It’s too late for Buhari to change — Mohammed

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Second Republic lawmaker and Convener of the Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU, talks about the ruling All Progressives Congress and President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration

Do you see another crisis in APC over appointments into President Buhari’s cabinet, apart from the current one on National Assembly leadership?
Incidentally, many of them do not know the implication of making Buhari the President. If you want to make somebody a president, you must know his character and you must also accept that he is not going to change at 73 years. People don’t change their character at such an age. If you want a president who will win an election, after which you will go ahead to nominate people for appointments as ministers and those that would hold key positions for him, then, you should not have looked for Buhari. You should have gone to look for some lousy crooks that can do that for you. I want to assure you; as long as Buhari is the President, there is no way you can change him. And you cannot stampede him because the man is transparent. He is not rich but he always takes the interest of the country to heart. And anybody who thinks that at this age, Buhari who ‘suffered’ from 1985 to 2015, will now bend his principles simply because he wants to satisfy some people within or outside APC is making a mistake. I know him. I know Buhari well enough that he will rather leave the presidency than to compromise his principle and integrity. If he had wanted to compromise his integrity, he should have remained in power since 1985. Now, the country had to go and beg him to come back and he stood to win the (presidential) election after four attempts. As far as I am concerned, we all have to be very realistic. This is the man we elected and nobody has come to say he won the election because he had the money. If you must win an election like that, you need to have people, you need to have the money, and you need to have the organisation. I don’t believe Buhari has any of these. He won the election fair and square. Now asking him to change at 73 is asking for the impossible. Let those who brought him; let those who campaigned for him; let those who financed part of his campaign accept the reality that this man, barring anything unforeseen, will be the President of Nigeria for the next four years. So, we have to learn to adapt to his style of management and governance. That is the only realistic thing. Anything beyond this will only lead to frustration all round.
There is the perception that Buhari’s appointments so far have been favourable to northerners. Can you also see any lopsidedness in his choice of appointees?
Can anyone confirm to me in all the appointments made – they are very few– how many of them (appointees) are not Nigerians? Do we have anyone who is not a Nigerian? Is there any law or any section of the constitution which stipulates that a certain proportion of appointments must come from the North or from the South? Can anyone also tell me that these appointments made were not on merit? Were these persons just appointed because they are northerners? If there is any breach of any law in the constitution about some of these appointments, I will be glad to know. I will lead the charge against the appointments; that they were not made on merit. Unless we clear this nonsense about nepotism, about where somebody comes from, we are not going to make headway in Nigeria. That is why Nigerian Army fails to control Boko Haram. In appointing the service chiefs, we are more concerned about where they come from and not their ability to command. We had a disaster then they brought the late Gen. Owoye Azazi; it was another disaster when brought Gen. Kenneth Minimah. Everybody knew these were not the kind of people to be service chiefs. Then, we also had someone from the North, who was made the National Security Adviser and became the de facto, ‘super super’ chief of the Armed Forces. He had more power than the Commander-in-Chief, more than the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Army Staff; and he was a bloody mediocre. Before people start making any comments, let them wait and see the total number of people who have been appointed. If not, we are going to stampede the President into making monumental disasters he will regret and all of us will regret. Let us learn for a moment to be Nigerians. Look at ability; look for the people who can do the job; that is the only way Nigeria can make progress. I am not saying all these people (appointed so far) are the best, because I don’t know most of them. There was a time when two brothers from the same town and house in Zaria; one was appointed the Minister of Transport, the other was appointed Presidential Adviser on Petroleum, given by gazette under the administration of Shagari. Imagine if Buhari were to give two brothers such appointments now; there will be an outcry.
The anti-graft agencies seem to have suddenly become aggressive in the prosecution of corruption cases under the new administration. Do you think it has anything to do with the new President?
Let me be honest with you, there is a Buhari factor. And this is an important area in which I want Nigerians to wake up. There is nothing like an independent Economic and Financial Crimes Commissions or an independent Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. The performance of these agencies and similar agencies, including the Police and the Department of State Security, is entirely dependent on the integrity, sincerity and honesty of the head of government – the President. If the President is determined that these agencies are important and must do their job and do it well, they will. If the president is a liar and a crook, just as the people surrounding him, even if you have angels from heaven to man these organisations, nothing will happen. I know for a fact that all the governors who have been detained; their investigations were commenced and completed years ago. Nothing happened to them because the President did not want anything to happen. I want to assure you also that you will see the Nigerian judiciary doing its job now. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, like the woman before him, is a judge who is incorruptible. But more importantly, the investigative agencies, which will carry out the investigations and submit the files to the judges, are doing their job now for the first time. Former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo was selective but now we are seeing that even persons who are very close to Buhari, like Murtala Nyako, are facing the law now. All the investigations are there. If we are serious, we will do it; if we are not serious, nothing happens. The fact is that they now know that both the criminals and those who are investigating the criminals – Police, EFCC, ICPC – if they renege, Buhari will simply walk over them and that will be the end of the story.
What is your take on PDP’s advice that Buhari should launch its anti-corruption campaign from within the APC fold?
Which people? Can they mention the names? In the common law system, the English system we inherited, a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. To prove somebody guilty in a criminal case, which can earn him a jail term, you have to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. Can they point out the guilty persons in APC that they want prosecuted? They should tell us who are the guilty ones and what evidence they have against those to be prosecuted.
Does it mean that there is no corrupt person close to Buhari that he can use as a scape goat?
That is again a double standard. If you look at those close to Buhari and start to prosecute them, then, you have applied double standard. Why should you punish a man only because he is close to Buhari? When somebody commits a crime, we have the prosecuting agencies. But to prosecute the person, they have to apply the statutes of the law. I do not believe that people who are close to Buhari, just for the sake of being close to Buhari for over a decade, should now be prosecuted just to demonstrate that Buhari is a no-nonsense person; that is not true. But if they have any evidence against anybody, whether in APC or PDP, let them bring the evidence. They were in government for 16 years, how many people did they prosecute? How many people did the PDP prosecute when they were in power? I want to know.
Some economists have advised the President to work more on blocking the leakages in the economy than pursuing looters and their loots…
How do you build a system when the economy itself is in danger? When Buhari came, there was no money. Most of the states cannot even pay salaries of workers, including APC states. If there is no money to pay people, what leakages are you planning to block? Tax-paying workers should earn their salaries as at when due. It is after that you can start talking about what actually happened. How come states cannot pay salaries for several months? Is the revenue allocation formula wrong? I think it is a bad revenue allocation formula. I have looked at it since 2000 and I will tell anybody who wants to listen that we cannot build the nation with the current revenue allocation formula. This is the situation: Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and other states with oil are loaded with money. And the monies are being stolen, laundered and taken to outside banks. They do not even invest the monies here; they take them outside the country, while the remaining states in the country cannot afford to pay their salaries. I know they are (also) corrupt but that does not mean that because there is corruption, the poor states have the right to be corrupt too. That is not making a rational judgment. Change the revenue allocation formula. Make sure that every Nigerian has a feeling of being a citizen and set the minimum of what every Nigerian is entitled to— free education, free health care services and security. Use a benchmark to determine what every state in Nigeria is entitled to, instead of giving extra monies to states like Delta, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and others. These people have received these monies and they have not added value to Nigeria’s governance or to the security of the country. It leads to instability. I do not believe that Aregbesola is the worst governor in Nigeria. But look at the stabs he is taking because he cannot pay salaries. Has anybody asked whether the amount of money Aregbesola gets in terms of internally generated revenue and from the federation account is enough to maintain the staff population in Osun State?
But some of the governors are said to be wasteful with their huge cabinets and huge salaries and allowances regularly paid, while the civil servants are owed salaries?
I agree but the government should issue a guideline; no state should have more than six to eight commissioners; no governor should have more than four advisers. Scrap all these because they add no value to the governor. I agree with you entirely. There is no justification for bogus staff strength when they cannot pay basic salaries. Now, we are in a very difficult situation and I am glad that in Kano – my state – the governor, who was my classmate, has slashed his salary, that of his deputy and every other appointee by 50 per cent. Governors must pay salaries. They must also slash the number of political appointees. They should not blame Buhari for that. Nigeria is a federation with three tiers of government. Each has its sources of revenue. The fact that someone misbehaves does not mean it should affect the whole country.

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