By Gbenga Oke
Senator Daniel Saror was the former Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. HeÂ represented Benue North East Senatorial district in the Senate and ended up as the Minority Leader of the house before his exit in 2007. In this Interview with Vanguard, he spoke on various national issues ranging from the health of the President, opposition in the country, National Assembly, party system and the constitution review. Excerpts:
You were an active member of the Senate before you left in 2007 andÂ since you lost to Governor SuswamÂ nothing much has been heard about you politically. What have you been doing?
After the Senate in 2007, I contested for the office of governor of Benue State on the platform of ANPP.Â I believe I won, but the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo usedÂ Â executive mightÂ toÂ change the result of the election in favour of PDP. IÂ filed a case in court, but subsequently based on review of the situation that I saw, I withdrew the case.
I had to leave the state so that nobody will accuse me of being a clog in the wheel of the party that was awarded victory.Â I am even happy that I stayed away from the state because my supporters were so angry that if they had the means and encouragement, they would have set the place on fire.
I would then be blamed and there will be casualties and I will be forced to bear the brunt of the situation. All in all, I am happy I did not go ahead with the case and relative peace has been in the state.
Aside that, what role have you been playingÂ in your party, ANPP?
I am still in ANPP and I have been getting some assignment by the party in the last two years. The electoral reform has been one of the things the party was very interested in and I was made chairman of the electoral reforms committee of the party and my committee prepared the position that we submitted to the Justice Uwais Committee and we were happy that many of the issues that we canvassed are in the report of Uwais Committee.
We hammered on the independence of INEC because the constitution as it is presently constituted tied the hands of INEC in terms of its independence. If you read sections 153 and 154 of the constitution, INEC is listed amongst federal government bodies and section 156 imply that you have to be a member of a political party to be eligible to be in that commission.
We advocated that, that particular section 154 and 156 of the constitution should be amended or INEC should be taken out of section 153 that lists them among those corporate bodies whose membership requires them to be a members of a party.
We realise that all members of the INEC from 1999 till date have been card carrying members of the PDP and it shows lack of insensivity or indiscretion on the government of the day to simply go ahead andÂ appoint members of one political party when there are more that 50 political parties in the country and when there at least 3 to 5 reasonably large political parties, yet the members of INEC are completely dominated by one party.
AndÂ the state electoral commissioners also appointed by the president areÂ also card carrying members of the same party, so there is little wonder that we have what we have today.
We advocated for independent candidacy. We also called for INECâ€™sÂ financial independence; to be financed from the consolidated revenue fund.Â We also looked at the Electoral Act ofÂ 2006 and realised that in spite of its good intentions, the operators were not doing whatÂ should be done.
The police and other security agencies have all the years been part and parcel of the electoral rigging process. So, we said, let us have in place an electoral offences commission that will even chide INEC ifÂ the commission is found to have mis-directed itself deliberately to favour a party or an individual. There are other things we advocated which I am happy the commission recommended.
You are one of the key members of a new movement called the NDI which comprises of former Vice-president Atiku Abubakar, Buhari, Bafarawa and host of other politicians. What compelled you to join the group and do you see this movement forming a credible opposition against the PDP?
I was invited through a letter signed by General Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Bafarawa to the National Democratic Initiative and the event took place at the Ladi Kwali hall on the 26th of October and the meeting was very well attended. The Mega Summit group was also there, Olu Falae, Pat Utomi, Tom Ikimi and it was resolved at that time that the initiative should be upgraded to a movement.
The second meeting was to set a motion for the steering committee and it also passed a few resolutions. First, that whenever the members meet, that decision will be on a simple majority, and second, only individuals can join the movement not groups and third, we agreed to set up two committees, a committee on strategy and on mobilisation.
Also, four individuals representing each of the sixÂ geo-political zones were selected by the members of that zone present at that meeting to form these committees. I was one of the people who emerge from North -Central and beyond that, I have not heard anything from the central committee up till today. The idea is this, we need to have a credible alternative to PDP as a nation, otherwise weâ€™ll continue with this big PDP and it will remain there and whatever it is doing or not doing is immaterial.
It can walk on anybody and nothing will happen. If you look at PDP in the last 10 years, in spite of the enormous wealth we have been able to acquire, our infrastructure is still dilapidated, our educational system has collapsed, our road network is non-existence, we have no rail system that is functioning, poverty is simply on the increase in spite of this enormous wealth. And mind you, the PDP controls 28 states in the country.
So, I am convinced that if Nigerians want to move beyond where we are, it beholves on them to come together and form a formidable group that can at least challenge the PDP. I am not saying they will take over power from the PDP, but they will be an effective challenge to the ruling party so that this nonsense of controlling everything will stop. People will be made accountable for what they are doing.
As it is, there is a spirit of impunity to the extent that Ogbulafor can say his party will rule Nigeria for 60years and he does not care that it was an insensitive statement to make. So, my participation is intended to lend support to Nigerians who are hoping that there will be an alternative toÂ PDP. I believe it depends on the goodwill of people and the commitment that we have.
If Nigerians are not serious about having a credible, accountable, responsive or responsible government, then, we can continue with what we have. What we have today, all these 50 odd parties you see, they are owned mostly by these PDP politicians and they are there for mischief purposes.
It is not that they want other parties to exist. In fact I want the National Assembly to enact a law that says for you to benefit from government funding, you must have at least 5 to 10 percent votes in an election. Not that, you just go and carry a briefcase,Â and register a party and you qualify for money from federal government. These are some of the ills the PDP has brought to our nation. We ought to streamline how these parties operate and ensure that only those that are genuine benefit from the government. So, I am in favour of NDI and hopeful that Nigerians will see the sense in it.
Opposition parties see PDP as an intolerant party. What is your take on this especially with recent development where a member of the opposition party was picked up atÂ meeting………
(Cuts in) Well, at the moment PDP because of the way it rigged elections in 2003 and 2007 has become a behemoth, a big organization.Â They are evenÂ too big to manage themselves. I said that with all sense of responsibility because I was here when they did their primaries for the local government election in AbujaÂ where they were attacking themselves with matchetsÂ and people were killed.
Even within the party, there are problems because there are factions, there are long queues and everybody believes that once you get a nomination in PDP, you have already won the election. So, these are things that we should avoid, we should give room for credible opposition, we should give room for meaningful competition both within the party and between the parties. It is worrisome when you go to states and you find out that every councillor, chairman, allÂ members of House of Assembly and the governor are PDP members and nothing is working. What kind of country is that? These are the issues.
Still on party system in Nigeria how many parties do you think we needÂ today considering our experience with two party system in the past?
Well, we have a constitution which stipulates the conditions for registering a party and nobody can query that unless the constitution is amended. But, I believe the National Assembly can add something to that. If you register a party based on the provisions of the constitution, you still have some responsibilities to Nigerians.Â To my mind, if you want to register a party, go ahead and do your registration, but donâ€™t ask Nigerian tax payers to support you.
They should support you only when you have shown evidence that you are seriousÂ and that means that, at least you would have won a councilorship election somewhere. But to have over 50 parties like we have now, it is like going to Corporate Affairs Commission and registering a company.Â That is exactly what is happening; people use it to get what they can get and I think it is wrong and the National Assembly should do something about it if they really want to moveÂ Nigeria forward.
The President’s health has raised a lot of concern, especially with his continued absence. Some eminent Nigerians are calling for his resignation including some PDP bigwigs. Personally and as a former Senator, do you support the call?
No, I donâ€™t and there is no basis for the President’s resignation. The President has the right to go on leave. The President is a human being with blood in him, so he can be sick. The constitution under section 144 to 145 adequately provides for what happens when the President is on leave or when he is in-disposed.
He simply hands over to his Vice, he writes a letter to that effect informing the National Assembly that he is proceeding on leave, that the Vice-President should take over from him. What has happened as I understand is that there has been a failure by the President or the presidency to make that communication formal through the National Assembly and so, a void was created.
Unfortunately, those people managing the presidency in my opinion have not done a good job and they have not told Nigerians the truth about anything, so everybody was speculating, everybody was going to Saudi Arabia to confirm whether the President was alive.Â It was terrible, but the President had no reason to resign. He has
a reason to handover to his deputy until he is well enough to continue. He can only leave office legally on the date that his election expires in 2011.
I feel sorry for him and I pray he will recover and get back to work regardless of how he came to office.Â We have accepted him as our president and he will remain our president until his tenure expires and we will elect another president. But we cannot say that because you are sick, you cannot be president.
What Nigerians are saying is that if the President is out for over two months and the Vice-President is not empowered to act in his absence, a vacuum has been created, sort of…….
For a president to resign, he will have to write a letter himself. So, if he is not strong enough to write a letter that he wants to resign, he should been honourable enough to write a letter that he is on leave and his vice should take over. I think we are just jumping the gun about the whole thing, the situation has just been badly handled.
The National AssemblyÂ has commenced another constitutional review process. As a former Senator, what is your assessment of the review especially when some Nigerians have argued that theÂ constitution is not problem, but the people operating it.
I think a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the beginning of this constitution in 1999. We have worked with this constitution for 10 years and as I said earlier, if we look back at those 10 years, there are lots of mistakes that Nigeria has made that has impeded our progress as a nation. We have penchant for turning a blind eye, when we see things that are red we say they are blue.
It does not work that way, a country should have some norms that are sacrosanct. It shouldnâ€™t be that, if you are in PDP, you do no wrong, if you are in another party, everything you say is wrong. If you are in PDP, you cannot be corrupt, whether you are a minister, a governor or a local government chairman or whatever.Â No PDP memberÂ is afraid that he could be prosecuted for corruption.
I remembered that Nuhu Ribadu came to the Senate and read 30 names of serving governors whom he said were so corrupt that they cannot even contest election. Where are they now? Some of them are back in the Senate, someÂ are ministers, the same people that Ribadu said were too corrupt to even stand for election. I think Nigeria has caused too much harm to itself by this kind of attitude.
On constitution review, theÂ constitution is not an iron-cast document and it never will be, but there are certain things about it, like I mentioned, the issue of INEC.Â The Electoral Act is predicated on the constitution and if the constitution is not amended, anything in the Electoral Act will be declared null and void. So, the National Assembly should first move to amend the constitution or do it concurrently if they like.
You cannot create an electoral reform commission or electoral offences commission now and make use of it in 2011 because you need time to have these structures in place, you need time to appoint people and open offices and set up the machineries to do it. There is no time now, we are virtually out of time forÂ 2011 election.
I am afraid if the elections are conducted with new laws, it will be very difficult for INEC to implement it be
cause of time constraint. But the amendment should go ahead as provided for by theÂ constitution itself.
A lot of NigeriansÂ doubt whether the admendments can be concludedÂ before 2011. As a former Senator do you share this view……..?
(Cuts in) I donâ€™t really believe they are going to make much progress. This National Assembly with all due respect is not like the one we had in 1999.Â Those were people who were elected by their own people.Â In 2003 and 2007 people were handpicked and the former president was so strong, so powerful and he had INEC under his palm, so he could direct who can win election and who cannot win elections.
Nobody in theÂ the National Assembly can pretend that two-third of them ever won election.Â They are there by the virtue of somebodyâ€™s influence and that somebodyâ€™s influence is still there and he is still teleguiding, manipulating, scheming, so what he doesnâ€™t want, they will not do it and they are not going to do anything that will hamper their own chances of not coming back.
So, it is going to be a very difficult task for Nigerians to expect a whole lot from this National Assembly unless something else happens, but given their pedigree, given how they got to where they are and given the fact that the first law of survival is yourself, they will want to protect themselves using whatever means.
Having painted all these pictures, how will you assess our democracy so far?
Let us go back to 1999 because before1999, we have had 10 years of military rule and when civilians came in 1999, it was a traumatic change, because the people in the civil service who had not worked under a civilianÂ rule became permanent secretaries andÂ were built aroundÂ military psychology.
So, when we came in 1999, it was difficult for the civil servants to even accept that civilians should be able to ask them questions about how they are implementing government policies. We had problem with the former president, somehow he was able to blackmail the National Assembly very easily, and so we have this dichotomy where the National Assembly working with the civil service that does not believe in the National Assembly. So, the first four years, budget implementation was exceedingly poor, there was no capacity. However, between 2003 and 2007, the capacity to implement the budget lightly improved.
we expected to see this translate into economic well being at the grass-roots, but even then, corruption was becoming more and more embedded in the system. In education for example, last year, we have an education summit under Senator Joy Emordi and the problem of education was well analyzed and you would have thought by now, a year later, some implementation will be in place, but nothing has happened.
You will be shocked that in the last 3years, the entire 24 federal universities has not received a equivalent of 10million dollars in total and the federal polytechnics has not received more than eight million dollars.
As a nation, we have not paid enough attention to those things I believe that can help to move us forward and challenge those coming behind us. It is unfortunate that everybody wants to be in politics, a child leaves secondary school today and wants to run for state house of assembly.
It is so bad today that we donâ€™t know how much money we are earning, the revenue allocation and fiscal commission charged with this responsibility has never been empowered sufficiently to be able to monitor every aspect, our oil, there more of it going out free of charge, then what comes to us as a country and we have no means to control it, even NNPC does not know how much oil Nigeria produces, they only record what they are told has been taken out, for goodness sake, donâ€™t we have enough manpower in Nigeria, donâ€™t we have enough qualified people, donâ€™t we have money to buy enough materials or equipments that is required to do all these things properly?
It is because corruption has eaten deep into the system. So, if you ask me what my observations was in the last 3years, it is characterized by mediocrity, ineptitude, corruption, those are the things that are slowing down Nigeria. So, Nigeria in my view, we need to do a re-think in our interest, because if we donâ€™t, this level of decadence in the system will get us to a stage where everything will just collapse.
Talking about INEC sir, a lot has been said in the past about the organization. Some sees INEC as a partial organization and with Anambra elections coming up soon, there are still doubts as what the outcome will be putting 2007 elections in mind. When you assess INEC, what do you think really is the problem?
I believe achieving a free and fair elections is not the preserve of INEC because INEC is only one component of that process. INEC does not hire thugs, INEC not hire militia, they donâ€™t sponsor people to snatch ballot boxes, it is we the politicians who participate in this act and INEC is caught in between.
I am not exonerating INEC at all and I believe Professor Iwu whom I respect as a person because I know him, but the fact remains there will be a need for Nigerians to incorcate in themselves the need to ensure that they must be part and parcel of any change that will take place in this country, INEC alone cannot do it.
If anything will work accordingly in Anambra state, there must not be thugs, militia, no pressure groups, no intimidation of the electorates, if section 257 of constitution will be complied with and section 81 of the electoral act which stipulates penalties for people who engage in this irrational act, if those things are in place, yes, people will have confidence and go out to vote and stand by the vote.
But, you have all these and then you have the corrupt aspect of INEC, they are human beings and they tend to collect money from candidates and parties to manipulate on their behalf, I mean there is no question about that because I have contested election about 3times, 1999, 2003 and 2007, so INEC alone is not a panacea to our electoral woes, but the Nigeria if they truly want a free and fair elections, they will put enough pressure on INEC and on themselves to avoid this things that are disenfranchising Nigerians because somebody has interfered with the process, distorted the system and manipulated to its own advantage.