Senator David Iornem, a member of the National Assembly in the third republic, is a founding father of the defunct Action Congress (AC) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Benue State. The chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) speaks with JOHNSON BABAJIDE on various issues affecting the polity.
What is your assessment of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?
We have made progress. I can categorically tell you that democracy is in progress under Buhari. We have made some progress in the sense that there is free expression of speech; the press is not cowed and people can say what they want to say. Democracy is being practiced.
Another angle is the National Assembly. The leadership of the National Assembly is not exactly what the party and the executive arm wanted; so for the legislators to sit and chose their leaders is good. You can also see that in the senate leadership, a new thing happened whereby an opposition party member is included. It is a lesson for all Nigerians and the executive. The people sat down and shared positions and power in a smooth manner, not minding opposition from the ruling party. So, that is democracy and it is a lesson for the executive.
What do I mean? When you campaign and you will election, you are no longer just for your party but for the country and when you want to put a government together, you shouldn’t be looking parochially at your party members; you should look for people who can help you do the job. It should not be jobs for the boys, no. When you take it that it is jobs for the boys, you may not have competent hands to handle issues that need to be treated for the country to move forward. This is what we are experiencing in Nigeria; we have talents such that if we put our hands together to join Buhari, he will run the country very successfully and stimulate the economy.
What is your view concerning the fight against corruption. Some people are alleging Buhari is selective in his anti-graft fight?
Well, inasmuch as I embrace the fight against corruption, the anti-graft commission is giving Nigeria a very bad name. You can fight the war without necessarily making too much noise about. They are fighting the war as if they are campaigning. If you go outside the country you will not like the bad image the country is painted. President Buhari is bad-advertising Nigeria. There is a concept in communication called bad-advertising; there is advertising and there is bad-advertising. When you are advertising, you are promoting, advocating and telling people that this thing is good, people should embrace it but when you are bad-advertising, you are telling people that this thing is bad and people should run away from it. If I go to any airport outside Nigeria and people look at me as a very corrupt person, who is to be blamed? Buhari should be blamed. You can fight this war without making noise. Do the actual thing, you don‘t talk too much. America has corrupt people too. If you like go and search the net on internet scam, Nigeria is not among the top 20 countries. When you see the first 20 countries, United States of America is number one. South Africa is also among the top 20. But the way they portray Nigeria on internet scams, you will think Nigeria is number one. So the anti-corruption war can be fought without damaging Nigeria too much.
Nigeria is having tough times economically partially due to the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers who have been bombing oil installations. Do you agree that the Federal Government should go into negotiation with them?
The Buhari administration made a mistake by taking up too many wars at the same time. You don‘t open too many fronts when you want to fight and get results. There was the Boko Haram, which is a very serious problem; if you want to confront Boko Haram, you don‘t go and begin to do things against the Niger Delta militants like suspending allowances and cancelling their contracts. You can leave that one for another day and face the fight against Boko Haram, secure the North-East and Nigeria as a whole. At the same time, the government opened another war with the Shii‘te. First of all, that group does not agree with Boko Haram but when you go and attack them, it is likely that they may not join Boko Haram but they may start their own war. There was no need to go and kill over 300 people just like that. So, it was a very big mistake.
Then, the anti-graft war is also a war. There are some people who will be dispossessed of something that they have acquired and they will not be happy. There are many ways they can make things difficult for you; they can sponsor people against you, they can even sponsor Boko Haram. So, it is not good that you are taking too many battles on hand. Another battle is the one with the National Assembly; it is also a war. People sat there and constitutionally produced their own leadership; as a president, just accept them and they will work with you. They will never be against you. You accept, integrate them into whatever you are doing, give them respect. That is all. But you go ahead and take hard stance against the leadership; that is an unnecessary war and if you check, there are other battles here and there that Buhari has taken on.
To answer your question, it is proper for government to go into negotiation with the Niger Delta Avengers, because even if they start to fight and the Nigeria military goes into the area to smoke out the Avengers, it is not going to be an overnight success. The operation will be prolonged, because it will be like guerilla war; you don’t know where the people are. When you are in the creeks and you think you have chased them away and so on, they may hide bomb somewhere. One day, they threatened to bomb Kaduna, bomb Agip House and that is how guerilla operations go.
What is your take on the recent education policies that scrapped HND-university dichotomy and post-UTME?
Nigeria takes a long time to change. We are a chip off the block of British Education; the British have a similar problem and they found a way around it. People were discriminating against HND; people would say polytechnics were not empowered to produce high manpower. So in Britain, they started by creating a board called National Council for Academic Award and that body granted degrees to students who studied in polytechnics. Even at that, as they were getting degrees, some people feel those degrees from National Council for Academic Award from polytechnics are lesser than the ones from the universities. So when they found out that there was this attitude, they decided to scrap all polytechnics and made them universities. They just asked them to choose a name as a university and clear it with the ministry of education and it was automatic. So, they can do the same thing in Nigeria. I want to call on government to change all polytechnics to universities in Nigeria. It will motivate the lecturers; the students and make any form of discrimination meaningless.
Again, this issue of post-UTME is a big fraud and had to be scrapped. You go to secondary schools, sit for exams; pass your school certificate have five credits and then you go and take JAMB, get scores so that you can enter university. But because there are so few vacancies for people to enter and there are about two million each time wanting to enter and they can only admit five hundred thousand, they say let us extort money from those people who want to come in because they know that those applicants have no other place. So, they put another roadblock like the police and say you come and pay for this, take this chance, pay for screening exams and so on. It is not post-UTME that qualifies someone for admission into the university and it is not necessary for anybody to go through that to enter a university. So, it is right for it to be scrapped and I want to tell you that the next step is to scrap JAMB. JAMB is not necessary and it is not an admission requirement for university. No! It’s an elimination process, because you don‘t have enough vacancies.
You were in the ACN; then you left for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but at the twilight of the last PDP administration, you defected to the opposition APC, which has now become the ruling party. Don’t you consider that bad?
No. Let me tell you, I brought the AC to this state before it became ACN and now APC. Some of those who hold sway there now, I brought them in; so, in essence, I was on sabbatical. Now, I am back to my home (APC).