Respected Army chief, Major Gen. Ola Ishola-Williams [rtd] has described the struggle by a section of Northern leaders to keep the nation’s presidency beyond 2023 as unbridled display of greed, warning that attempts to contest the country’s number one power seat with the South could threaten its unity. He spoke more on this and other national issues in this interview by TUNDE THOMAS.
Many Nigerians are condemning the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC over its conduct of the recent elections in Kogi, and Bayelsa states, what’s your own candid assessment of the electoral body’s performance during the polls?
INEC failed Nigerians. INEC really messed up. But this should not come as a surprise to Nigerians. The present INEC under the leadership of Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu has not been inspiring at all. There is nothing independent about this current INEC. I have been saying it, and I still want to repeat it here that this present INEC can never conduct credible elections in Nigeria. Not only that, it can’t also cope with the rigours of organizing successful, and credible elections, and the situation is even getting worse under the leadership of Prof. Yakubu.
We need to take drastic action in order to ensure that elections in Nigeria become more credible otherwise we will become a laughing stock before the international community. International observers described even the recent elections in Kogi, and Bayelsa state as not being free, and fair, that the exercise was a sham. For international observers to say this, it is a big embarrassment for the nation. INEC has become a big embarrassment to Nigeria.
For me, one of the best ways forward for us is to decentralize election management in Nigeria. Too much power is concentrated in INEC’s hands. INEC should only be saddled with the conduct of presidential, and national assembly elections, while state electoral commission should be saddled with the conduct of governorship, and state house of assembly election.
It is also very sad, and unfortunate that violence, thuggery, and assassinations have become the hallmarks whenever elections come up in Nigeria. To compound the problem, security operatives are not neutral. They take sides, and this is not good for our democracy. To make matters worse, politicians in the country have learnt nothing. They are ever desperate, determined to win elections at all cost. Why is this so? It is largely because of the perks of office, the outrageous allowances, salaries, and jumbo pay they collect. This is why we need to review the take home pay of our elected officials. That’s the best way to eliminate the politics of do-or-die in our political system. It is a big lie when you hear some of these politicians saying that they are in politics because they want to serve the people. These politicians are liars. They are not serving anybody but their own interests and pockets.
Some individuals, and groups in the North have called for scrapping of zoning in 2023 but….
Cuts in… Those making such calls are very greedy, and selfish. Such calls won’t work. When Buhari completes his second term in 2023, it should be the turn of the South. Not only that, it should be the turn of the Southeast in 2023,while the Middle-Belt should produce the running mate to the Igbo presidential candidate in 2023. In the interest of justice, and equity, this is how it should be. Igbo have good materials that can do the job, people like former Governor Peter Obi, and Kingsley Moghalu, a former presidential candidate.
Peter Obi has demonstrated the ability to perform. Obi may not be a saint but he has shown that he can perform, and he is not also tainted by any scandal. Moghalu is also an asset. He has a clear vision of what he wants to do for Nigeria if elected as President. The bitter truth is this; it is only when we are running a true federal system of government that we can scrap or jettison zoning but for now that we are running a federal system that is seriously flawed then zoning must continue. Those people calling for scrapping of zoning in 2023 from the North are not patriots. They are greedy, self-serving individuals who are more interested in their own personal interests and ambition rather than Nigeria’s interests.
Are you in a way saying that it is only when we restructure that we can now scrap zoning?
Exactly. Some of these people want the status quo to remain, and that’s why they are frustrating the calls for restructuring. Even President Muhammadu Buhari, and his party, APC are not keen about restructuring. Buhari, and his party are deceiving Nigerians on restructuring. They are not keen about it at all.
Why do you say so?
Buhari through his body language is not showing that he is committed to restructuring. For how long has he been saying it? How long will it take him if he is truly committed to it? Even his party, APC set up a committee with the Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai as its Chairman, and that committee recommended restructuring but have they done anything about el-Rufai’s committee recommendations? Part of that committee’s recommendation also includes setting up state police, but have they done anything on all these? These people just want the status quo to remain. Why is Buhari not keen about implementing el-Rufai’s report? The answer is simple. It is because its implementation will lead to true practice of federalism. But as long as we are not doing the right thing, we can’t expect Nigeria to move forward.
Have you heard about the issue of third term for President Buhari, although the President has denied it but…
Cuts in…It won’t happen. Buhari won’t try it. Although some individuals and groups may want to drag him into it but Buhari won’t listen to those sycophants. What I know clearly is that Buhari is thinking about surviving till 2023. He won’t attempt Third term. Buhari is looking for how to complete his second term so that he can go back to Daura to go and rest, and he has already done a lot for Daura, his hometown. He has got a University of Transportation, an Airforce Hospital, and a Federal Polytechnic all for Daura. Buhari has done well for Daura, and he will go back to the place to rest after completing his second term.
What’s your assessment of the APC led federal government so far?
I believe the government is making impact in some areas like rail, and road construction. I only hope that some of these infrastructures they are putting in place can be maintained. But in other areas like education, and health, the government has not lived up to expectation. Insecurity issue has also become a big challenge for Buhari’s government.
Do you agree with recent plans by the Federal Government to borrow $29 billion despite opposition by some Nigerians?
This APC led Federal Government appears to be in a hurry to develop the country, as they want Nigerians to believe. The government wants to give Nigerians the impression that it has done a lot in transforming the country through infrastructural development. But I believe that caution should be applied. If care is not taken, APC’s government’s penchant for borrowing may create problems for the nation if not now but in the future. The change, which APC promised to bring in the last four years, have they brought it? APC is just deceiving Nigerians. They’ve not done anything at any level, and yet they are boasting that they will move Nigeria to the next level.
APC is frustrating Nigerians. Why the craze for these loans in the name of building more infrastructures when they can’t even maintain the existing ones? Look at the way they are building more universities all over the place when they can’t even maintain the existing ones? Even now the Army, and the Airforce have set up their own universities. This is nonsense. States are also not left out. You have many state universities springing up, and the way we are going, if care is not taken, some of these universities may become glorified secondary schools. No regulation, no control again. Some of these universities even appoint professors anyhow, all these may affect standards. We should adopt the right approach in doing things.
As an anti-corruption crusader, how would you react to the scrapping of outrageous pension scheme for former governors, and deputy governors in Zamfara state?
It is a right step in the right direction. Other State Houses of Assembly across the country where such outrageous pensions are being collected by former governors, and their deputies should follow Zamfara state example. States like Lagos state, and Akwa-Ibom where former governors are enjoying such perks should emulate Zamfara. Imagine what former Governor Akinwumi Ambode did in Lagos state. After leaving office, they are asking him to come and render accounts of his stewardship but he is running away. If Ambode doesn’t have skeletons in his cupboard he should appear before Lagos state House of Assembly.
Ambode messed up in Lagos. Look at the roads. He also promised buses, but where are the buses? Ambode is the worst governor Lagos state has produced.
Now back to what I was talking about before .How can a former state governor be collecting N10 million monthly allowance where majority of the people are living in penury? We should stop paying these outrageous allowances to former public office holders. We should emulate what is being done in South Africa where elected public office holders subscribed to a contributory pension fund. While such elected officials are still active in service they pay part of their salaries to the contributory pension fund, and the government also pays some money into the fund for them.
When these people now complete their terms, instead of collecting outrageous severance allowances as it is being done here, what they now give them on a monthly basis is from their contributions to the pension fund. This is what we should do in Nigeria to save costs, and also to stop what I consider a waste of public funds.