Former President of the Senate, Adolphus Wabara speaks on 20 years of democracy in Nigeria, failed expectations and why the ethnic nationalities of the country must renegotiate the terms of nationhood at a round table.
May 29 is the 20th anniversary of the return to civil rule in Nigeria. How do you think we have fared as a nation?
We have to first of all thank God that we are still one nation though we are standing on a very weak tripod. Quite frankly, our democracy has not matured. It has not been what it was in 1999 at the beginning of this democratic dispensation. We have been losing ground with every election after 1999 and the worst of it is the 2019 general elections. Without a sound democracy you cannot talk about any meaningful development. In conclusion, as far as I am concerned, we have not made any progress as a nation.
How can we improve on the electoral process to strengthen democracy and make progress?
We are the architects of our own misfortune in this country. We have the solution but nobody wants to carry it out because of personal interests. For instance, there is nothing wrong with implementing the Justice Mohammed Uwais report on electoral reforms. It has not been implemented because of our personal interests. It is the same thing with the amended Electoral Act and electronic voting which was not signed into law. These reports were rejected so they can rig elections and perpetuate themselves in power. And, the sooner we jettison our personal interests and start thinking of the nation first the better for us as a people; otherwise, we are going to disintegrate.
The Americans have predicted that Nigeria may go the way of Syria and Libya by 2030. This is in about 10 years’ time. Today, every ethnic nationality in Nigeria has one or two dissenting armed groups who are disgruntled with the way the country is run. These are the groups the ethnic nationalities will use to face one another. That was exactly what happened in Syria and Libya. We should not think this will go the way of the 2015 prediction on disintegration of Nigeria. This one is going to be a reality. Nobody sees himself as a Nigerian anymore. Religiosity and ethnicity have become big problems in Nigeria; we lack everything needed to be called a nation and unfortunately our leaders are not taking it seriously.
May 29 will also mark the beginning of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term. What is your assessment of this first term?
I cannot say anything different from my earlier analysis. It is full of deterioration. I don’t want to be partisan, but President Goodluck Jonathan abdicated his position as president peacefully. We expected more from President Buhari having got the presidency on a platter at that time in 2015. What we see today is nepotism and ethnicism. This is not good for the country. Look at what happened in Kigali, it is not different from what we have here; it is just that as Nigerians, we love ourselves that is why chaos has not broken out. But there is a limit to which we can endure in this country.
There was this 2014 national conference that one would think would have come to bear by now. The issue of restructuring is a must, but President Buhari is shying away from it. But the truth is that he can’t shy away from it for too long. There is nothing wrong with restructuring and remaining a nation. Otherwise, we may find out that the Islamisation agenda may come to be and that will be the bane of this country.
Insecurity, ethnicism and sectarian intolerance are on the rise. Looking at the plight of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria which has been protesting the incarceration of their leader, Sheikh El Zak –Zaky, do you see the movement turning into another Boko Haram?
I don’t want to be an alarmist, but we have to say it the way it is. We must ask ourselves the fundamental question of whether we want to remain one country. Do the Yoruba want to live with the Igbo? Do the Igbo want to live with the Hausa? Do the Fulani want to live together with the Hausa in the North? We must proffer answers to these questions. We must come to the roundtable. The 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria was a sham and we have lived with it till now. We all know we must restructure. Unfortunately, few people who don’t want to let go are standing against it. Nobody is saying we should disintegrate or that Nigeria should breakup, but we have to be seen to be Nigeria and think Nigeria. Once we have sincerity of purpose, we can proffer solutions to our problems. Our problems are manmade and all anchored around religious and ethnic interests and that will not help us. There is no way every Nigerian can be a Muslim just as there is no way every Nigerian can be a Christian. That is the problem people are shying away from. We have to tolerate one another just as our earlier national anthem, ‘though tribe and tongue may differ in brotherhood we stand.’ Our diversity should be our strength.
Ahead of the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, we see rancour between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on how to constitute the leadership of the assembly. You have been there as Senate president, what do you think, is it a party affair or the legislators are free to choose their leaders?
This thing was started on a wrong footing in 1999. The normal thing is for the lawmakers to choose their leaders in both chambers of the legislature. Once you are elected on the platform of a political party, you become a ‘national property’ and no longer the property of the political party so to say. That does not mean however that a political party cannot take advantage of its numbers in any of the chambers to go into your caucus to strategise on producing the leadership. Even if you want to make it that legislators from the party with the majority will constitute the leadership of both chambers, the party should not be seen to interfere. The legislature is an independent arm of government; nobody should tell it who becomes its leader. The legislators can decide on whom they want; they should be voting persons and not parties. If their choice of leadership falls within the ruling party so be it, but for the APC to be making all kinds of unguarded statements threatens the very existence of the legislature and such will make the legislators repulsive and make them look as if they don’t have respect for the party’s position or hierarchy.
What do the House Rules say about constituting the leadership of the National Assembly?
I have left the Senate for over 12 years now and no longer conversant with the rules because it has been changed as many times as possible. In fact, they can even change the rules on the very morning of inauguration in June. The Clerk of the Senate can bring up a new set of rules just as it was done in 2015. I don’t know what the rules are now. During our time it was very clear that the party that has majority will produce the leadership, but when politics come in you can’t control it. It doesn’t however stop any other legislator from contesting for the leadership position if the ruling party is in disarray or if there are factions. That was how Senator Ike Ekweremadu emerged Deputy Senate President in the 8th Assembly and there was a whole load of confusion because the minority became the majority and the majority turned to minority. Up till now, I don’t know which party is in the majority in the 8th National Assembly, both the APC and the PDP are laying claim to be in the majority. And, of course, going by the question you raised earlier and my answer that I don’t know what the House Rules are now, if the APC is in the majority, how come that Senator Bukola Saraki, who is of the PDP, is the Senate President and the House of Representatives Speaker is also of the PDP?
We both know how that happened; both Saraki and Yakubu Dogara were members of the APC when they ascended the leadership position of the Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
It doesn’t matter if they were in the APC. If the APC said they are in the majority and Saraki and Dogara crossed over to another party, the APC shouldn’t have allowed them to continue in leadership position if the old House Rule was still extant. That is the point I’m making because the APC should have been able to muster their forces and apply the rule.
Do you think that a lawmaker for instance who leaves the political party on whose platform he was elected for another party should forfeit his seat?
The constitution is clear on the matter of on how an elected legislator can move from the party on whose platform he was elected to another party. I think the existing law is if there is a faction within the party. But again, it is the Supreme Court that can interpret if there is a faction or not. So, everybody rides on that law that there is a faction. If one person within the party becomes recalcitrant then it could be interpreted by the legislator who intends to defect that there is a faction. It is not for the chairman of the National Assembly that is the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives to determine if there is indeed a faction or not. His duty is just to take the legislator for his word then he moves. It is left for you to go to the Supreme Court to get the interpretation of what a faction is and if indeed such faction existed to motivate the movement from the party on whose platform, he was elected to another.
As Buhari gets ready to begin his second term in office, what agenda will you set for him?
I will wish him the best of luck; he has said he will be a changed Buhari this time around. Let’s hold him to that, though he has never kept to his word anyway. Let’s hope that as a true Muslim that he is, he will keep to his word and see that Nigeria remains one. However, we are still in court nobody can tell what will happen. But hopefully the PDP will retrieve its mandate. But where that does not happen, I will advise Buhari to see himself as a Nigerian and not a Fulani nationalist.