Sen. George Akume was the former governor of Benue State and in this interview with selected journalists, the Minority Leader of the Senate has described the Supreme Court judgement in favour of PDP in Benue State as horrifying. He also spoke on other topical national issues. RUTH CHOJI was there for LEADERSHIP SUNDAY.
Most Nigerians see the 7th Senate as weak and that it shy away from taking difficult decisions. From this unflattering prism, how would you assess this Senate?
The Senate is one of the bicameral of chambers of the National Assembly and in taking decisions the Senate is guided by one tenet which is national interest. We are drawn from different background; we come from different constituencies.
Because of expectations, we as senators have decided to act as elder statemen, which have always been the traditional role of senators all over the world. The Senate cannot shy away from taking decisions. Don’t forget the 6th Senate in the history of this country amended the constitution of this country.
It is a historical fact which cannot be shied away from. It was believed either rightly or wrongly that the constitution can only be amended by the military, but the 6th Senate did it. Today, we are in the 7th Senate; we have passed the budget and so many bills. So, the issue of the Senate shying away is not important.
Don’t forget that it was the motion that was moved by the Senate in the issue of fuel subsidy and the motion was moved by Sen. Bukola Saraki that has triggered off some of the things you have heard, seen and read about fuel subsidy in this nation.
The 7th Senate cannot shy away from anything because the constitution of this country confers on us certain powers which we cannot shy away from them. Some expect us to move very fast but this is not a military government; we may be slow but steady.
The most important thing is that solutions to problems, no matter how complex, cannot be solved within the time expected by our people, because they are used to the military style of government where everything is done with alacrity and immediate effect.
Solutions to complex problem in a democracy cannot be as instant as coffee. We try to balance, we try to build on consensus, the purpose of ensuring the stability of our country.
What would you say is the singular achievement of this Senate?
The budget has been passed by this Senate, within one year, some other bills have been passed, motions have moved. Whether it is on fuel subsidy or probes, they have been moved; the motion on DANA air crash has been moved.
It is a compendium which you as journalist can go through and then establish the fact that, this is not a docile Senate and that is why I said that I am very proud of the leadership of the Senate. Am proud of my colleagues in the Senate for their total commitment and involvement in passing out this motions for the development of the people and nation.
I am saying this because in most instances, there is a misconception about the Senate - that they are docile, they are doing nothing; we don’t have to make noise before people will know we are here.
Let me say that, I have tremendous respect for our sister the House of Representatives, young talented, gifted, energetic young men and women who are fighting for the good of this country. Sometimes we in the Senate most have to apply some breaks, but the truth is that, together we are working for a common goal.
In spite of all you have said, probes report conducted by legislator are not implemented, while budget passed are hardly implemented. This has led to massive corruption. What is the Senate doing about this?
Corruption is a multifaceted concept; it is prevalent in every society. It is not one way of exonerating the Senate or the Nation Assembly. But basically what I am saying is that, the Senate is not a corrupt institution, the House of Reps is not a corrupt institution.
In a situation where you have a few people are corrupt, there is the temptation to term the whole people as corrupt. It will be wrong to say that because a few people in the National Assembly are corrupt, then the National Assembly is corrupt, don’t forget I said that, corruption permeate every society, it is the quantum that bothers the people. A few people may give a good system a bad name.
The National Assembly is seen as corrupt or because a few people have been seen and shown to be corrupt, the judiciary is said to be corrupt because a few people have been shown to be corrupt, that does not mean that the judiciary as an institution is corrupt. We talk about the executive that does not mean that everybody in the executive is corrupt.
But there are some who are corrupt. Sometime it could just be 20%, what about the 80%? Are they also corrupt? That has been my attitude to life, because I am coming from the executive.
During the Obasanjo regime, few governors were arrested; we knew why they were arrested. But there was a time when the World Bank said that, 90% of Nigerian corruption was perpetuated by the executive. For me, if few people are corrupt, the society must condemn them.
We have the concept of crime and punishment; those found corrupt have been punished under the law, and sweeping generalization will not do us any good. For the interest of democracy which is the mode of government we want, and we have been running it now for 13years, we have made mistakes and are learning from them and with time, this mistakes will be corrected.
You will know those who are corrupt by their life style and name them but generalizing them is unfair to our institutions. These are institution that we must protect and in protecting them, we must not condone corruption.
As a former executive, would you support the removal of immunity clause which many have used to avoid being prosecuted in office?
It depends on the perception of society about corruption. We have to revisit the issue of immunity; nobody should be entitled to immunity from the consequences of criminality. It is totally mischievous. There are many people today that if you remove immunity, we know where they will end up today. We have to tamper with that; we don’t need immunity to protect anybody no matter your status in the society.
This is typical of third world economies, there is little difference between the public and private sector, every one of us must be brought under scrutiny. Whether in the public or private sector, People in the public and private sector should declare their assets publicly…
But have you declared your assets?
I haven’t, but that will be the beginning. Late Yaradua did it, Jonathan as vice president did it. Now we are waiting for President Jonathan to do it, followed by Sambo, David Mark, then all of us will follow. I don’t know why they have not done it, but let us make it a law; all of us must declare our assets publicly. Certain categories of people in the private sector too should declare their assets too.
There have been mixed reactions over moves by Senate to curtail the autonomy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), what brought about this action?
To the best of my knowledge, the Senate has not said anything about curtailing the powers of the CBN. CBN in other countries is independent, the American equivalent of the CBN is independent, and we want this independence to be respected.
The Reps started the issue with CBN because of certain impetus but I believe that it is something we should talk about in the interest of the nation. The CBN should continue to enjoy its own autonomy; it is important that, they are autonomous, nobody should touch them.
It is important that they judiciary should be autonomous, they shouldn’t take any directive from anybody. They do things in the interest of the country, not in the interest of the PDP.
Of course I hear some comments, here and there but I don’t think that there has been any attempt initiated by the Senate to curtail the powers of the Senate because people will have to talk and I will defend the autonomy of the CBN.
Going back to Benue, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the PDP; what is your take on that?
I am one of those who founded the PDP and in the mission statement; we wanted a party that is strong and formidable. If it won elections, nobody will annul it. We wanted a party that will control government and deliver dividends of democracy to the people.
What we see today is different from the PDP we founded. Forget about variation, whether this person comes from here or there, we wanted political fulcrum. We wanted to be the strongest party because of the numerical strength of the party, but many things went dramatically wrong.
Let nobody be deceived, the PDP we founded is different from the PDP we are seeing today. I along with some few ones built the PDP in Benue State that was capable of winning elections. No party could boast of the kind of program and support base we built. But I know that those who hang around now claiming they are in PDP did not win elections.
The whole people in this country know that the PDP did not win elections in Benue State, Benue people know from the bottom of their heart that the PDP did not win elections in Benue State.
The man who is hanging around there knows from the bottom of his heart that he did not win elections. It is sad because the framers of the constitution expected that there was going to be some hiccups along the road, the electoral law incorporated the judicial process with the whole issue of electoral adjudication.
The constitution too because of experience said, ‘if you are cheated on the field, and you refused to be violent, you can receive justice in the court. We in Benue refused in spite of provocation and denial of our victory; we refused to succumb to violence.
We decided to follow due process. I pity this country, one hundred and eighty days, what is one 180 days? The framers were very careful when they tried to limit the time of litigation. In the past, it has taken about three and a half years to arrive at a decision in electoral matters, therefore let’s try to limit this. theACN of Benue State followed everything to the end, but at the end of the day a very small tiny group overturned the decision of the Supreme Court.
We went to court of appeal and they also overturned the decision of the Supreme Court. We went back to the supreme court but by then, our hands were tied just like in the Awo trial in those days.
In every democracy, the judiciary is the pillar of life, after that, where do we go? Do we turn to the bush? We have told our people not to do it; we believe our democracy was on trial. Whatever made the Supreme Court to take such decisions; I leave them with their conscience.
What has happened is a clear indication that Gen. Buhari was right when he made his comment. Buhari made a simple statement that if they rig, there is going to be commotion. What is wrong with that? Everybody took on Buhari; for me, I pity this country. I know the sacrifices we have made for this country. But I am shocked by what I have seen.
My respect for the judiciary is still there; but I am disappointed by the final decision that was given that Friday. Whosoever has truncated this justice has a date with almighty God.
With the outcome of this judgment, do you still have faith in the judiciary?
Yes, I still have faith in the judicial system. When they refused to give justice, God will give justice. I still have confidence in the judiciary in spite of what has happened, because to do otherwise is to destroy the whole thing. I want to believe that, they too will learn from what has happened even though it is horrifying, a few bad eggs should not destroy the judiciary.
To the build up to the final judgment, the state was turned into a war zone and accusing hands were pointed at ACN and the PDP; how true were these allegations and what does this portend for Benue State and also what is your relationship with Governor Suswan right now?
I don’t know who the governor of Benue State is; I don’t know whether it is Uba or Suswan. I want to say that, democracy is described as government of the people by the people for the people. If nobody voted you in and you are hanging there, it means you are going about with a stolen mandate and basically that is what is going on in Benue State now.
We have always told our supporters not be violent because we believe in the sanctity of the judiciary and that at the end of the day, we will get justice.
We were disappointed that this has not come to play but in any case, we still believe we won elections, we went to court and we were turned away. There were provisions in the constitution to handle our case but we were turned away.
But in fullness of time, all of us are answerable to God. If the Supreme Court judges believe they have given the right decision, then we will say may God bless them. As we move towards 2015, the danger signals are there again, let nobody be deceived, whether they crucify Buhari, the danger signals are there for everybody to see.
What are the chances of ACN in Benue State now?
Our chances are as bright t as the northern star. We have told our supporters not to do anything. Fortunately, the Suswan boys have beaten up Isaac Shahon who founded the PDP which Suswan is hanging as governor.
They went to his house, removed the flag and beat him up, and we want the security to investigate this act of violence so that tomorrow they will not say it is George Akume because we are more than them.
The supreme which said you can give judgment without hearing the case as still not given us judgment. So want to believe that Suswan is saying that, when he has destroyed Benue, he will now build it again.
Talking about merger, there have been reports of a possible merger between ACN AND CPC; what are the chances of it being a success in view of past efforts that have failed?
There is going to be a merger between ACN, AND the CPC and I am confident that this time it will succeed because I am a stake holder. I know how far the talks have gone. I believe that our democracy will be stronger and better if there is a strong opposition. Advanced democracies in the world have succeeded through merger; so I don’t see why our case should be different.
It has been insinuation that you have never presented a bill or moved a motion; some have categorized you in the camp of ‘sit down look senators.’ What is your reaction?
Where did you hear that report from? I have contributed my quota to debate in the chambers. I have co sponsored some bills, I also ensure that I contribute to qualitative law making that has brought succor to Nigerians.
It is not everybody that will applaud what you are doing, but my people who have benefited from the dividend of democracy and are benefitting from the impact of my legislative actions can tell the world. If I have not been doing my job effectively, will they bring me back?
So I think the reports are malicious and a deliberate attempt by my opponents to discredit me which can never work because my people are solidly behind me. I am a grassroots politician and we carry our people along in everything we are doing.