Nigeria’s democracy is in grave danger, says Junaid Muhammed
In this telephone interview with John Akubo, Second Republic lawmaker and fierce critic of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, Junaid Muhammed, has warned Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, to tread carefully over Senate committee leadership if not his honeymoon may be shorter than that of his predecessor, Senator Bukola Saraki. He also spoke on the state of security and that Nigeria’s democracy is on the verge of failure and advised President Buhari to sack the service chiefs.
There has been grumbling and disaffection among All Progressives Congress’s (APC) senators over recent appointment of committee chairmen, with the opposition PDP getting 20 committees. What does this mean?
First and foremost by definition, democracy is a form of government that always allows for minority to have their say and majority to have their way. Second thing to realise is that character and a sense of responsibility always count in whatever you do. There is a sense of dignity, a sense of personal code of conduct which should be brought to bear; even if you are armed robbers, you must have some sense of dignity in whatever you do. The problem with the Senate now is not entirely new. It started with the treachery of certain members both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives about eight years ago. It started when the then governing party PDP decided to ride roughshod over the wishes and the concerns of the majority of its members and they rebelled. In rebelling they chose a speaker, somebody who was not the choice of the party. They nearly achieved the same feat in the Senate but they could not succeed because the leadership, both in the party and in the Senate, behaved in a mature manner.
When you talk of fascism you do not talk of democracy; it all depends on who has the power and who is desirous of abusing that power to get his political headway. That system has now been established. The worst, of course, was four years ago when Bukola Saraki bought majority of members in his own party and then he went to the extent of going to sleep in a car within the premises of the National Assembly so that he could go early and perfect his plans in order to become President of Senate. If you ask me I will tell you that Bukola Saraki doesn’t have any of the characteristics of a president of the Senate or even a senator. He is prepared to do anything for power. He left a very lousy legacy in Kwara State and we had a situation whereby, rightly or wrongly, the president of the Senate was being accused allegedly of being involved in armed robbery, not only when he was governor but when he was a senator, especially the recent one that happened in Offa.
You know, we are in very serious trouble because we do not have the people with the necessary, requisite character to be lawmakers in the country and when you have rogues making laws then the only conclusion to draw is that these people are rogues and they are making laws and regulations that are only fit for a rogue nation and for a bunch of people who have no respect for democracy and who are just there for the benefit they derive. I must also tell you that even though the party has an absolute majority in either the House or the Senate, that does not mean that leaders of either parties outside or the party in the parliament (principal officers) can now come and ride roughshod over the wishes of those who were duly elected. That was what happened and it is also happening with the Lawan Senate. It is up to members of the National Assembly to stand and define injustice whether in the parliament or in the nation at large. And when people are becoming highhanded, it is the people who are within the chambers who can challenge them. I cannot. As far as I am concerned senators must forget their own selfish ends and their greed and stupidity and give this nation a legislature which will be worth the name. If they don’t do so, history will judge them and judge them very harshly. I assume Lawan is a Muslim; if he believes in Islam, God gives power and takes away power. If he believes his own judgment, no matter how faulty and he abides with it, then he is going to have a lot of problem. It is too early; not even Saraki had this kind of a short honeymoon and if Lawan continues like that his own would even be worse than that of Bukola Saraki.
The laws of the Senate do not necessarily say if you are a member of the opposition party you are denied the right or the privilege to be chairman of any committee. No; it does not say so exclusively, but you know that in a democracy you must work with the mixture, the rules of the house and you must also work with what I regarded as best practices, the best tradition of any democracy, because otherwise if you say your party has the majority of members and so you must do what you like then you ask for trouble. There are areas where in fact rules are used. When I was a member of the National Assembly, there were areas or rules that certain committees must be headed by members of the opposition parties. The Public Accounts Committee is the one that readily comes to mind, but there are others. But apparently that tradition has been trashed. In the case of the Senate it was trashed by David mark and Lawan, because Lawan was chairman of that committee even though he was not necessarily in the opposition party. You can see we have started breaking into bits the canonical traditions of the party and it does not do the parties any good because those traditions which are very important for the stability of the system of the House and the Senate and the country are being swept aside; that is not good for the country. Besides, Lawan was an errand boy to Mark; everybody knew that in the Senate. Mark treated the senators like trash, very shabbily; he was in the habit of simply asking a senator to go, that he has suspended him for three or six months or whatever. That is not democracy, especially when you are talking about the Senate itself. At least, the presiding officer of the Senate does not know more than everybody else, because the same process that brought him is what brought other senators, and he can be removed tomorrow and anybody can be put there. He became a tin god; he became so authoritarian, because they are following the examples of Mark who initially was in support of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
We have to be careful because our democracy is clearly in danger. This democracy we are practising is not guaranteed; there can be a failure of this democracy. As an individual speaking for myself, I see danger ahead going by the way we practise this democracy. Now there is nothing wrong per say in making members of the opposition presiding officers, but giving them as many as 20 committees because they are friends or he found them useful when they voted for him is immoral. It is also irresponsible; he is doing this because they danced to his tune not because they did what is right for the country or for the Senate or National Assembly. This thing must be reversed if not my attitude is, if I’m not happy with a situation I resign. From my secondary school days till date, I have resigned from so many committees, societies. Recently, I resigned from being a running mate to the presidential candidate of SDP and also as national vice chairman. I believe honour is very important and we must be truthful to ourselves. If Lawan continues in this manner I see him being in trouble; he is not particularly smart and his background is not the background you expect of the people who are lawmakers. If he were a lawyer it won’t not too bad for the National Assembly, but as a geographer he has nothing to bring to the work of the National Assembly; this I understand.
On security issues, President Buhari recently reiterated that Boko Haram has been decimated just last week a Rev. Father was killed in Enugu while five pastors of the Redeemed Christian Church of God were kidnapped in Ijebu Ode, and then the are the activities of the Shiites in Abuja. What is your take on these as they affect national cohesion?
Let me be honest; I don’t know how much national cohesion per say except directly on the state of insecurity. I can only speak for myself and I want to say clearly without being partisan that the state of insecurity in this country has not in anyway been properly handled and has not been really overcome; it is still as bad. Anybody saying otherwise is his own opinion. Firstly, maybe the Niger Delta may not be an issue because the necessary steps that need to be taken have been taken. Some of the miscreants in the Niger Delta are now are quiet. The others in Boko haram don’t even have a clearly defined leadership; they don’t have any political message; they don’t have an economic message. So, if you want to have a dialogue with them you don’t know who to talk to and what are the parameters with which to discus with them. So, those ones will take a while to deal with and control. Probably, Boko Haram in the North East and part of the issues in the North Central, especially the much talked about issue of herders/farmers’ clashes is a work in progress.
But I’m completely persuaded that persons in positions are involved, because as the saying goes, if an insurgency persists for 24 to 48 hours then the government in power must be involved or the elements of that government in power must be involved. I don’t believe we could spend 10 years fighting Boko Haram, wrestling with the issues of farmers/herdsmen and all the other problems of banditry in the North West and what have you and yet there is no appreciable improvement. That to me boils down to the fact that there are people high up, who are involved. Who they are I don’t know. What their political motivations are again I don’t know, but it is really scandalously disgraceful that a nation of 200 million people cannot contain these people.I have very serious misgivings about the leadership of the Nigerian Armed Forces, particularly the army. I have had occasion to say elsewhere that Gen. Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, is a political general and we would judge from major wars in our own lifetime, particularly from the Vietnam war where a choice was made to appoint brilliant soldiers, brilliant combat men and give them a very good politician and a statistician like Robbert Macnamara to be the defence secretary. At the end of the day, America and Americans paid for winning that war. In the late 1970s they all had to pack and come back home in disgrace. Also today, the residue of bitterness in Vietnam is very much with every American and every American political leardership.
So you can see, fighting a war on television and in the newspapers doesn’t really win a war. Buratai has a way of putting himself at the centre of the fight against the terrorists in the North East, North Central and other places, and so far, it has been an abysmal failure. At the heart of the combat he is going to collect some honour, he is going to collect some PhD from Kaduna State University. I have never heard of any serious general leaving his own men and staff officers either in the field or at headquarters to go and collect a useless cardboard called PhD. Those of us that have PhDs or its equivalent know that it does not win a war. We also know about instances when he goes to his village, that is what he did during the last salla and he was splashing money like no man’s business.
Where does he get those money and who authorises him to go to his village? He went and built a university in his own hometown. These are the kind of characters that always lead the nation into complete disaster. We have a situation also where all the top generals and service chiefs are overdue for transfer or for retirement. Some of them have not been posted properly; they have not been retired and they have not been properly utilised. Almost all of them with the possible exception of the airforce have run out of ideas; even bad ideas they don’t have. By overstaying their welcome, they are now forcing others who are due for command positions and service chief positions to be prematurely retired. You can see the problem that we have. When wrong choice has been made of service chiefs and several of the GOCs and their equivalent in other service commands everybody knows that mistake has been made, but nobody admits it. When a mistake has been made, you amend it, you ask people to go when it is their time to go. I don’t know whether Buratai and co would be allowed to be service chiefs until the end of time even if they have nothing to offer.
So, what is the best way to tackle the security monster confronting the country?
We have to be very careful because giving one answer to security challenges is not enough; there are so many manifestations of security and many solutions and when soldiers are being ill-treated by their commanders to the extent that three years ago the soldiers in North East rebelled and shot a general who was their commanding officer that is to tell you something is wrong. Look at the issue of their morale; how are these people’s welfare attended to? Some of them, when they die, they are not properly handled; their families are ejected from their apartments. We have to be very careful. If we are not sincere with ourselves, we should not expect people who are following our leadership to be sincere with us. It is about time we changed the service chiefs, and they should be investigated on how they came about having houses in Dubai.