•Says Buhari will intervene in feud between AGF, EFCC chairman
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was spokesman of the Action Congress, AC; Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; lately the All Progressives Congress, APC; and now the spokesman for the government in power. In this interview monitored on Channels Television Sunrise programme on Tuesday morning, the government spokesman speaks on contentious issues now facing the polity, notably, the matter of hate speech and the agitation in many quarters for the restructuring of the country. Excerpts:
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
YOUR comment on hate speeches?
The government would rather err on the side of caution. And for quite a while we also believe that our leaders in various parts of the country would have the courage to speak out against hate speech. I think it was when it got to an intolerable level that the government decided that we are now going to apply sanctions.
So it was deliberate, it was not like if government didn’t take notice?
Hate speeches did not start today. I think before the 2015 election we witnessed such bitterness, such hate speeches all over, but every government would rather warn first before it bites because otherwise it would be accused of favouring one part of the country over the other.
Laws against defamation of character
So, now that the government has given a warning, it is like the government has drawn the line; that henceforth, anybody who continues along this line will now be prosecuted. Then they would have no excuse to say that ‘O it is because they are from the North Central or Northwest.’
When government says it is looking at legislation to curb hate speeches, are the existing laws not capable of prosecuting those who utter hate speeches?
I think that at any point in time, a government would take appropriate actions in respect of a particular issue. Yes, there are laws against defamation of character, laws against libel, sedition, but this particular phenomenon of hate speeches is covered under the Terrorism Act. So it gives us a lot of concern. So, if the minister of interior says they are contemplating legislation it does not mean that we do not have enough laws; but it means that the government is so concerned. Is there any loophole that can be exploited by purveyors of hate speech that is not covered by existing law.
Does the government now understand when people say we want restructuring?
On the contrary, it is not the government that is not clear about what restructuring means, rather it is the people who are asking for restructuring who are not clear about what restructuring means.
What is restructuring? For some, it means creation of additional states. Going by the outcome of the 2014 National Confab it was recommended that we should have 20 more states, for others it is all about resource control, for others it is about moving certain items from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List, for some it means community policing, for others it is about devolution of power.
Is government not playing the ostrich because these things are not mutually exclusive?
The government is not playing the ostrich, not at all. What the government has done both at the party level and at the government level is to actually see what exactly do we mean by restructuring? If restructuring means splitting the country into further smaller units, then we will look at the implication of such. We have 36 states, and some of them are struggling to pay salaries, are we saying that we are going to create 20 additional bureaucracies? If restructuring means devolution of powers, which power are you devolving? So, we welcome ideas, but on our own part, we are looking at what area of devolution of power would really be practical for a society like ours that would not create more problems.
For the Federal Government, what does it mean?
For the Federal Government restructuring means devolution of power. Restructuring means for the Federal Government a system whereby government’s policies and programmes can reach everybody at the grassroots. For us, restructuring means ability that will allow you to deliver and in our own way, we have started. The Acting President then issued an order to the police that they should start implementing community policing; that is one aspect of restructuring that we believe will deliver better criminal justice. We as a government we look at our constitution as it is today and we follow strictly what the constitution says, and in applying the constitution we look at practical ways of reaching out to people.
The constitution is the grundnorm today, that is the basis of our being together and you cannot today as a government do anything that is contrary to that Constitution because that is the supreme law of the country. So, even when you talk about restructuring you may need to amend certain provisions of the constitution, and we all know how cumbersome it is to do that.
Cacophony of voices
But we are not averse to genuine grievances, we are ready to look at them, but what the government cannot do is to react to the cacophony of voices. Let there be something that is structured….
Whose responsibility is it to make it structured?
Everybody! Those who are agitating it. Everybody says restructure, restructure, but if you ask ten people, you will get ten different definitions of restructuring.
Whatever you do that is outside the constitution is null and void!
So, why did this government promise devolution of powers?
I said it precisely, we have started on our own understanding of devolution of power and we are starting with community policing.
Is the president concerned about the bickering between the Attorney General of the Federation and the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC?
The so called bickering I have read about, but I have not been able to understand if there is any misunderstanding. People are being quoted out of context.
We have the AGF accusing the EFCC chair of breaching provisions of the EFCC Act, of being the reason for the loss of high profile cases and of Nigeria being suspended from the EGMONT Group?
Contrary to what you read in the newspapers, I have been in meetings where the AGF and the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, the vice-president and I think we are all agreed that it is important that we have our NFIU completely independent, both operationally, financially from any other body and it does not matter to who the NFIU reports to as long as that independence is maintained.
Is the Federal Government aware of Diezani Allison-Madueke’s health status?
I am not aware.
The SA to the AGF released a statement talking about the ignoble role of the Acting EFCC chairman in the suspension of Nigeria from the EGMONT Group. What’s your take on that?
If that statement was issued by the SA to the AGF, then it begins to get worrisome, and I am sure that the president would look into the matter and call everybody to order.
Is all not well within the president’s inner circle of those who are supposed to be fighting corruption?
People may have different ideas, but this is not unusual, and I can assure you, the matter will soon be brought under control.
But it is getting out of hand?
But I think you are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. There is nothing unusual for two agencies of the same government to have different means on how to achieve the goal. But it is a matter that will be resolved and will be resolved.
But how long will it take?
I don’t see the red alert that you are raising. But it will be resolved one way or another.
But is this not what is hampering the EFCC and why it is losing cases in court?
I have told you the matter is being looked into.
How soon will the issue be resolved?
What do you think has led to this?
That is what the investigation will bring out?
Is the president aware of this?
Yes, he is. He is the employer of the two of them. The president would look into the matter and of course, pronounce on the issue. The EFCC chairman why would he take the position that he is taking, the AGF why would he take the line he is taking?