‘Why restructuring Nigeria may be difficult now’
Senator Ayodele Arise was the Senator that represented Ekiti North zone in the upper Chamber of National Assembly from 2007 to 2011. He speaks on the call for restructuring Nigeria, EFCC’s freezing of Governor Fayose’s account, forgery case against the Senate president and his deputy and other topical issues
Following the clarion calls for restructuring of Nigeria, don’t you think it can be achieved now that the Senate has commenced the amendment of the 1999 Constitution again?
That Nigeria requires restructuring is not in doubt, but can that be achieved is another question. I do not see the political will to make it happen now. Every President sees himself as the custodian of the Federation and none is or has been willing to reduce the power at centre. That is why I do not see the country’s restructuring happening in the near future.
But why hasn’t the restructuring of the country been achieved during previous constitutional amendments?
It is still the same problem of the political will. Do not forget that there is still some mutual suspicion among the major ethnic groups in the country. The desire to restructure the country is not mutual among Nigerians. While those outside the corridors of power want it quickly, those within the corridors of power do not see reasons for such.
The best opportunity we had to restructure the country was during President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration when he constituted the Constitution Review Committee. Many people, including the members of National Assembly that are currently benefiting from the constitution, did not want it. How do you make them yield their positions for the less privileged?
I presented a position paper to the Constitution Review Committee of the Sixth Senate suggesting for us to imbibe the practice of the US democracy by making the term of the Senator six years with election every two years. That entails some senators volunteering to stay for two years, another set for four years and the last set for six years, thereby creating room for elections every two years to ensure that at any point in our democracy, we do not experience a situation whereby all Senators are voted out and only green horns replace them without any parliamentary experience and sustenance of continuity of legislative governance. But no senator wanted to stay for two years.
The same applies in the House of Representatives with their term reduced to two years for new elections. Imagine which House of Reps member will allow his/her term reduced to two years. This is the best practice from the owners of the type of democracy we practice. We are stuck with what the military gave us. We simply do not have the commitment to take hard decisions when our individual sacrifices are required.
But what are the likely challenges restructuring the country now?
The only feasible restructuring may likely come in the area of the economy since it is a universal problem that requires universal solution. Poverty has no long-term relation; sooner or later people would desire a better life.
Ekiti State has always been in the news since Governor Fayose came into office. Why?
Fayose enjoys being in the news. He derives maximum pleasure from it. Be it at the local level or at the national, he needs to be heard or seen. Why do you think he likes to take pictures while giving money to the roasted plantain seller?
His penchant for spreading damaging lies against people is unparalleled in modern politics. He does many things deliberately to draw attention to himself when news about him seems cooling. He has to come up with a strategy to be heard. That is his personality and I strongly believe that he would do something strange that newsmen will always carry. He is our enfant terrible.
There has been uproar since EFCC froze his personal account. Was EFCC action not illegal, considering that Fayose is a sitting governor protect by immunity?
I do not believe that immunity covers his account. It also does not cover his personal home, neither does it cover his family. If EFCC had gone to freeze the Ekiti State bank account, then there could have been some issues, but an account that is suspected to be a proceed of crime should be treated so.
The issue of witch-hunting has become a slogan for offenders that were caught. It is a baloney. The EFCC did not plant the billions in his personal account so that the account can be frozen. While Ekiti people are wallowing in poverty, an individual that has no job outside governance has become so stupendously wealthy by staying less than two years in Government House. Immunity against law suit, trial for any offence including murder, trial for theft of public funds are guaranteed by the constitution (only in a banana republic) but freezing of an account belonging to a governor has no relationship with the immunity clause.
Seizure of assets pending when he can face trial is in the best public interest. If for example a governor is suspected to be planning evil against his State or any individual within the State and the Federal government intervenes to forestall such harm by putting security to prevent such governor from inflicting such harm, can a lawyer say that the immunity of such governor has been violated without an arrest warrant being issued on such governor? Where one right starts is where others end.
The EFCC’s action is perfectly legal. Those raising issue of immunity to help the governor siphon State money should be investigated, as they may be beneficiaries of the proceeds.
Do you agree with the saying that President Buhari’s anti-graft war is selective and targeted at the perceived political opponents?
My take is that everybody should try to be as clean as possible. There is nobody undergoing investigation without a just cause. The courts would invariably determine whether there is a case to answer or not. The fight may appear selective because for the past 16 years PDP has been in power.
APC has just been in power for just one year and the first budget is yet to be executed. Let us know what would happen after they have handled two years’ budget. APC officials may thereafter face investigation. For now those that can be investigated are undergoing investigation and the rot is so much that sooner or later, some of the governors under the APC that partook in the recklessness of the past would be called to answer for their actions. Therefore the fight is not selective.
There is ongoing leadership tussle in the PDP between the Sheriff and Makarfi camps. What is your reaction to this?
I left the PDP over a year ago. Let me say that Fayose and I do not see eye-to-eye on matters of character and principle. He has his own good side, but his excesses certainly outweigh any good side he has. He is politically an evil genius who would leave nothing to chance once he needs something from you. He is a super-con man who used his prowess to con Ekiti people. I joined the APC last year April because I really have nothing in common with Governor Ayo Fayose.
How will you assess Buhari’s administration in the last one year?
It has been very challenging. Any serious character would want to regulate corruption to a manageable level, otherwise whatever you budget would go the way previous budgets had gone. You cannot be doing the same thing year-in year-out and expect a different result. How do you fight corruption if there is no deterrent through punishment?
I, therefore, support the focus on reducing corruption so that whatever we have can be utilised on developing our infrastructure rather than swelling the pockets of public officials. If nothing happens to those that have been caught, then there would be an unprecedented surge in corruption knowing what we know now about how people connived to share our commonwealth.
Most people will participate given the opportunity once they know that they have enough money to pay the lawyers and possibly the Judges. I therefore support the effort of Buhari to fight corruption. It is the only option to save us from perdition.
When this government came in, our petrodollar dropped to as low as $32.00 per barrel. In recent times oil production, due to the activities of the Avengers and other groups, declined from over 2million barrels a day to under 1 million. All these combined to decrease our earnings. Therefore money available to run government has shrunk seriously under Buhari. This then requires changing our way of life including finding creative ways to generate income and blocking the loopholes in government. These efforts will not yield immediate result but a strong foundation is being laid to diversify our economy. We should begin to reap the benefit of these policies in years to come.
However the president should pay more attention to his appointments and adhere to the principle of federal character. It looks like the all the service chiefs and heads of major government agencies appointed so far are from one section of the country. This is not a good development. The President enjoys the confidence of all Nigerians. He should reciprocate the goodwill by trying very hard to make everyone feel a sense of belonging. Such appointments should be based on merit and integrity, not on nepotism. This is to avoid the mistakes of the past, where those appointed into such offices lined their pockets and impoverished the people.
The Senate has just summoned Attorney General of the Federation over plan to arraign Saraki and Ekweremmadu on the alleged forgery of Senate rules. Do you think that the Senate’s move is right considering that both men have no immunity?
Everybody is entitled to fair hearing under our constitution. I believe that the Senate President and his deputy should go and clear their names for the sake of the institution they represent. I think the custodian of the documents might be more liable if they actually presented a forged document during the proceedings. The lawyers and the judges would resolve this. It is, however, clear that no one is above the law.
As to the invitation of the Attorney General of the Federation, that is perfectly in order under the constitution. We do not know what they want to discuss with him. The nature of discussion could be subjected to debate, but not the legitimacy of the summon. The Senate can summon anyone to the Senate Chambers under our Constitution.