By Adewale Sanyaolu Despite being a country with the second largest deposit of bitumen in the world, Nigeria, according to Foraminifera, a marketing and research firm, spends about N2 billion yearly on importation of asphalt, a derivative of bitumen. The occurrence of bitumen deposits in Nigeria is twice the amount of existing reserves of crude…
From Murphy Ganagana and John Adams
Senator representing the eastern senatorial district of Niger State, David Umoru, is battling to rescue the Gbaggis, his ethnic group, from political deprivation and extinction.
He spoke on various issues including President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption, the senate president’s trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, and the dynamics of political power which has robbed him of two gubernatorial victories in Niger, his home state.
We are highly impressed by your scholarship programme for the youths. What is the propellant?
Yes. I have gone through hardship in life and I have seen the importance of education, especially the importance that my father placed on education. And again, during my campaign, I saw the deplorable condition of education in my senatorial zone, particularly in Shiroro Local Government Area, and I felt very concerned. That is why as soon as I got this opportunity, I said that the first thing I should do is to, one, draw attention to the condition of education in the area; two, to see how I can address the problem because you have children who have finished secondary school but they couldn’t go further in their educational pursuit.
Earlier, you talked about your involvement in the sale of newspapers to support your education, while growing up. What happened?
Well, it came naturally because I feel it was necessary to assist my parents to do one or two things to support myself. I think it was in Kaduna at that time, because we partly grew up in Kaduna. I was trying to finish my Form five then and get admission into the university. I felt like we were too much of a burden for my father because all of us were in school. So, I did that to give my contribution to the family and to see that I am no longer a burden to my father. That helped me a lot because from there, I learnt how to save money and since then, I developed the culture of saving one Naira out of every two Naira that I have.
What is your dream on this scholarship programme; how far are you going?
As far as education is concerned, we don’t have any limit; the limit will be our ability to fund it. We will continue until we graduate them, that is our prayer and being part of their progress by the grace of God. This is not the only batch; we are going to work on another one very soon. But we will nurture these ones first so that we will be able to accommodate new ones, but in a specialized way like producing medical doctors, lawyers, among others, which is quite lacking in my constituency.
Apart from this educational programme, what other humanitarian projects are you involved in your constituency?
Humanitarian projects, yes, so many of them. We are doing water because for me water is quite essential and that is what I discovered in our local area, the need for our people is quite basic. They will tell you that they need light, water and education; so for me, I started with water but I am taking it to another level. Right now, we are working in three local government areas; we are providing portable water in areas that they so much need it. We went round the wards to identify those areas, and right now, we have water projects going on in Rafi, Bosso and Gurara Local Government Areas. When we finish those ones, we move to other areas.
We also made some interventions in the area of provision of transformers, but I had to stop that because of the privatization of NEPA; I feel you are giving money to somebody somewhere, but I want the money to go to the people themselves.
Also in the area of women empowerment, we picked the tailoring aspect because of its relevance to the people and what we did was to get the women to register associations and we registered about 620 women associations, cutting across all the nine local government areas in my constituency and out of them, we picked 405 women and empowered them, and the reports we are getting indicated that they are doing well.
I understand that you started your political carrier by contesting the governorship seat; what informed that decision?
Yes, in fact, it was a funny situation and I will tell you, all along, I had hated politics and politicians. I was a lawyer and practicing, I never worked in government, and I looked at every politician as a liar and deceitful; that was my perception, so I didn’t want to have anything to do with politics. But somehow, as I grew older, certain realities started to dawn on me. In fact, something particularly happened that I don’t want to remember. I was somewhere one day and at that time, it was the turn of my people to produce the next governor of the state based on the zoning arrangement and I realized that none of our people was bold enough to come out and declare interest. So, I happened to be somewhere when I heard some people saying, “don’t mind these Gbagi people, we asked them to present a candidate and nobody is coming forward, so we will take it away from them”. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I went back home and thought about it over and over again and the following day, I decided that I was going to take the battle because I thought I was duty bound to come and rescue my people from political marginalization and deprivation. That was why I joined PDP in 2007 and after the primary election, I felt I was manipulated, then joined ANPP which was virtually nonexistent. I organized them, contested and I tell you we won the election, but the powers that be decided that I must not be. So, that is how I came into politics and I feel I have a duty to rescue my people.
Having contested twice for the governorship seat and denied victory, do you consider yourself a victim of the political dynamics in the state?
Certainly yes, because even when I win elections, I still went to court with a conviction that I had a good case, and everybody knew that I had a good case but at the end of the day, these same people denied me the opportunity. In 2014 when I had to contest the senatorial by-election, there was improvement about those who manned the post, compared to those who had manned the posts earlier. So, I didn’t put much effort as I did before to have the day. So, certainly, I knew some forces were at work.
What is your ultimate political ambition?
Well, my ambition is to work and to improve the lives of my people. My joining politics is all about my people. I will do as much as possible to bring my people out of this quagmire and that is my ambition.
Your state is blessed with both human and material resource, having produced two former Heads of State. Yet, it appears that the people are not faring well. Will it be right to say your political adventure is a move to fill the inadequacies of the leaders you had?
Certainly, there is something wrong with our politics here in the state; definitely there is something and that is why you find the state like this and I feel that the political class is not being fair to the people. That is why whatever I do, I always consider the people first. Honestly, it’s quite unfortunate that we found ourselves in this unfortunate situation despite what we have, human and material resources.
Will you say that you are disappointed in the political leadership for not being able to put resources together to lift the state to where it supposed to be?
It is not about me, it’s about the people. I believe people have their own opinion about it. It is for the people but to me, it is disappointing that Niger State finds itself where it is today.
Let us talk about the present administration in the state. I understand there is disquiet over imbalance in political appointments in the state; what is your take on that?
Certainly, there is a lot of imbalance in the appointment of political office holders in the state and I have been speaking about this. I have always advised the government that apart from the fact that it is not right, it is unconstitutional because the constitution has spelt it out clearly that a government must reflect all the shades of people in terms of tribe and religion so that everybody will have a sense of belonging but, unfortunately, that has been breached in Niger. Here, you have a situation where the governor, the deputy governor, the Secretary to the state government and the Head of Service does not reflect the other tribes. For example, my own zone is supposed to produce at least the secretary to the state government and that has been the tradition because, you can’t have the governor and secretary to the state government coming from the same zone. Apart from that, religious imbalance is another issue; from the governor down to the Head of Service and even Chief of Staff are all Muslims. Christians are not reflected, and this is not fair; we all worked together to instal this government. So, I strongly believe that this imbalance must be corrected for the people to have a sense of belonging.
You are always speaking against the marginalization of your people, but some persons feel you are being rebellious. Will you consider yourself a rebel?
Well, if I always rebel to ensure that justice is done, then, I will agree with you. If you want to use that word, yes, I will continue to rebel until justice is done; until the right thing is done.
You are the chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary. Recently, the senate attempted to amend the CCB /CCT Acts when the senate president, Bukola
Saraki, was arraigned at the tribunal on graft-related charges. Can you justify that action?
I would have said I wouldn’t comment on that, but I will want to tell you that it is a private member bill and you can’t prevent a piece of legislation that is undergoing a journey, but at a point, the journey was terminated and it didn’t see the light of the day. The second one came from the House of Representatives and it came for concurrence. The senate concurred after the relevant committee had looked at it, but I can’t see how that would have benefited the senate president in his case at the tribunal. You know how this things work; after both chambers pass a bill, it has to go to the president, and if the president decides to veto it, it comes back again. So this is something that would have taken a long time, maybe by the time it is finally signed into law, the trial of the senate president would have ended.
Still on your committee, I remember you summoned the current Attorney General of the Federation sometime ago, and he was deviant. What does it portend for the democracy of this country when an AGF undermines summons from the highest lawmaking organ of the nation?
Well, the Attorney General eventually turned up and apologized to the senate and I think that is good for the system.
As a leader of the ruling party, can you assess the political credentials of president Buhari?
You know I am a firm believer of the saying that thou shall not judge; so I leave that to the people to assess and judge.
I am asking this question because people feel this administration is dictatorial. Is that perception correct?
Like I said, it is for the people to decide; I am a major player. Let them assess and tell us so that if there is any advice we need to give, we can now give.
The manner the DSS raided the homes of suspected judges, was it in tune with the tenets of democracy and the rule of law?
I would have loved to say something on this but, unfortunately, this issue is already before my committee and I don’t want to make any public comment on this so that it should not be misunderstood, or for me to say something that the committee has not actually concluded its work, and in addition to that, there are court cases resulting from that incident. So, I want you to save me the burden of saying anything about that issue.
Your party, the APC, made a lot of campaign promises prior to the 2015 elections. Do you think the president is getting it right?
Yes. Of course, you have the Sambisa forest being cleared now, and I heard that the N5, 000 is being implemented and N-power is going on; so, I think that we need to give a little time and be patient because we are coming from a difficult time and I know a lot of work is needed to be done to put certain things right. Also, you can see that the fight against corruption is on even though there are comments here and there that are not quite favorable, but, at least, that is going on.
Is the anti-corruption war holistic?
People have different opinions about it; some people think it is not, while others think it is, so it all depends on what an individual think about it. For me at this point in time, I have no opinion about it yet; I rather give time to be able to finally give my opinion about it based on empirical facts that will emerge from the whole thing.
There are a lot of security challenges in your senatorial district due to activities of herdsmen, especially in Shiroro and Rafi Local Government Areas and the government seems to be quiet about it. What is wrong?
Honestly, I am quite disappointed because you can’t be a leader in the state and you see things like that happening and you keep quiet. The same thing happened when soldiers attacked our villages last year; in fact, the government was completely mute and when I came out to complain in defence of my people, they said I was playing politics. At the end of the day, we all saw what happened. It is sad that these gunmen suspected to be herdsmen have laid siege to my constituency, carrying out raids daily, without any prompt action from the government of the state. Any government that cannot protect the lives and properties of the people should consider itself a failed government. It is imperative at this juncture to call on the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, to as a matter of urgent public importance , take immediate and more positive measures, including directing the relocation of police and the state security service headquarters to the affected areas to liberate our people from the onslaught of these bandits.
Can you tell us the most memorable day in your life?
The most memorable day of my life that has remained indelible in my mind come in two parts: one is the day I got married to my wife, and then, secondly, the day I gave something that saved one particular person’s life and the acknowledgement that came from the person was very touching to me. I couldn’t hold back my tears, and that has been in my mind up till this moment. What makes my day is when I give something and I get acknowledgement through the looks of the person, his satisfaction and appreciation.