In a close to one hour telephone interview with him from Abuja, former chairman of Kwara Polytechnic Governing Council who served in the 4th Senate in 1999 as Minority Leader, Senator Isiaq Adebayo Salman, speaks with Head Politics, Mumini Abdulkareem about the face-off between the executive and legislative, the non confirmation of EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, Dino Melaye’s certificate controversy and alleged early moves by politicians in the state among other issues in the polity. Excerpts:
As a former member of the National Assembly, how do you see the issue of Ibrahim Magu, Dino Melaye and other crises that had plagued the legislature?
The issue of rejection of any nominee of the president is not a new thing. During our time, I recalled that former President Obasanjo sent names to the senate for clearance, some as ministers and some for other appointments and there was no issue about it. The issue of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu is an unfortunate situation because the senate is being used as a scapegoat in this matter. Magu was rejected right from the presidency because of the damning report on him by the DSS. And it is unfortunate that the same DSS, which is a functionary of the executive just like the EFCC, could not be coordinated by the president and therefore ridiculing the polity and making them work at cross purposes. If the senate wanted to ordinarily clear him, that report has made it impossible. In Nigeria, we are very shy and people will not be bold enough to tell the president the truth but instead looking for a weaker institution to attack. The truth is that the President did not do any good work on the issue that now warranted two reports on the same matter. What was the committee that was set up to look into the issue before did if one may ask.
And moreover, I was disappointed by the performance of Magu during the screening by the senate because I expected somebody who is going to head an important organ of government like the EFCC to have performed far better than what he did. Even if he was cleared by the DSS, his performance at the senate left much to be desired. He was given an opportunity to defend himself against some of the allegations levelled against him by the DSS but he couldn’t do that successfully. That Magu will be a liability to the anti-corruption efforts of the government was too damning and was enough to disqualify him. As for Dino Melaye, I expected this any way because he has stepped on too many toes and has become a thorn in the flesh of the powers that be. What we are witnessing is a backlash. When I was in the senate, I was part of a six-man committee that was mandated to screen the credentials of the 109 senators to avoid any of such that we have witnessed now.
His continuous stay in office after his rejection twice has been heavily debated, what is your take?
Well, although I am not a lawyer and cannot say if there is any law preventing him from being presented as many times as possible by the president. But morality demands that Magu should not be presented again. During our time, Babalola Aborishade was presented four times before he was cleared as minister. My view is that we have to be very conscious of the fact that Magu is a serving police officer and we should not because we want to make a point jeopardise his career in the police just for the sake of fighting corruption because he is still a young man in the system who has a long way to go. No doubt people believe he is doing a good job, but I believe that out of the 180 million Nigerians, there are millions of Magus that have not been considered, we should not be fixated. Why are we so particular about him and what is so special that we think he is the only one that can prosecute the anti-corruption war in the country? God forbid, what if Magu dies today, are we going to close down the EFCC? We should not portray ourselves to the outside world as being unserious about the issue, nobody is indispensible.
The opposition PDP seems to be finding it difficult to get its act together, is this healthy for our democracy?
Unfortunately, PDP is not playing the needed role expected of the opposition both in the state and at the national levels. They boasted to rule for about 60 years and they were in that euphoria until 2015 just after fifteen years when they lost the election. They were dealt a serious blow in the 2015 elections and have not been able to recover since then. We need a very strong opposition for our democracy to thrive and it will not be in the interest of Nigeria for the PDP to die but unfortunately they are not prepared and individual interest is seriously working against them overcoming their problems. And until they stick together, harmonise their thoughts and bury their differences, they may not survive it. However, we need a vibrant opposition to keep the government on their toes. But I don’t see the party being a threat to the APC in the nearest future, what I see as a threat is ourselves within the party and all the skirmishes that has reared its head within the party.
How do you react to the allegation that the APC has failed to manage the success of its victory at the polls, especially in the light of the crisis rocking the three arms of government?
There is no doubt that we have a lot of problems within the party. Maybe what happened to the PDP is also happening to us. It seems we have stayed too long in the opposition and we don’t even appreciate being in government. We have not been able to come together as a party to solve all these issues. There are people who are not happy because people that really worked assiduously to ensure the success of the party, have not been taken care of. Party politics is not religion where you do it and awaits God’s reward in the hereafter. You vote your persons into politics and expect the reward which is legitimate but all those things are not being met. Remember it was the Senate President that first raised the issue of government within the government before the President’s wife corroborated it and we are seeing the reality today. Those that were not there when we were toiling for the success of the party are unfortunately those reaping the benefit today. People are not being carried along in the scheme of things and this border on the leadership of the party which has failed in this regard. But I believe the remaining years of the administration is enough to correct all these issues and come back very strong again.
The trial of the senate president seems to have taken a new dimension with the EFCC’s accusation of the Paris/London loan refund, what do you make of the whole issue?
A philosopher once said the only disservice to history is not learning anything from history. What the legislature cherished most anywhere in the world is their independence and they don’t toy with it. The executive has all the money and influence and the legislature has nothing, no votes to call their own besides making laws. The only way they can assert that independence is to elect their leaders. In 1999 when we came in, former President Obasanjo created this problem; he foisted somebody we never wanted as our senate president and that is why we had three of them in a spate of four years. The beginning of Saraki’s problem was his temerity and audacity to come out against the preferred candidate of the party. The moment the executive is supporting a candidate, the legislature will not vote for him, because they know that once they install the puppet, they have lost the independence. On the issue of Paris loan refund, although I don’t have the details, but I hope it is not a way of introducing another thing. Recall that after the CCT trial, they brought forgery, then Panama papers and when it appears all these have failed or are failing, now this one. We have to be very careful, without the stability of an arm of government, especially the legislature, there can be no stability in government. That is why the constitution recognises the legislature as the first arm of government that regulates the others and they must be allowed to do their job. I just pray this is not another attempt to rock the boat to deny Saraki needed peace to run the system. We are in the same party right but maybe because we stayed too long in the opposition, we don’t know how to run the government or maybe because the PDP is in disarray now, we have to create opposition within the party.
What is your view about the new reforms in INEC and how do you think it will affect the polity?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with the two years notice; it will allow for preparation ahead and put lot of things in order to ensure that the date is sacrosanct rather than all these ad-hoc or fire brigade approaches. I will commend them for that. Now we are inching towards electronic voting which is very good but trust Nigerians and I just pray that somebody will not hijack it to manipulate results of the elections. We have to continue to improve until we get to the stage where election will just be a routine rather than being war as it is now.
But it seems the decision has started early campaigns for 2019 and we have been hearing vibes in that regard in Kwara…
There is nothing wrong with that because there is nobody in the state or outride that does not know election will come up before May in 2019. What INEC has just done is to fix a date within the limit of the time set for it. People that have ambitions have been going around even before INEC came out, campaigning underground. INEC has not yet lifted ban on campaign and whatever anybody is doing now is underground. Even if INEC did not release any time table, people that are interested in elections would still have started.
Do you subscribed to the agitation that INEC should take over conduct of local government election?
One of the greatest problems militating against development is the non independence of the local government because it is the smallest unit of development and unless we develop it, we shall not develop. I won’t support any moves that bypass it from discharging its duties. Any party that is ruling the state now automatically wins all the seats in the local governments, councillors and others, that is not democracy. I’m in support of INEC conducting it.
How do you see the trial of opposition figures like Belgore and former minister of National Planning?
Anybody that commits offence must face trial which unfortunately is taking too long and we rely too much on technicalities. That is my view. We always talk about human right but nobody talks about human responsibilities. It was God that saved this country during the 2015 election which produced president Buhari. The country would have been grinded to a halt with the way people stole money.