Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, in this interview with MUYIWA OYINLOLA, explains that though corruption is a global phenomenon, the All Progressives Congress (APC), through the current administration, has done a lot to address the problem, among other issues.
What is your assessment of the state of the nation, with particular references to the anti-graft war, economy and national unity that appears to be ebbing away?
If you take a closer look at Nigeria of today, we can agree that things are not the way they used to be anymore. Speaking with every sense of responsibility as a nationalist and a great lover of Nigeria, our country, in the last few years, has passed through a very challenging period.
Within this period, we have recorded some major gains and at the same time, we have had to endure a plethora of issues that have constantly put the leadership of this country on their toes – to change policies where necessary and come up with a problem-solving approach in handling these challenges.
Corruption is a global phenomenon and it is not limited to Nigeria or Africa. No doubt, any serious nation that hopes to grow its economy and develop every facet of its country must give priorities to its anti-graft war. In 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari was elected as the 4th democratic president of Nigeria, he pledged to fight corruption and empower the anti-graft agencies to function effectively without interferences from any quarter.
We are all living witnesses to the pervasive corruption and impunity that was the hallmark of the last two administrations presided over by the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), before the All Progressives Congress came on board in 2015. President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft war was endorsed by world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and ever since then, this administration has successfully carried out high profile prosecutions, convicted criminals within and outside of the political space and secured assets forfeiture.
For the first time, we witnessed the prosecution of judges, government agencies (NNDC, NSIT and EFCC), top military officers and expatriates who are in the business of bribing government officials in Nigeria. As at today, the anti-graft agencies, under the present administration, had recovered funds in excess of N800 billion and secured more than 1,400 convictions. These recoveries in cash (local and foreign currencies) and assets I believe, will help stimulate our economic growth.
You can also see what the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is doing, before now, drug pushers had a field day trafficking illicit drugs and tarnishing the country’s image abroad. Today, that institution has recorded numerous successes in smoking out these bad eggs and this has drastically improved our image, globally.
So, when you look at the records so far and compare with what was obtained before, you will agree with my opening statement that things are not the way they used to be.
The era of lawlessness, impunity, highhandedness and a lack of political willpower to tackle corruption head-on is behind us now.
The government also deserves some commendations on how it is handling state aggressors who are hell bent on breaching public peace, destroying public and private properties and threatening our sovereignty. We must continue to support the government in fostering national unity and eschew every divisive tendency capable of heating the polity and a breakdown of law and order.
How, in your view, can the leadership crisis rocking the ruling APC can be resolved?
Every political party has its own challenges and the APC is not exempted. We have had our share of this crisis before, during and after the 2019 general elections and we have been able to manage it in our own way. President Muhammadu Buhari is the leader of our party, and he has done the right thing by dissolving the National Working Committee (NWC) and appointing a caretaker committee for the party. Since then, our party has witnessed tremendous growth and the efforts of the caretaker committee are yielding positive results across the states.
So, when you talk about leadership crisis, maybe you’re referring to the major opposition party because, despite our internal challenges, the APC remains the most disciplined, inclusive and friendly party trusted by majority of Nigerians. We have witnessed the defection of serving governors, lawmakers and political heavyweights’ to our party alongside their supporters.
Some of the aggrieved members that left the party are coming back, court cases instigated against the party have been dropped. So what happened after the 2015 and 2019 elections where we lost Edo State and some of the States House of Assembly, Federal and Senatorial elections due to these issues I mentioned above could have been better managed but we are trying to address all that now.
The APC recorded overwhelming victory at the polls in 2015 and in 2019 respectively, and with the right leadership and structure, we can replicate these feats in subsequent elections. As a loyal party man, I have strong confidence in the leadership of our great party to do the right thing and set the APC on the right path to continue these innovative reforms that our party needs so badly to break new territories and secure more electoral victories.
How can separatist agitations be stemmed in Nigeria?
ANS: People and groups have always agitated for one thing or the other. Since 1914, Nigeria’s stability and resolve have been tested by separatist movements. Foreign observers have, at one point or the other, predicted that Nigeria will not stand together as one nation – look at us now, we’re managing our diversity to ensure we live as one indivisible nation.
We saw what MEND did in Niger Delta while demanding for resource control and how that was resolved. Similarly, we now have direct or indirect separatist agitation in virtually every area of the country – more recently, in the South, we have seen calls for Oduduwa Republic and now to Yoruba Nation and then the Biafran separatist group – the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB). It is important to ask pertinent questions based on what you and I have seen so far. Are the leaders of these separatist groups reflecting the wishes of majority of their people? Or are these agitations a mere mask for pursuing other sinister agenda while using innocent people as cover to achieve their aim?
Then, how many of the leaders from that region have you seen coming out openly to support these groups?
So, I want you to think deeply as well because we have been here before.
See how people are now taking advantage of these agitations to perpetrate criminal activities and when the security agencies move in to restore peace, what do you think will happen? There will be casualties. Oduduwa nation couldn’t be achieved even when all the conditions were favorable back in the 70s, Biafra was also not achieved in 1967 when, perhaps, that was the best time to have it. So, why do you think it can be achieved now? Which region is not marginalised? They don’t necessarily have to go to war and if its tending to war, then you should know that you cannot even win it.
What we need is dialogue, what we need is to look at our books and see where we can amend the constitution in the interest of our people. Already, we have gone closer to the people to collect memoranda and concluded the public hearings on the constitution amendments in all the geo political zones and at the moment, we are considering the harmonised version of the bills at Constitutional Review Committee level. All these are done in line with yearnings and aspirations of all Nigerians.
What is the assurance that your party will remain in power beyond 2023?
ANS: Just like I said to you earlier, the All Progressives Congress came into power in 2015, and Nigerians rewarded us again in 2019 by voting overwhelmingly for the party. We know why Nigerians don’t want to go back to the era where political office holders capture state institutions and where state resources are used to enrich the political class and their cronies.
We are gradually departing from the vicious politics of patronage and clearly, the people have called for a paradigm shift both from the political parties and to the system of governance.
So, you see, I have no doubt that the APC will remain the people’s choice come 2023 and beyond. As we transition further, all the party needs to do is to ensure that we get it right in producing our next set of leaders that will pilot the affairs of our party. The party has successfully held its Ward congress across the federation, the State and National congress will hold soon where new leadership will be elected for the party.
The new leadership must operate on a platform of conviction politics envisioned by the founding members of the APC. So far, the atmosphere is peaceful and you can see the calibre of people coming to join our party almost on a daily basis from the opposition parties. We will go into the coming and future elections with the same mindset of serving our people – and this is why we remain the most acceptable party for any serious politician to actualise their dreams.
What is your position on the electronic transmission of election results?
ANS: My position on this has not changed, I am fully in support of electronic transmission of election results. I have remained consistent in my legislative work in the overriding interest of my people. The confusion on this particular section of the INEC amendment was fueled by a section of the media to paint the APC senators in bad light. Majority of us were in support of Section 52(3) of the proposed Electoral Act, which seeks to give INEC the power to transmit election results electronically. During the clause-by-clause consideration of this Amendment, Senators have the right to propose further amendments where possible and this is a standard legislative practice worldwide.
My colleague from Niger State, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, brought to the attention of the Senate that the words ‘electronic transmission of results where practicable’ as used in the report of the INEC committee were rather ambiguous and this could lead to arbitrary interpretations from different quarters. He further stated that the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), being the regulatory institution in charge of communication infrastructure across the country, be made to work with INEC in determining the “where and when practicable” in the report to ensure that voters in rural communities without access to communication network are not disenfranchised. So, you see, the disagreement we had on the floor of the plenary was on which version of these two drafts on electronic transmission of results do we adopt and not that we totally expunged electronic transfer of results as widely claimed by some of your colleagues in the media.
All senators were in support of the transmission of elections result electronically, what Senator Albert Akpan, representing Akwa- Ibom Central Senatorial District, proposed was for the Senate to stick with the earlier recommendations by the committee against the amendment suggested by Senator Sabi Abdullahi.
There was disagreement on that and we went into voting. Some voted ‘YES’ to electronic transmission of results “where and when practicable” and others voted “NO” due to the ambiguity that, that phrase will work to the disadvantage of those in rural communities with little to zero network infrastructure – and so, we did this to ensure that INEC was guided by data and scientific realities to prevent future problems.
So, you see, it is mischievous for anyone to report that the voting was a choice between supporting or rejecting the transfer of election results electronically.
I have been a passionate ICT oriented person, I am fully knowledgeable of the processes that INEC adopted in Edo State and other bye-elections in sending results. What INEC did was publishing by means of JPEG images and transferring same to their backend storage sever and that is a seamless result transmission which a lot of you don’t actually know or want to know the difference. If you check my antecedents, you will see how I promoted Electronic voting for the first time in Nigeria through the introduction of Card Reader and Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and this revolutionary steps have transformed our political party elections.
So, if I didn’t compromise then on my stance not to disclose the security code of the card readers despite pressure from many quarters – so why would I now vote against an innovation as basic as electronic transfer of election results?
How will you describe Nigeria’s practice of democracy, especially in the past 10years?
ANS: Since the return of Nigeria to civilian rule in 1999, we have recorded some relative stability after a prolonged military rule. In less than two months from now, we will be celebrating our 61st independent anniversary as a nation. This means that we have been ruled by the military for 32 of our 61 years since gaining independence in 1960. So, we have enjoyed 22years of interrupted democracy since 1999. Of course, a lot of sacrifice went into this and Nigeria’s complex and multifaced problems are almost proportional to our diversity.
Yet, we’ve found strength in our population and everything in between that binds us together. If you look at the size of our economy, we are the biggest economy in Africa, and this is dependent on our population, diversity, the uncommon zeal of our hardworking people and our resources.
Some of these problems that we see today were there before and they have been further exacerbated by successive leaders and bad policies that continue to affect our collective well-being as people.
We have gained a lot by being a democratic nation. In fact, restoration of democracy has put us among the committee of nations that values freedom, equity and justice of our people.
While the dividends of democracy are yet to be fully attained, the indices are there and we are well on course to achieve the Nigeria of our dream. To achieve this, we must be willing to assist the government by playing our role as citizens to tackle these problems that hinders our progress and development such as –rural and highway banditry; inter-ethnic conflicts; herdsmen and farmer conflicts, cattle rustling; kidnapping and all other forms of criminality in the country.
These social problems require social solution. It is only in a peaceful atmosphere that we can enjoy government efforts in driving massive infrastructural changes, improving our electoral systems, stimulating our economy and providing the necessary amenities to improve the living standard of every Nigerian.
Will you blame or commend the country’s political parties for the state of the nation’s politics?
ANS: I am an advocate for strong political institutions rather than strong or powerful politicians. And for us to be among the best democracies in the world, we must build a strong multi-party system that will increase the confidence of the electorate and improve our electoral system. If you look at the way our political parties are structured now, you can trace that to our political history that dates back to the era of the oldest parties that we had then; the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) and the Nigeria Youth Movement (NYM).
These parties were formed by the nationalist movements during the colonial era. Before the end of the military rule, most of the political parties formed under the 1945 constitution that separated Nigeria into the Northern, Western and Eastern regions were on the basis of ethno-regional-based party systems. And this deepened ethnic politics and conflicts along tribal and regional lines.
So, when you look at the dominant political parties today, there’s a pattern, a historical pattern that defines who we are today. You can see in 2013, that it took the All Progressives Congress (APC), to have honest conversations about these ethno-regional concerns to persuade political parties from different regions to come together as one entity to form a party with a national outlook. You can see it is not by accident, this was needed to be done to link citizens from all tribe to government and act as a platform for the people to be a part of the decision making and influence government.
In the past, most political parties were organised along ethnic and religious lines and sometimes even along geographical zones. So, I think I can commend our major political parties today, because when you look at them closely, you cannot say they are for or belong to a particular ethnic group or religion. I will also commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for deregistering about 75 political parties who have failed to meet the criteria provided for by section 2 25A of the 1999 constitution thus, leaving the system with 18 political parties.
The other issue in contention will be the issue of party ideology, this is based on acting in the best interest of the party or out of a commitment to ideological principles. More often than not, we have witnessed many situations where incumbents dump their political parties for another political party. Whether this is hinged on personal interest or the interest of the general public, the fact that this process is accompanied by the law makes it legal. Unless the law is amended to make cross-carpeting an offence, we will continue to witness the influx of people from one party to another. So, I believe that our political parties play a critical role in entrenching our democracy and stabilising the polity.
Money has continued to be the main emphasis during elections, ranging from high nominations fee and inducement of voters. Do you think the situation will get better or worse?
ANS: Well, as more and more political players come into the fray, money will continue to be a key factor in our elections. Let’s be honest, vote buying is not only restricted to Nigeria or Africa, it is only more rampant in developing countries like ours and the reasons for that are not far-fetched. We will continue to enlighten our people on the danger associated with selling their votes for a pot of soup. Voter’s inducement and bribery is a serious offence under section 124 of INEC’s Electoral act 2010, and the penalty for such upon conviction is a maximum of N500,000 fine or 12-month imprisonment or both. It will interest you to know that the 9th Senate, under the leadership of Senator (Dr) Ahmad Lawan recently passed the landmark bill establishing electoral offences commission. This amendment has given INEC the discretion and power to prosecute any electoral offender.
As far as party nomination form is concerned, I cannot speak for other political parties, but the APC is setting a good example in this regard. Our party announced a 50 per cent reduction in fees for all women and physically challenged aspirants contesting in the wards, local government and the state congresses across the country. So, where aspirants for the ward chairmen are paying N10,000, the female aspirants will pay N5,000 only and I know this will soon be reflected in other nomination positions such as the Governorship, Presidential, State Assemblies and Federal and Senatorial elections. From here, I think things will get better.
With current security situation in the country, do you think campaigns and elections would hold in 2023?
ANS: Why not? Elections held in many states last Saturday. Anambra will vote on November 6 to elect a new governor. So what is the issue? At the Senate, we’ve also passed the supplementary budget to enhance the capacity of our military and para-military agencies to tackle the various security challenges in the country and they will be involved in the election process to maintain law and order.
We have also done our due diligence by screening and approving the INEC commissioners that are qualified. If anyone is aggrieved on any issue, isn’t it best to go to the polls and use your voting power to effect the change that you will like to see? So, I have no reason to think or feel that elections will not take place in 2023.
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria banned Bureau de Change operators from accessing dollars. What do you make of the policy visa-a-vis the economy under APC?
ANS: if we put emotions and sentiments aside, this is a good development by the Central Bank Governor. The advantages are numerous, but it also has some consequences, especially to the lower class of Nigerians that can’t get FX in the banks. We are also aware that some of them have become the conduit for graft, illicit fund and corruption. Why do you think most big firms bypass the banks to patronise the Bureau de change operators including embassies and international companies?
The economy has been facing serious distractions globally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Nigeria is not exempted. Yet, the APC administration, under President Muhammadu Buhari is working so hard to grow the Nigerian economy in line with the expections and forecast of having to grow by 1.8 per cent in 2021 despite the high uncertainty about the forecast.
The battle for the control of the APC seems to be between the governors. What is your take on their performances in APC States?
ANS: I think we all have our individual opinions. Mine is that the governors have been the strongest pillars of the party today, and credit must be given to them. At stake, intense horse trading and politicking is going on, not only by the governors but amongst all strategic actors for the control of the parties’ machinery ahead of the convention for the emergence of a National Chairman, which will eventually herald the selection of presidential flag bearer.
No doubt our APC Governors have performed very well in their various states in terms of service delivery and infrastructural development. Especially, I can speak of my state, the governor has constructed over 400km of rural roads, reconstructed some urban roads and also expanded our state’s agricultural potentials. And as we are all aware, work is in progress and many more of such achievements will be achieved before 2023.