By Omoniyi Salaudeen

Like every other concerned stakeholders, Senator Rufai Hanga is worried about the rising level of insecurity in the country. In this interview, he revealed the reasons President Muhammadu Buhari has been very reluctant to change the Service Chiefs.

Reactions have continued to trail the recent massacre of rice farmers in Borno State. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Shehu Garba, has blamed the farmers for not taking clearance from the army before they went to the farm.  How would you react to that?

That statement is very scandalous, it is embarrassing. Take permission from who? That somebody should take permission before he goes to his farm? How can a farmer take permission before he goes to his farm? How can farming take place, if you must take permission from somebody before you go to the farm? It is scandalous, ridiculous and shameful. We are in a deep shit in this country. We are in a situation we have never been before. The insecurity is escalating. It is increasing by the day and it is very unfortunate. The very week the attack took place in Borno, there were also attacks in Katsina, Zamfara, and Kaduna. The same thing happened on Kaduna-Abuja road where the bandits killed so many people and abducted other victims. It is now a common thing for the bandits to go round to pick people and demand for ransom. It occurs also in Kano. There is nowhere a person is safe in this country now. Abuja which used to be a safe environment is no longer safe. Criminals are going round now, picking people and asking for ransom. The only thing we do is to pray.

The National Assembly on Tuesday renewed the call for the sack of the Service Chiefs. Do you see President Muhammadu Buhari changing his mind this time around?

The Senate and the House of Representatives have made this call several times, but the president has refused to act for the reasons best known to him. Some people say he is afraid of coup. He once mentioned it that he didn’t want to change the Service Chief because there were very ambitious officers down the ladder. That means he is afraid of coup. The most unfortunate thing is that these Service Chiefs have over stayed their usefulness. Some of them have spent 40 years in service. The rule is that you retire after 35 years of service or upon the attainment of 60 years of age. Some of these people have spent far and above their age of retirement so much that the junior officers are being retired. It is very demoralizing for those under them. It is very disheartening that the most senior is not performing. The president himself has said it that their best is not good enough, which means he is not satisfied with what they have done. So, the call by the Senate is a mere political statement. What have they done all this while since they have been calling for the sack of the Service Chiefs and the president has remained adamant? The resolution is empty because the president has refused to budge to their demand. So, there is nothing they can do. What is it that the House of Representatives wants to hear from him that the lawmakers have not heard before?  What has he not said before? If he refuses to appear before the House, nothing will happen.

Then, what is the implication of this attitude of dismissing the resolution of the National Assembly with a wave of hand?

A resolution is not a must for the president to do. But in this kind of circumstance, it is impeachment. Can they impeach him? They cannot. I watched it on television sometimes ago when a member of the House of Representatives said they were signing a resolution to impeach the president. And when he brought the paper to somebody from the North to sign, he said “I don’t like the president, but I will not sign it. How can I sign for a Yoruba man to take over?” Is that a leader? Is he serving his own people or Nigeria? These kind of people do not deserve to be in leadership position. If you want to be a good leader, you have to clean your mind that you are doing it for Nigeria. You see everybody as a Nigerian, not as Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. This is a man who acted very briefly and did wonders. The little time he was there, people were hailing him for what he did.  We are still deeply divided. One of the things anybody coming in will do will be to unify the country. President Buhari should do the right thing now and leave a legacy. If he doesn’t do the right thing, he will go with ignominy, he will have no more reputation, he will have no more integrity, and nobody will trust or believe him again. The moment he leaves office, he will regret having not done certain things. This is my own advice to him. He should right the wrong now so that his future will be better. If we continue like this, we are breeding a future that will be worse than what we are seeing now in Maiduguri and other places. If we continue like this people will regret being Nigerians. Everybody will be on his or her own. We inherited the problem we are in now; he should try to better it so that the future will be better.

So, even in the present circumstance, the National Assembly cannot compel the president to act by way of veto?

National Assembly can veto the president on bills. For example, the Electoral Act Bill was presented to him before the 2019 general election. If he had signed it into law, there wouldn’t be any chance for rigging. But since they wanted to rig, they advised him not to sign it. If we had a National Assembly that was up and doing, they would have vetoed him. The normal thing is that if he refuses to sign it for three months, they can veto him. But because they allowed him to sit on it for too long, it went into the wind.  Election took place and they got what they wanted. I believe he didn’t know anything about the bill before the election. If he knew about it, and his claim about integrity was genuine, he would have signed it. He didn’t sign it because he didn’t know. They asked him not to sign it, but he didn’t know why and he refused to sign it. I hope he will now sign it because it is still available. I hope the National Assembly will still represent it to him. If he wants free and fair election, if he wants to sanitize the system, he should sign it because he has three more years do it.

There is a looming danger of food insecurity with the current trend of farmers’ attack. What is the remedy?

We will be deceiving ourselves if we say we have food security now. I told Mr. President on-one-one last year that this noise about rice production was a lie and that the people in charge of the loan the Federal Government was giving out to farmers share it among themselves. The number of tons they were mentioning in the media was a lie. We have never achieved production of rice up to that level. Recently, they discovered over N6 billion in account of one of the persons in charge of the agency the CBN gave money to distribute to the farmers. They discovered another N2 billion in one of the state chairmen. They discovered that the monies were not disbursed in the name of rice farming. The few people they gave the money were subsistence farmers. Now, I have been vindicated, but they are ashamed to blow it open. So, we don’t have food security. Yet, the Minister of Agriculture shamelessly went to the press to say that the price of food was coming down.   

The Minister of Finance and the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria have assured that Nigeria would get out of the current recession by the first quarter of next year. Is there any such indication?

There is none. People in government continue to talk like this because we don’t care to know what brings about recession and how to get out of it. When they said Nigeria would get out of recession in the first quarter of next year, what and what did they say would happen? Are we going to start manufacturing and exporting? Are we going to stop importing? Are we going to stop exporting raw material and importing finished products? What magic will they do? How are we going to boost agricultural production when farmers cannot farm? In Borno, they killed the farmers and burnt the rice farm. So, what do you expect to happen? Nobody should mind the Central Bank governor. This is a man who has been giving out foreign exchange to personalities instead of doing it for the economy. People are buying dollar and stashing it in their house, thereby denying those with genuine intension to import certain things to benefit the economy. Whoever says Nigeria will get out of recession in the first quarter of next year should tell us how. Let him define what recession is to us.

By and large, what is your outlook of the economy in the coming year?

The government has realized that it has failed woefully that is why they are trying to open the border to allow rice to come in; otherwise, there will be hunger. The kind of hunger that will come will be such that even if you have money, you won’t find food to buy. Time will come that even with your money; you won’t find food to buy.