By ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI
Vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade speaks very frankly. A CPC legislator from Niger State and an ardent supporter of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Musa says that many of PDP members are angling to enlist in the emerging mega party. His party, CPC and ACN are spearheading the formation of the new party. However, it is not just that members of the government in power at the centre and most of the 36 states and Abuja are intent on crossing over to the yet-to-be-formed party, the greater consideration is that such persons, according to him, are serving senators and governors. These, among others, he claims are ready to dump the PDP.
Sen. Musa spoke to Saturday Sun recently in Abuja. He also talked on other national issues.
Why is the North angry with the new PIB?
No, I don’t think that assumption is correct; I don’t think the North is angry with the PIB per se. Maybe there were some misconceptions about the bill, but that does not translate to the North being angry with the PIB. As for me, I am not angry about the PIB. I’m reading it; I’m digesting it to see how I can contribute meaningfully to the debate when it comes up on the floor of the Senate.
When you say misconceptions, how do you mean?
It could be about the 10 per cent that would accrue to the host community and some other funds proposed for oil-producing communities. I think that was where the misconceptions came in.
But before the Senate recess, there were reports that some northerners are against more funds going to host communities in the PIB, particularly the 10 per cent proposal.
For me, I’m not disturbed about that because it’s not that the host communities are doing this thing to favour themselves to the detriment of other communities or sections of the country that are not producing oil. I think we should allow them to go ahead with it. You have heard about the prospect of oil discovery in the North; so, when it comes, when it eventually materialises, that same provision would also apply to the North. So, allow them to have it.
Have northern lawmakers met to articulate their position on the PIB?
Well, we are meeting. We will meet.
Have you met on the PIB or not?
We have not met but we will definitely meet.
What’s the official northern position on the PIB?
We are going to meet on that.
Some Nigerians want a unicameral legislature for Nigeria. Do you support that idea?
Some people have misconceptions about the legislature. There is nothing expensive about the bi-cameral legislature Nigeria is operating. What I have seen is that, there is this tendency that when you are not an insider, you think a member of the National Assembly is very, very rich. That is the general perception about us here. Like how, when I go home, to the constituency, I cannot spend two, three days in my village. The moment I step in, my house will be surrounded by people as if there is coup plot!
Was that the situation before you came to the Senate?
Well, years back, it wasn’t like that; people used to come around in their numbers but not as much as now. The pressure is on the legislators because the state governors have rendered local governments so useless that now people at the grassroots, have nowhere to go except to fall back on their legislators because the local governments are not funded. They have nothing. The local government chairmen cannot even reside in their localities again; they run to the state capitals because they can no longer shoulder the responsibility. The burden has now fallen on us, the legislators to bridge the gap and we step into the gap, there is that perception that we have so much to spend. In some places, I have heard people say that we collect N45 million per month and I marvel! Where do we get this kind of money?
Do you collect N45 million every month?
(Laughs) I don’t even collect up to a million naira a month. So, how do you arrive at that misconception that lawmakers are very rich? I think it started from the level of rumour. You know rumour spreads so fast. Why I don’t blame the people at the local government level is because of the lack of performance on the part of our former legislators; those who were here before us. The way they climbed the ladder to the National Assembly, when they get here, they refuse to look back and attend to the electorate who brought them here. I will use my own situation as an example. The senator I defeated to get here, who was here for 12 years, we can just classify those 12 years as the years of the locust; they were 12 wasted years. Our constituency has nothing to show for his representation all those years. What I’m saying is that the lawmaker is not in the executive arm of government; he has no capital budget to implement but every year, there is a national budget and in that budget, there is budget intervention for the legislature…
(Cuts in) Is that what is called constituency projects?
No, some people misconceive it as constituency project but I call it budget intervention so that we can have something to show to our people as their representatives in Abuja. When you do that, intervene on behalf of your constituency, people now consider you to be a part of the executive. Some of us are even considered as executives because of that intervention. Now, everything has been shifted onto the legislator, nobody even cares about the governors anymore. Yes, they don’t care about whether the governor is performing or even whether the local government chairman is performing or not because they don’t have access to them. Before you see a governor, let me use myself as an example; as a federal lawmaker, you just cannot see the governor like that; it’s very hard.
Sometimes, the governor would not even know you are there because the security men would barricade you from seeing the governor, let alone a common man. The common man cannot go and face his governor to ask him for something, but it is very easy for the common man to come and meet his representative here at the National Assembly. That is why I’m saying that everything has shifted to us. For example, in any area, if they are looking for transformer, it is the senator or the member of the House of Representatives they come to. If they want borehole, they come to us; if there is need for primary or secondary school to be repaired, it is the legislator. A lot of things come to us, which ordinarily should not!
You have still not answered my question on the whether Nigeria should operate a unicameral legislature.
Yes. All those saying that, it seems to me, don’t know what the system now in existence tends to protect. I want you to know very clearly that the system we have now is protecting some interests.
How do you mean?
The system, the bi-cameral legislature, is protecting some interests because in a situation like ours, where we have diverse communities and different languages, if we now decide to have or operate a unicameral legislature, a lot of people, the minority tribes, may not have representation as they have now. The bi-cameral system we have now is a convergence of all Nigerians; a combination of the majority, the minority, everybody is here represented. So, those calling for unicameral legislature don’t know why the system is in operation should know; we are supposed to let them know that this system will give everybody equal representation.
Do you agree with critics that the Nigerian legislature is the most expensive in the world?
I don’t agree. Those saying so are ignorant! Do you know why I say they are ignorant? Let me tell you, a senator in the United States of America controls over 50 legislative aides. For us here, we just have five. All in all, whoever talks of the Nigerian National Assembly being very expensive is just being mischievous. Look, there is no rich senator after leaving office. Even for those who served for 12, 18 years, give them just two to three years, there’s no rich senator anywhere.
So, you don’t support cutting allowances of National Assembly members?
No, No! I’m even in support of an increment. It should be increased.
Why do you say so?
As I told you earlier, nobody in the three tiers of government in Nigeria does as much as we do in the National Assembly. Now, if I go home, people with medical problems will come to me, those who want to pay school fees will come to me, those who want to go back to their bases or those who want to go back to school, will come and ask me for money. A lot of demands are pushed on us.
Are you obliged to give them the money?
Ha! You have to give them! You have no choice; you have to do it.
Have you tried educating the electorate about the work of a lawmaker?
We have been doing that, but even you the media, you are not helping matters. You are not helping us because we need money more than anybody. What I’m saying, in essence, is this: What do we have? We don’t get any allowance until after every three months. Let me tell you, for some of us, even after the allowances come in, we resort to going back to the banks to collect overdraft to meet some personal needs. I’m telling you this as a matter of fact.
Some Nigerians are also calling for a part-time legislature. Do you subscribe to that idea?
That cannot work in a situation like Nigeria. Some of these people are just talking about what they know nothing about. The National Assembly does not work that way. If it’s part-time, what time do we have to share ideas, receive complaints and petitions from our constituents and come back to the Senate to solve? When do you have time to do that, if you work part-time?
But those canvassing the idea say you only sit three times in a week.
What they don’t understand is that the workings of the National Assembly transcend what you see on the floor of the Senate or what you see at plenary. Don’t forget we also have committees and the committees’ job takes a greater part of our stay here; maybe they don’t know that. Some people only see us in plenary and maybe they don’t even know of the existence of committees and you have a senator who is on an average of five, six committees. You have several meetings in a day and there have been instances where you even abandon one committee meeting to rush to another meeting. It’s possible those critics don’t know all these and don’t understand what it means.
Let’s talk about your party’s merger talks with other parties. Is APGA involved?
The process is on. That is all I can tell you for now.
How many opposition parties are involved, because we only hear of three – ACN, CPC and ANPP
We have other smaller parties we are talking to as well.
Are you talking to APGA as well?
Well, I’m not sure but I know they would soon come on board. I’m optimistic about that.
Are you sure the merger would work?
That is for us to fashion out; we don’t want to expose the modus operandi of how the merger will come to be. We will not expose our plans at this stage. But rest assured, talks are at an advanced stage and we know that this time round, there will be a merger.
But the ACN seems to hold the ace in this merger…
(Cuts in) When we merge, we would all be equal
With this arrangement, is ACN not having the upper hand with six states and CPC bringing just one state to the table? Are you going into the merger as equal partners?
Look, you are getting it all wrong. We will not reveal our plans for now, but just be rest assured that we are talking seriously. Leave all the talk of one party having the upper hand and another being the underdog. I’m optimistic that we will have a mega party for 2015 elections.
Have you ever met Buhari one on one?
Yes. I have always been with him.
Do you believe in the ideals and principles Buhari stands for?
I do, very much so. That was why I chose CPC in the first place.
Did he influence you to join the party?
Seriously speaking, if he should leave CPC today, I will leave the party with him.
Why is that?
I believe so much in him.
Is it that Buhari is the face of CPC?
He is the face of everything, not only CPC.
But he is 70 years old. What can he do to galvanize the party in the next elections?
He is the most perfect person for this country.
Nobody is perfect except God.
I understand, but the most preferred. Don’t forget that this is the man who did everything for this country. He was at various times a governor, a minister and then, Head of State and a lot more of other things at some points in the nation’s history and he still came out clean.
How do you mean ‘he came out clean’?
He had no stain.
I don’t understand what you mean by that.
He’s not a corrupt person. He was never found wanting on the issue of corruption in all the positions where he served.
Do you think the political elite would be comfortable with handing over power to someone who is ‘clean’?
The political elite in Nigeria is not God. It’s only God that gives power, remember that.
But they have influence…
No, it’s only God who has power to give somebody power
Mind you, God will not come and queue to cast votes.
No, but God makes it possible for people and I believe God will make it possible for him.
So, you still want Buhari to contest the Presidency in 2015?
Oh, yes! Most definitely!
Do you entertain any fear that the new party may not feature Buhari as its presidential candidate for 2015?
Ha! No! Don’t worry about that. That should be left for us to decide. Don’t forget that Buhari is not in politics just to be president; he is there to correct a lot of deficiencies inherent in this country. Whatever the new party decides, he would be okay with it.
There are talks of a Muslim-Muslim ticket for the new party in 2015. How feasible is that at a time like is?
Sometimes, I get irritated when we talk of religion and see things through the prism of Muslim-Christian. That should not be the issue. Whoever would come and solve our problem, we should welcome. Please, forget about this Muslim-Muslim, Muslim-Christian ticket. Let us forge ahead for the unity, peace and progress of this country for once. Let us look for somebody who will solve most of our problems in this country. Look, even if the person is a pagan, let him come. We should rather welcome anybody who would solve the problems of this country.
What about the factions in CPC?
Where is the faction? There is none. You could say ‘perceived factions’.
How about the faction of Senator Rufa’i Hanga which is in court?
Forget about that one. That was a non-issue. He has the right to go to court; in fact, anybody can go to court. That court case can never derail our merger talks.
Are you not worried that PDP will infiltrate opposition and scuttle your merger plans?
I don’t think PDP should have any problem with the merger. It’s not their problem now. Look at what is happening in PDP now, even in-house, they have opposition among themselves. They are busy opposing one another. So, they have their own internal problems. I doubt whether this will give them time to think of scuttling the merger.
Do you still believe that the problems of this country were caused by the PDP?
Oh yes! PDP failed to fight corruption in all its ramifications.
But corruption didn’t start today.
Well, I agree but it is increasing at a frightening rate now. We should not pretend about it. If the PDP had been up and doing and is fighting corruption, as the government in power, fighting indiscipline, refuse any form of favouritism, the polity would be the better for it. Refusal of the PDP to do so is the problem. Let us be faithful to the country; mindful of our responsibilities to the people of this country. If we stop being selfish, this country would move forward.
Are you saying Nigerians should expect a credible opposition in 2015?
Of course! Look, majority of those in the PDP now have signalled intention to join the mega party that would come out of the merger talks.
Why are you so confident?
A lot of PDP members are in secret talks with us. A lot of those in power now, senators, members of the House of Representatives, governors; it cuts across. Let’s just wait and see what will happen. Nigerians would be shocked, I bet you.
Previously, you alluded to no development in Niger State. Do you still hold that view?
No development at all. I have consistently told anybody who cares to listen that there is no development in Niger State. Without any fear of contradiction, what I have done in my constituency, the Niger State Government has not done anything near that.
Are you saying that the state government has not brought development to Niger North senatorial district?
No, I’m talking of the entire state. There’s no development in the whole of Niger State. Go and do your own checks, please.
When you say there’s no development, are you saying there are no good roads, good schools, functional hospitals, etc?
All those things are non-existent. We have been shouting about all these. I have consistently told anybody who cares to listen that there is no development in Niger State. Let me tell you, without any fear of contradiction, as far as I am concerned, what I have done in my constituency, the Niger State government has not done up to half of that.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State is against autonomy for local governments because they are not federating units. Do you support him?
Look, please, that is his own view; that is his personal opinion. Everybody has the right to express his own view and he has just done that. As I am telling you now, if you don’t know, you should know that local governments have been there, even when the states did not exist. So, how is he now going to tell me that they should not be autonomous?
But Governor Rotimi Amaechi said the local governments cannot be federating units in a presidential system of government such as the one Nigeria operates.
No, there are local governments. They are recognised in the Constitution. Please, go to Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution. Local governments are clearly spelt out, so, why is he saying that they cannot be autonomous?
If local governments are clearly stated in the Constitution, then, why does the National Assembly want them to be autonomous?
Fine. The local governments have always been autonomous but not until the coming of the 1999 Constitution, particularly section 162. The problem between the local governments and the state governors is rooted in Section 162, Sub-section 6, which talks about their joint account. That is under where the governors are hiding.
So, what does the National Assembly want to do with that section?
We want to amend that section, give them, their autonomy so that local governments can get their money directly from source. If we do that, state governors would stop talking of stopping autonomy for local governments.
Considering the level of corruption in the country today, do you think giving funds directly to the local governments would help accelerate development?
Let me tell you, not everybody is corrupt. Some are good. I believe the country is wallowing in corruption but mind you, we still have a few who are good, who want to perform if you give them that autonomy. Some of them can even construct roads, dams, etc. I know for a fact that a lot of things can be done with funds going to the local governments directly. That has been the issue. That main problem is section 162 (6). Once we can solve that problem, the local governments will perform. Please, let the governor know that local governments have been in existence before the coming into existence of the states.