Razak Atunwa led members of the House of Representatives who recently dumped the All Progressives Congress. In this interview with KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL, the Kwara lawmaker talks about issues that led to their action
You seem to have co-ordinated members that defected from the APC in the House. Why did it take you so long to realise that the APC government isn’t working according to its ideals?
It didn’t take us long at all. We had all just been saying it but those of us who dared to speak out were victimized. First, they started by saying we were not loyal to the party, when that didn’t work, they said we were not part of the party anyway, that we came from nPDP and when that also didn’t fly, they started victimizing and criminalizing people. How many senators have they picked up on frivolous charges; how many times have they harassed the Senate President? So, we realized it a long time back and always spoken out but they perceive you as a political opponent and go after you; it only came to a head last week Tuesday.
Some analysts argue that your defection is borne out of selfish interest rather than national interest. If you disagree, why did it take you four years to act? Is the defection not a quest for return tickets?
No, it is not. Firstly, let me say that at the heart of this is the fight for a better Nigeria, a more democratic and prosperous Nigeria. Therefore, as a group of people who think the same way, it was no longer tenable for us to remain in that party and support this government as it is a government that has shown a proclivity for impunity; it’s a monumental failure and constitutes a threat to our democracy as it abuses its powers; disregards the legislature and court rulings. The APC government is one that cannot protect the lives and properties of its citizenry; cannot improve the economic situation and welfare of its citizenry. That is what is at the heart of it. It is not about return ticket.
As to the length of time it took us, you don’t jump ship at the first sign. We came together in 2014, campaigned based on certain fronts and formed a government in 2015. We believed then that this government would be the change Nigeria needed. Unfortunately, as soon as we got into power, it began to self-destruct. We spoke out, we tried to mend it but events of the last few weeks showed that they were unrelenting in their cause to self-destruction and we weren’t going to be a part of it. I can give you instances but the truth is we didn’t just wake to do it. It is something we have been trying to address both within the government and the party.
You left the PDP four years ago for the same reasons. Are you saying that it had fixed all the concerns you had back then?
Let me say first that the move from PDP back then was for similar reasons not exact reasons to the extent that we were warned that the democracy that existed then, tenuous as it was, needed to be consolidated and we needed both the party and the government to put all hands on deck to ensure it democracy survived. If you remember, at that time Boko Haram was running rampage yet, we had a government that was not taking that security issue seriously. There was also the issue of massive corruption and we spoke against it back then. If you also recall, Senator Bukola Saraki back then, raised the alarm over oil subsidy saying that there was a big scam and they didn’t take him serious and felt he was acting like the opposition but we firmly believed that we had to improve Nigeria and that necessitated our move amongst other things. We had to leave because PDP didn’t listen and we did what we did, they suffered electoral defeat. But they retraced their steps, went to work and happily, they got their house in order; we have joined them and we’ll help them to continue to rebrand and re-position the party for better governance in Nigeria.
Having said that, what necessitated us to move from PDP was nothing compared to what this government is doing. The Jonathan administration did not disregard court rulings or the parliament. This presidency continues undermine the legislature and see it as a clog in the wheel rather than a partner in governance. Again, the level of corruption in this government which came chiefly on the grounds of tackling corruption is worse than that the previous government; NNPC till today has refused to answer questions by the parliament or indeed to anyone. During the two-tier system of foreign exchange, massive round-tripping was going on, huge corruption; people from a certain part of this country became billionaires overnight. That is nepotism and it is corruption. Again, when we pointed these things out, we were seen as enemies. Also remember when the senate exposed the former SGF, nothing was done to him until after a very long time when they decided to suspend him and no prosecution has stemmed from that. Is that a government that wants to fight corruption? Examples abound. We spoke but they wouldn’t listen so, time came when we said we won’t tolerate them anymore. Those are the reasons we left; it’s not about return tickets; the issue of return ticket is neither here nor there; whether or not I come back as a lawmaker is irrelevant; what concerns me as a true Nigerian is our legacy.
You asserted that there is immense corruption going on in this government but then, the House against the executive order 006. Is that frustrating the anti-graft war?
Precisely what we are saying. You want to fight corruption but go about it by an unlawful means. That in itself is corruption of a process. That so-called Executive Order is a complete usurpation of the functions of the legislature and the judiciary; it seeks to make a law when the executive lacks powers to make laws, it seeks to impose punishment by depriving people the use of their property however temporary. It’s punitive; only courts can do that. Why would a government that believes in the separation of powers roll together the powers of other arms and seek to seize it? That’s not fighting corruption. The so called schedule 1 simply puts perceived political enemies to enable it seize their property. Those matters are in court why not let the courts decide or if in a particular instance you have a reason to deprive a person temporary use of his property, go to the court and apply for an order; the EFCC law permits it. That order is not about fighting corruption.
Let me tell you more about corruption. I’m chairing the ad-hoc committee investigating Malabu and it is the biggest corruption scandal in this country; it started clearly under the previous administration yet, when this administration came on board, we told them about the resolution of the House to investigate the matter, it did nothing. If you truly are interested in fighting corruption and learn that $1.3 billion of Nigeria’s money is gone elsewhere, the first you ought to do is seize shell and Eni’s licenses to mine OPL 245 pending the outcome of the investigation of the House; collaborate with the House to get to the bottom of it. But they did nothing of the sort. In fact, when the EFCC started prosecuting some of the major players, the Attorney-General wrote a letter to the EFCC to say it had no evidence against them; the court dismissed the case against them and today, nobody is held to account and this government continues to deal with shell and ENI when the Italian government is prosecuting their executives. They claim to fight corruption and take Dasuki to court for whatever he did and the same court grants him bail on certain conditions six times yet, they refuse to obey the rulings in a democracy.
The national chairman of the APC has described defecting lawmakers as politicians of no electoral value. What’s your reaction to that?
I won’t join words with him; he is entitled to say whatever he wants to say. I am more focused on what I seek to pursue electorally and for the country. I’m sure the world knows the value of those of us that left; records are there, you can go to Kwara state and INEC and check whether we have been on the losing side of elections in Kwara state ever; check whether Kwankwaso is a man that has been losing elections or whether he has any electoral value; check whether Tambuwal is a loser. I simply won’t join words with Oshiomole.
Some Nigerians especially from Kwara have accused Senate President Saraki of playing godfatherism in the state. Did he influence the defection of Kwara Reps?
Kwara state operates politically along these lines; we hold ourselves together; the vast majority of the people of Kwara believe in the leadership of the Senate President as much as they believe in the leadership of his father before him. What gravitates us towards him is not godfatherism, it is the sincerity of a purposeful leadership and the well-meaning attitude for the populace. That said, there is always a dominant player; President Buhari today is a dominant player in his area; Kwankwaso is a dominant player so also Tambuwal, Wamako. So, there is no godfatherism as people like to put it. If a leader doesn’t do what he ought to do, then he will have no followers. There is no compulsion in politics and there are those who don’t agree with Saraki and are not in his camp. If I believe that it is not in the interest of the people of Kwara for Bukola to be a dominant player, I would not follow him but I verily believe that he does precisely what the people need, he gives us purposeful leadership. I don’t see what the contention is when a person dedicates his time, effort and resources to deliver the needs of his people.
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