SENATOR BUKOLA SARAKI, a chieftain of All Progressives Congress, is senator for Kwara Central senatorial district and chairman, Senate committee on Environment and Ecology. He speaks on some of the burning issues of the day, in this interview with journalists in Ilorin. Hammed Shittu brings the excerpts
On the walkout staged by APC senators in protest at the confirmation of Musiliu Obanikoro’s ministerial nomination.
I think what happened was unfortunate. I believe that in the Senate, the National Assembly, there are many courts – the court of the law and the court of public opinion – and we all represent constituencies. I believe in a scenario where the three senators – it has always been the practice – have an objection to the candidate, we must be concerned with that. At the same time, I agree that somebody is innocent until proven guilty. But I believe the right thing the senate president should have done was to have tarried a bit. I remember a week ago, after coming out of the executive session, we agreed then that we would only take the first four ministers and that we would give one week for further consultation and then we would come back and review. The only person we are reviewing is Obanikoro. But when we came in that day, if you notice, I was trying to make him (senate president) know that this was not what we agreed. We agreed the last time that we would come back and review the situation. So instead of reviewing the situation, we are now going straight to start the screening processes, which is reneging on what we agreed on. Point number two is that it was clear that the House was divided and the senate should not be partisan. We should look at the interest of the country in the decisions we take, not the political party that we belong. It is clear that there was controversy on this nominee and I think the right thing to do is, we should have stepped it down while further consultations were done to satisfy those who say Obanikoro has done certain things. The new development that we saw was the court case that was initiated, where somebody has taken Obanikoro and Mark to court. Again, one of our rules, 53 (5), says once there is litigation, it is not for discussion. I even remember at a time most of us wanted to cross over (to APC), it was this same section that the senate president came up with and said he could not discuss it. The excuse he gave us was that he had not been served. I think a senator had told all of us that there was a court case. I think that should be good enough, in the interest of, again, uniting the senate and ensuring that we take collective decisions. We are not supposed to take partisan decisions, the best position would have been to defer it.
On the haste to reappoint Obanikoro minister.
One of the issues for our party, also, especially, those from Lagos State, is the urgency to have him back as minister. Maybe the fear was that what they did in Ekiti, they want them to do in Lagos on election day. I think if they had deferred it till after the election, brought the issue back again, had further consultations; there might be a way that would have shown the statesmanship of the senate. I think it was not a correct decision, the kind people expect of senate. For us in the APC, we have spoken, we are minority in the senate but our walking out was to say that, you can take the decision, let history judge us that we are not part of that decision, that’s the issue. It is not that we cannot recognise him, once he’s been confirmed by the senate, we are bound by that but the record shows your position on the matter.
On PDP’s opposition to the use of card readers for the general election?
I cannot speak for PDP. But I am surprised that any political party that means well for Nigeria in our progressing democracy would not support anything that would make the electoral process more credible. Everybody who has seen the card reader sees that this is in the direction of better election, more sophisticated approach, has integrated technology support, improved the system. It has been done in Ghana and other parts of Africa. If you look at India and all those places. This is all towards best practices. The observers, European Union and the international community, have praised INEC for coming out with an electoral process that is more modern, more efficient, more credible, more transparent. So, how can a political party, even a party in government, now say that they are against the card reader? The card reader works, it brings value to the process, it makes Nigeria look better in the international community. But because of their own myopic interest, because they are afraid of election, because they are afraid that with the card reader, you would be limited on the issue of rigging, they are trying to do damage control now. I think there are still people that are trying to do the right thing in the party. I think it was a wrong political calculation for them to come out and say that. If you go round, the feeling of Nigerians all over is that, let us have a credible election. Does the card reader make the election credible? Of course, it makes it credible. Does the card reader make our election move towards international standard? Yes it does. So how will anybody reject it? What many of us think is that it is just because they are afraid of going into election.
On the lingering scepticism as to whether or not the election would hold.
I think we have to take the president by his words. He has told us many times that the election would hold and that there would not be another postponement. We have to take him by his words and I think he should ensure that he keeps to that not take Nigerians for granted. I believe the calmness of the country is part of the maturity and commitment of Nigerians to take him by his words. He needs to do the right thing. I do not believe that the country and the people would take lightly if we decide again to postpone the election. I hope that he would look at the big picture, look at the country, not to plunge the country in any crisis and ensure that, that election holds. INEC is prepared. The military and co have said they too are not in support of further postponement. So I think we must take him for his words and only caution that he should not do anything that would plunge the country into crisis. Nigerians want election to hold. The international community wants the election to hold and I think for the stability of this country and our democracy, elections must hold according to the guidelines as stipulated in our constitution.
On the allegation that the presidency has set aside an amount of money to woo voters in Kwara State.
He is making a mistake by believing that money is going to be a factor that will help in changing their fortune. We are hearing about the story of money being sent to the South-west, money being sent to the North to go and buy cards. I think it is because the party (PDP) does not recognise the fact that Nigerians want change. Anywhere they send that money to, people will take that money and at the end of the day, they would not go with the PDP. So if they like they can send that money to PDP here in Kwara, let’s first hope that it gets to Kwara if they don’t divert it on the way. Even if it comes down to the grassroots here, it would not make a difference. We’ve told our people, it is their money; the money that they did not give them for six years, they would now bring the money. Meanwhile, workers are not getting salaries, local governments don’t have money, states don’t have money and this money is being shared. I think it is misplaced priority and I don’t think it would in any way help them. We have told our people in Kwara State, “let them bring the money, it is your money, take the money and still do the right thing that would make a better Nigeria.” That is their own business, but it is very unfortunate.
On the domination of television advertisements by PDP.
I think it is a good observation. A lot of people have been saying how come APC is very quiet. I think we must definitely hold the Advertising Practitioners Council Of Nigeria (APCON) and the people in charge of advertising responsible because they are becoming too partisan. We have cases of APC adverts being delayed for approval. You don’t get approval. Meanwhile, there are some irresponsible adverts by PDP; you see some of them being aired on these TV stations. I think some of these organisations that are meant to be neutral, that are meant to be regulatory bodies, must be held accountable for any behaviour that is against the regulations that guide them. I think that a strong warning must go out to these organisations, particularly, those that have to do with some of these TV adverts. They have to be seen to be neutral and doing the right thing. But when they allow one party to be able to bring adverts, including some that have issues that are libellous, and at the same time if APC brings the same adverts, you find those TV companies not accepting them, I think this is not good for our democracy. In a democracy, there must be a level playing field that allows all political parties the same access and they must be responsible, they must be called and told to do the right thing. And after the election this matter must be investigated and those responsible must be sanctioned. These agencies have a role to play in ensuring that we nurture our democracy, that’s why they must play the same role for one party and for the other party. That’s why I am sure a lot of people are not seeing some of the adverts on TV that have been paid for by APC. I was told in one of the agencies that out of 40-something adverts awaiting approval, one or two is for PDP while 40-something are for APC. You can see this kind of irresponsibility. This must change and we must be seen to be doing the right thing.
On the federal government’s recent compensation for families of last year’s Immigration tragedy victims.
For the families, I think it is something that is good. But every time the president does things to further make us wonder what he has been doing for the last six years, that makes us question the sincerity of purpose and his commitment to the Nigeria people. You would remember when this thing happened, the opposition party raised it and said this issue should be properly investigated and the minister in charge should be asked to step aside while we do investigation, and the families should be compensated. But nothing was done. Now that election is less than 14 days, not only to APC but anybody, it looks more of a political gesture than a matter of sincerity. And I think that it shows they did not care really and this is an afterthought. It speaks volumes when you begin to see those kinds of things. So for us, I don’t see sincerity in the approach and I believe that it is part of the game that the government and the PDP are playing that is making Nigerians to say that they want change. And every time we talk about this issue of change, it is unfortunate that PDP and the government don’t seem to understand. Instead, they keep on attacking General Muhammadu Buhari, our presidential candidate, attacking our vice presidential candidate. Despite all these attacks and the billions being spent on advertisement, how come Nigerians are still rejecting them? It is because Nigerians want change. Nigerians want a government that is committed, they want a government that is sincere, a government that is thinking of the people; a government that has some decency and decorum. I think as of now, it is clear from what we are saying that, that is what Nigerians are yearning for and the party and the government, even by this kind of actions, continue to show that they were not trained to provide that leadership at this moment.
On PDP’s allegation that APC paid for the Chatham House lecture by Buhari.
Actually, I did not attend the Chatham House event but the person saying that, it is either the person is naïve or doesn’t know how Chatham House works. I have gone to give a lecture at Chatham House before. I’m sure Buhari too has given lectures in the past in that House and many governors, former governors, leaders around the world. They invite you; it is a place where they invite you to discuss topics and members of that society turn up to come and listen to guest speakers. It is not a place you apply or you pay to give a lecture. So it is either these people are being mischievous or they just lack the exposure, the knowledge to know how this is done. It is not an environment where people go to buy the event. The organisation there chooses people all over the world that they believe can speak on the topic at the time and then at that moment in time, they invite their members to attend. I think again those who are saying the event was bought are being mischievous and want to mislead Nigerians.
On the recent endorsement of APC in Kwara State by the artisans congress in state.
It is a very good development. One is not surprised because Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed has been working closely in improving on programmes for the empowerment of artisans and those that require support as regards loan that would help them in improving their businesses. I think it is a reflection of the commitment of the government and of the APC that they have come out to endorse. With this kind of endorsement and the work that we have been doing, we believe that the coast is clear, In Sha Allah, for victory for APC here in Kwara State. We’ve held so many elections and the kind of endorsement that we are getting this time around is even more than we got in 2011 and the rate of people decamping to join our party is unprecedented. I’ve been doing elections here now for a while and what we are seeing at the level of people decamping to join the party shows that, hopefully, we would have a landslide victory here, In Sha Allah, come March 28 and April 11.
On the recent diplomatic row between Nigeria and Morocco over phone call?
Honestly, I don’t have facts, but as a Nigerian, it is sad and embarrassing. How did we even get ourselves in this kind of mess? I am sure something must have happened for the King of Morocco to have come out with a statement and I am sure at the end of the day, nobody would be held accountable. Somebody must have done something wrong somewhere, either to have told the public that the president spoke, and the King of Morocco now said he didn’t speak. Now the president has confirmed that he didn’t speak. So if the president is saying that he didn’t speak, who is the person that came out to say that he spoke. I am sure at the end of the day, nobody would be held accountable. Somebody that has brought this kind of embarrassment to the country should be held accountable. And these are some of the issues we have been talking about, that there are people who the president should have dropped a long time ago because they are not helping the government, instead they are still part of the government. At the end of the day, we keep on blaming advisers, blaming this, blaming that, and somebody is responsible. Unfortunately, this is the comedy of how the government has been run, where nobody is held accountable. It is very unfortunate.