Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, in this exclusive interview, speaks on zoning in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war, insecurity and the looming famine, rotational and Igbo presidency, among others. He spoke with FRED ITUA in Abuja
The 9th Senate has often been described as an appendage to the Executive. Considering what has happened in the last one year, would it be okay to conclude that the assumption is true?
The President of the Senate has dealt with this matter with regards to our one year anniversary and what the successes and failures have been. But I’m a member of the opposition, the minority. Therefore, I don’t believe that Nigerians can say that we are a rubber stamp Assembly. We have vigorously opposed whatever we think isn’t going right within the polity. I’ve even stood up on the floor of the Senate to call for the resignation of the President because we felt that he came in on a banner, proclaiming three things he will do. He has failed abysmally in the three. Having done what we are supposed to do as the minority side, I think we have done well. One thing the public needs to know is that, in a democracy, there will always be a voting and the carrying of the majority. If the majority decides on where they want to go, it doesn’t mean that the minority has not had its say. Lumping all of us together and saying that we are a rubber stamp is wrong. I don’t think we are.
I know where the feeling comes from. It comes from the fact that the APC Government between 2015-2019, explained their lethargy and failure on the contentious relationship with the National Assembly. It said the National Assembly sabotaged their effort. There was a concerted effort by the APC Government to get a leadership in the National Assembly that will be more inclined to what they want to do. We felt since they were talking about the interest of the masses, we decided to give them the benefits of the doubt. Now, we have given them the benefits of the doubt for one year and things have unraveled further, which goes to show that the problem didn’t come from the National Assembly ab initio. Now that the National Assembly is cooperating with them, you can see that things have turned worse. We have seen a Government in total disarray. What this means is that, the National Assembly was right from the beginning by pointing out those problems the Government had, but said they won’t correct. They were just blaming Saraki and others. We can see everything now. I don’t think that there are more excuses that can be heard for the incompetence that has been shown by this Government.
The Senate has held two retreats on insecurity. Yet, the architecture has not been restructured. We still have the same service and security chiefs in office. How do you proceed?
There’s a prima that every person who desires to take the mantle of leadership in Nigeria needs to read. It was written by Chinua Achebe and it’s called ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’. It’s pure and simple- leadership. As we can see, the current government isn’t providing leadership. And because it’s not providing that leadership and it doesn’t have the capacity to provide that, what we see is a breakdown of all the things they have said they’ll do, but will never do it.
How do we proceed from here?
No, I don’t expect that they’re going to do anything. There was a very an interesting article I read written by Colonel Stan Labo. I’ll recommend that Nigerians read it. He gave a prognosis of what to do on insecurity. An American General said that ‘war is too serious to be left in the hands of Generals’. Some people think that because they’ve attended the Defence College, nobody can tell them what to do. It is obvious today that the current crop of leaders of the Nigerian Armed Forces are incapable of doing anything again. In fact, we are hearing from the grapevine that they’ve been begging to go, yet, they’re being told that they must stay there. There is no motivation or anything left for them to do. They have run out of ideas. The people below them have been retired and those they have to work with today are far their juniors. Soldiers are even saying they don’t want to be part of the Army again. Is this not the same Nigerian Army that imposed order in Sierra Lone and Liberia? Same Army that won accolades everywhere? The problem is leadership. In the Army and everywhere, it’s the same thing. We can’t run away from the fact that the leadership has failed.
Let me take you back to the Senate. President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has said that over $28 billion had been approved in the last year by the National Assembly. Your people are wondering why the South East wasn’t captured and what you did to change that
We didn’t let it go. If you remember, we made a spirited effort on that day. Beyond the effort, we went to the House of Representatives and agreed to delay it so we could speak to the presidency. This is why I’m talking about the lack of leadership in the country. We spoke to the people in the Executive. Our leadership, the President of the Senate, Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, had gone back to tell the Executive about our concerns. There would have been a review. But what we see is that, this regime thinks that whatever they do that favours them is okay. What else do we do? We have done the parliamentary work we were supposed to do. We did the voting and that was it. Today, there are litigations and these things could have been avoided if the Government had listened. When you’re holding somebody down, you’re also holding yourself down. When you hold the South East down, you’re also holding yourself down. This is a region that is vibrant and they make their contributions to the country. We have continually said that the feeling you get in the South East, is that, Buhari doesn’t mean well for them. They have continued to reinforce this fact. When they complain that he has not done anything for the region, they’ll tell you about the Second Niger Bridge as if they started it. The work was started long before they came and the Goodluck Jonathan administration had already made some payment through the Sovereign Wealth Fund. No matter the regime in office, it would have been done. We continue to laugh when they bandied these little things. Femi Adesina wrote recently that they built a police station in the South East. So, if a Government wants to do something, it is a police station that it will build for the South East? They’re not building something serious and they want us to be happy about that? He thinks that we are dumb. Enough said about this government.
Let’s talk about the Igbo presidency. Actors outside the South East believe that leaders of the region need to reach out more to other parts of the country if they intend to get the presidency in 2023. They also claim that the Igbo man doesn’t assimilate well. These claims, are they true sir?
I want to address this very clearly. When someone says that the Igbo man doesn’t assimilate, I think it is the greatest lie anyone can put on us. The Igbo man is the only person that is assimilated in Nigeria. He lives anywhere, builds a house there and develops the community all over the country. Then, someone turns around and tells you that you don’t assimilate well. What else do they want an Igbo man to do? For every other group in Nigeria that ever produced a president, at what point did they go out to meet other groups to support them? When Olusegun Obasanjo became president, no Yoruba person came to the South East to talk to us. Those who felt they owned Nigerians made the presidency of Obasanjo possible. I was there. At what point did Umaru Musa Yar’Adua come to us that he wanted to be president? It was a consensus of the ruling party at that time that power will go to the North. Jonathan became president by happenstance because the incumbent died and he won elections again. Buhari became president. How? When it comes to the turn of the Igbo, hurdles are placed on his way and he’s been told what to do. That’s not true. Political parties, through their internal systems determine these things. Each party will develop their own formula and reach a consensus. That is what will happen in 2023. This demonisation of the Igbo is unnecessary.
Do you see the South East having a chance in 2023 with the major political parties- APC and the PDP?
Parties are made up of individuals and people. Why won’t a South Easterner be able to become president in 2023? I don’t see why. Whoever wants to be president in 2023 will come out and meet everybody. We have capable people from the South East who can vie for the position.
Are leaders from the region meeting across board to take a position on who to support yet?
That’s where you also get it wrong. At what point did the other people meet across party lines to take a decision?
Arewa Consultative Forum openly supported Buhari in 2015 and 2019. It was a consensus then in the North to support Buhari…
The same Arewa Consultative Forum has come out to say that Buhari has disappointed them and taken the country into ruins. What that tells us is that, you can ask for something or demand for it, it can also ruin you. I have a simple way to address this. The structure of the country isn’t proper. We need to first change some of the things in our constitution. We can’t run this feeding bottle system that drags everybody down. We can’t concentrate power at the centre on the presidency where one man is so powerful. We need to go beyond the main acquisition of power and look at other things. Arewa asked for power and see what has happened. For instance, the kind of insecurity we are seeing now, we have not had that. We may be hit by famine soon since people can no longer go to the farm. It’s time for us to think outside the box. Not just enough to ask for power. It has happened everywhere. What we see is incompetence. It leads to nowhere. It should be a matter for every elder in Nigeria to put their heads down in shame. We have promoted mediocrity above excellence. We are paying for that.
There are claims by a PDP senator that the party has zoned the position of the President to the North. Is that true?
It is not true. The party has not met to discuss anything or taken a position on 2023. If there was such a meeting, I was never invited to it. There is no meeting that will concern such a thing that I’ll not be invited. On the issue, there is no where the party is going, you can bury that thought. Not now.
The other issue is the constitutional backing for rotational presidency in Nigeria. Is it something we should consider?
In 2015, we were told that we had the most competent person who will fight everything and was unstained by corruption. They said he was a General who will fight wars. When you answer that question, you can now see whether rotational presidency can hold water. All the things we were told in 2015, where are we today? There is no substitute for excellence. When people make this argument, I agree that every part of Nigeria has competent people. But who will discover them?
Let me go back to Colonel Stan Labo’s quote. Talking to Buhari, he said: “If you have to choose people from the North only, as you’ve been doing, please, choose competent ones.” It is not a question of competent people, but unbridled nepotism is what has brought us here. The fact is not where you come from. If you choose the wrong person, you’ll get the result you deserve.