By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Senator Rufai Hanga is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kano State. In this interview, he speaks on the raging controversy over the Senate’s rejection of Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as well as Hameed Ali’s refusal to wear Customs uniform, among other knotty issues. According to him, it is high time Magu bowed out of the office, while also insisting that Ali must wear uniform or his nomenclature be changed to sole administrator.
The Senate’s rejection of the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, as well as the refusal of the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col Hameed Ali, to put on Service uniform as demanded by the lawmakers has been generating reactions in the polity for quite a while. What is your take on this matter?
First of all, on the issue of Magu, I don’t know why there is this unnecessary rancour. For me, it is not a big deal. Whoever has been following the screening will know that Magu has failed. So, I don’t know why his rejection should be a problem. Is he the only Nigerian who has the competence and the knowledge to do the job?
The President has the prerogative to scout around for someone with integrity and credibility to do the job. I don’t know why it must be Magu. By the rule of the Senate, once a nominee is rejected, the normal thing is to look for somebody else who can do the job. But people are talking politics and sentiments. Is he the only monster among us? If he is a monster, there are more monsters among us who are even more dangerous than him. The acrimony is unnecessary.
The National Assembly cannot always have its way; the executive cannot also have its way. They must meet somewhere in the middle. For me, the rancour is unnecessary. In the first instance, when there was a report from the DSS, they said the Senate forged it. For the second time, the DSS wrote another report against Magu. And these are the people under the Presidency. So, what are we talking about? The president did not appoint people to do what he wants. He appointed people to help him do the right things. If they are there to do his wishes, then it is unfortunate and it is up to him. I think what the DSS is doing is right and I doff my hat for them. I respect them for doing the right thing on the job.
Is this not suggesting that some functionaries in the Presidency are working at cross purposes?
Cross purposes like how? People are creating sentiments to suit their interests. DSS is under the Presidency, Magu is also under the Presidency. What has happened is confirming the level of sincerity and seriousness of Mr. President. Even though he wants this man (Magu), he is giving the DSS a free hand to do their job without interference. The first time they wrote their report and presented it, he didn’t talk to them because he wanted everybody to be independent.
Are you expecting the president to have a change of mind about Magu especially now that the DSS has allegedly sent the second report to the Senate?
By the Senate’s rule, the president cannot represent him for confirmation. In fact, I am shocked and surprised that Magu is still there. He cannot man that office without the Senate’s clearance. Since the Senate had rejected him twice, I think the honourable thing for him to have done is to simply bow out or the president removes him and put somebody there. I am beginning to wonder what kind of country are we? What law are we using? The fact that the Senate has rejected a nominee twice and he is still parading himself as acting chairman is a strange development. I am sure the whole world is laughing at us now.
There is a report that the president recently met with the National Assembly leadership, Senator Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakub Dogara perhaps to resolve some of these controversies. Is that not a better way to resolve the matter?
What I want to guarantee you is that the Senate will never consider Magu, no matter what. If they do, then there is something else because they must have a reason for rejecting him twice. On the other hand, if Mr. President still insists on Magu, it also means there is something else. I am at a loss. The matter is becoming something else. Let me also say that there is exaggeration about the meeting of Mr. President with the National Assembly leadership.
The matter is not a fight. Is this the first time a nominee is rejected? Even in America, nominees are rejected. I think it is not a big deal. That is the procedure; it is the normal thing to happen. So, I don’t think rejecting a nominee is a fight. I don’t know why some people are insinuating that they reconciled because of Magu. It is normal for a thing like this to happen.
There is another shade of opinion which believes that the rejection of Magu by the Senate is because of some senators who are under the watch of the EFCC. Isn’t there a sense in that argument also?
To me, it is balderdash. Even if you are under the watch of the EFCC, does it mean that if another chairman is appointed, he won’t continue the probe? Office work is dynamic. Before Magu was appointed, some of these senators were being investigated. He came and continued. If another person comes, with the dynamism of office, he is going to continue from where Magu stops. Besides, the senators being investigated are not in the majority.
What about the Hameed Ali uniform saga?
There are rules governing the appointment of Comptroller General of Customs. And that is why the Senate is insisting that Hameed Ali must put on uniform. If he wants to be the CG, he has to follow the rules. I will advise the president to change his nomenclature, if this issue is to be resolved. He can call him a sole administrator, if he does want to wear uniform. One, age has already caught up with him. By the rules of the civil service, retirement is either 60 years of age or 35 years of service. And Hameed Ali is beyond 60 now.
So, how can he be a CG when the rule says CG must retire at 60? If I were to be in government, I will certainly change the nomenclature and address him as a sole administrator; after all, he will do the same thing and achieve the same result. I heard some lawyers say that the President can veto the National Assembly on Magu and I was shocked. It is not in our constitution. It is not in any law in Nigeria. President cannot veto the National Assembly but the National Assembly can veto the president. I have also heard some people say there is no law that says Hameed Ali must wear uniform. Some even said it is because Bukola Saraki bought a vehicle and it was impounded. It is all nonsense.
It is trivial. It is unfortunate that people can come so low to think this way over such matters. They are making Nigeria a laughing stock. But in any way, people are entitled to their opinion. They have the right of ignorance. Hameed Ali must either wear uniform or change to a sole administrator where he can go about wearing Agbada or whenever he likes. But I have never seen any CG in the whole world wearing a T-shirt or Agbada. They are always in uniform with insignia of office.
You must have also followed the suspension of Senator Ali Ndume.
(Cuts in)… I have not followed his quarrel with the leadership of the Senate. I only saw him when he was alleging Dino Melaye’s certificate scandal and the Senate president’s imported car. I don’t want to put mouth in the matter because Ndume is my very good friend and I am very close to the Senate leadership being a former of the National Assembly twice. I am not supporting whatever they do. In fact, I am not happy with Magu because he has refused to prosecute most of the governors in the Senate who are known to be criminals. They stole state money, they move around freely and nothing is happening to them.
The Senate has the right by law to suspend any member because they have rules guiding the conducts of the members. If I were Ndume, after they removed me as majority leader, I will lie low for some time. And besides, you can’t be a lone ranger. You can’t alone fight the Senate. Everybody who sees him fighting will know that he is fighting because they removed him as a leader. From what I heard, he was becoming something else, he wanted to act alone and that was why they removed him. For him to show some maturity, if I were him, I won’t start that kind of fight. The Senate has the right to suspend him.
Was there any such case when you were in the National Assembly?
There was a case like that when somebody misbehaved and was suspended. So, it is normal.
What then happens to the people in their consistencies bearing in mind that for the period of their suspension, the people will not have representation?
That is the kind of sentiments people are bringing up. No one is indispensible. You can’t say because you are representing your constituency, then you go and misbehave or commit any atrocity you want. What if somebody dies?
If somebody dies, there will be a bye election to fill the vacant seat. Not so?
There will be a vacuum before the bye election. Isn’t it? He has not been dismissed from the Senate. He has only been suspended.
Collectively and individually, all members of the National Assembly are first and foremost members of their various constituencies. Isn’t it also correct to say that the interest of the constituencies they represent should be a priority in their thinking before any action is taken?
Somebody cannot go on rampage and go unpunished simply because he is representing a particular constituency. I don’t think it is enough reason for you to go scot-free. Don’t be sentimental. I know this National Assembly is not famous and they are not in our good books. But you have to be fair.