Honourable Tajudeen Yusuf, member, Federal Parliamentary Engagement, Kabba-Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency, was on August 29 declared winner of the February 24 National Assembly election as a member of the Federal House of Representatives by the National Assembly Election Tribunal in Abuja.
In this interview, he described the tribunal’s verdict as a miracle, as the same tribunal had earlier annulled the election of Senator Dino Melaye, ordering a re-rerun.
He also spoke about his expectations for Tuesday’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) primary in Kogi State, and why the party must repair the trust it had destroyed in the last general elections.
The tribunal just ruled in your favour. What’s your reaction to that?
Number one, I give God the glory because nothing just happens. I am privileged to enjoy the victory at the tribunal because it pleases Him. And it reaffirms that there is still hope in Nigeria’s judicial system because there was a lot of apprehension, but the contrary happened.
The February 23rd elections reasonably was the freest election in my constituency; in an ideal situation there should be no reason for anyone to contest it. But be that as it may, it is the right of any individual to seek redress if they feel otherwise.
So, I want to thank God and I want to thank my people of Kabba-Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency for finding me worthy of their trust.
But the same tribunal sacked your counterpart in the Senate, Dino Malaye?
That was what I was referring to when I said there was a lot of apprehension. The tribunal ruling in the Senate didn’t give victory to the opponent. They said there are certain things they feel the INEC didn’t do well and I am not trying to impugn on the integrity of the ruling of the judiciary but, I asked, does it mean that those lapses in the INEC benefited Dino Malaye alone? But thank God for another opportunity to seek redress, he can still go to appeal. I believe that the judges will look at it prudently and come out with a better and favourable outcome. This is against the backdrop that a ruling came earlier, same tribunal asking for a rerun in the senate election, that was why a lot of people were apprehensive about mine, but God chose to do it in His way.
What’s your expectations at your party’s primaries on Tuesday in Kogi State?
I believe that it will be peaceful. I believe by now we have learnt our lessons as a party and the people of Kogi have high expectations of us. And so a sense of responsibility has been reposed in us, we have no options but to live up to it.
So on Tuesday, I believe we all know that is only one person that will emerge as a candidate no matter the number. I believe that whoever emerges will be a better candidate to give us a good stead to challenge the incumbent in the conventional elections.
Do you think whoever emerges stands a chance against the incumbent governor?
Yes. I am very sure. As at today, by my own estimation, I don’t think there is any aspirant that would not beat the present governor going by the opinions that have been sampled among our people about the governor. However, it is not two plus two that equals four, a lot of things come into play during elections.
One of the things to do is to ensure that the primaries is rancour free, that those who do not emerge as candidate will understand that tomorrow it can be their turn. I’m very sure that about 50 percent of the APC members are waiting to see who will emerge as the candidate of the PDP. They are waiting for the PDP to get it right and they will join in.
Kogi has never been this bad, not just in terms of governance but in terms of opinion and perception. I mean, the way we are being portrayed is so bad these days that there are places you go to and you will not want to disclose to people that your are from Kogi. Because, the kind of reaction that it will generate will not be too encouraging.
So, I am convinced that whoever emerges will beat the incumbent.
Some PDP reps openly supported the emergence of the current Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila. Was that not anti-party activity?
Well, democracy is evolving. A lot of our people are yet to understand what we call party politics. The focus for most Nigerians, and not just for politicians right now, is ‘what is in it for me.’ The ‘me’ aspect and the funny reward mentality of every move, every discussion, has killed our politics in that manner. It is not the first time, but it has become brazen this time around. I mean, it is unheard of; it is news if one Democrat supports the aspiration of a Republican in the United States. But we are not yet there. I believe we will get there. The disappointment, or should I say the discouragement, is that we have gone back, we are better than this. Before now we used to have people align along the party structure knowing that it will give us a good stead for us to take over; but now people look at the immediate gains, ‘what can I get from this transaction?’.
The thing is, people never believed the PDP will be this strong again, but the party is dealing with it.
Before the Speaker was elected, we had the impression that the PDP reps will give the Speakership a push, what happened?
There was a back down because the party felt we are not ripe/mature for that as a country. It means we will be seen as derailing the government’s chances of delivering on its promises. Because, this is a government that thrives on excuses; they tell you that the last four years was bad because it was not their choice that became the Speaker and what have you. The person that was being propped for the Speakership is a very patriotic Nigerian, former Speaker Yakubu Dogara. He sat everybody down and said I have been Speaker for the last four years, what is four years in the life of the nation? Let’s allow them and see what they can do. That was why the PDP said let’s support the APC candidate.
The PDP is now in the minority in the House; won’t that affect the party in this dispensation?
No. I mean, there is not much difference between 2015 and now. I happen to be the secretary of the caucus. We were 134 in 2015-2019 and in 2019 we came in as 129, and now we are about 132. So, I’m sure at the end of the day we may be more than 140. Secondly, it is just a number. It is the capacity of the members that matters. I can, without sounding immodest, today tell you that the PDP has more strong, deep, experienced parliamentarians than the APC. Because of the nature and policy of the APC, it threw up all kinds of characters into the National Assembly. So, the PDP has been able to produce the good light; as far as I am concerned we are not in anyway disadvantaged. What makes a party relevant most times is the inability of the party in government to deliver. Who will remember that PDP exists if it had not delivered? Let me be sincere with you: I will not be party inclined to say it must be the PDP when the person there is delivering. We have moved from a politics of ‘road tarred’ to a politics of ideas. When we keep saying these roads were tarred and this was not tarred as it is being done by the ruling party, it shows we are still in the pedestal of what developments should not be.
I believe the PDP is stronger in the National Assembly and we will continue to provide a better alternative for the Nigerian people.
How’s the “reconciliation process” in the House now among the PDP?
Oh, we still have a long way to go, I must be sincere with you. Because, people felt very betrayed, lines were crossed, trusts were destroyed. Many people are going about pretending as if nothing happened, but I know deep down a lot of them are not happy. However, one positive denominator is that none of them is thinking of jettisoning the party. So, everybody wants to reconcile their differences within the structure of the party. So, it’s ongoing but can there be genuine reconciliation without justice? There are certain fundamentals that must be in place, and so I believe that those things must be worked out. You can’t strip me naked in the market place and come into the room to clothe me. If you publicly cast aspersions on my image, you must go back to the public and say I discovered what I said was wrong. Because, opinions are what build perceptions; some perceptions might not be right but may become the reality.
So, reconciliation is ongoing but it has along way to go.
Many feel your party has not been very vocal about the plight of Kogi civil servants, with salary arrears being the order of the day in the state and stuff like that.
Are you talking about the PDP national or the state, because the state has been doing a lot. Hardly will you not find people talking about it in the Kogi media space. But I must be sincere with you, I am not even too excited talking about it nationally. I think the more you talk about it, the more you send this impression that Kogi has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Let’s say there is a change of government now, do you have that resources to change their perception? It has become so bad that nothing has changed. Some of us are not excited talking about it but working silently, committedly and trusting that, with God on our side, we can change the narrative. We have a lot of intelligent people from that state that are better than what we are seeing now.
The APC built its agenda on anti-corruption, yet there are some ministers in this government still being investigated for graft, while others have been indicted for graft. Does it show the APC’s commitment to the anti-graft crusade?
I am not surprised. I have never believed in that fraud. There has never been an anti-corruption crusade. It was deliberately put in the front burner to hoodwink Nigerians into believing that. The APC are smart, they realized that Nigerians were sick and tired of where we were… and so they provided a false answer to the clarion call of Nigerians. That is the reason I said the PDP did not reinvent itself within that space, that was why we lost.
So, they campaign with that mantra: anti-corruption, security. Any blind man can see now that you are tagged corrupt if you don’t share the same political view with the APC.
I tell people that by the time this government is out and a new government comes to be, and people begin to unearth the kind of fraud that was happening under this government, we will go back and apologise to IBB [former military Head of State General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida] and what have you.
Not that they are exonerating the past leaders for their wrong, but if you look at the quantum of stealing going on now, then you will realise theirs was child’s play. If you put together what was taken in 16 years of the PDP and put it side by side with four years of this government, more than that has been stolen.
You will find budget items repeatedly in three years and monies released, and there is no visible thing on ground.
I moved the motion on subsidy removal under Jonathan’s Administration; we were convinced that the manner it was done was wrong. How much was subsidy then? Subsidy then was less than a billion a year. Presently, we spend roughly around a billion in a year. Pump price of petroleum was N87 then; it’s now N143 or more, and we have borrowed in four years of Buhari’s Administration more than the last 20 years, without a corresponding infrastructure.
When they say he is borrowing for infrastructure, I asked where are the roads? Somebody mentioned Abuja airport. Eighty percent of the contract sum was paid under Jonathan, 80 percent of the contract sum for Kaduna-Abuja light rail was paid for by the Jonathan administration; so, where is the borrowing going to?
I’m an economist and I know you borrow to reflate the economy so as to stimulate growth, savings and what have you so as to revive the economy. But when you borrow to put in a ditch, you are mortgaging the destiny of that country.
I chaired the capital market committee of the House in four years, and I am aware that in the first 17 months, over N7 trillion was lost in the Nigerian capital market. The six months without ministers, many said there is no difference whether there is minister or not, the system is running. And I responded that it is only in this part of the world you would say that. In other climes, people wait for policy statement of government to reinvest. Let’s say you are not a Nigerian, will you put your money in this economy? And then they came out one day and said there should be no dollar transaction. So, how will you take your money out if you are doing business and you don’t reside here?
Ghana today is the hub, was Ghana the hub four years ago, the question is how did they get it right?
So there is no Anti-Corruption war, what we had is political gymnastics to hoodwink Nigerians that a messiah had come. There is no messiah anywhere.
I want to tell Nigerians that you have the opportunity and the responsibility to become the change that we want to see by beginning to look inward and stop expecting miracles from this government. And realize that you cannot give what you don’t have. Check their antecedents, their yesterday and today, and you will see a correlation so that you don’t just believe those lies again.
So there is no anti-corruption crusade.