Former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Niger Delta, Yahaya Abdullahi, is the Senator representing Kebbi North in the 8th National Assembly. In this interview with RUTH CHOjI, the pioneer permanent secretary of the not too old ministry discusses his present job and how some senators are conflicting personal issues with the main duties of the Senate.
Were you in support of the recent resolution of the joint session of the National Assembly?
It was a joint session of the two houses, they can come up with any resolution. But resolutions are just resolutions, they can be concurrent. The issue is whether or not the resolutions are obeyed and if not, what next?
But they have hinted that if the resolutions are not obeyed they will begin impeachment process…
Yes it is within the constitutional right of the National Assembly to do that but, will they have the strength and number? They also have to meet the requirements of the constitution which means they will announce impeachment process and follow laid down procedures in the constitution.
Do you agree with the opinion of some Nigerians who say that the issues at stake should have been treated as personal issues by the affected senators and not institutionalised like it was at the joint session?
I think those who came up with the resolutions think that the issues affect the National Assembly, while others feel these are personal matters so the National Assembly should not be involved. There is nothing wrong with showing solidarity though, especially when a member is in trouble. But to personalise these issues and make them institutional? Some people have different views about this.
What is your personal view about this issue?
Personally I think we should as much as possible separate our personal views from the institution especially when the institution is designed to make laws for the good governance of this country. Any other issue outside our constitutional duties is different. If we choose to deviate and make individual issues our business, that will amount to taking the privilege given to us for granted.
But are you not worried about the way lawmakers are arrest by this government?
The issue is not about the lawmakers as such and it did not start with this regime. The alleged crimes for which some lawmakers are being hounded by the police were not committee during this government. Some of the crimes are from as far back as 1999 when democracy returned. It was EFCC under then President Olusegun Obasanjo that started this investigations. It is just that the courts somehow overstretched the proceedings. It is only now that the EFCC has found its feet and is now bringing these issues up.
Again, most of these wrong doings have no limitation of time, which means that, anybody accused of committing such a crime can be prosecuted at any time. It is unfortunate that some of the people who were arraigned at one time or the other are now in the senate. Some of them are conflicting their personal issues with the senate and for me, morally speaking, I don’t think it is right.
The thing is that, the first person who was jailed, that is the former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, was governor for three times beginning with the Babangida administration and then again in 1999. Within this time, he moved to APC, so he is no more in the PDP. But that didn’t prevent his past from catching up with him according to the judge. So it doesn’t matter whether you are in the PDP or APC, the law will catch up with you. People are now satisfied that some of the big goons who engage in this things are being investigated and convicted. I believe that those who have skeletons in their cupboard should surrender and let justice be done. Everybody should carry his burden.
Don’t you think that the division in the Senate, the pro-Buhari and anti-Buhari groups, could destabilised our nascent democracy?
It is not the question of anti-Buhari or Pro-Buhari. The issue is between those who believe that the Senate should confine itself to its responsibilities and abdicate from bringing personal issues to the House, otherwise we might end up bringing issues from our marriages to the Senate. If care is not taken, it will get to a time when if someone has a quarrel with his wife, he will want to bring it to the floor. To be fair to the Senate President, when his first case on assets declaration came up, he didn’t involve the Senate, he went alone to answer his call. But I think it was a misadventure by some members of the Senate who thought they could cry more than the bereaved. They queued up behind him and escorted him. Personally I thought then that, they were doing more damage than good. The man was ready to carry it on his own but because some of them were looking for one favour or the other, they followed him. Some of us believe that by following him, you are further tarnishing his image because it means you are absolutely supporting the Senate President whether he is right or wrong. God forbid, but if it so happens that he is found guilty, what would they have done?
With all that is happening now, do you still believe in the Nigerian Senate?
The Nigerian Senate will remain the Senate unless we change the constitution. Whether what the people are doing is in tandem with the Senate rules is completely a different thing. The Senate has perform exceptionally well on some issues but in others, like this one, there is a lot not to be desired.
The Inspector General of Police refused to honour the Senate summon and Nigerians are worried that this could became a trend if something is not done. What do you think?
I think the IG was wrong. I think he was more or less un-tactical. He should have come because even if he was not comfortable about the possibility of some people asking him embarrassing questions, he could have sought the protection of the presiding officer. There are some questions that he could avoid answering by taking cover under the Security Act or better still, seek protection from the chair. The presiding officer must grant you that protection from those who you are afraid of. I think it was a mistake on the part of the IG to not honour the invitation. The senate has the right to invite anybody to come before them. The only grey area is whether or not, you can send someone to represent you.
The IG is not the only person that has disobeyed the Senate, the Comptroller General of Customs did the same thing last year. Don’t you think it is becoming a trend?
The case of Comptroller General of Customs was a bit different. We were also not on the right path because he was willing to come but somehow, some people suggested that he should come in his uniform. He didn’t have to come in his uniform. He could come wearing anything so long as he doesn’t come naked, which is against public morality. Those who insisted he come in uniform wanted to throw it back at him. It was a pre-meditated position meant to provoke him. He said he was willing to come and face us but he won’t wear a uniform. So there are times you should know the limit of your powers and responsibility so that people will not demystify you on things you cannot do anything about. You don’t go about creating unnecessary tension. He didn’t come and nothing was done to him. There are things that I will call infantile. Stay within your powers and do things that will dignify your status. We shouldn’t drag the institution of the Senate to a very low state because that will result in the institution losing the respect of ordinary Nigerians. What do you get out of it? The aim was for the custom’s boss to come and explain why he wants Nigerians to bring papers of cars they bought years ago. We all knew at the time that the action would have brought lots of chaos in the country if it was allowed to happen, that was the issue. The policy was not implemented in the end which means the senate succeeded. We should have stopped there instead of going ahead to embarrass ourselves.
Are you worried about the incessant killing of innocent Nigerians in most parts of country?
As a member of the security committee in the Senate, what I see is that we have not sat down, as a country, to take stock of the system of governance and security itself. We have allowed the entire security network to go to the dogs and now ordinary Nigerians don’t want to see the policeman. The institution has not helped because even if you bring a saint today and make him a policeman, within a short time, he will be bacterised because the institutional expectations are so bad that, it can reach a point where they will say ,the uniform is a license for you to steal else you won’t survive.
It has become so bad they say, if we don’t provide you with working tools, you can get your tools in the job. But the policeman is supposed to be a powerful person, even the president does not have the power of the policemen. The president cannot stop you on the road or arrest you, only a police man can do that. But the police are poorly trained and equipped. They are the most poorly trained personnel in the country, yet you expect them to perform. They also don’t have the manpower, which is why you find our borderline communities left with no security.
The whole of Zamfara State does not have up to 3000 policemen, yet half of the ones there you discover, are attached to individuals. The judicial system has collapse. We visited Zamfara as a committee and discovered that the whole thing started as a petty crime between two people and before you know it, one group went and brought mercenaries and thugs that will help them. But instead, the mercenaries carted away their cattle and before you know it, it spread. At the end of the day, both the vigilante and the Fulani armed themselves and the other local’s joined them. They are succeeding because the rural areas are ungovernable. Security in most rural areas have collapsed so much that the people are now at the mercy of bandits and criminals. Recently, a small issue happened in my village and I called the DPO who told me he has only four riffles for a whole local government and that place does not have up to thirty policemen.
Any idiot or collection of thugs can invade such a village with sophisticated weapons. These days the criminals create camps within the forest borderline, the police know where the criminals are living but because they don’t have the manpower and equipment to attack them, they do nothing. They only engage in rear guide and that can only lead to more invasion because the bandits will continue to attack and push the people inward while they gain more recruits and grounds.
Don’t you think it is worrisome that the FG seems helpless about these killings?
The government itself has been overwhelmed. It is now trying to see how it can re-jig its entire security apparatus. So what they are trying to do is have a strike force that can take the fight to the criminals. But that strategy has not been fully completed. Some of the bandits have had prior training from Libya, Yemen and other places. Some of them are boko haram members who managed to escape the onslaught of the military and came out to carry arms in rural areas. Then we also have the problem of those that benefit from crises in the polity.
They also encourage these killings by giving it ethnic or religious coloration so they can benefit when there is war. The police and other security agencies need to totally overhaul itself and successive committees have made sound recommendations in the past that, if any was adopted, the police will not be where it is today. There was the Perry Osayende report, MD Yusuf report and others which if they were to be implemented, things will change drastically. The military is not the answer. It is not supposed to be involved in internal security because it will destroy the institution.
Coming back the forth coming APC convention, some are of the opinion that if the crises that erupted during the state and ward congress are not resolved the convention might not be a success, what do you think?
The party will not disintegrate but, some people will leave the APC and camp somewhere. I believe in the APC because there are certain ways of doing things in this country that if we really want to get it in shape, we have to move in such way that you can have clean governance. All this untoward individualistic corrupt behaviour has undermine the entire social and economic fabric of this country. You need a party that will move in a different direction.
Even if the APC is defeated in the next elections, I don’t think that will happen, if it remains a cohesive party because from the beginning, it carried everybody but if some think they don’t belong, they can leave. Even if the APC stand on its anti-corruption war, insecurity and the infrastructural development, APC will still win. A lot for the character who came in, some of us were not comfortable. Our party constitution said that anybody who comes in to the party must have spent three months before he is allowed to contest under the platform.
But when the newPDP came in under WAMAKO, who presided over the convention, they removed that section from the party constitution. That is why we are having the problem we have now. If anyone of them does not have the discipline to stay in the APC and carry their burden, then they should level, it is better for the party to go on its moral conviction. Yes, there are certain things the government is doing that I don’t like, I don’t know whether the President is aware or not but nevertheless, the APC must resume its moral compass. A party is a voluntary association and those who don’t believe in it should leave. They keep saying they want to go and yet they are still there. Let them go.
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