By Daniel Anokwuru
Yusuf Ahmed Tijani Damisa is in his second term in the National Assembly as member representing Okene/Ogori-magongo Federal Constituency. He has occupied many offices in Nigeria politics; he was the Counsellor of Onyukoko Ward of Okene Local Government Area from 1999-2001, also Senior Special Assistant to Kogi State governor from 2008-2010. In this interview, he reviewed why he dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressives Congress (APC), his relationship with Governor Yahaya Bello and the issue of non-payment of salaries in Kogi State.
You recently defected from PDP to APC, what is the motive behind such a move?
Well, there are many reasons for a man to take some certain decisions in life. For instance, after the 2015 general election, having lost the presidential election, the PDP started to derail in leadership and eventually disintegrated into factions from the national to state and even up to local government level. I was disappointed. Despite the sad and frustrating development, some of us who found ourselves in that situation made efforts, without success, to ensure that the party remained intact as at that time. At that point, I considered the implication of being in such a party and its effects on the life of the people of my constituency.
There are speculations in some quarters that Governor Yahaya Bello is the reason for your defection, how true is that?
Well, the speculation may not be far from truth. Governor Yahaya Bello has been a friend and a brother right from time. It will be a difficult task for me to capture and convey the full extent of how our relationship started. He has always believed and supported my course. Aside the internal crises bedevilling the PDP, Governor Yahaya Bello is another prominent reason why I had to move to the APC.
The rumour has it that you actually defected to APC in July before it was announced on the floor of the House in October, 2017. How true is that?
That is very correct. My defection to the ruling party was first announced on the 7th of July in Okene, my own local government area, when the APC held a defection rally. There were other PDP members whose defection to the APC was equally announced on that day.
What can you say about the mild drama that erupted on the floor of the House the day your defection to the APC was announced?
The drama was a normal thing and it was expected. Many of my colleagues did not know that I had defected on July 7, which was before the Supreme Court Judgment of July 12, 2017, that sacked Senator Ali Modu Sheriff recognising the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee of the PDP. So when it was announced at the Green Chamber on October 5th, they were shocked. While the Members in the majority were celebrating my defection, the PDP members were mourning. But eventually, they all had to reason along with me and they came back and we are one.
Do you think that PDP can never rise again to defeat APC come 2019?
Well, I am not a prophet. But I can tell you emphatically that it will be difficult, because the PDP has obviously never learnt from its mistakes of denigration of internal democracy characterised by impunity and imposition of candidates on members. For instance, we all know what happened in their last convention. As I am speaking to you now, Okene Chapter of the PDP which is my own Local Government Area has not concluded its congress yet due to some certain irregularities.
But there have been many issues of non-payment of salaries to civil servants in Kogi State, what is your take on this?
There are so many persons in the civil service that are not qualified to be there. Some are working with fake certificates; some collects salaries in two or three places. The rot was so monumental that placed a burden on the governor to reform the system with the introduction of staff verification exercise, so that his successor will not be encumbered by the scourge.
The Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, which the Goodluck Jonathan administration introduced fished out over 60,000 ghost workers, which saved about N170 billion. The Muhammadu Buhari government has also weeded out a similar number. The strategy became a veritable weapon against wage fraud in almost all the states of the federation.
But I empathise with the genuine civil servants of the state for the number of challenges the screening exercise might have caused them. As I am aware, so much effort is in place to address the challenges. But on the other hand, we must face the reality that business as usual would lead us nowhere. A wholesome restructuring and change of attitude to government business has become necessary.
What is your general assessment of Governor Yahaya Bello?
Governor Yahaya Bello has a divine mandate to fix Kogi and he is doing it excellently. He is striving hard to put the economy back on sound footing through surgical operation for quick economic recovery. One of the giant strides in this direction was the massive flushing out of ghost workers in the state civil service. He has also adopted the contributory pension scheme to ensure that every employee received his retirement benefits as and when due. I commend him for his achievement on security; this effort had changed the narratives associated with the past insecurity of lives and property in the state. The reality here is in contrast to the massive propaganda by some people who are strange to the new style of leadership in the state which considers the people as the centre of governance.