The member representing Ondo East/West in the House of Representatives, Honourable Joseph Akinlaja, speaks with SHOLA ADEKOLA on the ongoing trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the politics of Ondo State ahead of the governorship election and other issues. Excerpts:
HOW do you react to the ongoing forgery trial against the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu?
Honestly speaking, I see the trial as a political persecution. It should never have come up at all. Why am I saying so? The trial amounts to the executive interference in the affairs of the upper chamber. How members elect their own officers is none of the executive’s business.
Then if at all, if any trial is to come up, it is to be initiated by members of the Senate, and that will be if any of them feels aggrieved that the election process was not transparent enough.
If it is any member of the Senate or a group of senators that initiated the suit, there is no problem with that, because they are interested parties. But for God’s sake, what is the business of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami with how members of the National Assembly elect their principal officers?
What he has done by dragging Saraki and Ekweremadu to court amounts to interference. This suit is in bad taste – it is a clear case of lawmakers being harassed by the executive – the suit is an abuse of separation of powers, and it is capable of setting the executive and the legislature on a collision course.
But what some people are saying is that a crime has been committed…
(Cuts in) Which crime has been committed when members of the National Assembly decided to elect their own officers, and refused to toe party line? Saraki is in trouble because he decided to contest Senate Presidency in defiance of the All Progressives Congress (APC’s) directive that a particular candidate had been chosen by the party, and that the preferred candidate must be elected Senate President.
But Saraki defied his party’s directive and that is why he is in trouble. But Nigerians should not have short memory; this will not be the first time such a thing will happen. If you remember when President Goodluck Jonathan was elected in 2011 and PDP zoned out political offices, it was agreed that the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives should be zoned to the South-West, but what happened later? PDP lawmakers defied the party, and went ahead to elect Hon. Aminu Tambuwal from Sokoto State as the Speaker of the House. Did PDP or President Jonathan harass these legislators for defying the party? No. Although the party was not happy, the will of the legislators was respected.
Saraki and Ekweremadu’s trial should be discontinued, because the APC and Buhari are raising tension in the polity. My advice to Buhari is that he should not let bad advisers mislead him; he should not bite more than he can chew. He already has loads of problems on his shoulder – why add this one to it? The Boko Haram problem is still there for him; the Niger-Delta crisis is there, the Biafra problem is also there. The killings by Fulani herdsmen is there, the economic crisis is also there as well as insecurity problem across the land, what about the problem of hunger and poverty confronting Nigerians? Buhari should take it easy. Even the corruption war is also there that he is fighting. He can’t afford to work with a hostile or fractured legislature. He just needs to take it easy.
There has been this issue of lingering crisis within your party, PDP, especially the battle between Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi factions. What do you think is the way out?
The way out for Sheriff is to quit. The majority of the members no longer want him to stay, and he must respect their decision. Initially, we thought Sheriff had come to help rebuild PDP to become a formidable party again, but recent events have shown that Sheriff might have been sponsored to destroy PDP. He is suspected to be working for APC in order to weaken PDP. Sheriff’s problem is the usual problem with a black man; that is the sit-tight syndrome. They asked Sheriff to take over in acting capacity for a period of time, and the time has lapsed but the man didn’t want to go again. But PDP members should not panic; the will and wish of the majority members of PDP must be respected. Whether Sheriff likes it or not, he must go. Sheriff will be flushed out of PDP through constitutional means. But speaking to him as a friend, he should quit honorably, time is running out on him. He should not allow himself to be disgraced out of the party.
As a former Secretary-General of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union (NUPENG) and deputy president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), what do you think is the way out of the current Niger Delta crisis, especially the bombing of oil pipelines and facilities by a militant group, Niger Delta Avengers?
The way out of Niger Delta crisis and other problems facing Nigeria today is for us to return to a true federalism. True federalism is the only panacea to the myriads of woes confronting Nigeria today. Let each region control resources within its own domain and pay tax to the government at the centre. The claims of one region or certain states suffering if this is done are unfounded. There is no state in Nigeria that doesn’t have one or two mineral resources. It is our too much dependence on oil that is killing Nigeria. It is time for us to shift attention on other areas through diversification. I believe that without oil, Nigeria can survive.
There are many mineral resources in the North which have not been exploited, and this can be done on a commercial basis. The same thing also applies to the West and the East. Have we forgotten the era of cocoa and palm oil in the west, cotton and groundnut pyramid in Kano, and coal mining in Udi in the East? But unfortunately, when oil came, we neglected all these things which used to be money spinners for the nation. Let’s get back to these forgotten revenue-earning products and there will be less friction in the country. The other day, President Buhari declared that 27 states out of 36 can’t pay workers’ salaries, is that not a shame? Such a situation can’t happen where you practise true federalism because each state now knows that it has to generate revenue to run its affairs. But we have all become lazy, relying on money from crude oil sales to be shared monthly – this is why you see all the states going cap in hand to Abuja at the end of every month to collect allocations.
What is your assessment of the war against corruption by Buhari’s administration?
Corruption in whatever form is a vice, and I will support the fight against corruption any day. My advice to the president is that the war should go round; it should not be seen to be targeting only members of a political party. It should go round, and then there must be fair trial.
I will also like to commend the president over the recovered loots. However, this money must be put into good use– it must be used to provide essential infrastructural facilities across the country, especially power. The power sector is in comatose; most of the recovered loot should be used to revive the power sector. This, however, should have been after appropriation for that purpose had been carried out by the National Assembly. Power is the key to the revival of every sector that is moribund or dead. Everything must also be done to ensure that the recovered looted money is not looted again.
Do you agree with those who say that the name of the looters should be published to serve as a deterrent?
Yes. I support such a move. It is not enough for the Federal Government to tell us that so and so amount of money had been recovered without telling us from whom the money was gotten. We need to know the looters – they should not be protected. They should be unmasked; otherwise, doubts will even be created in people’s minds about the total money actually recovered by government. It is unfortunate that in Nigeria, we have two sets of laws, one for the poor, and the other for the rich. Nigerians are anxiously waiting to know the identity of the looters, because President Buhari himself at a time promised to name the looters. He should fulfill that promise. He should keep his words.
You are representing Ondo East/West in the lower legislative chambers, and gubernorship election is coming up soon in Ondo State, how would you assess PDP’s chance?
In Ondo State, PDP has always been the master – we have always been defeating APC, and the situation is not going to be different during this coming election. PDP will humiliate APC, because APC is actually dead in Ondo State.
Why did you say so?
For over a decade now, PDP has been in charge in Ondo State. Not only that, transformations taking place in the state under the leadership of Governor Olusegun Mimiko is unparalleled. There is no ward or section in Ondo State that has not benefitted from Mimiko’s government.
For now, APC is in disarray in Ondo State. The party is not on the ground at all. Forget about the propaganda they are carrying out; APC should forget the election. It can never win the polls.
Again, my words of advice for PDP members, none of them, especially the aspirants, should have anything to do with Modu Sheriff’s faction. Any party member that relates with Sheriff’s faction is just wasting his time.