Fred Itua, Abuja
Senator Kabiru Marafa, who represents Zamfara Central in the Upper Legislative Chamber of the National Assembly is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), which is handling the second phase of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, the lawmaker who is gunning for the governorship seat of Zamfara State, spoke on the crisis in All Progressives Congress (APC) and why aggrieved senators may defect if not pacified by the party. He also spoke on killings in Zamfara State, pointing out that nobody cares about the state, blaming this squarely on Governor Abdulazeez Yari. He also spoke on other salient national issues.
Recently, the Senate marked its three years in office. Within the period, it has passed over 200 bills which is the highest. On the flip side, people also feel that the current Senate has lost its integrity because of the prosecution of its leader and some of its members. What is your take on this?
I don’t think there is anything wrong about that. The constitution we operate in Nigeria says that everybody is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court. Just being picked doesn’t reduce the integrity of anybody, even if you’re taken to court. Let us wait for convictions if there are any. Accusations are simple. Anybody can be accused of anything. If people don’t like your face, they can accuse you. With the social media, it is even worse. From the corner of a village, people with Internet on their phones go on the social media and post bad things about high personalities. These things happen because there is no sense of censorship on what happens there. Things like that are dangerous for our society. I am glad that you said we have passed the highest number of bills. But the passage of bills are not the only yardstick you use to measure the performance of a legislature. The earlier we correct that the better for us. Everyday, you see newspapers claiming that after lawmakers collect huge sums of monies as salaries, that they don’t sponsor bills. It is very wrong. We should not turn the legislature into bill processing mills. This will push lawmakers to begin to amend laws that are already okay. It will be counterproductive. By and large, democracy is inherently turbulent anywhere in the world. There will always be turbulence here and there, but they are normal. Notwithstanding, we have done well. The public is yet to appreciate the good works we do as legislators. It’s like plenary, when our constituents watch the television and don’t see their lawmakers, they conclude that their senators are not working. They forget that plenary only constitutes less than 15 per cent of what we do as legislators.
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which will handle the issue of host communities is currently being handled by a joint committee which you head. Can this piece of legislation be passed into law before the elections of next year?
I assure you that it will be passed into law before the elections. I can assure you that.
Is your committee under any pressure from local and international oil companies to water down the components of the bill?
To the best of my knowledge as chairman of the committee, nobody has approached me for anything like that. Whatever they have, they have made their case at the public hearing on the bill. But let me add that even if they approach us, it is not an issue. They are in business to make money. Anything that will reduce their profits, they will want to kick against it. But as a Nigerian, I will look out for my country. I will not compromise because of pressure. But I will disenfranchise the companies in such that they will leave the country. The bill has three components. We are looking at the Federal Government of Nigeria, the companies operating in Nigeria and host communities where these businesses are carried out. These three elements are very necessary. They are necessary to the well-being of the survival of the oil industry. If the Federal Government is cheated, Nigerians will be cheated too. On the other hand, if the oil companies are not encouraged, you will reduce our direct foreign investments that will come into the country. If you don’t reasonably make the host communities comfortable, you will have a hostile environment. This will jeopardise any investments that will come into the country. Aggrieved people from these communities will blow up the pipelines. These things will make the country bleed and affect our communities. The best thing to do is to be fair to them.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) from Zamfara State, was recently confirmed by the Senate. But it didn’t come without a fight, which at some point, you took very personal and accused members of the Committee on Electoral Matters of compromising. What really happened?
There is one funny thing about Nigerians. We have to look at things from a better perspective. When you start something, at some point you stop and allow others continue from where you stopped. Even dogs stop barking at some point let alone a human being. There is nothing personal about this work or what I say. I am conscious of two factors. One, I was not here in the past and I will not be here forever. While I am here, I must be carrying out my responsibilities well. I take my job very seriously. Once I am convinced about something, I don’t give a damn to the consequences of what will happen; I go ahead with it. That is my nature. On the issue, the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulazeez Yari, wrote a petition to the Senate President and even the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. At what point can a governor write a petition to the President over his own appointee? As a governor, who does he consult in his state before he makes any appointment? This is about all the governors. Do they consult senators in their states before appointing commissioners? They don’t do that. The President made a choice of REC from Zamfara State. The governor wrote to the president to complain that he does like the nominee because he is not an indigene of the state. That was what got my attention. He had access to the president to lodge a complaint. Why will you resort to letter writing to embarrass the government? The president can withdraw a nominee at any point. How can the governor pretend to be loyal to the president, but come through the Senate to circumvent him? That is hypocrisy. The governor in the letter to the president recommended replacement for the REC nominee. Coming back to the screening, let me explain. Our rules recommend how petitions should be sent. The petition the committee relied on to disqualify the nominee was not properly done. It was against the rule of the Senate from the beginning. When the committee presented its reports it relied on it again. On the issue of compromise, people only look at the monetary aspect. When you circumvent due process, you have compromised. Order 127 of our Standing Rules spell out how petitions should be forwarded against a nominee. I had expected the Senator to be familiar with this provision of the Standing Rules. My colleagues agreed with me. I decided to apologise to my colleague so that Nigerians will not conclude that he took a bribe.
Recently, a faction emerged from your part, the All Progressives Congress (APC). It calls itself Reformed APC. People are already postulating that in the coming days, there will be mass defections in the Senate. Do you harbour that fear?
Well, I don’t know. But I know that there are serious agitations within the party. There is displeasure, anger and discontentment in the party. There are dissatisfied members at local, state and federal levels of the party. That is a fact nobody can sweep under the carpet. Politics is all about conflicts. Politicians will always find a way to resolve their differences. From what the new national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole is doing, the problems can be minimised.
Do you think there will be a mass defection?
I wish there is none. I wish my colleagues well.
If your demands are not meant, will you leave APC?
It all depends on how one is treated. I am a realist. I believe in fairness, equity and justice. What happened in my state APC was worst than what the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was reputed for in those days. I can confront millions of people when I know I am right. I can die for a just cause than live as a slave for the rest of my life. If people feel the way I feel, there could be serious problems in the party. We have to look at the issues realistically and do whatever it takes to be fair. They must be able to listen to people genuinely and not to come with tailor-made solutions. They must listen to aggrieved people and suggest solutions. If they come with tailor-made solutions, I may have to reconsider my stand and opinions. For me, I have my limitations because of President Muhammadu Buhari. I respect him a lot. So, it will depend on how things are resolved.
What is the security situation in Zamfara State? Has the government lost control on how to manage security?
Zamfara State is an unfortunate state. It is a state nobody cares about. People only care about what the state can offer. They only lay claims to its resources. This is a state that has lost an estimated 30,000 people in the last seven years. No state in this country will undergo such a carnage and nobody is talking. Nobody cares. Everybody is quiet. Even in the Senate, we are three. Why are the other two senators not saying anything? We have seven members in the House of Representatives. Why are they not talking? People should be asking these questions. We have people in the state. We have so many retired Army Generals, Police bosses and other top people from the state. Why are they not talking? We are endowed. I always congratulate Plateau and Benue states. Even though what happened in Plateau is condemnable, look at what the people are doing. The reprisal attacks where they blocked the road and killed travelers was wrong. These are people who didn’t know anything. The two religions condemn what happened in Plateau. The killings of these innocent travelers were awful and inhuman. Those who did that are more wicked than those who carried out the first killings. Coming back to the point, see how the people magnified everything. When people were commending the United Kingdom’s Parliament for raising the issue, I agreed with them. It is worthy of commendation. It is also worthy of condemnations. The United Kingdom is like a father to Nigeria. This is a country where thousands are killed in one state and there is no mention of it. You are doing this because people in Plateau are Christians, while those killed in Zamfara State are Muslims. We should begin to condemn these things. As I said, my state is unfortunate. This is why people always talk about the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali. People always accuse the president of not doing enough. The Minister of Defence is from Zamfara State. As I am talking to you, if the Minister is sacked today, without military escort, he can’t visit the headquarters of his local government. His local government is the worst hit. This same Minister appeared before a Senate committee to talk about insecurity. He didn’t mention the insecurity in his state once. He didn’t say anything. It is criminal and unpardonable. I have never said anything about it before. For me, the Minister of Defence is the second most failed General in the history of this country. The first is Alex Badeh, former Chief of Defence Staff. His town was overrun by Boko Haram. His village was ceded out of Nigeria and became the headquarters of Boko Haram. No sane country will let that man stay one day in office.
Then you have the current Minister of Defence. His state is under attack. Other states are crying and he is not even defending his state. The government needs to look into this. I have never seen such a thing in my life. As I am talking to you, there are over 50,000 widows and 100,000 orphans in Zamfara State. The problem is that the issues are not reported. When it happened in Plateau, they made noise about it and everybody rushed there, including the president. Look at our governor, we have never seen one governor who has been to Zamfara State to pay any condolence visit. My state governor has led his colleagues to pay condolence visits to other states. But his state is under attack and he is silent about it.
Have you taken this case to the president?
Yes, I have met with him several times. That is why I don’t criticise the president openly be-cause I know what he is doing about the killings. That was why I said the governor was lying when he said he was not in charge of the security. The governor is very close to the president. He is with him everyday. He doesn’t tell the president anything about the killings in the state. Everybody in Zamfara has been compromised. Nobody is talking anymore. It is truly unfortunate to have the current governor in office.