Says North will bring rights abuses charges against JTF soon
Again, ASUU has refused to call off the strike after the federal government offered N130 billion to them. How do you see this refusal to end the strike by the Union?
I think if I read ASUU’ s position well enough, I think that it is not a refusal as such to the offer of the Federal Government. As gentlemen and in all good consciousness, when agreements are reached, they should be honored. The Federal Government of Nigeria reached an agreement with the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities, it contained a number of things; the federal government has not implemented one item of that agreement. Or if one wants to be fair, out of eight items, the federal government, we are told that they have implemented one. Now, when the union has complained and you now come to sit down, I think the least I would expect from government is that you say okay this is an agreement I have signed with you, we accept it and we will implement it , give us an opportunity to implement and if we don’t implement it you are entitled to complain. You cannot now seek to renegotiate an agreement that had been entered, which you yourself signed and which was the basis why a strike was called off in 2009. So it is not, in my understanding, it is not that ASUU is being unreasonable and that the government has shifted ground. The government has not shifted any ground. Government has reneged on its agreement and it wants to renegotiate it. But it has to renegotiate it in good faith and not to renegotiate in bad faith and blame others.
What is the way out? University students are suffering staying back at home when they should be in school?
I think the way out is that we must also understand that there is a process that has led us to where we are. If I were to advise the government, I would recommend that they accept that the 2009 agreement they had signed is good, is valid, is binding and that they would actualize it. And they can now make some recommendations to ASUU, that look we give ourselves a time frame, a time line as they are doing now. They said they are going to release N100 billion within the next one month, and N30 billion. Let us say that the government accepts that there is a binding agreement and that they would want it to be implemented over a period of time. And I am sure if ASUU takes that back to the union; the members, in the rank and file, would not be so unreasonable as being made out. I don’t see government reneging on agreement and offering to renegotiate it and even when it renegotiates it, nobody knows whether what it has renegotiated, even when it is agreeable, it would live to implement it.
But do you think that the federal government can afford the kind of resources ASUU is demanding, considering that there are different sectors competing for the same money?
It is not for me to know if they could . I don’t know the books of the government. I think what ASUU has asked for, for the rehabilitation of infrastructure, for the funding of Universities-forget about earned allowances; earned allowances is the least of the problem in my view. This agreement stipulated that over a period of three years, government was going to upgrade; maintain the infrastructure up to a certain level, that they would also have a budget target of 20 per cent for education over a period of three years. The last three years, they have not shifted. Actually if they have done anything on this, they have lowered the percentage they allocated to education. To me, I don’t think it is a clever argument or a plausible argument to say that there are competing needs for the resources. Yes, there are claims on government but when government spent over N800 billion on security alone, weren’t there competing claims on government? And they cannot even show anything for the billions they spent on security.
Sir, in all honesty, and using BUK as a case study, can we rightly say that there are no infrastructure in the Universities in Nigeria, given the number of structures I see everywhere in BUK?
I am not the Vice Chancellor of BUK, but I have been in that office. What you see is not government’s efforts. What you see are infrastructures sourced, canvassed by the various administrations through donations and endowments. We should not use that and say because you are using endowments and you are generating other ways of developing your infrastructures, then government should wash off its hands. It is no excuse. Yes! There is Central Bank. It is putting up infrastructure for Bayero University, Gen. T Y Danjuma is putting up infrastructure, Aliko Dangote is doing same and some banks had done that. Now, if BUK were doing this, you should pat them on the back and say please do more of that. But it does not exclude or absolve government of its responsibility for doing what it said it would do for the Universities, including Bayero University.
We have a trend where many state governments in the federation are undermining the principles of democracy at the third tier of government. What is your take on the agitation for local government autonomy?
I think it is the most unfair thing that these governors are doing. It is the most undemocratic thing that the governors are doing: to deny democratic process and to deny the third tier of governance the democracy that the constitution has given them or to use all sorts of pretexts to subvert democracy. That is wrong! It is even most unfortunate that not only are they doing it contrary to constitutional provision, when the constitution is being amended to further strengthen the autonomy available to this tier of government , they (the governors) are working to undermine that. That is anti- democracy! It would be the same argument that the federal government could use against them. They (local government chairmen) are elected. Of course, they (governors) do not allow the local government chairmen and councilors to be elected. The constitution says that a democratically elected local government system is hereby guaranteed under the constitution. But they are not allowing it. They should allow it. The courts must force them. Litigations should be mounted to force the governors to allow elections to take place and when chairmen of local governments are elected, they should be accorded all the powers that the constitution has accorded them.
What will you recommend as practical steps to challenge the trend and return local government councils to be people at the grass roots?
It is up to you and I, the electorate. It is you and I, who have an interest in having a constitution that is workable, democratic and if we are amending the constitution as we are about to, I will vigorously canvass that the autonomy of local government administration, which exists, be further enhanced and all steps and measures be put in place in the constitution to guarantee that. And when this is done, yet a governor chooses not to respect that; that can be a ground for impeachment. Not only can it be a ground for impeachment, it can be a ground for any aggrieved party to seek relief in the court of law, to say that they are being denied. So that is what I want: amend the constitution, enhance their autonomy and ensure that they are respected.
The powers of the first ladies have been a reason for concern of recent. But these powers are a stranger to our constitution. What are we to do to bring some sanity to these exploits?
Well, we have to lament not having the likes of people like Chief Gani Fawehemi around. Clearly, some of the powers that First Ladies, especially at the federal level assume; they do have such powers under the constitution or under the law. And the essence of constitutionalism is that if any power is exercised which has no basis under the constitution, you should challenge it. And when you challenge it and you succeed in challenging it, somebody would tell the first lady that the power she exercises and she purports to exercise does not belong to her.
What is then your take on this power, viewed against the background of the recent carnival by the wife of the President, which, as reported by the media, simply shut down the Federal Capital Territory?
Well, that has to do with less of what the constitution says and more of what the first lady thinks of her role and also what the President under whose umbrella she claims to exercise that power thinks. A president who respects the rule of law and who views with seriousness the inconvenience that the exercise of power which is questionable brings to the community would not allow that. This has to do more with what the president thinks and what the first lady thinks.
If the president cannot stop her or the political party on which the president is elected cannot call her to order, then you can only lament it.
What is your reaction to the recent registration of one single, bigger opposition party, APC, which is designed to give a big fight to the PDP?
To me, it is not the size of the party that matters, but the principles it upholds. If the APC- or recently we have heard of the PDM- upholds internal democracy, respects the rule of law, does not subvert the electoral process, the people would come around to recognize that and patronize them. And if they behave in the manner they used to behave individually now that they are a collection of parties, the people would also tell them their minds. To me, having mega parties or having fresh perspectives to party politics can only be good for the competition for power and the legitimacy to govern. But what would ultimately be more important is that the votes that electorates cast must count. You may have a mega party or you may have a minor party, but if the votes of the electorates do not matter and do not count, the election does not mean anything. People would just snatch ballot boxes, allocate votes, allocate seats, allocate nominations and it is not the election that would give legitimate power, but all these allocations.
There is this debate about which to emphasize. Is it just ensuring that votes count in an election, or ensuring that ultimately, the essence of elections, among which is good governance is achieved. If asked, which would you emphasize?
Well, again it would come back to the same thing. The essence of periodic elections is to enable you and I, on whose behalf those who are in the legislature or in the executive, act and that we are given options to choose from. Now, if we are given options to choose from and we have been able to assess the performance of a particular political party or its candidates and we are dissatisfied, we should be able to express that at the ballot box. And it has happened in some other places where unpopular governments, unpopular policies- all these things we are talking about: lack of internal democracy, the first lady messing people
up, the governors’ no respect for local government autonomy- are eased out. If the electorates are educated and if they are to express their views, you are going to see a difference.
Out there in the streets of Kano, I have heard people say that the era of General Abacha and Abdulsalami are better than this democracy. That there were more infrastructure, there was discipline and so on. What is your view on this?
Well, it would be self- serving for me to express a view on this question. I think, to be honest with you, it is a question of priorities and assessment. Definitely things in certain departments are better under military regime than they are under a democratic regime. But one must concede also that there are certain things that are better under a democratic dispensation than a military regime. I will give you an example. The issue of choice and the issue of the knowledge that you represent people and that you will someday either present yourself or your party would present itself for re-election or for a fresh mandate makes a lot of difference in a federal system, which is why you see the government at the state level is doing what it is doing. If it were a military system, the governor in Lagos would not have as much freedom as he now has, would not be as sensitive to the concerns and expectations of the people or Lagos as he is now.
So that is why I said that it would be wrong to compare oranges and mangoes. Each has its own drawbacks, each has its own advantages. That is how I view it.
But what is your view about the regime you served? People still talk about it?
I don’t have any view about it. I have served as a professional and I am satisfied with the role I played as a professional.
Let’s look at the human rights record of the Jonathan administration bearing in mind the performance of the Joint Security Task Forces at different locations?
There are abuses, no doubt. There are abuses that are carried out with impunity. Unfortunately, people are not held to account. And regrettably, the abuses that happened with impunity under a democratic dispensation tend to come back and hunt the society. Take the example of whatever the Boko Haram is doing, the trigger for its escalation – if there were other things- the trigger was the daylight extra -judicial execution of some of their leaders and some people who are not even members of the Boko Haram Sect. Now, when this happened, it happened in a democracy. Nobody cared; nobody raised an eyebrow. People felt that these things that were happening were normal. But look at how it has come round to hunt us now. I am happy to say that in Kano we do document some of them. We do have a forum that has an intention to seek to hold the JTF accountable. We may not have reached a stage where we have gone to the level of arraigning people or even suing, but it is
not an option that has been excluded. The excesses and abuses are not justifiable and would be questioned and people would be made to account for their actions.
Well, as I said, I belong to a civil society forum in Kano that is working on that and I know that we are documenting things and that we had plans to bring actions. Individual victims have plans to institute civil actions against the JTF.
There is the claim by the JTF that the leader of the Boko Haram sect, Shekau, may have been killed. Do you think the information is …. (Cuts in)
I am not in a position to say anything about that. I think it may well be propaganda. It may be true. To me, it is not something that I can grudge over or be happy about or be complacent about. I think, maybe, the security people want to…. They have said it before anyway and it seemed to have turned out not to be true. Even in this case, we are told that they made a claim that they think he was killed within a certain range of time; but apparently there was an
allegation that he (Shekau) released a video statement outside the time range that they are giving us. So, it is not something which somebody who is not in possession of the information can comment about or approve of or disapprove of. They are just doing their own thing. Maybe, this is psychological warfare.
Prof Ango Abdullahi and some of his Northern Elders Forum, including a number of Northerners believe that power must return to the North in 2015. How do you see this campaign?
My view on this is that I would want to see a situation where the best candidate, the candidate with a program of action, an agenda that would uplift this nation… if he puts his or herself forward, I do not mind voting for such candidate. Now, those who within a political party- because they are talking about the PDP, it just PDP and I do not belong to any party, it is for them. They feel justified that there is an agreement which should be respected. To me, I will say okay it is an argument that can be canvassed within the party. It is not an argument that….sometimes it is wrong to talk about these things as northerners. I have my own personal view. If I belong to the party (PDP) I will take the same view that as a gentleman, he (Jonathan) had made an undertaking, he should respect that undertaking.
General Buhari and his followers have repeatedly accused Jega’s INEC of irregularities in the conduct of the 2011 presidential elections. Can we trust them with 2015?
Why not? Jega is my friend. In my view, he has the character and he has the team which if supported, they can make the difference. Now to me, a credible elections in 2015 would not lay or fall based on the electoral body managing it alone. Much of the problems we have in the political arena were not caused by the electoral body managing them alone. Much of the problem are due to lack of internal democracy in the political parties and some of the squabbles which would linger on to 2015 or beyond 2015. It has nothing to do with Jega. To me there are a number of factors that converge to enhance or to undermine the electoral process. The electoral management body headed by Prof. Jega is one component; but there are other components that would need to come in tandem for the sake of a credible process to come by. The party has a role to play.
The people of the South East, through their socio cultural group, Ohaneze, are saying that they are going to demand reparation of the 1967- 70. civil war. Does this make any sense at this time?
I think they may have a basis for which they want to seek reparation and it will not be for me to tell them not to. Or even to say that they are unreasonable. Or that they are stupid.Or that they should be denied. If they have a basis for the claims, why not?