Chief Cornelius Adebayo was a former governor of old Kwara State. He later became minister of communications under the late General Sani Abacha military regime.
He speaks to Sunday Sun on the closure of borders by Nigeria, the lingering insecurity that has been extended to the uncovering of torture centres and abduction of judicial officers non-transmission of power to the vice-president by the president before he travelled to London on a private visit, power sharing between the president, governors and their deputies, sex-for-marks in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, and Babatunde Fashola’s outburst on the deplorable condition of roads nationwide.
He also speaks on rule of law in the country, the increment on Value Added Tax, (VAT) and the envisaged rotational principle of the 2023 presidential elections. Excerpts:
The closure of borders with other countries has raised concerns in the past few weeks since it happened, despite assurances by the government that it was in the great interest of the country and the people. While Nigerians are groaning under the economic harsh effects of the closure, the general feeling is that like similar exercises in the past, the expectations and promises will come to naught. How do you see this border closure?
What is good for the people is good for the government. There are complaints that the implementation of the border closure is what is worrisome. All over the place in Nigeria, some borders are closed, others are open. This is where the real problem lies. If policies are implemented without breach, it is easy to realize the objectives. If you’re closing the borders, it should be all of them, not selected ones. I subscribe to the fact that if it has to be done, it should be all of the borders. The implementation has caused more confusion than it set out to clear. The standard and condition of living of the people is very bad. The closure of the border has added more pains to the people. The people are laden with the bad economic effects of the closure. That is why it is heavily criticized.
So, in effect, the government should go ahead and re-open the borders, irrespective of the touted stance that the long term prospects are in sight?
(Laughs). I like that. People are arguing and even skeptical in terms of what the government is saying as the benefits. Some people are indeed angry. People need to be consulted. Whatever you’re doing and it is for the people, they need to be consulted. The government is not the only one that knows what is best for the people alone. If things are done in the interest of the people, the people have the right to ask questions, and should be allowed to make inputs. When this is not done, there will be a general feeling of despondence, anger and retribution. It is the people that bear the effects of any policy, whether good, or bad. If there is no consultation, people have the right to protest and to complain. Whether the borders should be closed or re-opened is a matter of deep interest among the people. So, one is not surprised that it is a topical issue of discussion everywhere you go in the country today. Government needs to look deeply to ascertain how the people are feeling and coping and that will dictate whether the border should be re-opened or not. Policy making is a continuous thing. Any policy that has problems in terms of acceptance by the people ought to be looked at again to see if there are ways to continue with it, but make the effects on the people less critical.
Let’s go over to the lingering insecurity in the country. Today, a lot of torture centres with many inmates have been uncovered across the country. Added to that is the dimension of abducting judicial officers by unknown men. The country is actually on edge. Can you proffer suggestions on how to curb these spates of abductions and setting up of torture centres?
I think that government should move from where they are and do more. Having discovered some torture centres, there is every belief that there are more. Government and its security agencies should go all out and spread the dragnets to uncover more centres that are in existence, no matter where they are. It shows the level of degeneration in the society and man’s inhumanity to man for these centres to exist. The operators of these centres should be rounded up and punished, while their captives are rehabilitated. Anything short of that is not enough. No matter the guise under which they operate, government must not accept it like that; otherwise, it will continue to proliferate. On the issue of abduction of judges, it is also a disturbing situation and shows that kidnapping which has been with us is taking a new shape. I think it is one of the most serious threats to security. The court, they say, is the last hope of the common man. But when judges are intimidated, blackmailed and abducted, it is difficult to hope to get justice. The implications of what is happening to them are many and very dire. If the criminals succeed in having their way, that means that there will be loss of confidence in the judiciary. People will no longer look up to the courts as a place for fair and just arbitration of conflicts. That is the end of the tether.
The president travelled to London on a private visit, some say vacation without transiting power to the vice president as he used to do before. To add more salt to injury, about 35 aides of the vice president were sacked while he is in London. This obviously has aggravated tension in the Villa. With these things that are happening rapidly, do you think the vice president is still needed in the Villa? Is it not a tacit vote of no confidence in him?
I think he should know better. Sometimes, public opinions are not in his favour, but that does not imply that he is a bitter man. If his aides or assistants have been withdrawn from him, it is for him to complain. He is the supposed victim, and so far, I am not aware he has complained to anybody, not even in the media. Let us also not forget that the president is the approving authority and has the right to tinker with the appointees, sack them or suspend them. The president is in-charge of all affairs of government and the presidency. He is the one who determines the number of aides an official of government should have; their tenure, and other issues in the presidency. The vice president is there only to assist him in running the government. So, if he decides to sack the aides of the vice president, it is his prerogative, and it is left for the vice president to complain or not. I am yet to see or hear him speak on that.
But is the president right in travelling out to stay for 17 days without transiting power? Can the president rule from anywhere based on what the national chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole said? Is it right for the Chief of Staff to the president to fly the presidential jet to London to get him to sign a bill? Is that not a slap on the face of Nigerians?
I don’t think it is okay, and I don’t think it is a slap on the face of Nigerians. There are two ways to look at it. One, is to prepare and keep the materials until he comes back to look at them. The other is to find a way to ensure that governance does not suffer in his absence. Maybe, that is why they took the bill to him in London to sign. I think the level of seriousness is what matters in this case. If there is no slow down in government activities, then there must be other extraneous issues to contend with. Let us see how the whole thing will end. If there is no issue of sabotage, then the issue of transiting power or not should not arise. We are yet to hear of sabotage by the vice president against his principal. He had held forte for him many times in the past. The president had always spoken glowingly of him each time he returned from holiday or medical tourism. We are the ones insinuating that there must be something behind the president’s non-transmitting of power to the vice president this time. If there is anything, the two of them should let members of the public to know. I will not speak for them.
Shouldn’t there be a permanent solution to the incessant impasse between the president and the vice president? During Obasanjo’s tenure as president, he had a feud with the vice president, Atiku Abubakar for almost four years. It appears the same situation is repeating now, also in their second term. Does that not disturb you?
Under no situation should government thrive in rancour without giving a thought on what the consequences will be. I agree that situations like that must be eschewed. It shows that the president and his deputy are strange bed-fellows. They have no common bond and interest. When they do that, by openly taking actions that ought to be discreet, it creates the impression that they are at war. If there are issues between them, but I hope not, they should find a way not to escalate it. What is wrong if the president tells the vice president to sign the statement sacking those aides? So, the issue of whether the president is authoritarian and is undermining his deputy should not be the case. Also, the issue of the vice president being ambitious or undermining his boss should not arise. Both of them ran the election together and were voted into office together. It is expected that they ought to jell together, understand each other, and must not constitute themselves into a public spectacle. It is ridiculous to see them fighting. The constitution is there and I believe that each of them know his bounds or limits. None of them must overreach himself and put himself beyond the barriers of good reasoning, or violate the constitution to make a point. If they follow the roles spelt out for them by the constitution, there will be no problems. But when any of them goes outside the constitution to score points, there is always a problem. I think, what brings problem is a matter of attitude. Sometimes, it can also come from bad advice and association. Some presidents can be influenced by bad advisers. In Nigeria, they call them cabal.
Can there be a constitutional amendment to safeguard vice presidents and deputy governors from the onslaughts of their bosses?
Amendment is essential if compliance is not effective. There is no point giving the vice president or deputy governors more powers when the situation does not really call for it. Let us be guided that two captains cannot run a boat. That boat will capsize. Like I said before, attitude, and bad advice or influences are the catalyst of trenchant behaviour by the vice president or the president. You cannot hear these kinds of stories where there is understanding. Understanding leads to co-operation. Co-operation leads to amity. Sharing powers is at the behest of the president. He resides in himself, the bulk of presidential powers, if not all. The powers can be subjected to abuses as we had witnessed in some occasions in the past. Amendment of the constitution is not where the issue lies. Amendment of the constitution is welcome in critical areas of governance, especially on rule of law, separation of powers of the tiers of government, electoral reforms, and so on. I do not think that the challenge we have now is how to share power between the president and his vice, or the governor and his deputy. The law on how they should operate is clear and unambiguous. We should not begin to toy with the idea of amending the constitution to make things convenient for them. They are there today, tomorrow, they will not be there. The law or the constitution should be a standard document and not made to suit individuals in power.
Is it an impeachable offence for the president to leave the country for an extended period, either for vacation or medicals?
Whether it is for vacation or medicals, life must continue in the country. Every country has a unique situation for this purpose. In our own circumstances, the constitution expressly depicts the conditions under which transmission of powers should be made, including the role of the legislature.
The upsurge of sex-for-marks in Nigerian tertiary institutions is assuming a dangerous dimension. A new bill in the Senate seeks to prescribe 14 years jail term for randy lecturers caught in the act with their students. Is that enough to tame the tide? To what extent has this perfidious tendency reduced the quality of graduates from the nation’s higher institutions of learning?
Well, there is no doubt that the sex-for-marks syndrome has actually affected the quality of graduates from our higher institutions of learning. Apart from that, it is morally debasing for a lecturer to insist on sleeping with his student before awarding marks to her. Those who are engaged in that have no fear of God. They have no conscience. They are morally bankrupt. So, any law that can be put in place to checkmate them is welcome by me. They are through their lust for women and abuse of power undermining the credibility of our educational system. They are throwing decency to the dogs. Those girls they sleep with cannot respect them or accept their authority unless they are coerced. It goes deep down into our ethics. The government must do something urgently to restore sanity in our universities. Those randy lecturers must be flushed out of the system. They have to be thrown out of the system and, of course, they should face the full wrath of the law. Whatever you sow is what you will reap. We cannot allow that to continue.
What is your view on the increment on the Value Added Tax from five per cent to 7.5 per cent at a time like this, when people are facing acute hardship?
No, I won’t support it. I will never support any policy or programme that tends to inflict hardship on the people. There are other ways government can increase its revenue without placing too much financial burden on the people. In any case, like you observed, this is not the right time to increase VAT. People are complaining of hardship. What to do is not to add to it. That is not a good response by the government.
Nigeria’s networks of roads are very bad making travel very hazardous. But the Minister of Works, Fashola said the roads are not bad. Do you believe him?
I think it is mild dismissal of public opinion. If the people who ply the roads are saying that the roads are bad, how can the man charged with making the roads good and motorable turn round to say the roads are good? That means nobody should expect any maintenance or rehabilitation of the roads, because he has already concluded that the roads are good and, therefore, nothing to do on them. This is not the right attitude in public office. A few of them had said similar things in the past. It is condemnable. Nobody then should expect any good efforts on the road from him because of the way he has seen it.
I want you to join the debate on where the presidency will go in 2023, among the various regions or geo-political zones of the country? Is it Southwest, North-central, Southeast or where?
What is the North saying?
They are saying it is going to stay in the North. That it is going nowhere.
I think, what should concern Nigerians is good governance. The people should not be denied infrastructural facilities and development. We detest those who get into power and do as they like, do things out of order and fail to respect the constitution. When there is good governance and development, people do not really care where the president comes from. It is the absence of these that make people resort to primordial sentiments of seeking to have the president from their own ethnic stock.
Should the North, therefore, continue in office beyond 2023?
We should follow the law. Whatever the law says where it should come from should be respected.
There is no law on that. It is a free arrangement and understanding. There is no constitutional provision on that. The clamour by some ethnic and geopolitical groups is anchored on the quest for justice, equity and good conscience. Others anchor theirs on political machination. The fear of domination by one ethnic group necessitated the desire to rotate the presidency.
Maybe, you don’t know, I belong to the Middle Belt Forum and I am one of those in the leadership cadre. I have a commitment to ensure that justice is done to all peoples.
So, in this case, how do you situate justice? Does it mean that the Middle Belt which is also part of the North should take it in 2023?
The Middle Belt is technically part of the North. If it is zoned to them, it is still in the North. It is only fair to let this thing go round.
Yes, it has been going round since 1999, when the Southwest represented by Olusegun Obasanjo had it. Then it moved up to the North under the late Yar’Adua, and then to the South-south with Goodluck Jonathan as president. Today, Buhari from the North is the president. Only the Southeast is yet to rule. Should the zone take it in 2023, if we are talking about justice?
I belong to a group that incorporates Southern and Middle Belt leaders. It has been in existence for some years now and we share a common understanding on the political development of Nigeria.
So, should it then go to the Southeast?
I think so, I think so.