Senator Femi Okurounmu was the Chairman, National Conference Advisory Committee set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 and also one of the leaders of Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF). He spoke recently on the President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti corruption war and other issues. Seye Olumide and Biola Shittu report
APC’s change mantra
THE change that people were expecting has not been realized. Although, changes cannot come overnight, they don’t have to change all of a sudden but then if you are on a part of change, everybody will know. One will begin to see the signs of that change, so I think the peoples expectation have not been realized.
In terms of taking the steps in the right direction, the economy is getting worse; I am not saying this is due to President Muhammadu Buhari’s fault but certainly we can only compare what was before him and now that is nine months into his regime.
The first observation is that things have become much more worse under Buhari than what we used to experience. The foreign exchange rate is abnormally high and certainly that is posing a lot of hardships on Nigerians. Many states cannot pay salaries and we are experiencing petrol scarcity every now and then in some parts of the country. The economy is so bad that foreign investors are beginning to leave the country. Even Nigeria investors and factories have become more or less liquidated.
The fight against corruption is good, we should intensify it but I will also say that I am not impressed in the way the President is going about it because when you catch someone who is corrupt, there must be some measure of punishment to serve as a deterrent to others. But when you catch someone who stole public money amounting to billions of naira and all you do is ask him or her to return the money and go free, I don’t think that is fighting corruption. What stops the government from charging those found wanting to court immediately?
Sentiment in Buhari’s anti graft war
I don’t want to be accused of being biased but if I am the one fighting corruption, I will start from 1985, from Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s regime. I will start from the 12 billion dollars oil windfall, which was said to be missing during Babangida’s time. I will go to Gen, Sani Abacha’s time, even though he is dead there are still so many of his ministers around and the evidence is there.
I will look at several other cases of corruption including the Halliburton scandal. For instance, several investigations had been conducted on the Halliburton scandal with reports prepared but nothing has happened.
On allegations that Buhari shields some corrupt politicians
That is unfortunate. We all know that those who funded Buhari’s election, even those who funded his nomination to become the candidate of APC, including our Yoruba governors, had to empty their treasuries to go and support him. That is why many of them couldn’t pay salaries after that. Tinubu made them to raise money. These are the backers, including (Rotimi) Amaechi. We know how clean they are. These are the backers of Buhari, but we all keep hailing them.
When we say they too are corrupt, they say it is because we don’t like Buhari. And again the media is there. The reason I decided to be quite these days especially when it comes to criticizing Buhari’s regime, is that Buhari came to power on the pedestal of intensive propaganda mounted using the media, so all these new media were participants in this propaganda game. Tinubu used his influence in the media to mount propaganda on behalf of Buhari against Jonathan and everybody swallowed it. Now that their eyes are beginning to see what they have done, many of them are too ashamed to admit that they made a mistake. So it is better for people like us who are never afraid to talk. I opposed Buhari all the way during the elections. I even took advertisement to say why the Yoruba should vote for Jonathan not because Jonathan was good or was an angel; it was just for the National Conference alone.
The judiciary as hindrance to anti-graft war
President Buhari is just beginning to see the reality now. I have been saying that for about 10 years that the judiciary is one of the most corrupt sectors of the polity. It is not only the executive and the legislative arms that are corrupt, the judiciary is also very corrupt. I have indicted the judiciary several times. Everybody knows now that when you steal huge amount of money and you give the judiciary its own share, you can go free or at the very worst get a mild sentence. It is only when you don’t steal enough money to enable you settle the judiciary that you go to jail. If you cheat enough so that the SANs and the judges can get their own, you are sure that nothing is going to happen to you. That is Nigeria criminal justice but I believe President Buhari can take care of it, he does not have to fold his hands and lament that the judiciary is his constrain. Let him start by touching the judiciary. The sector can be cleansed.
Alleged maginalisation of the South under Buhari
If you remember when former President Jonathan was in office, the Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF) made trips to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to complain about four issues. One was marginalisation of the South West under his administration, which was always at the top of our complaints. I am the one that did the documentation. The second complaint was on corruption; we always made emphasis on corruption that we felt Jonathan should look into, I went as far as telling him that if he wants Nigerians to embrace him, he should tackle corruption. That if he succeeds in tackling corruption, people will beg him to continue for a second term otherwise he will create more problems for Nigerians. The third was on national security and finally national conference. These were our complaints but it was as if his hands were tied to fight corruption.
On national security, I think he did his best. I am saying that because even with Buhari there now, there has been no improvement in national security so probably that is the best they can do.
His decision to take our advise on the national conference made us to support him during the election. To us, the national conference is the fountain of all the problems and until we restructure Nigeria, I doubt if we can achieve any improvement.
Jonathan’s inability to implement conference recommendations
With the benefit of the inside knowledge because I was the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on National Conference, Jonathan could not have implemented those recommendations without the National Assembly. For instance, the All Progressives Congress (APC), as a party was opposed to it, the northern geo-political zone was opposed to it so also was the National Assembly. So he could not go ahead to start implementation between those obstacles. Many of us told him to make it an election issue, if he had made it an election issue that would have pleased me.
Yoruba division over national conference and way forward
The South West didn’t go to the last National Conference as a divided house. Former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu failed in his attempt to discourage even his people to attend the conference. Left to Tinubu, his own people would not go but they came. You know I gave the fight to Tinubu. When I was appointed as Chairman of National Advisory Committee of the Conference, he was not in the country. Already, I was sworn in before he flew in and when he got to the airport he started saying all sorts of things. And I went to the television too and countered him. I got everybody who is anybody in Yoruba land who is a progressive to support that National Conference, even including those who are in Tinubu’s camp.
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