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‘Military adventure in politics is colossal failure’

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 Ghali Umar Na’Abba

Ghali Umar Na’Abba

The Genesis, Processes Of Padding
Fourth Republic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, in this interview with LEO SOBECHI, regrets the leadership atrophy, as well as spiraling conflicts in the country. 

How do you feel about the 8th National Assembly, particularly the wrangling that has defined its first year?
Since it started, the 8th National Assembly has been engulfed in controversy, particularly in the Senate, due according to my understanding, to the manner in which the presiding officers emerged. What is playing out is a serious threat to our democracy and the survival of the APC, the ruling party. Today, both Senate President and his Deputy are standing trial over allegations of forging the Senate rules. This is apart from the trial of the Senate President by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a trial that is alleged to be instigated by the executive arm. In all of these, it can be seen that it is members of the same party fighting among themselves. The coalition that brought the party to power is under serious threat. If something is not done to salvage the problem, the chances of the party winning the election in 2019 is in serious doubt. I feel so sad that after sixteen years in existence, the National Assembly is still facing avoidable instabilities.

The word padding has become synonymous with corruption; how does this new lexicon pertain to constituency projects?
In 1999, when we started this current democratic dispensation, precisely in the month of June, the price of crude oil was $9.00 (nine dollars) per barrel. By the time we received the draft supplementary estimates from the executive arm in September to early February 2000, the price rose to about $27.00 (twenty-seven dollars) per barrel. The estimates were conceived on about $18.00 (eighteen dollars) per barrel. That left us with a surplus of $9.00 (nine dollars) per barrel. The President asked us to allow him to use the money without appropriation. We told him that the constitution is clear about appropriation and there was therefore no way we could hand over funds to him unappropriated. We therefore conceived the idea of constituency projects and appropriated the surplus transparently and thus legitimately towards funding these projects. We worked hand in hand, particularly, with the Ministries of Health, Power and Water Resources and came up with health centers, rural electrification and rural water supply. These projects were all executed by the executive arm with the highest sense of responsibility.

In fact, initially, the president refused to execute the water resources component of the projects until he faced the threat of impeachment. It is sad, that today, the constituency projects that were conceived by us with the best of intention, are subject of corruption allegations by members of the National Assembly through what is called padding. For me, padding can simply be, the addition of heads of expenditure to a budget after it had been passed by any chamber of a legislature. This may entail having the clerk to collude with members to perpetrate this kind of activity, because after passage of the budget in any chamber, the document belongs to the clerk, who processes to the clerk of the National Assembly, who in turn processes it and sends it to the president for assent. So, if the clerk doesn’t cooperate, padding will be impossible too. And for this padding to be done successfully, for every amount inserted, an amount equal to what is inserted must be removed from somewhere in the budget  since the budget was predicated against a sum provided by the Finance committee and which has been made public during passage of the budget. If that is not done, then the total profile against which the budget was made will be different after the padding and that will be like blowing the whistle on themselves. This is a very dangerous sort of innovation, which I thought no clerk would feel comfortable to get involved in.

So, if members of a legislative house would collude with their clerks to perpetrate this dangerous activity behind the rest of the house members, then it is taking corruption to another level. This cannot also be done without the active connivance or collusion of some members of the executive arm since it is the arm responsible for spending the money. The legislature merely appropriates. If the objective is to steal the money, or confer undue advantage on some legislators to put up projects in their constituencies, this can only be realised with the connivance of some members of the executive arm.

During your term as Speaker, how did you handle issues of legislative corruption; was there anything like that?
I have never heard anything called legislative corruption. Everything we used to do was done transparently. There was never anytime the leadership made deviation from extant rules a policy.

What about the ‘Ghana Must Go’ bags containing cash that featured during your term?
The executive arm distributed money to members, N500, 000.00 (Five hundred thousand naira) each to impeach me. Some of the members brought the money to me; Late Hon. Josiah Gobum, Hon. Barminas Yilkes, late Hon. Muhammad Damcida, Hon. Arzika Tureta, Hon. Bello Yero, Hon. Lawwali Ibrahim and a few others, brought the money given to them to me. I asked them to take the money to the chairman of the House anti corruption committee, Hon. Adams Jagaba. I then asked Hon. Jagaba to come to the chamber with the money, which we had no hesitation in deciding to display on the table, if only to expose Obasanjo and his allies. The money was eventually handed over to the National Assembly Finance department. When we instituted an investigation, one of the conspirators in the House dragged the House to court.

How do you think the present allegations and counter allegations in the House of Representatives could hamper the work of the House?
Well, right now, the House is in ferment and divided. Groups, with different intentions are emerging. Definitely, the atmosphere in the House is poisoned and something has to be done by the leadership to restore confidence in themselves, failure of which will slow down the activities of the House.

Were there lessons in legislative collaboration you shared with the late Chuba Okadigbo, the then president of Senate?
Two important lessons were the impeachment of Senator (Evan(s)) Enwerem and the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) Act. When it became clear that we must remove Enwerem in order to ensure the independence of the legislature, we had to collaborate to ensure that was done. The House investigated a petition against him and found him guilty. The Senate used the conclusions of the House investigation to impeach him. It was however a very arduous endeavour. In the case of the NDDC Act, which had to do with the overriding of a presidential veto, we collaborated to ensure that we got the numbers necessary for both chambers to successfully override that veto.

What was your secret of success as Speaker, given the perceived high handedness of former president Olusegun Obasanjo?
The secret of my success was simply that I ran a House where majority of the members felt carried along and therefore accepted to support me. All decisions of the House were discussed and accepted together. My own was to defend such decisions. An important lesson in leadership is that one must maintain and continue to create people who feel they have a stake in any system, on a continuous basis. That was what I did. It is not for any leader to be divisive under any guise. I regarded each and every member as part of me. I was also lucky to have a very loyal and thoughtful deputy and very insightful and supportive principal officers who shared the same philosophy and vision with me. Majority of my colleagues also, more or less, shared the same philosophy with me and were supportive.  So it was easy to build a coalition to do the kind of things that we did. At a point the House was considered to be like a cult, because of the level of cohesion, I believe that is how Nigeria should be. I am very proud to lead such a house and equally proud of all the members that worked with me to give teeth to democracy.

Nigeria appears to be on a downward slide, are you worried by the state of the nation?
OF course, I am very worried by the state of the nation. The nation has been inundated by all the manifestations of a failed state. Apart from systemic corruption, there is the emergence of kidnapping, cattle rustling, clashes between herdsmen and farmers and an increase in armed conflicts through militias and armed robberies. Some militias are even threatening secession. There is also the proliferation of baby factories and trafficking in human beings. There is also a large scale withdrawal of investment from the country; capital flight. All of these combine to make the nation to be drifting. Every conscientious Nigerian should be worried. All of these are a culmination of the failure of leadership.

The challenge before the Buhari administration is to put a stop to, and reverse these negativities. Let me however hasten to point out that the answer to the problem in the Niger Delta is not the use of force. I believe that diplomacy should continue to be deployed. It would be foolhardy, particularly under the current economic circumstances, to open a second front, especially that we are talking about the area that produces the country’s wealth. We must, I believe, endeavour peace as long as it is advantageous to do so. Military history has informed us of the failure of both Napoleon Bonaparte and Hitler in the Franco-Russian war and the Second World War, when they all opened second fronts. They faced eventual defeat due to exertion. We can’t fight insurgency in the Northeast, simultaneously with militancy in the Niger Delta. Uthman bn Fodio said, the worst calamity to befall man, is to be an emir or a ruler. But once, one has the misfortune to be one, he should then be both a lion and a fox: A lion for its strength and a fox for its wisdom. I think it will be more advisable to play the fox part rather than the lion part.

Suddenly, talks of restructuring, national integration and self-determination are dominating public discourse; what is your take on the Nigerian question?
Restructuring, integration and self-determination have been in public discourse since before independence, in one form or another. It is a sad commentary on our national life that, fifty-six years after independence, even with the unsuccessful secession of Biafra; which led to a four year bloody civil war, these agitations are still with us. While I accept that some measure of restructuring is desirable, I consider secession to be absolutely unnecessary. These agitations are continuing due to failure of leadership and politics of exclusion. In a regime of political exclusion, no nation can be stable. I have been warning on this phenomenon for a long time, but those in position of authority, because they are reaping so much profit from it, have refused to stop it.

Do you think political parties in the country have done or are doing enough to promote, preserve and project democratic ideals?
Our political parties have definitely not done enough to promote, preserve and project democratic ideals. This, no doubt, has to do with some of the first set of political office-holders we got in 1999. Today, the only role the political parties play is that of being mere platforms for contesting elections. The parties do not play their role of educating their members. Successive governments do not carry the parties along in the formulation of policies. In fact, the manifestoes of the parties are no longer advertised when campaigns are going on. This, no doubt, is due to the high level of personalization and godfatherism in politics. The worst thing is that there is almost no internal democracy in the parties. Governors have particularly taken over the parties in their states and pocket them. Therefore, important reforms with regard to our political parties are needed in our political system, particularly in the area of internal democracy, the lack of which is threatening the stability of the country.

It is common knowledge that state governors appropriate political parties to themselves. Most of our political parties have decided to make the governors leaders at the state level, while presidents are the leaders at the national level, thereby rendering the parties’ executive committees almost useless. By so doing, the governors and presidents use these positions with relish in their quest to dominate the political space. The consequence is that these governors have transformed the political parties into a fourth factor of production, along with land, labor and capital. In other words, the political parties have become capital with which political power and money are acquired and accumulated. The political parties thus appropriated, are being used to generate undue political power for the governors and presidents. Today, because of this pervasive evil and diabolical phenomenon, politics is effectively taken away from the people. This state of affairs is realised through the refusal of the governors to allow free and fair elections into the executive committees of the parties in the wards, local governments and states, take place during congresses. Rather, they recruit into these executive committees, through fiat, people who would do whatever the governors want, thereby effectively making them agents of the governors.

When elections approach, it is from this category of people that delegates that will elect aspirants to become candidates of the parties are selected. These delegates will only elect the aspirants that the governors instruct them to elect, often without regard to the track record of the aspirants. Through this unwholesome means, the governor in a particular state determines who gets elected into all institutions of governance. The growth of our political parties and our democracy has been impeded in this manner. Today, if it were possible to see our political parties and political system physically, they will appear like dwarfs, because their growth has been hindered. In a democracy, which is a social system, there must be unity, coherence and harmony between all parts of the whole system.

It is supposed to be a dynamic system like a caravan in which all the travelers are linked together in the manner of big and small parts of a machine, working together towards the same purpose and aim. The function and meaning of every part is according to the position it occupies in this organic whole. Every part helps in the proper functioning of other parts in this system of mutual relationships. Any kind of failure or deviation in the functioning of any of the parts is sufficient to retard, or throw the whole system out of harmony. The asphyxiation of internal democracy, through the deviation of the rules of engagement, has had a profoundly negative effect on our socio-economic and political system, thereby throwing the system out of harmony.

In this endeavour, sycophancy becomes the main qualification for recruitment into political offices. Competition, which remains the best tool for the recruitment of political leaders, is thus jettisoned. The incentive to excel on the part of the contestants, competitors; is therefore eliminated, with the intellect becoming a casualty. No nation develops without the application of its intellectual resources. The net effect of this syndrome is the dearth of qualitative leadership at many levels of governance, the stagnation of our economy with serious unemployment levels, and the stultification of the political system.  The whole social system is in a state of inertia; all these are interrelated and are a direct result of lack of internal democracy.

Even lack of attendance in our legislative houses can be traced to lack of internal democracy. Insurgencies, militancy, kidnapping and assorted crimes are all fall outs of this phenomenon. The effect is very pervasive and reform is very necessary if we are to get things right.

Do you think Nigeria will ever elect another former military ruler as president based on past experiences?
It all depends on what ultimately this class of rulers does to change the fortunes of the country. But so far it is a history of failure. But the worst culprit in this was President Obasanjo, who was elected in 1999 as the President to usher in this democratic dispensation amidst tremendous good-will, but instead of adding value to the system, he devalued it. He was instrumental to the destruction of party internal democracy, particularly in the period when he wanted to take total control of the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), in the wake of his tenure elongation project, which some of us helped to thwart. He finished his two terms as one of the richest Nigerians, having come to power in penury. Before he left, he organised business men who were enjoying governmental waivers and juicy oil lifting contracts to raise funds for his library, yet he keeps accusing others of corruption.

The current president, who is among them, is however trying. The manifest sincerity with which he is facing governance is unmatched. He has recorded a number of successes, particularly in the fight against insurgency in the Northeast. The people of Borno and Yobe, as well as Adamawa States, had not prayed the Taraweeh and Tahajjud prayers for the past three years due to the insurgency. These prayers are performed during the night in the month of Ramadan. But they were able to perform the prayers this immediate past Ramadan, and they are happy about it.

This has shown how successful the war on insurgency has been. The war against kidnapping, cattle rustling and other gang-related crimes are all recording significant successes at the level of security, but the political and economic factors that brought the phenomena about should be looked into more holistically, because up to now young men are still being recruited into the gangs. Even last week, a security official told me that they arrested two young fresh recruits into kidnapping with AK 47s. His (President Buhari’s) fight against corruption is also receiving accolades from across the world. There seems to be a new wave of confidence in the country from all over the world. I believe he means well in this endeavour.

However, he needs to communicate more, and he needs to improve his public relations. For example, the civil populace in Kano State is not happy with him, because he has not shown enough concern over the fire incidence that gutted the state’s largest markets. Instead of visiting them personally to commiserate with them, he sent a representation, which in their opinion is not enough, the state being an important constituency of his. These fires were the worst in the history of the state, there is virtually no home in Kano where someone is not doing business in these markets. These markets are like the soul of the state. His advisers may not tell him this. But the people are still talking about it. I would advise him to do something about it. A large percentage of the two million votes that Kano State gave to him are tied to these markets.

He also needs to network more, particularly with the Southeast and South-south. I will even advise that he takes a tour of these regions as soon as possible. There is a very negative perception of him in these two regions. The tour will definitely help douse all the current tension coming out of the regions. He should meet important people of the two regions when on this tour, even if they are not members of his party, for ultimately, he is the leader of everybody.

He must expand the prism within which and with which he relates with the two regions. I know many people who want to work with and for him in the regions, but they are yet to see a friendly, open and receptive Muhammadu Buhari. He also must not take his constituency APC, for granted. They have their own worries and needs. Ultimately, he will be judged by what remains when he leaves.

Politics in Kano used to be driven by progressive ideas, how would you describe what is going on between Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso and Governor Ganduje?
Unfortunately, the good old days, when politics used to be driven by ideas in Kano, are long gone. This is what happens when politics becomes personalized. This definitely has a connection with the erosion of internal democracy within our political parties, which most of our former governors helped to nurture, and which attitude is still subsisting, just to continue to subjugate the people politically. Even when they leave as governors, they want to continue to control the parties and by extension, their successors in office. No doubt, this is a sure recipe for conflict. Each one of them is trying to outdo the other. The state is suffering very seriously. As I argued earlier in this interview, because of this tendency, politics has become one dimensional. Ideas no longer compete. Only the “victors” are heard.

How do you feel that three members of House of Rep from Kano (Salisu Buhari, Farouk Lawan, Abdulmumin Jibrin) have been associated with corruption allegations in the Green Chamber?
Maybe it is only their cases that are known. No state has monopoly over corrupt tendencies. Even though, no court has pronounced a guilty verdict against either Farouk or Abdulmumin.

 Ghali Umar Na’Abba

Ghali Umar Na’Abba

If you are to advise the Presidency, what are the critical things it needs to do to improve relationship with the legislature?
The Presidency must shed grandstanding and accept that the legislature is a co-equal arm of government. The legislature does not really need the president in this dispensation. It is the President that needs the legislature. The legislature has the potential to thwart the programmes of the Presidency. If I were in the Presidency, I will not allow my personal animosities to determine how I work with the legislature. It is often most unhelpful. Wisdom demands that the Presidency realise that the success with which their programmes succeed will be a function of the smoothness with which their relationship with the legislature is characterized. The legislature too must sit up. More than at any other time in the history of this country, the perception of the legislature in the country is very negative. Members should be more alive to their responsibilities, even as effort must continue in reforming the way political office holders are recruited into governance.

What is seriously affecting the legislature is that most legislators are in the legislature today not because they are interested in the job, but to satisfy the political objectives of their masters, most often their governors. So for most of them, being in the legislature is just an opportunity for personal aggrandizement. A statistical analysis of members’ contributions in legislative activities will prove this assertion. Only a few of them contribute to debates and only a handful ever introduces bills. Most of the times, they are absent. I believe ultimately, that each of the arms of government must learn to carry each other along. However, the party too must be taken into confidence in whatever the two arms do among themselves . The party is the mother of everyone, after all. I think both arms must come together under the auspices of the party and agree on some programmes and put their current tensions aside. This shall greatly help the system.

Do you see APC growing stronger or unraveling before 2019?
This is an issue which a lot of people have been answering with so much diplomacy. But candour compels me to state things as I see them. APC is not growing any stronger. Even though some of the governors are doing well, some are performing dismally. Stakeholders at both the state and federal levels, political and non-political; have been sidelined. Any political party that ignores stakeholders is bound to suffer. And in this situation, important stakeholders are grumbling. It is either the powers that be have adopted a policy of political exclusion, or they are meticulously and painstakingly, preparing to accommodate the stakeholders and interests that are grumbling in the near future. If the reason for leaving others in the lurch is the former, then it is most unfortunate. It will only further sink the political system into a perilous abyss, to compound what others had already imposed on the system, with disastrous consequences. If the reason is the latter, then the sooner they take care of other people the better. The seeming indifference is getting very unnerving and is affecting the political system in ways that are very damaging, though not everybody can see. Some sense of urgency must be instilled in the way things are done. The political base of the governments, both at the states and federal levels, must be expanded for the sake of stability. Stability is achieved and enhanced when stakeholders are continually being created and existing ones patronized and maintained. In this endeavour, at the federal level, the whole country must be taken into consideration. According to Uthman bn Fodio, the easiest way to foment strife in any system is to show preference for one people over others. Right now the base is too narrow for comfort. There is a serious perception that appointments are being done that suggest preference of one people over others, even though it may be a wrong conclusion since appointments are still ongoing.

This state of affairs is definitely affecting the party. Because we want the party to succeed, we must point out these anomalies. Though, this may not be the fault of the party, since the appointments are done often without consultations with it. APC is an amalgam of four distinct political parties ( CPC, ACN, ANPP and nPDP), that came together to form one party. No doubt, this coming together to form one party, APC; was the key with which the door to victory in the 2015 elections was opened for the Party. Armed with this victory, I thought the powers that be would have coalesced into one organic entity in which all the walls would have been broken. Instead, I see a situation in which only one and a half tendencies are visible in the government, that is, the CPC and the Southwest ACN. An important component of the coalition, the new PDP, is being antagonized through what is going on with the Senate President. The APP is nowhere to be seen. So in this kind of situation, I don’t have any reason to accept that the party is growing stronger. Rather, it is weakening by the day. What makes organisations strong is cohesion. I don’t see it in the party in spite of the opportunity available to it. Some people argue that the party is not being carried along in the scheme of things. Whether this is true or not, there are opportunities when the party is carried along, and there are perils if otherwise. These are only natural. I pray that this situation be redressed for the benefit of all.

As a former speaker, what could be the consequence for public policy, with the involvement of the Chief of Staff to the president in the board of NNPC?
When we read about this reconstitution, most of us were perplexed. First of all, it is unprecedented. We have never seen this in the history of this country, where a chief of staff to the president becomes a member of the board of a parastatal. It is not under this kind of administration that came to power to fight impunity that we expect to see these unforced errors that are often inexplicable.  With the workload of any chief of staff to a president, and with questions bordering on protocol, ethical questions definitely are arising. We are being interrogated over this kind of activities and we don’t have answers to them. We wonder at the logic of being a member of the board of an organization, of which chairman, as a minister this man should be reporting to you. In this case, who will be reporting to whom between the minister and the chief of staff? What shall define their relationship? Are we inventing a new corporate culture in the country, albeit negatively? This can definitely not be exemplary. I was a little relieved when someone close to the workings of the Presidency informed me that the president was not happy about this anomaly, because he did not give the final nod when the board was reconstituted, and that he is working to redress it. We all pray that he does.


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2 Comments
  • Intrepid

    # Na Abba for 2019.

  • Kekedu

    Yaaaawn! Hungry lion. The worst speaker ever. Your legacy in the house is quite obvious. Your bitterness against OBJ will give you ulcer. Please go and run for another election in Kano and leave OBJ alone. You just can’t win. Even Kano people know better.