By Bashir Adefaka
Senator Femi Ojudu went through a lot to emerge a hero of gorilla journalism in the late General Sani Abacha military regime. The co-founder and former Managing Editor of The News magazine and the now rested TEMPO and AM News, cannot be wished away. He did not only emerge at the last April general elections as Senator representing the Ekiti Central Senatorial District, he has also within the short time into the Seventh Assembly, played vital roles as member, Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the probe of Bureau for Public Entreprises and just last week, was made Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Service and Establishment. At his colourful and well-horticulturally designed villa in Ado-Ekiti, last Sunday, the distinguished journalist-turned politician told Saturday Vanguard while talking on the ongoing probe of the BPE that, “on our own part, there will not be any sacred cow. But the job does not stop with us.” Excerpts:
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently paid what he described as his personal visit to mediate between the Federal Government and the Boko Haram group. The host of that meeting was killed the following day. What can you bring out of that?
Ordinarily, I would say it’s a good development but I have my own criticism of it. It is not the first time a statesman or a private individual who has some influence will mediate in a crisis like this. But again, I think that it is wrong for him to have made it public at this initial time and that, for me, now has created a problem. One of the people who held the meeting with him was killed yesterday (Saturday September 17, 2011) probably because the Boko Haram people saw him as a betrayer.
I mean, if he had kept quiet, do this over a period of time without making it public and then gradually brief the President of the country, the Senate President and those who are in the position to further assist in the negotiation, that could have been much better than the open show that he made of it, which has perhaps complicated the whole problem.
With the death of his host, I’m not sure anybody will be ready to come out to negotiate again. So it has created a problem! I mean, things like these are done all over the world from time to time. People go to crisis point to talk to people, you know, go back and front and do negotiation.
It is not when you start it that you begin to make a big noise of it and begin to look for credit. What credit does he want by making this thing public? So, we are going to have more problems in our hands than we have had before now.
As a member of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee that probed the Bureau for Public Entreprises over some of its past activities, what really prompted that?
Well, Senator Lawan, who was in the Sixth Assembly and was Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, brought a motion on the floor of the Senate, sponsored by about 25 other senators, to say that the process of privatization did not go down well and that the outcome of it too is not going on well.
He therefore requested that the Senate should take a look at BPE with the aim of helping to straighten things up and look at where things are not going on well, particularly where a company that had up to 2000 employees prior to privatization now has less than 200.
And part of the reason for privatization was to say that look, these companies were not managed and therefore could not meet the expectation of Nigerians, which is employment. And now that they have been privatized, they are even worse than when they were being run by the government.
So, we debated it rigorously in the house and we agreed that it is necessary that we examine the BPE and the companies that it has privatized over the years. That was what prompted it. And so when that was agreed, the man, who spearheaded the motion was made the chairman of the ad-hoc committee to do so.
By the time big names began to be mentioned during the sessions… it appears silence is being experienced somehow…
(Cuts in) No. No silence is being experienced at all. We are still going on and the probe is still on. What we concluded much earlier was the public sittings of the probe panel and then we decided that look, people have come before the panel, made all kinds of blames that, “we have done well to put things on the ground.
We are this, we are that and we have the communities where we …..” And we said look, it’s better for us to go and see things for ourselves and that has been taking us around the country. And we have been able to discover that some of the things they said they have done are lies and some of the things are true.
What will come next?
What we will do next after this is to sit down and compile our report and submit the report to the plenary session of the Senate and then the Senate will take a decision and forward the decision to the executive.
What are you going to do to ensure that there are no sacred cows in the of the whole process?
Well on our own part, there will not be any sacred cow. But the job does not stop with us. Ours is to perform our own oversight function, which is, examine the work of the BPE and how far it has gone to keep to the process of its privatization of public companies and to see if the companies’ new owners have kept to the agreement signed with BPE.
When we do that, we then take the decision and take it before the plenary session of the house and the house will then take its own decision, which will then be communicated to the executive. So, it will then be left for the executive to take a reasonable decision or not.
Your party, the ACN has been in the forefront of the call for devolution of powers from the centre, that is, true federalism. How feasible is that in the fresh Constitution review being embarked upon by the Senate of which you are a principal officer?
Well, I do not want to jump the gun but I believe that very soon, our party is going to call a meeting of all its law makers throughout the country, both at national and state levels, and we are going to decide on what our positions will be, on each item of the Constitution that comes for review. We are going to stand by that.
One thing that is basic even before the meeting, which I know, is that we are going to ensure that whatever change that is going to be made with the Constitution, it’s to ensure that there is true federalism.
The Leader of your party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, appears to have entered into the dragon of the PDP’s Federal Government over the issue of illegal operation of foreign accounts. What do you smell here?
Well, Bola Tinubu is a tested fighter. He’s not seeing this for the first time. He is not a man that you can cow. The man left power since 2007 and they are saying he kept foreign accounts. Are they just aware of that now or is it just because he has put a strong opposition to your government and your party that you are now saying that he kept foreign accounts? And we have found out that some of the accounts contain the school fees of his children: £31, 000 in one of the accounts. One other contained about £900.
Here is a man who has about three, four children in schools abroad. So you want him to close all of his accounts so that his children could suffer because of no money to pay for their school fees or their allowances? So it doesn’t make sense. The basis of that law is to ensure that you don’t use your foreign accounts to launder government money.
Now because you want to witch-hunt, because you think that you should cow him and make sure that he doesn’t pose further opposition to the government, you now went and brought out these things and said they should try him. Well, let’s wait and see. We are all going to see what will be the outcome of it.
The same thing they did to Chief Obafemi Awolowo with the Coker enquiry in the early 60s and they tried to humiliate him and all that. If they continue with it and in their own opinion or whatever they decide to send him to jail, you never can tell where this thing can take us. The other one took us to the Civil War and then interregnum for so many years. So, let’s wait and see where this one is going to take us.
What do you observe?
What I’ve observed is that we have a President that is not governing. You know, there are different centres of power across the country; you have a wife doing her own things, you have the party officials now doing their own things, you have the minister of justice doing his own things.
You have several pockets of power doing whatever they like! The NJC too! So, people are doing all kinds of things to butter their own agenda. I hope this will not lead us to what we are not praying for.