From Paul Orude, Bauchi
Senator Ali Wakili, who represents Bauchi South in the Senate, has questioned the renewed call for restructuring of Nigeria by some prominent Nigerians notably former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka. In an interview with Daily Sun in Bauchi, Wakili, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Poverty Alleviation, warned that any attempt to restructure the country would spell doom for its future. Rather than restructuring, he said the country’s leadership should be more engrossed in improving the worsening conditions of living of the citizens.
There is a renewed call for restructuring of Nigeria as a country which is spearheaded by former vice president, Atiku Abubakar with prominent Nigerians like Professor Wole Soyinka also calling for it even though some Nigerians are opposed to it. Where do you stand?
I don’t want to take up an issue that is allegedly being spearheaded by the former vice president, and also another respected Nigerian, Professor Wole Soyinka. First, I don’t know the concept of the restructuring you are talking about. I have not read it and I am not familiar with what they said, but you know every day the issue of federalism continues to resonate. The late Professor Bala Usman has written explicitly on this issue of restructuring. Are we going back to that sort of setting? Are you trying to say that we are going back to the era of the Sokoto Caliphate that has so many emirates, or are we going back to having the Yoruba nation? Even Professor Bala Usman said that the word Yoruba does not connote anything in Yoruba language as it is a name given by an Islamic scholar that coined the word Yoruba. If you look at the Itsekiris in the Niger Delta today, they are complaining about the Izons, so these are issues. We have more issues that should worry Nigerians than restructuring.
The proponents of restructuring argue that the centre is too strong and that is why there are agitations for true federalism and resource control.
When people talk of the centre being too strong, I don’t know what the yardstick for measuring strength is, because, as far as I know, the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria allows for that. The issue of restructuring revolves around the control of resources, and that is why people are thinking that the federal government has enormous powers. If we devolve powers, I do not think that we would need to restructure. If we all agree that restructuring means that Nigeria should be balkanised, then the smaller ethnic groups would have no place to go, because the issue of marginalisation would continue to resonate even to the lowest level. For instance, the people of Akwa Ibom are complaining that the minister of National Planning, the chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC), and the Special Adviser on National Assembly matters come from one ethnic group to the exclusion of about six ethnic groups, which they say make up the major ethnic groups in Akwa Ibom. So, I don’t know why some Nigerians want restructuring, because if you balkanise Nigeria, so many minority groups will regret it.
What is your take on the budget controversy in the House of Representatives?
The brouhaha over budget padding in the House of Representatives is an unfortunate distraction. Any right thinking legislator should be thinking about serious issues, like how to alleviate the poverty and economic downturn being experienced in the country. I feel what should be discussed is that many Nigerians are living below the poverty line. People hardly meet their ends, they hardly feed, they hardly pay their bills. Right now, we are in the rainy season and our people are complaining because they need fertilizer; that is what should preoccupy our minds. Jibrin
Abdulmuminu is practising political brinkmanship, because padding a budget is not criminal as Jibrin and his co travellers are making the issue seem. The budget has gone through due processes and the two chambers and the executive were involved. Where there were issues, they went through it before the president assented to it. I will stand by the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, because he did a good job as regards the budget. We have never had it so good in terms of the constituency he represents. Because of his influence, over N7 billion is going to be spent within parts of Bauchi South and Bauchi Central. That is a good one for me. That is what is occupying my mind and not the issue of padding. I don’t know what padding means, because it is not in our criminal books. These are political statements.
Today, if you go to the man at Burga, Tuldul, Balbiyu or Gwaranga, they want a road, and that road has been captured in the budget, and it has been advertised. We are overheating the polity with political statements, and that is not what Nigerians want. The average Nigerian wants to see food on his table.
But Jibrin now claims that certain monies were injected into the budget by Dogara and some principal officers and has already filed a petition at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). If the present administration claims to fight corruption, don’t you think it should move in now because critics of this government believe the anti corruption war is all targeted at the opposition?
Part of our national tragedy is that we speak on what we don’t know and we don’t learn what we have not inquired into. Section 59 of the constitution is quite explicit as to the power of the legislature, and it defines the role of the National Assembly in the passage of the budget. This section does not in any way limit the extent to which the National Assembly may alter the budgetary estimates submitted to it by the President. Section 59(4), gives the National Assembly the veto power, where the president declines to give his assent to what the legislature considers fit and proper for the country. The legislature has great powers to vary budget allocations and policy priorities as long as they do not exceed the total spending
limits. Constitutionally, the legislature has the power of appropriation. I am not in the House of Representatives, so I don’t want to join issues with Jibrin and his co travellers. Some of those who are making noise hardly attend sittings, so the noise is just political brinkmanship.
Nigerians are also focusing their attention on the Senate because of the controversy in the lower chamber. What lessons are Senators learning from it?
Our focus is on agriculture, and we are trying to diversify and see how it will help the average Nigerian. We have complained of the fact that the federal government is in control of everything, and now we want to ensure that some of these things are outside the exclusive legislative list. These are the things that should worry us. The 2016 budget like I told you has gone through the accurate processes. I take the padding issue as a distraction and some of us should be left out of it because it is taking too much attention from our main problems. Every day we do things that make us look bad in the eyes of the world and the world complains about our bad behaviour; so some of these things should be better left, rather than focusing on them.
Dr. Junaidu Mohammed, a well known staunch critic of Goodluck Jonathan administration recently criticised President Muhammadu Buhari of nepotism, appointing people from his state, Katsina. Junaidu Mohammed is a respected Nigerian. His antecedents did not start and end with Jonathan. If you know his contributions when he was in the House of Representatives during the Second Republic, you will see that he has his conscience to live by. He is a great intellectual, elder statesman and scientist, who has made his impact and he is entitled to his opinion.
You have many critics who brand you as anti Buhari and even alleging that you are one of those plotting to impeach the president. Why are they calling for your recall?
From the beginning of the creation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), some of us played prominent roles, but along the way, some who didn’t benefit now attribute some of the problems to some of us. Some of them we helped to become something out of today’s reality chose to say that we are nobody. For instance, the governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, was not at the foundation level in the formation of the party, but before we had the primaries, providence smiled on him. He became the governorship candidate and God has willed that he became the governor.
He is one of those that had the governorship seat on a platter of gold. If you look at the struggle that former governor, Adamu Mu’azu had to go through, and the intrigues Isa Yuguda had to go through, you would know that God smiled on him through some of us that gave him a helping hand. Bauchi gave great support to President Buhari, and so it is expected that all of us should behave and think like him.
Unfortunately, when we came, we started on a wrong footing by the fact that those of them that became leaders at the state level were not running an inclusive government, because of the fact that they do not consult before they make certain decisions.
Because of that, we discovered that the economy has been bastardised, salaries have not been paid for months and then there were debts that were inherited. But despite the economic crunch, we
were able to collect billions from the federal government. It is expected that the billions would translate to improvement in the lives of people. But like I told you, because of non inclusiveness, it became a problem between some of the elected officials.
They feel that those of us in the National Assembly should stay in Abuja and should not be bothered about what is happening locally. So, today in the North, and in Bauchi, if you want to smear any body’s name, just send him a flier and accuse him of being anti-Buhari, then everywhere would catch fire. So, for some of them, in order to cover their inadequacies, they would just accuse you of being anti-Buhari.
The impeachment threat was a hoax because nobody raised any motion to that effect. It is not easy to impeach any president in Nigeria. Because of the integrity of the president and his huge support base, nobody will commit suicide by saying he is going to impeach any president in Nigeria.