to be carried along. If you carry the wrong people along, the right people will watch you and when the time comes, they will do whatever they want.
For someone like Bola Tinubu for instance, he is so important that nobody will ever think of cutting him off.
So, do you think the party has been fair to him?
That the party is unfair to him is not a rumour; he said it himself, and he cannot come to
papers to tell lies. If it is true, then it is unfortunate. But I know the President is not the kind of person who will cut people off just like that.
But I wonder how Tinubu can be said to be cut off when serious appointments were made for him? You know he has his boys as ministers.
The Ministers of Solid Minerals, Power, Works and Housing, Finance are all his people. The chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service is Tinubu’s boy; and even the Vice President was nominated by him.
There have been calls for the President to reconstitute his economic team. Are you one of those that agree that his economic team needs to be re-jigged?
I have never heard the President say this is my economic team.
But he has an economic team headed by the Vice President…
The Vice President is not an economist; he is a lawyer. Constitutionally, he is the chairman of the economic council, and the council is not an economic team. The economic council is constitutional, and the Vice President normally is supposed to be its chairman.
The council comprises of the minister of finance, some ministers, governors, and some selected people who will sit down, discuss on the economy and make recommendations. But an economic team is a team made up of proven economic experts who will sit, think, come out with solutions to make the economy thrive.
In hospitals, there are psychiatrists, administrators, laboratory technicians and so on; and the Vice President is like the head of hospital. But in all departments, there are specialists. If you have a paediatric case, it is a paediatrician who will analyse it and proffer solutions. But a hospital accountant cannot give solution to a gynaecological problem. I am not aware that any economic team; a group of carefully selected economic experts exists.
There are speculations that the issue between the Shi’ite group and the Kaduna State government is actually a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The theory is the Sunni-controlled Saudi Arabia is trying to dominate the Shi’ite controlled Iran by using members of the Nigerian government who are Sunnis’ to oppress Shi’ites. Do you agree with this theory?
The problem between Saudi and Iran cannot be replicated in Nigeria because Saudi and Iran are Muslim countries. Nigeria is a secular nation, so I don’t see any sense in this comparison. It cannot be a proxy war because we are neither an extension of Saudi Arabia nor Iran.
But I fear that if this situation is not handled carefully, it can lead to a full blown religious crisis. Such problems have led to war in some countries, and I would not want that to happen in Nigeria, so, it must be handled with caution. We should thread very carefully because the way things are happening now, we are threading on a very thin ice.
If we allow things to escalate with the Shi’ites, we may have a crisis more terrible than Boko Haram, because the Shi’ites are more in number than Boko Haram. They have larger followership and the followership is not isolated like Boko Haram who are confined to the forest. These Shi’ites are everywhere and you don’t know them because they are integrated in the society. It is a mistake to antagonise any particular person because our constitution has given the right for freedom of movement, speech and religion. But that doesn’t make it a guarantee for people to make trouble.
With the ongoing anti-corruption war, would you in all honesty, disagree with the critics of the President who say that the war has been one-sided?
Initially, the President went after politicians; then he went after the Judiciary. If he goes after the National Assembly now and goes after the civil servants later, then
nobody can criticise him. Fixing the nation takes a holistic approach.
The politicians you are referring to are mostly from the opposition party…
There is somebody from my state who is from the APC that was arrested and had to refund some money. Why the government is targeting only the opposition party is because they had access to funds. The President has said that even if the funds are refunded, they would still be prosecuted. Hopefully, very soon, they will turn their attention to civil servants and then maybe to National Assembly.
If the EFCC goes after legislators, it will certainly find out some things that will pin down some of them.
How do you think that agriculture can play a major role in this issue of diversification and how do you think that those at the bottom of the ladder, that is the rural farmers who don’t have access to funds can be carried along?
I think the only way for those down the ladder to be carried along is to get the people that will carry them along. If you want to get to a rural farmer, get somebody who is in touch with them to be the Minister of Agriculture. You can’t get an elite like Audu Ogbeh and Heineken Lokpobiri to head the Ministry of Agriculture and expect something to get to the rural farmers. You can’t have people like them and expect agriculture to prosper in the country.
Ogbeh is a very loquacious person who can make you cry when he speaks, but he has no touch with the grassroots. He is a large scale farmer who does not know the problem of smaller people. Get an agriculturalist who started from the bottom to top; that is when we can prosper in agriculture. Both of them are like square pegs in round holes.
When the CPC was still in existence, there were side talks that you had always been anti-Buhari. Can you clarify the issues you had with the members of your party?
No, it is not true. What happened was that I was working for Buhari, when he invited me to Kaduna and said he was coming into politics. We sat with him at the table where he lamented the plight of the down trodden. After his speech, we were all very sentimental and wept with him. So, the following week, I resigned my job to join him in the crusade; and he knows that. So, if I didn’t like Buhari, I wouldn’t have left my job to be by his side.
At that time, he had no money and he was not giving us a kobo; we were using our resources to print posters and for logistics. We stood by him through thick and thin.
When he was in the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the first time, they had to give him the presidential ticket by force. The second time, there was nothing they could do other than to give him ticket, but the third time, we knew he would be dragged him to an extent where he won’t get the ticket and we wanted him in the CPC. I started the CPC and paid for the registration. And when he saw the writing clearly on the wall, he decided to resign from there and joined us in CPC.
In the constitution draft, I ensured that he was given enormous powers, but he had some people around him; who were manipulating him and greedy that they wanted everything. They want to appoint everybody for election all over the country; that is why they scattered the party. They were sabotaging him. Maybe, they had something to settle with him. In fact, they mentioned it and if I were there, they will have no chance to do it, so they had to get rid of me. They edged me out so that they will achieve the purpose.
But fortunately for him, before he joined APC, Tinubu told him to get rid of those manipulators if he wanted to succeed; and he got rid of them and he
succeeded. It was later on, when things kept unfolding, that he now believed that these people were sabotaging him and he mentioned to somebody that he pitied me, because he realised that I was a sacrificial lamb.
Do you agree with the Senate President when he said that there is a cabal in the Presidency who Buhari feels are working for him, but indeed are sabotaging him? Are you also of that view that there is a cabal in the Presidency?
Well, when he said it, I didn’t believe it. But when the President’s wife said it, I now believe it, and I think there is nobody on this earth now that loves him more than
her. She is the mother of the children, and she is saying it out of concern for her
husband because she doesn’t want people to despise him. She doesn’t want him to be a victim of some people’s action. She was worried; that is why she couldn’t hide it.
One of the northern leaders, Dr. Junaid Mohammed pointedly accused the President of nepotism, and he mentioned the names of people whom he said were related to the President and are now in the corridors of power. What was your reaction when you read the interview he granted?
My reaction was that of shock. He must know something to have said that. But I
don’t know anything to confirm or deny that. I don’t know much about that, and I don’t know the people he is talking about. If knew them, I will say yes, but I don’t know.
But do you believe that the President’s appointment so far has been lopsided to favour the North?
If the President’s appointments are lopsided, he would be appointing only the people he knows, only the people close to him.
Besides the ministerial appointments, in which he had no choice but to appoint ministers from at least each state of the country, he has been accused of appointing mainly people from the Northern part of the country.
When Obasanjo was President, it was said that he appointed only Yorubas and you find out that all important ministers came from certain areas. These were the allegations, and then when Goodluck Jonathan came too, that was the same cry out that South-South was everywhere even when they are the minority; they were in charge. That was what people were saying. So, you can’t stop people from saying the same thing now. In fact, even we, believe that we are marginalised in our state.
From your state?
Yes! My state is marginalised. There is nowhere where the President has followership like Kano and that is where he got the highest votes.
But Kano has a minister?
We have only a minister and we are happy with him, but we are supposed to have two ministers. Apart from the ministers, what do we have? We were given only two ambassadorial appointments, while Lagos was given three. There are many other things that we are supposed to have based on our population, our loyalty and patronage to
him. So, we are marginalised, and everybody is free to say he is marginalised.
The President said recently that the country is in economic recession because all the previous PDP governments did nothing…
I think he has dropped that narrative. Even Nasir El-Rufai who is very close to him said when he became the FCT minister, he didn’t care about what those before him did. He said he focused his attention on doing something and he achieved. So, it is not good for anybody to start turning its back on his predecessors. The President used to complain about the former government, but he has now dropped that narrative. You know with the recession, it means dropping all these complaints about the previous governments and thinking of how to forge ahead.
I saw a statement from Goodluck Jonathan saying that he didn’t spread poverty; but wealth and that he always meant well for the country. So the president should let bygone be bygones.