BY BEN AGANDE
Senator Ahmed Makarfi during his eight year stewardship of Kaduna State positively enhanced the peace that was in a state that was once notorious for ethno-religious crises. He is also credited by some with improving the infrastructure development of the state with the opening up of the communities through the construction of rural roads.
Now Senator representing Kaduna North Senatorial district, Makarfi is also Chairman Senate Committee on Finance. In this interview with Vanguard in Abuja, Makarfi speaks on a wide range of issues including the crises in Plateau and Borno states, the problems with Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign in the North West zone, his alleged problems with Vice president Namadi Sambo and other issues: Excerpts:
The Peoples Democratic Party’s eminence and dominance in the polity is being challenged now is several spheres. What in your opinion is responsible for this seeming hostility from the people towards your party?
Our party is doing pretty well compared to some of the other parties in terms of internal problems, taking cognizance of our dominance. If you are dominant you expect that you will have more issues than the smaller parties. If you look at these smaller parties and the kind of problems they have, we should be beating our chest and say that we are not doing badly. All the other major political parties have internal problems arising from the conduct of party primaries.
In a way, the crisis is a clear testimony that we are on the path to developing a truly democratic society. Before now, whatever the party did was taken as something from God, nobody could challenge it. But now, as a result of the commencement of electoral reforms, people are challenging the decisions of the parties because they know their rights. This is an indication that when you come to the general elections, people will assert their rights. Votes must count and if any body attempts to do anything that would inhibit them; they will use all lawful means to resist it.
Why in your opinion are the parties finding it difficult to imbibe the principles of internal democracy?
Personally, I am not aware of a situation where the president is insisting on the candidature of any individual. But you will find other people either in the executive, the legislature or in the party leadership who are insisting on the candidature of certain individuals. This notion that “let them go to court” is very disappointing. Are we saying that the courts are places for politicians to just play around with the law even though you know that you may be wrong?
That is not a good approach to it whether you are in the executive, the legislature or a party activist. To say let them go to court even when you know you are in the wrong, is not helpful. I caution and I warn all of us that may be having this attitude not to abuse the judicial process. The thinking is that the court will compromise at any point in time for people to do whatever they want.
The judiciary has recently come under attack because of what the people call frivolous injunctions. What is your opinion about this in terms of the importance and the integrity of the judiciary as the hope of the common man?
Well, for the full dispensation of justice, whether political or in relation to whatever issue, that spot contributes to the high number of people awaiting trail even in relation to other criminal and civil cases that are in our system also it will not help in the development of the democracy. I am beginning to get convinced that probably we need civil constitutional courts because it looks as if these internal party issues will be with us for a pretty long time to come before we truly develop an internal democracy in our parties and matters will come up even on party issues not even on general elections even elections among the parties it self, issues will come up where people will challenge the processes of conducting such elections.
If you leave it to the conventional courts, all these issues will get bogged down there and not get settled in good time and also, you see people going to some level: state high court in one place, in another place federal high court getting different injunctions or probably even different judgments. All this confusion can be sorted out when we have one line of courts that addresses all of these issues. Then people will not find the room to play around by jumping from one state to another, from federal to state high courts, from one court room to the other and then we must forge ahead and see how far we can go.
If you look at the case of George Bush and Al Gore’s presidential election, all of these matters from the lower court up to the supreme court , look at the speed at which they were all settled . In fact, look at the speed at which issues such as these are being settled. Some of the cases in Nigeria, until someone is almost finishing a full four year term, before the case lingers on thereby over complicating the system. I think we need a special branch of maybe a constitutional court as part of the structure of our court system and also a review of Evidence Acts and other things that are necessary to expedite or create quicker dispensation of justice not only on political issues but on all issues.
As a former governor do you think that the firm grip that the governors seemingly have on polity has worsened the political situation in the country. Secondly, when you were in office, was it different from what is happening now?
When I was in office the situation, as far as Kaduna was concerned, was not as it is and I am sure in most states it was not like this. I never bothered who a delegate was, I never bothered about who was standing in for election or whatever. If I wanted to support you if I can give you whatever contribution I will give you but you go and sort it out. If you win fine, if you don’t win, people have chosen who they wanted as their candidate. If I wanted to accommodate you to bring you consolation, then I’ll find from the executive side what I could do to carry you along for those that might have lost at that particular level, that’s what I did.
Of course that is not what is generally happening now. This is also not healthy for democracy. But again, as I said earlier, the electoral reform which among other things principally was intended to achieve internal party democracy will bring a solution about this and part of this is that aggrieved persons should have uninhibited access to the courts. But if the courts are not also expeditiously dealing with these matters, the objective may not be achieved as intended. The courts should be partners in the shaping and development of our democracy by dispensing justice timely.
What do you think is responsible for the seeming apathy of the people of the Northwest zone to the Jonathan campaign?
I have not asked questions around to find out but if that is the observation and that is the case, it for those responsible for the campaign to have a re-think and to look at what is not going well and how to actually rectify it. But for me, every zone in this country is important no zone should be ignored.
Problems from one particular zone can affect the entire nation whether it is south-south, south-west it is south-east, north-central, north-east or north-west; no one should adopt an attitude of I can go it without part A,B, C or D. It’s like your body system, if you just have an affliction in one particular location, your whole body will not be comfortable with it. The president has the capacity; the party has the capacity to deal with these issues where there are problems.
You a played a very prominent role in the elections of Architect Namadi Sambo as the Governor of Kaduna state before he was eventually picked as Vice president. Stories have had it that your relationship with him has not been cordial as it used to be. What do you think is responsible for this and have you made peace with the Vice president?
Personally as far as am concerned, I am not at war with him. There might have been low points in our relations but we interact, we dine, we discuss, we do visitations and that has been going on for a reasonable point of time. But my attitude is that I am not one with the nature of going to “Palaces” except I have good reasons to do so.
That is my general nature so if people don’t see me it is because of my nature and my principle. Whoever may be there even if it is my father or my son you won’t see me there except I have a very good reason actually to be there. I have been like that and people should take me for what it is and not what it is not.
Yes, it is unfortunate nationwide there were all of these hiccups, probably how we transited in 2007, there must have been where we made some errors but we learn from our mistakes and if we made any error by how we transited, such errors will be corrected in due course.
Also we can not say the issues were the same. Issues in one state maybe far from issues in another state. Be that as it may, it was not healthy that generally, in most cases, there was a lack of rapport at some point. But this is improving in a number of states but in some states, it is not improving at all; in fact it is worsening. As concerned Nigerians we should work for peace and harmonious co-existence. You don’t have to agree with me, I don’t have to agree with you but it does not mean we have to bring down the roof.
We have a security situation in Plateau and Borno states that seem to have defied solution. As one who experienced similar crisis, what in your opinion is responsible for the lingering crisis in the two states?
Any problem you don’t promptly address becomes cancerous. It is unfortunate in these two states. It is not a blame game. All the parties that should have played a role to halt this in good time in my opinion did not succeed in doing so. As it is now, the problem is even much more complex that even Kaduna. In Kaduna we were lucky that we promptly took actions to deal with the issues and we took proactive measures that would forestall similar actions. If similar actions were taken in these two places, probably we may not have been where we are now. Be that as it may, I don’t want us to continue with the blame game.
All hands must be on deck. If we leave all these issues to the states, they may not be capable of dealing with them on their own because a lot of resources, financial and material, are required. While the trust and confidence of parties in the conflict is shaken in the leadership, it will be difficult for that leadership, left on its own to bring about reconciliation. That is where mediators, which parties to these conflicts will not have any reason, founded or unfounded, to say we don’t trust them, will have to come in.
Will you say that the Federal government has done enough to tackle these crises?
Intermittent actions don’t solve problems. Actions with consistency solve problems. There are certain measures taken but maybe they are not consistent and because there was no consistency, people will not take it serious.
Most of your governor colleagues who came to the senate hardly attend sessions not to talk of contributing to debates but you have stood out. What informed your commitment?
Why should I come to the Senate if I don’t intend to discharge my responsibilities as a senator? I am not looking for a place to cool off! I am not looking for a transition from one level to the other. I believe I can contribute and I am happy with what I am doing. I am reasonably satisfied with what I am doing.
Don’t you get discouraged sometimes by the bashing the national assembly gets because of what some Nigerians believe is their bogus salaries and the ostentatious life style of some of its members?
Looking at me is there any thing ostentatious about me? You don’t have to be a senator to live an ostentatious life. Secondly there are no bogus salaries here. Salaries are fixed by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission for all Public Officers in the country and they have made them public. But I understand the complaints of the public at the running cost of the legislature.
The senate is not taking this as just noise making and has as a matter of fact proactively taken measures. As a matter of fact I have been asked to head a committee that would look at the running cost of other legislatures in order to compare with our own. The senate is just a tiny portion of the national assembly. It is a tiny portion of Nigeria and if you continue to pay attention to 5% while ignoring the 95% you won’t solve the problem. While looking inward, we also have to look globally in order to bring down the cost of running government.
The recent events in North Africa has brought about fears that in view of the huge unemployment in Nigeria, there could be similar uprising in Nigeria. Do you fear that such revolution could take place in Nigeria?
There is no place that revolution or revolt cannot occur. No one should rule out anything happening here. But where it has not reared its head, those of us in position of authority should wake up to the reality and see what we are not doing correctly and begin to correct ourselves before we get corrected like it is happening in other places. For me it is not just a question of Nigeria only.
There is no part of the world that is immune to revolution but leaders should take leadership more seriously. We need to do what we need to do. People having no jobs become easy tools for manipulation for good cause or not. We should take our responsibilities more seriously.