Elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai (OFR), has accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of conducting media trials of those he says are critics of the present administration. In this exclusive interview, he attributed the level of underdevelopment in the country to the years of military rule. He also speaks on the need for proper restructuring, the government’s anti-corruption war and other issues.
The former Chief Justice of the federation, Dahiru Musdapher recently suggested that states in Nigeria should be allowed to have more control of their resources instead of going cap in hand to the Federal Government to beg for allocation. Why has this issue of restructuring suddenly become urgent and do you advocate for restructuring as well?
The origin of the agitation for restructuring came from the South-west and few people who are dissatisfied with the Federal Government from time to time in the East and in the South-South.
The history of the agitation for restructuring started in 1957 but it manifested itself clearly by 1959. The Action Group leaders at the time calculated that they can win power in Nigeria. We were operating the parliamentary system of government where a party with the largest number of members in the National Assembly would form the government; and produce the prime minister. So, the Action Group figured that the votes it will get from the west and from the minorities in the North and East will be able to form a government.
You know the North has always had 25 per cent or more of the total population of the country, so the NPC in their own strategy, concentrated in the North and eventually when the election took place, they emerged with the largest number of members and therefore, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, they were asked to form the government.
The Action Group felt that as long as the North had over 25 per cent of the country’s total population and the land mass too, the chances of the Action Group winning the power at the centre will be very slim. So, they introduced the idea of creation of more states. By that time, the country was about going into civil war, and it was divided into 12 states. So, the vision or the idea of the Action Group getting the North divided into smaller units was more or less achieved without the Action Group doing it. But all the time, the Action Group saw that even with the creation of more states, the plan to capture power was still a mirage, so they changed their strategy.
The late Chief Tony Enahoro, who was my good friend, propounded the idea of the restructuring of Nigeria into six republics; with each republic contributing its quota in the army, in the civil service. So, in that case, the dominance of the North in national politics would be reduced. If that happened, the chances were that since the North is not monolithic, three regions or republics will team up and then they will get the majority they are looking for. When Abiola’s election was annulled by Babaginda, the Yoruba blamed the North for that; so they changed the slogan from the creation of more states to restructuring. But the surprising thing is that till today, nobody has defined how the restructured Nigeria will look like. So, it is more of a slogan, a propounded theory, it has not been developed yet.
But Musdapher specifically said that states should be allowed to have more control of their resources…
We can’t eat our cake and have it. Those who are thinking of states controlling their resources are still thinking of the time when we had three or four regions big enough to take care of their needs. The 36 states that we have now cannot meet their needs and therefore depend on the federation account.
Now, the hurdle in front of those who are fighting for restructuring is what to do with the governors. The influence of the governors on the state legislators is so enormous and to restructure Nigeria, the president may need the legislators for the powers to do that. The president has no power whatsoever, because as far as that is concerned, the president is just like you and me. He can only propose a bill to the National Assembly but the passage depends on the National and State assemblies because it will amount to changing the constitution.
At present, the only state that is capable of generating enough resources to meet its requirement is Lagos. All oil bearing states can only do so, thanks to the 13 per cent derivation; without that, none of them can have enough resources to take care of its needs; all the rest, about 29 states cannot.
So what’s your proposal?
It is bad that a national conference took place, and the resources of Nigerians which were expended to host the conference and produce the report have gone to waste. It will amount to extravagance for us to just ignore that report because efforts, both human and material, were being put in to produce that report.
Having said that, I am not comfortable with the attitudes of Nigerians generally including you, who believe that only the president can cause the recommendations of the national conference to be implemented. It is wrong! We are all Nigerians. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) took part in that conference, and with all the legal luminaries we have in this country, I am surprised that the NBA has not taken the report of that conference, listed the items that require either legislation or constitution amendments, and drafted a bill and send to the National Assembly. One bill can contain all the areas where people are interested. Then we can begin to lobby members of the National Assembly who are now in the process of amending the constitution, so that they can put some of the recommendations of the National Conference into their constitution amendments proposals.
We can then go back to our respective states to mobilize support for the amendment among our legislators. Whether the president likes it or not, if we can do that, it can happen.
It is not only the Nigerian Bar Association, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the rest of the associations and civil rights organisations can initiate it. All that is needed is go through the National Conference recommendations, identify those that are necessary, then let a good lawyer to draft a bill, get people to sign it, then send it to the National Assembly.
The Federal Government just launched a ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign which is already mired in controversy. First, it was alleged that the concept was stolen from the original owners, then, there was the issue of the plagiarism. Recently, it was reported that over N3.4 billion has been pumped into the campaign despite the economic recession.
Do you think the campaign would make any impact?
The campaign is another slogan as far as I am concerned, because up till now, nobody has defined what that change means. Where is the blueprint? Where will be the starting points and arrival points? What is the time frame?
A mistake in itself is an idea because next time, you will not repeat it.
So, I hope that we have learned our lessons so that next time when people come out with a slogan, we will be careful enough to scrutinize the content of that slogan and how it will be translated into something tangible that will transform the lives of the ordinary man in Nigeria. We didn’t do that in the case of APC ‘change’ campaign.
But the APC has a document to back up their promise of change…
I believe you were around when NRC and SDP were formed? Intellectuals were paid to write manifestos and constitution for each of the two parties; one a little to the left, the other one a little to the right. The members of the two parties were not the authors of the constitution, and from that time till date, a new tradition was introduced into Nigeria’s political culture. If you are going to form a political party, what you need to do is to hire people from the university or good feature writers from the media to write a manifesto for your party, then pick the constitution of one of the old political parties and make few changes. Because INEC insists that no political party will be registered unless it has submitted its constitution or manifesto; so politicians get good political science teachers or lecturers from the university to write a beautiful manifesto like they did for NRC, then pick up a constitution of old political parties, brush it up and send it to INEC for registration.
So, politicians don’t even know the contents of their constitutions?
They don’t know because the content of the manifesto is not authored by them. APC is an amalgamation of three or four different political groupings, so it is not a natural development.
Our President for instance, was once the head of state over 30 years ago, and clearly, since he didn’t leave on his own, he wanted to come back to that position. From 2003 when he declared his ambition to run for President till date, it is 13 years. After he got elected, we saw how long it took him to appoint a secretary to the government and chief of staff. Someone spent 13 years looking for job, then he gets it, and it takes him months to appoint two critical office holders for the administration.
He also took a long time before appointing ministers, and when people started complaining that there was a delay in nominating ministers, the reply given was that the president was carefully looking for the best material. If we had to end up with the type of ministers in his cabinet, why did it take him so long?
There are far better materials than most of the members of his cabinet.
When he finally appointed ministers, he then mismatched the few good ones among them. For instance, Senator Udo Udoma is a good lawyer, why not make him the Attorney-General? I have nothing against the current Attorney-General; I don’t even know him until he was appointed. But why make Udoma planning minister? An area where he has no expertise?
You don’t get experts in theory to give you a prograamme; a programme is a product of experience. So if it is somebody who has no experience that will give you a programme; there is a disconnect. This is the reason why the APC has no programme.
What is the blueprint of the ‘change’ programme? If there is like you said there is, why did it take the President so long to get his economic team? Why is it that he is now telling them to propose ideas into how they are going to manage the economy, there should already be a blueprint for each ministry. In fact, that blueprint should be the basis for the nomination or a person into a ministry. That is why I am now advocating that from now on, nomination of ministerial appointment should go with the area where the minister is going to be posted so that the members of the National Assembly can verify whether he is competent enough, if it is ministry of communication, to handle the ministry.
The President said recently that he did not inherit anything from the PDP government since 1999. You’ve been around long enough sir, is there any truth to this?
I don’t want to say that my President is not saying the truth. But I’ve lived under so many leaders; from Tafawa Balewa, to Shagari till date and I believe none of them will make such a statement. This is a man who commissioned the railway from Kaduna to Abuja which was built by his predecessor only recently.
In each state you go to, if you ask them that from 1999 till date, what are the new things that they have in the state; people will point it out to you. So, if they hear this kind of story, they will be surprised that it came from our President.
So where did this administration get it wrong?
They got it wrong from the very beginning. When you are looking for power, you must be prepared. If you are lucky to get that power, know what you are going to do with it. If it takes you six months to appoint the Secretary to the Government, it means you are not ready; you did not prepare. So, where they got it wrong is that they had no economic plan, and till today, they have not unfolded any plan. The plan they have is just a makeshift plan which they are just developing the plan. So, they are learning on the job.
How would you evaluate the anticorruption war?
We have had three prominent investigations carried out; one, an investigation executed by Prof. Haruna Adamu, when Obasanjo appointed them to investigate the activities of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). They conducted it; submitted their report, and Obasanjo, who beat his chest and said he was the one that initiated the institution that will fight corruption, sat down on that report till today, and it has not seen the light of the day.
Then there was Elumelu committee which investigated the record of power issues. So many people were mentioned during the public hearing and huge amounts of money were expended. I remember one of the managing directors of one of the foreign companies who appeared before that investigation committee and admitted that he has never been to the site of the contract awarded to his company and that his director has never been there. That was with respect to the Mambila Dam Project. So many names of companies were mentioned that received money upfront without anything being done.
Then I watched the Farouk Lawan panel on fuel subsidy. Huge amounts of money were also mentioned, and public funds were expended to carry out these investigations and their reports are there. Their reports have not even been published. Apart from those three, there are also similar investigations carried out by the Senate.
When these reports are published and those indicted are invited by the EFCC, people will believe that you are doing the right thing; and you are honest about your anticorruption campaign. But if you restrict your campaign to individuals and most of the 90 per cent or more of the individuals belong to the opposition party, then you are ruining the integrity of the exercise. If next time someone comes to fight corruption, the public will treat the announcement the same because they have heard it before and nothing came out of it.
In my own case, the EFCC planted untrue stories about me in the media, accusing me of money laundering. I worked hard to have a good name, and what the EFCC is doing is what the publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) should be doing, and not a federal agency being funded by tax payers’ money. Because EFCC has nothing to tell the public, they conduct media trials by dragging your name in the mud.
During last year’s campaigns, Tony Anenih decided to hire an aircraft to tour the country to carryout reconciliation of aggrieved members of the party. He reached out to my group and pleaded with us to tour the North so that the tension would be reduced. For instance, in Kano, the number of Southerners who relocated from Kano because of the tension were so many. That is why Jonathan got only 200,000 votes in the last election, compared to the 600,000 he had in 2011, because most of the southerners who usually voted for him had left Kano.
I have met Jonathan only once in my life, but because of the tension then, he told Anenih to look for me. I agreed to help out and I wrote a list of non PDP members with whom we would tour. The President approved the list and we all used our personal cars and where we needed to fly, we flew, and we toured for 30 days. Anenih mentioned my name, but he didn’t say that he gave me money personally, he said the money was given to my group. Till today, EFCC never spoke with me to verify; they just went and leaked what was convenient to them to the press, saying that I was given N63 million, when I was never personally given a dime.
It was our group that was given some money for the 30-days tour which included hotel expenses, flight, feeding and so many logistics for all of us. At the end of the day, we spent N70 million, most of which was from our personal resources and the shortfall of over N40 million hasn’t been repaid to us till today. I was never invited by the EFCC to verify, only for my name to be splashed all over media for a crime I didn’t commit
I have respect for the President because those close to him say that he is a man of principles, and I admire that. But by my own nature, people who overthrew democratically elected governments anywhere in the world are not in my good books. I am a witness to the fact that because of the deterioration by military coups d’etat that took place, Nigeria was taken many years backwards, and they are responsible for all the destructions in Nigeria. Because of that, they are not in my good books.