Hon Ahmed Yerima represents Misau/Danbuwa federal constituency of Bauchi State. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the lawmaker said Nigeria is not yet matured politically to have a sound political structure. He also spoke on some other issues.
Nigerians are concerned over calls to sell refineries. As chairman, house committee on privatisation, what do you think?
That is true, the government shouldn’t be spending money on unviable assets, let investors come in and take over instead of having directors upon directors, being paid for doing nothing.
Should Ajaokuta be sold or concessioned?
The problem is that government has been commercialising without recourse to the laws. There is no national council of privatisation (NCP). It is the duty of the president to institute and inaugurate the NPC that should be responsible for privatisation and commercialisation. In a modern economy, government has no right in running business, government should be administrators. The government must comply with the act, establishing the BPE of 1999. But the way they are doing it is wrong. We have a situation where a minister will run to the president with his memo that he wants to privatise this, concession that, and the rest without recourse to the BPE, which is mandated constitutionally to do that exercise, it is unconstitutional. What the government is doing with Ajaokuta, Nigerian railway and airports by concessioning them are all illegal activities. These powerful ministers are doing them on their own and the investors are the ones that will bear the brunt of the illegal transactions.
What is the repercussion of these actions?
No serious investor will come and put his money in these assets because another government will come in tomorrow and cancel that arrangement because they were done illegally.
What will happen to those assets that were sold in the past below the prices?
There is what is called post privatisation exercise, we are the ones to recommend to the NCP the revoking of those exercises but that has not happened because there is no NCP. The ministers are so powerful that they take government properties like their personal thing. For example, look at the airports. Ajaokuta has become the personal entity of ministry of solid minerals. So, no serious investor will put his money and if they do, they will only strip the assets and all the equipment that are there, sell the landed property, hard core and soft core equipment and abandon the property. We can avoid this by doing the right thing first.
Some Nigerians are skeptic that the economic recovery plan rolled out by Mr. President might not be implemented because of the time. Do you share such views?
It is always good to start late than never. Those policies should have been in place right from the beginning of the administration. Before you come to any position of governance, you must have your own plan, A, B and C on how to go about virtually everything thing. So what hasn’t been achieved from the beginning does not mean it cannot be achieved in the next two years. May be by being there for the last two years, he has been able to grasp the true crises that he has inherited, may be that has made him come up with new policies on how to deal with the situation.
With the current state of the economy now, are you disappointed with the APC?
APC will always be like any political party, meeting challenges on a daily basis. The APC is much like the PDP, it is a transitional party, it is one of those parties that will come and go one day. It is a group of people that came together. So, it is normal to see cracks and division from the main policy of the party. Nigeria is not yet matured politically to have a sound political structure. In a developed political party, our crack would have been based on ideas and thought, based on world views or policy sake. But in the case of Nigeria, people enter politics based on elections and positions.
But is the APC living up to your expectations?
At the national level, I have not been part of any process at the national level. I have not attended any meetings that relate to the national level of the party. There are certain things that should not be done but it is going on. The party should lead the country, not the product of the party to lead the country. If you allow those that have been elected to control the party themselves, the party will fail and what happened at the PDP will happen in the APC. If impunity, dictatorial tendencies are allowed to prevail, for sure the party will come to an end. If the party will overcome this issue there must be synergy on matters of national interest, not on individual basis.
There have been talks on the need for both legislature and executive to be transparent, that was sparked by governor el-Rufai. What is your take on this?
El-Rufai has the right to say anything he wants, but Nigerians must understand that we are just a one-arm of government. There is the executive and judiciary. Are they transparent enough? What are we doing that is not transparent? I have spent two years on this seat, yet I have not been given an official car. We have not voted any penny to refund for my personal expenditure that I incurred in the cause of doing my legislative duties. And the national assembly is not getting more than three percent of the national budget. Go and check with the executive and judicially, ministers have fleet of cars. We don’t have any extra funds apart from our allowances and salaries, plus the cost of running your constituency, nothing special. We don’t award contracts. Nigerian people have the tendencies of pulling everybody down, they arrogate to themselves the task of clean human beings, but most of the governors are the problems of Nigeria today. They don’t comply with fiscal responsibility bill, they don’t follow due process in managing state resources, and they run the LG funds like their personal money, yet Nigerians have the audacity to talk about transparency at the National Assembly. No governor, minister or civil society in this country has the right to talk about the National assembly if they don’t talk about LG autonomy.
Talking about governors, some have called on them to explain how they manage the Paris fund that was recently released to them, do you subscribe to that?
The problem is that, virtually most of them are not transparent, only few can explain what they did with the bail out and the Paris refund giving to them and what they do with LG monies. Another problem is the revenue mobilisation bill, they spend as much as they want on their personal indulges, and nobody questions them. As a legislator, if I go to Bauchi State today, people besiege me with problems and I help those I can, yet nobody can go to the state governor because he is far away from the people.
Should the FG continue to sustain states even in the face of recession?
No, if they cannot give account of how they spend their monies. As we are talking now, some states have not paid salaries, and they don’t have any physical infrastructure to show for the funds they have been given. They are more concerned with their personal treats rather than developing the states.
Talking about monies, the anti-graft agencies have been discovering monies in strange places?
Go and asked the executive who owns the monies? Was there any time they arrested a legislator with funds for money laundering or hiding money in the graveyard? Most of those arrested or being investigated are all from the executive arm of government. This is enough for Nigerians to think about who is cleaner.
But is the FG succeeding in its anti-corruption war?
I want to say that they are not succeeding because who owns the funds that were discovered? Who has been arrested? I think I will support a bill that any Nigerian found to have stolen money to a certain amount be executed. It should be a treasonable offence. If you don’t do that in this country, you will never get rid of corruption. By the time a few who stole public funds are killed, Nigerians will come to their senses. Provided those people are not prosecuted and not sent to jail, there will never be a successful anti-corruption war in this country. The whole country is entangled in the web of corruption. It has become a way of life, a culture and so the FG must do something about that, instead of talking to us through the media. How can you fight corruption when the people committing it are working around free?
Going to Bauchi State, the governor has said he has extended an olive branch to aggrieved lawmakers. Has he reached out to you?
No, he hasn’t…
What will it take for the impasses to be resolved?
Let him do the work he was elected to do. Let him put infrastructure in place like we promised the people. He should sanitise the civil servants and pay salaries with pensions. He should support those that helped him get to power. He should not be selective.
What is the state of the APC in the state?
Total failure. The parties in state are failures because they fail to grasp the tenets of democracy. Those who suffered and worked for the APC have been abandoned. The APC came in to fight corruption and enhance our living standard. It is to fix our education and infrastructural issue. There is no water in Bauchi and other places in the state. The governor is not concerned, instead he is busy awarding contracts that you cannot see. The governor knows about it and I am glad he is beginning to revoke them. I support him for that. The governor needs to do more, he needs to carry people along, we are not asking him to give us money. I am not asking him to buy me a car as he did for others. I am not asking him to give me money as he is giving some of our colleagues, but he should do the right thing. We have our own local government domain and support. He was not in my place when we were campaigning. We campaigned for him to be governor, which does not mean that if he is doing anything in my constituency, he should not involve me. It shows sheer arrogance.