Former speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’Abba, in this interview reflects on the benefits of democracy in the country and passes a damning verdict on the failure of its development paradigms
By Ben Agande
WHAT is your assessment of Nigeria’s journey, nineteen years after the return to democratic rule?
The whole purpose of democratic rule is to empower the people. This democracy that we have today has not empowered our people. In fact, it has impoverished them. With the possible exception of a certain category of politicians and their fronts, most Nigerians cannot claim to be better off than they were in 1999. There has been no qualitative change in the economic, political and social spheres of our lives. This is exactly what democracy is meant to achieve. Majority of Nigerians have become so decimated and are left in the lurch to precipitate. They are still to come to terms with wha is happening to them politically. Politics has in fact been taken away from them and they are left without a clear way to follow in search of their development paradigms.
When we started in June, 1999, the price of crude oil that Nigeria sold to meet up its expenditure was $9 per barrel. By 2007 to 2008, the price of oil had reached $140.
If you aggregate the quantum of money that Nigeria earned from 1999 to date, a period of nineteen years, and contrast with what Nigeria earned from 1960 to 1999, a period of forty one years, you will find out that in the last nineteen years, what came into our coffers is much higher than in the period between 1960 to 1999. But there is very little to show for it.
We have no power, we have not achieved the much taunted economic development, there is no political development, there is no social development. Our agriculture is still in disarray. What I am driving at is that from 1999 to date, Nigeria has been wobbling. Poverty is very high, the country is so disunited and the quality of leadership keeps plummeting by the day. Insecurity has become ingrained in our system.This portends a great danger to our country.
During your time as the speaker, you were able to galvanize the country such that the issue of tribe and religion did not matter in who gets what. What is missing now?
In the first instance none of our religions encourage discrimination in any guise. I held and still hold this powerfully. In fact Usman Danfodiyo told us that the easiest way to destroy any empire is to give preferential treatment to one set of people to the detriment of others. So a policy of equity and justice was the guiding principle of my stewardship of the House.
What is missing now is that successive leaders have not exploited this ideal in executing their leadership mandates. Additionally, some of the leaders are not sufficiently exposed for them to even lead this country. There is a large capacity deficit in almost all the leaders. That is the reason we are where we are today. Nigeria is not a very difficult country to govern. Some of the leaders make it difficult themselves by their own attitudes. Leaders ought to have the necessary vision for them to be able to govern a country like Nigeria. There must be tolerance, acceptance and consideration. There must also be equity, fairness and justice. These are the principles that our creator instructed us to apply in order to govern any society successfully. That was what we exhibited in the House of Representatives of my time.
Any leader, in deciding what ever he wants to do, must consider the fact of balance. Here, we can borrow a leaf from our creator, in that in everything He created, you can see the fact of balance. We must therefore make every effort to have a balanced federation. Running a parliament like our own can be very complex because we operate on values that are diffused, not values that are specific. So it is very very difficult. But the idea of balance is very imperative. We managed to provide it.
You were a victim of the violence that engulfed some parts of the country when the PDP won the presidency in 2011. Your house was burnt down for supporting the PDP yet you took the painful decision to leave for the APC. Looking back, have your expectations for leaving the PDP to APC been met?
My experience in the APC is such that I only have regrets to tell because I found a party that is divided and there is no unity of purpose. It is a party that produced the president but the president does not work with the party. In fact the president does not work with anybody. He works only with himself. That is one of the problems that he has. A lot of the people that worked with him for twelve years have left him because he does not even seem to know what is happening to him.
When we started in 1999, we used to have caucus meetings every Monday up to mid 2001 when Audu Ogbeh, the then chairman of our party, the PDP, stopped it, with the active connivance of the President. Those caucus meetings served the party and the country very well. The caucus was welI representative of the country’s diversity. In the caucus were President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar, late Chief Solomon Lar, who was the party chairman, and later, Senator Barnabas Gemade, late Dr. Alex Ekueme, who was chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, the party secretary, Jerry Gana, Board of Trustees secretary, late Alhaji Iro Dan Musa, representing the North West, Alhaji Rasheed Yekini, and later Alhaji Shu’aib Oyedokun, representing the South West and Tony Anenih representing the South South.
The presiding officers as well as the principal officers of the National Assembly, the Minister of Finance, Adamu Ciroma, FCT Minister, Ibraheem Bunu, Attorney General Kanu Agabi, National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Gusau and late Alhaji Lawal Kaita and Alhaji Aminu Wali. The caucus meetings resolved so many knotty issues that bordered on the security of the country. From time to time the caucus delved into the executive-legislative relationship which was highly dysfunctional. In short, there was more cohesiveness in the PDP, in spite of everything. Up to the time I left the party in early 2015, regular Board of Trustees meetings were taking place.
The Caucus and Board Of Trustees meetings are designed deliberately to provide an opportunity to senior party members to feel some sense of belonging in any party. They are platforms with which and within which such members may offer advice on the basis of their life experiences to the President since they hardly get honored with appointment to see the President and his Vice. So they are veritable tools for stability.
President operates a one man show
My experience in the APC is that in the last three years, there were only four or five caucus meetings. The time lag between the first one in February 2016 and the second one in October/ November 2017 was sixteen months. I was not invited to the fourth and fifth meetings because in an interview with a Network I indicated my intention not to support Buhari’s re-election in 2019. A situation where dissent is not tolerated in a democratic arrangement portends danger to our democracy.
Therefore, the party and Buhari have become one and the same thing. APC is an amalgam of interests that came together to do away with the PDP which by the grace of God they succeeded. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in now from the party. But instead of the president to coalesce the disparate tendencies within the party, so that it becomes cohesive, he decided to operate a one man show, working neither with the party nor the National Assembly.
The result is what we are seeing today in the congresses of the party across the country. Today the new PDP faction in the APC is saying it wants to opt out of the party. You can see very little of the former ANPP in the government. The only visible tendencies in the government are a little of the ACN and the CPC and even the CPC, majority of members still feel marginalized. The party is not being operated like a party because there is no connect between the president and the party. In almost all the states, it is the same thing going on between the governors and party members. The party becomes active only when the president or the governors need to use it. So honestly there is almost no reason for me to claim that I am better off in the APC than in the PDP.
Now we are in a situation where in almost all the zones in the country, there is either insurgency, herders/farmers clashes, you have kidnappings everywhere, you have situations in the northwest, particularly in Zamfara state, where bandits are having a field day killing people at will almost on a daily basis. We have security challenges in all the zones.
Nigeria is facing an existential problem. More than at any other time in this country, agitation to restructure the country have become more acute and bold. More than at any other time, the people of Nigeria are more divided along ethnic and religious lines. And this is definitely not a plus for the leadership. It is a minus. After nineteen years of democracy, Nigeria is not supposed to be divided. Nigerians are supposed to be more united than we are now but successive leaders did not provide the necessary leadership.
Insecurity was one of the focal points of this administration when it was campaigning. How well has this administration fared?
On the surface, we can say that it has done well particularly in the north east. But when you look at it, you will find out that the conflict in the north east is still raging, contrary to the assertion of the military. There are certain local governments that are still said to be in the hands of the insurgents. What baffles some of us is that when the girls in Dapchi were abducted, we noticed a situation where the insurgents came in, went to the school in Dapchi, nobody confronted them. They abducted the girls and drove off. When they decided to return them, they came in, drop them went back, yet no body confronted them. This is troubling. We can’t understand a situation where insurgents will come in and go out willfully without anybody confronting them. We are not secure.
Lethargic style of leadership
If you go to sections of this country, you will find out there are so many killings: in Benue, Zamfara, Kogi, Kaduna, Taraba. There is something about this government, as far as security is concerned that is not discernible. In my discussion with some policemen, I got an insight into what is happening. The police are undermanned, underarmed and underfunded. Even those being trained to confront the insurgents are not being paid their allowances.
They are not being fed. I spoke to a senior police officer who told me that when trainees are recruited, they don’t get fed. They just go for training and sometimes, it is their squadron commanders that feed them out of their personal finances. So if the squadron commanders are not buoyant they don’t eat.
Secondly, it is only about two weeks ago that the president deemed it fit to ask the police to employ a further 6,000 personnel. All these while, in spite of people being massacred on a daily basis, he did not deem it fit to reinforce the police with more personnel. This is the style of leadership that is drawing this country backward. A
style of leadership that is so slow, so lethargic. This kind of leadership does not give room for development. There must be some sense of urgency in the security situation of this country. A government should not be operated this way. It is this style of leadership that puts Nigerians further at risk.
Let me hasten to advice the government to have a second look at some of its economic policies. Some of these policies only serve to create a situation where poverty is being enthroned and enabled on a daily basis. The hunger in the land is real, even though one of the government officials has attributed the hunger to people that are lazy.
Up to now, the government is not doing any thing to create and enable a middle class whithout which we may not have a successful democracy. No economy can be built with the five thousand naira being granted to elderly people as handout. Corruption cannot be fought when conditions are created on a daily basis that provide it with an enabling environment .
With the dismal picture you have painted, what are the chances of your party in 2019?
As it is now, anything can happen. I am not optimistic about an APC victory because I know a lot of people and organizations that contributed to the success of the APC in 2015 but have vowed never to vote for the party again. I am not optimistic. However, there are so many levers available to the party to impose itself on the people. But President Buhari in Kano said the huge crowd that came to welcome him was a strong message to the people in southern Nigeria that he still enjoy the support of Kano people.
I do not think that as a leader, he is supposed to be making such statements. Often enough he makes statements that only end up hurting him. I don’t think this kind of statement should be said by any leader because they do not make any meaning, as far as I am concerned. He is supposed to be the leader of the whole country and not the leader of a section of the country.
What is your take on the frosty relationship between the executive and the legislature?
The disagreement is so sharp and fundamental that it does not augur well for our country. I believe that both the president and the legislature must see themselves as a part of a system. And being elected on the platform of the same party, they must subject themselves to that particular party because they were all elected on the platform of that party. If there had been a synergy between the party, the president and the legislature, these things would not have been occurring. But because the president thinks that everybody in the National Assembly was elected on account of his own (president’s) popularity, they don’t have a right to anything. He also attributes the success of the party only to himself . This is the thinking of the president and as long as somebody thinks like that, then it becomes impossible for him to work with anybody. I will not advise anybody to wallow in this kind of thinking even if it is true because it portrays a high sense of immodesty. Muslims and Christians should learn from Lukman, the wise, in the qur’an and bible, where he was admonishing his son to be modest at all times and never be haughty.
There are many boards that are crucial to the running of our economy that have not been put in place. Even the monetary policy committee has just been inaugurated. For almost three years, there was no monetary policy from the Central Bank. There is no board for the pension commission.
The board of ICPC and many other organizations have not been inaugurated because the legislature has refused to confirm the nomination on account of the acute relationship subsisting with the president. This does not augur well for our democracy. Any president that wants to work successfully must find out means of working with the legislature.
Mutual respect as the guiding principle
A lot of times, narrow mindedness plays a part in the way that successive presidents work with the legislature and because of that, they do not distinguish between their personal animosity and the pragmatic means of working with the legislature. For any President to work well with any institution, ego must not play a role in the relationship. The institution of the legislature has to be treated in such a manner that mutual respect is the guiding principle. What I expect the president to do is to discount his own personal animosity and find out a means of working with the legislature because the legislature does not need him. He is the one that needs the legislature most. If the legislature frustrates him for four years, then he can’t have anything done.
If you had a choice, now that the president has declared he is seeking re-election, will you still vote for him?
I said it earlier that I will neither campaign for, nor vote for him and that is still my stand.
What do you think about the frosty relationship between the head of the Police and the senate portend for the country?
It is not healthy at all. Everything that is happening between the legislature and the executive is on account of the not so good relationship between the president and the legislature. So almost everyone under the institution of the presidency feels he is part of the fight. We do not need this kind of relationship in this country. However, even institutions under the executive are fighting with each other. So it is not surprising.