Second Republic politician and social critic, Dr Junaidu Mohammad, is a man with an incisive vision and uncommon narrative who desires good government.
In this interview, he spoke on sundry issues: x-raying the recent siege to the National Assembly, the moves by some people to get Buhari to reverse the sack of the former Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, the power fight in the Senate, the poverty of ideas at the centre, corruption in high places, the 2019 elections and more.
A lot of things have happened at the centre recently. First, I will like to get your interpretation of the siege to the National Assembly and the implications for our democracy?
Well, when I speak, I choose my words carefully. I am very careful about passing valid judgment unless I have all the facts at my disposal. Regarding the so-called siege, according to you and others, I am not sure what you call a siege was what happened last week at the National Assembly. And since you and I do not necessarily agree on what actually happened, I am not prepared to give my own interpretation of what happened. I have to have the facts, but at the moment they are not yet in.
Okay, let us take it differently. From what you saw on the television and from what you may have heard from credible sources about the incident, what do you think we are confronted with?
The impression I got by watching some of the television clips was that we woke up one day and found that the Senate building has been shut down. It was shut down, not because it was not a business day; it was shut down on the instruction of somebody or some people. These people could have been some people in the Presidency, not the president, because the president is somehow away from the country. It could have been an initiative – a very malicious initiative – on the part of the security aparatus and it could have a faction of the members of the Senate, who went inside and requested that they shut them in to deny others from going in. It can be any number of these scenarios. The scenarios, unfortunately as they were, were not as im- portant as the actual denial of the National Assembly and the nation itself to have the benefit of that day. Any of them paid that day would have been paid in error because they have not done their job for that day, whether there was a sitting in plenary or they were sittings in committee session, or doing other jobs; the fact was that nothing happened on that day.
In addition, I think that the country was unfortunate to have the kind of media, who serve as interpreters of events. Up till today, there have been so much noise, so much motions; very little movements. Nobody has been told where the instruction came from, except that the former Director General, DSS was very much implicated. And he now claimed, after he was arrested and quizzed a bit, and he is now singing like Keneri, the bird, he is saying that he got instructions, not from the acting President mark you, that he got his orders from some fellow called Abba Kyari, who was supposed to have been the Chief of Staff of the President.
Now, if Buhari has ceded power to the vice president and the vice president is the acting president, I don’t know how somebody who is not in the APC as a party and was just picked on the recommendation of Mamman Daura , the nephew to Buhari himself and made the Chief of Staff, how can there be a chief of staff when the president himself is not around? That does not make sense to me. It shows that these people have a very shabby attitude towards power and how power is exercised and they do not want to admit to the informal realities of power and the formal realities of power. And to me, that is very dangerous because in effect we are dealing with fascists, beginning from the top. You cannot say I am going on leave and all my staff must stay in their positions and exercise the powers that they normally would if I were to be on the seat. It means that the whole idea of ceding power to the vice president was done in a shabby manner and was done as a kind of game. The reality is that once you move out of power and voluntarily cede power; he was not forced to transfer power to Osinbajo, he did it voluntarily, and this is not the first time he is doing it, then I don’t know what role another fellow has now, according to the former DG, to now have a meeting and instruct the DG DSS to shut down or shut out some factions of the members of the Senate. I don’t understand this at all. It beats my imagination because we are talking about democracy. And that context of the democracy must always be placed in mind if we are talking of the events of last few weeks. It is not democracy to do what they did and up till now, one man who should clear the air – Buhari himself – has not done so. So, it now becomes a problem.
It is Osinbajo, the acting president’s word versus the cabal in the presidency, mostly of Daura villages, who think that they can take this nation for a ride. There are plans for them, with some governors, to go and tell the president to reverse the decision taken by the acting president, which would be an open invitation to confusion. When the chips are down, if you give me Osinbajo on one side and Buhari on the other side, I will pick Osinbajo any day because I vote for competence not for personality and as a leader, Osinbajo, whatever is his religious and tribal inclination, is better President for Nigerians, for you and I than a Buhari. And that to me is the bottom line.
Sir, there is this point I want you to address. Is it still possible that Buhari could come back and reverse this decision given the strength of his relationship with the sacked DSS boss?
I am in no position to answer that question. Frankly speaking, it is very difficult to second-guess Buhari. You can talk about what people are likely to do or not to do if you believe that when they act, they act in good faith. Buhari has not been acting in good faith in anything he does since he became president of this country for the second time. In theory, he could (reverse Osinbajo sacking of Daura), but then I am not prepared to believe that Buhari is prepared for the consequences for his attempt to do so because the country may run into problem.
Again, if he tries that, he has more to lose than anybody out of the 200 million Nigerians. And let me be frank with you, I want him to try that so that the whole government would run into trouble, and the whole government would come crashing, because Osinbajo, as a man of honour, would have no option, but to withdraw, resign from the vice presidency. I would see how from now to February, how they can have a government restabilized and with a new vice president. Let me see how they would do it. These are the people who have not been able to do anything out of the routine matters that are supposed to be handled by the presidency, and find them trying to propel themselves into constitutional crisis. Let me see how they get out of it. Personally, I want them to go and if that is the way they want to go, I will be more than happy about that.
From the face of some legislators, the impression given was that the action of that day was a direct attack on democracy. Do you share in this their view?
You are now taking one of the many interpretations. On the part of some people who want to construe the events of that day as a direct attack on the National Assembly or on the government. Yes! That could have been their own interpretation. That is not my interpretation. Because if Nigeria’s democracy is so weak, so feeble, to be run on pretensions that a number of SSS personnel illegally deployed to the ground of the National Assembly, specifically to the ground of the Senate, can actually be seen to constitute an attack on our democracy and can terminate our democracy, in my view, this is an insult to our democracy. That was the case.
As far as I am concerned even if the members of the Senate who were not allowed into the Senate had moved out to anywhere in Nigeria or overseas, if they have the necessary number, they can sit down and constitute legally bound and constitutionally accepted session of the National Assembly and no power on earth can take that away from them. So, I don’t buy the narrative. And I believe it was a narrative, which was meant to serve the purpose of the Bukola Saraki faction of the Senate. And as far as I am concerned, while I am not against Bukola Saraki, I believe that as a matter of honour, having decided to leave his party and the party was the majority party until recently, he should resign from the Presidency of the Senate. I am not speaking from the same mindset as Oshiomhole because Oshiomhole is just making a fool of himself. The reality is it is not everything in a democracy or in a system of the rule of law that is stated in black and white in the constitution or in the subsidiary legislation.
There are certain things that should be done because morality, faith and responsibility, individual and collective, demand that the thing be so done. I believe that in the situation we find ourselves now, Bukola Saraki should resign quietly. If he has political future, he should go ahead and pursue it and if he still wants to go for the president, he should go ahead and pursue his presidential ambition. But that the idea that a man should continue to unleash constitutional and legal mayhem into the very important chamber and wing of the National Assembly and the branch of our government should not be allowed to stand…. Since he went and smuggled himself, spent the night and then connived with some people in the PDP to emerge as the President of the Senate, the Senate and the National Assembly have seen no peace. And I don’t believe that our democracy is so useless to us and it does not matter that we should allow an individual, in the pursuit of his individual ambition, scuttle the democratic dispensation. That is not my idea. And this idea of saying that you must be something, else the whole thing must go down, is not my idea of democracy.
I will take you to something close to the Senate. I am talking of the quiet defection to the APC by Senator Godswill Akpabio, a man who once represented the face of PDP and their politics. What’s your take, sir?
First and foremost, Akpabio’s emergence in politics was rather interesting because the man that was his godfather was Obong Victor Attah. He brought him up, an Annan man, to represent the Annan people and made him to be the deputy governor. Now rumour had it that either as a precondition for making him deputy governor in Akwa Ibom or somewhere along the line, he was requested to, among other things, concede to vacate the deputy governorship for a son-in-law of Victor Attah. Now, I have not asked Victor Atttah this, but this was the impression that was being bandied around. And he did not agree. And this was what led to their falling apart. He went his path and Attah, who is now in his 80s or so, went his own path, but they still remained basically in the same party.
Now subsequently, when Akpabio brought in another Ibibio man, Emmanuel, the current governor, things went okay. But from the transition from Akpabio to Emmanuel, there have been problems. The tenure of Akpabio in Akwa Ibom has been very eventful. There have been so many allegations that have not been cleared. And when he came to the Senate loaded with so much money, it was convenient for him to buy his way to become the Senate Minority Leader under their zoning arrangement and cash arrangement. But he was not an effective minority leader and you could see that his mind was somewhere for most of the years he spent on the seat. Subsequently, a decision was taken by him and his new godfathers in the Senate to reabsorb him in APC while the deluge was moving the other way. Quite a number of APC senators were moving out back to their PDP shelve and he was moving to the APC. That is all I can say if I want to be rational. I am not in APC and I am not in PDP.
People look at it as a great betrayal, nobody really thought a captain would dump his ship the way he did
My friend, everything about this Senate and everything about every senator who has decamped and came back or is decamping again is a betrayal. Nobody from Bukola Saraki, all down is covered in glory in this event. So, forget about it. These are not the kind of people you can talk about morality with or you can say that if you accuse them of treachery, they would mind. No! They would not. For them, it is business as usual. And business in the APC and PDP is simply to do whatever suits you as an individual and not what suits the country or the constituency you represent. These people are too far, gone; their politics is a special brand. It is chop I chop; steal I steal. Pay cash for whatever you want. You must have seen on the television the last sets of election that we had in Ondo, Edo and Ekiti, and in three recent senatorial seats in Northern Katsina and Southern Bauchi and in Kogi states, money was shown on television being shared. Nobody said anything was wrong and nobody did anything to the people who were sharing the money. In fact, they were officials either of the federal, state or local government and business tycoons. A governor who was involved in the Ekiti election was telling a friend of mine that before he was asked to go and lead the APC efforts during the election, he withdrew N1.6 billion and took it to Ekiti. Of course, when people were seen being given N5,000 and N10,000 to go and vote.
So, forget about it, we are not there yet. In fact, for all I care, the very foundations of our democracy have been mortally wounded. We have to start all over again, unless we want to deceive ourselves. For the past three weeks – that I am aware of – there is a request for a supplementary appropriation on the floor of the Senate for the purpose of conducting the forthcoming elections and other matters which are urgent. And, in fact, part of the money may be borrowed and since then, the Senate has not deemed it fit to discuss such a matter of national importance, matters of the very election. But now and then, we hear from Bukola Saraki that he has gone to see Babangida, he has gone to see Obasanjo and so…anything else, but not the business of the Senate and nobody is saying anything. And when I hear from the press people like you, I hear them say that it was an attack on the National Assembly. And now that the National Assembly is not being attacked, can somebody tell them to sit down and do their work? We seem to be taking flight of our senses. Are we talking of democracy or are we talking about the ambitions of Bukola Saraki to remain as the President of Senate or the President of Nigeria? Which is which and who is fooling who?
With all that you have said, how do we relate to the fact that this administration – executive, legislature and judiciary – is laying an anti-corruption claim across the other?
If you believe that claim, you would believe anything. Those of us who are living in Nigeria, and we have inroads into the executive branch of government, into the legislature and into the political party system, we know that is nothing, but big rubbish! In spite of their so-called integrity, they have to buy their way in Ekiti, the same thing in many places where they claimed that they won elections. So, if indeed this is a government of so-called integrity and Nigerians appreciate it for being a government of integrity, how come they have to buy their way? I want to understand.
Assuming they are now saying this is what they are, how come that during the 2015 elections, they said vote for me, but I am not going to give you money and they were voted in, but today, they need money to get themselves in? What has changed? The reality of power has dawned on them. They have no integrity worth talking about and they, the APC, are like their opponents in PDP who also want to buy their way back and they have made such a mess of the process. They have messed the already corrupt judiciary, they have messed the party system and I have said it as far back as 2015 that there is no difference between the two parties and sooner than later they would be seen for what they are: two sides of the same coin. And they are now proving themselves to be so.
The 2019 election is near the corner, do you think it would give us a genuine chance to recruit better leaders?
Well, I don’t know, I can’t answer your question because I am yet to be convinced that there would be 2019 elections. The system has been so bastardized by the people who are in charge, who have vested interest in making sure that it endures like Buhari, the leaders of the political parties and, of course, by the members of the legislature. We have identified the issues afflicting this country today: insecurity, bad management of the national economy right from the days of Goodluck to the present situation, now you have bad economic situation, you have a bad security situation and you have very bad political situation because even harmonious coexistence is becoming a problem. And if out of these myriads of problems you still don’t have one single message, you don’t have any convincing narrative that you need a change, you need a meaningful change, not a change in slogan, then you can see that we are finished, there is nothing that can be done because the election would not solve any problem under the present circumstance because the actors and the institutions are all defunct. And how you are going to have democracy in these myriads of confusion is something that I don’t understand?
Some people have argued that the opposition party is likely to run into problems after their primaries given the numbers of presidential aspirants that have already indicated interests?
What is so special about that? What is so bad about that? They (PDP) came in, in crisis after all. After the death of Abacha, some wealthy people and people in government took money from the treasury and floated the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The rest is now history. So, if a party came in a crisis, was in government for 16 years, lost the election absolutely in a landslide, and they are now putting themselves together, not on the basis of any principle that you can imagine in public life, so what’s the big deal if they go to a post-primary or post-election crisis? So, that’s why I said we have to accept the fact that this system has failed.
Whether it is the fault of the presidential system or the fault of parliamentary system, it has failed; and that we have to start all over again because nation building is not a one-man affair. I can’t see this system surviving the way it is. We have to start all over again. And if anybody thinks that they are doing anybody a favour by retaining this system, I think they are making a serious mistake. Nigerians have already long parted from this system. They are looking for somebody who would redeem the political system and see whether we can have a fighting chance of being a democratic nation. Otherwise, we go back into dictatorship.
How close are we to dictatorship today in the light of the fact that some court judgments or rulings under this administration are not respected, Zakzaky, Dasuki, and others?
Refusing to accept and respect court orders is a bad thing for any government even in a dictatorship, but refusing to accept and respect court judgment is not one issue that determines the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy. And mark you, we have not heard from the government itself on one of these cases. The fact that you won a case with the Nigerian judiciary does not mean you have won a case on its merit or on the law, because the judiciary, they are not trustworthy. So, don’t give me that. The weakness of the political party system is reflected on the institutions of democracy, the judiciary being one of them, the political parties and the houses of legislature respectively. Not forgetting the weaknesses and corruption within the executive. They are all part of the weaknesses of the political party system or our own brand of democracy. For all I care, if this government were to respect court orders, that is not enough to make them a bona fide democracy, they can still be that, but fail the basic democratic tests. Now, whether you want to accept a more expansive definition of democracy or you want to limit it to the basic issue of having credible elections. Now whatever it takes, the fact is that ours is not the kind of democracy somebody would want to talk about.
But are we in dictatorship?
Well, we are somewhere in between. In fact, what we are in is the worst of all the options because anarchy itself is worse than dictatorship. In a dictatorship, you know who is in charge, you know who to hold accountable; we are nearing the state of anarchy; we have a situation where the president is not governing, there is nothing like a clearly defined executive branch, the judiciary is corrupt and the National Assembly and the party system are corrupt, incompetent and irresponsible. As far as I am concerned, we are more or less at the beginning stages of political anarchy. And any day, give me dictatorship, I will take it in preference to anarchy. – The Sun.