Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Hon. Godfrey Ali Gaiya was the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Sports in the Sixth Assembly. A geologists and strong Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Kaduna State chapter caucus member, Gaiya was also the state coordinator of Goodluck Jonathan 2015 Presidential Campaign Council.
Speaking to Sunday Sun in Abuja, Gaiya, a former representative of Jaba/Zangon Kataf Federal Constituency in the lower legislative chamber, delved into several contentious issues, bordering on the rising incidences of insecurity and marginalisation in his state, Kaduna, the Almajiri menace in Northern Nigeria, the PDP 2023 presidential zoning arrangement and the controversial jumbo package for the National Assembly members, among others.
Why has killings and criminalities continued in your state Kaduna?
The killings have links with criminality, religion and politics such that it has become difficult to separate one from the other. The youths are idle; there is joblessness and poverty everywhere in Kaduna. From the point of criminality, people are attacked and dispossessed of their belongings. The blames should be on the doorstep of the government because this administration has not been able to provide the necessary machinery to checkmate what has been happening in the state in the past few years. It is a very serious indictment on this government because it has done nothing. It is more disappointing that even when you give government long notice of an impending attack, nobody will act or react until the attack was carried out before they start rushing. There is criminality especially when you look at the aimlessness of the Almajiri system that are ready-made tools for whoever wants to cause mischief to recruit from the pool.
Talking about Almajiri, what do you think is the way forward for the menace in the North?
Honestly, Almajiri is currently the biggest headache confronting the country. We are not just sincere with the Almajiri system because instead of confronting the menace, they make it look like religious issue. Yet the truth is that even the wealthy Muslims in the North don’t send their children to do Almajiri. It has become like a class system when the poor and downtrodden have their children as Almajiri while it has no room in the families of the wealthy and the rich. Almajiri has actually become a very big menace. Politicians use them when they want to win elections only to dump them as urchins hanging on the streets for survival. In Kano, for instance, there is no way they can maintain social or physical distancing because of the crowd. Greater percentages of the population are children scattered everywhere without anywhere to put their heads. Sadly, nobody wants to be connected with Almajiri, yet they become relevant when it is time to use them to rig elections like hijacking of ballot boxes. We should be very fair to Goodluck Jonathan, who wanted the system to be resolved by constructing Almajiri schools all over the country particularly in the North, but unfortunately those that should be frontline beneficiaries sabotaged the project, making Almajiri a big problem to the country. When the deposed Emir of Kano became critical of the system, he turned an enemy to most Northern establishments. So, unless we, Northerners dialogue over Almajiri system holistically and find a bearing to handle their welfare and situation, it remains a time bomb that may consume everybody.
What is your impression about the administration of your state governor, Mallam El-Rufai?
I will say so far not so good because Kaduna before the advent of El-Rufai is naturally a very fragile state. Governors before him have always been very careful in managing the fragility so that no section or sector is seen as worthless in the polity of the state. But El-Rufai came with vendetta specifically to deal with Southern Kaduna people for not voting for him. The excuse that we, the Southern Kaduna did not vote for the APC should not ordinarily matter. After emerging as governor, he would have been governor for every section regardless of those that voted or did not vote for him. He should have given to the sections what is statutorily due to them. But Southern Kaduna has suffered the highest level of marginalisation under El-Rufai since the advent of democracy, in terms of appointment, execution of project, which has become impossible in that part of the state under him. Our sin is that we did not vote for the APC. Our people are unapologetic because politics is all about choices. Nobody ought to be persecuted on account of their choice of voting. We are enduring, waiting and hoping that the applecart will turn in the 2023 elections.
Before the pandemic, there has been permutation over which zone will produce the president in 2023, what is your take on it?
The permutation is apparently based on a country that technically has two major political parties with the chance of winning the presidency like the PDP and of course the APC. We should not lose sight of the fact that the two political parties have their own internal working arrangements and constitution. For those of us in the PDP, we still believe that since the last PDP president came from the South in line with the straight line divide when it comes to presidency, the PDP is working on retaining Secondus for the second time as National Chairman, which effectively means according to PDP’s internal arrangement, that the next presidential candidate of the PDP should come from the North. However, it is not to undermine merit and the fact that when there is no quality person from the region, they should give us half-baked candidate. We are tired of producing people that cannot go in there and administer the job because he is a quota system president. We should not also forget that there is zoning in the APC and if what they are saying is that the presidency should go to the South after Buhari finishes his eight-year tenure, the expectation is rife that the party should support a Southern presidency. However, the problem is that if the two major parties have their presidential candidates from different divide, it may be a potential national problem because people may not vote based on party, but on sentiment. It is a potential trouble, a wrong signal and what the political class must work hard to avert to ensure that the quest for political position did not throw Nigeria into any kind of crisis. COVID-19 has already made some impacts on the 2023 elections because as we can see, almost all the due dates for the PDP congress have been postponed. It is becoming a very serious issue in the PDP because of what Secondus did in converting the existing excos to caretaker committee from ward to state level. Of course, many people are not satisfied with that because if there should be caretaker committee, it should have been neutral group of persons who will now organise a very thorough and transparent congress. Unfortunately, those people appointed caretaker are also interested in continuing.
Are you confortable with the number of political parties in Nigeria?
It is certainly not the best for us. Most of them know that they don’t have basis to be registered in the first place. They don’t have the national spread in compliance with the requirement of INEC. Some of them have national headquarters inside plazas somewhere in Abuja and yet pose as national political platform. The motive of many of them is not to deepen and widen democracy, but as commercial platform. INEC Act on registration of political parties should be doctored to reflect that unless a party wins certain number of political positions, it should be deregistered. Only parties with national spread should function as political parties because the smaller the better for country’s democracy. Jumping from one party to the other makes mockery of the recorded democratic successes. The era of several parties endorsing either the PDP or the APC should be put behind us. Unless we have very strong political parties as institution managing the conduct of politics, our democracy will continue to be abused. We have to go for solid and concrete political parties, may be two, three or five maximum. We have many parties, but it is either PDP or APC with others conspicuously missing. Our ballot papers are one of the longest and most cumbersome across the world. We should consider the cost of printing ballot papers and difficulties encountered during voting.
What lessons have COVID-19 pandemic taught Nigerian political leaders?
Sincerely, it has been a very humbling experience that has not only forced all of us to stay at home but also given us time to introspect and retrospect at life holistically. We have seen the vanity of life. We cannot go about our normal schedule irrespective of the chains of cars at your disposal; we cannot even attend social gathering. The situation simply means that one should love, care, and respect humanity. The desperate pursuit of earthly materialism will one day loss its meaning. COVID-19 experience has shown that despite having the whole world we will one day have limited access to them. So, the best is to be your brother’s keeper. More disturbing is that we cannot even attend political meetings. See, for example, the congresses of the PDP to elect our local government and state chairmen has been put on hold. The pandemic has also shown the level of neglect the political leaders have given to the health sector. The legislation over the years has always been that a particular percentage of national resources or budget be earmarked for the health sector. WHO sets a standard of certain percentage of fund to be allocated to the health sector to keep it in good shape. Sadly, over the years, Nigeria has not really been able to meet up with that minimum budgetary allocation. All these years, we have just been concentrating more on overhead cost like payment of salaries, allowances to the detriment of the actual physical capital projects to develop the health facilities. The effects of the neglects over the years is now glaring with the conversion of hotels and structures to house patients in isolation or quarantine for the duration of their recovery. If we had deliberately adopted long time plan particularly in the health sector, we would not have had this drastic situation. A country like Senegal has been able to develop massive disease laboratory testing culture before and during this pandemic while we are still battling to get it across the state capitals. It simply shows that yes, COVID-19 was not expected; our level of preparedness health-wise is far from reality.
Who exactly should Nigerians blame for the failure and decay, the legislature who failed to oversight or the executive with the responsibility to implement?
Nigerians should absolutely blame the executive because there is clear-cut separation of powers. When the National Assembly allocates, it is left for the executive arm to implement what has been allocated to them. However, the unfortunate thing is that we have the envelop syndrome which means that what Mr President has assigned in the budget will trickle down to the MDAs and at the end what have been earmarked may be just 40 per cent of what is in the budget. Characteristics of the executive, they will first take care of basics like overhead and running costs before thinking of the capital. The parliament cannot supervise running cost because it does not translate to any meaningful thing to the average of citizen. It is the capital component that touches you and me. During oversight, the executive will claim that they don’t have allocated capital votes, leaving the legislature helpless because they cannot oversight the unascertained intangible. The truth is that the executive is not honest with the budgetary proposals and implementation. They are not honest during budget presentation to the legislature. They are usually selective in implementing those that they champion. At their various MDAs, they hardly implement what they propose to the National Assembly. It is always like going round the circle.
What have you been missing outside National Assembly for some years now? So much I will say. They include contribution to national development that puts smiles on the faces of the average person from my constituency with the feeling that he has a representative in the House and the parliamentary debate. I also miss the friendship I acquired over the years with my colleagues.
Did you incur enemies as chairman, Reps Committee on Sports?
I still suffer the enmity as I speak with you today. I have decided to watch and wait hoping to be vindicated tomorrow. But I still feel that I did what I did for the benefit of the sporting sector, to correct some anomalies there before and to make sport administration more transparent for every Nigerian to have a say on what goes on in the running of the game. But unfortunately, I would not have done that without offending and incurring the wrath of the mighty at the top. You can imagine the volume of hostility I face every day now that I am no longer there. I don’t get invites to any sporting event. I know that if you do well, it will take very few to appreciate. The truth is that they will not also be there forever. Their tenure will end one day and they will become like Gaiya too.