By Chukwudi Nweje
Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003. Many Nigerians still believe that his era as speaker of the lower legislative chamber was the most vibrant since 1999.
In this exclusive interview, he spoke on the Electoral Act Amendment bill 2021, sabotage of democracy by the political parties, role of governors in festering insecurity and other national issues.
The National Assembly has foreclosed any prospects of electronic transfer of election results in 2023, what are your thoughts?
I am not privy to the passing of the bill, I was never invited to the National Assembly to witness the passing, I have no idea of what is in the bill or what is not in it, so it will be presumptuous for me to make any comment on it. Any comment I make will be based on what I hear in the electronic media and read in the national dailies and on social media. All I know is that the bill has been passed. I have no idea of what and what was passed or was not passed, but I know that electronic transfer of election result was not included and that legislators from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) protested and walked out. I want to say here that the PDP was in power for 16 years and never promoted democracy; in fact it sabotaged democracy. If the PDP had protected democracy, we would not have had the All Progressives Congress (APC) in power today. I don’t think the PDP has a moral right to protest against whatever the APC is doing because given the opportunity the PDP will do the same. If you look at the APC, more than half of its members are from the PDP; you are talking about two sides of the same coin, all they are doing is to promote themselves, not democracy. However, I am aware that some local government areas, particularly in the North do not have adequate network coverage to necessitate electronic transfer of election result, but that not withstanding, the APC and the PDP are the same.
You were a high-ranking member of the PDP, yet, you say that the party sabotaged democracy?
I left the PDP sometime in 2014 and I stated my reasons, among which was the absence of internal democracy in the party and that political exclusion was rife in the party. These two factors convoluted to herald hundreds of other problems that hinder internal democracy in the party and the country. I joined the APC and found out that the party was the same. The only way they are different is in their capacity for mischief, one may be higher than the other.
You tasted both the PDP and the APC; from your experience, which one has a higher propensity for mischief?
It is left for individual Nigerians to judge for themselves which one is more mischievous; it all depends on the state or local government one comes from, but I know that they are both mischievous.
You co-founded the National Consultative Front (NC Front), a political movement, with the likes of prof Pat Utomi, to champion national rebirth, but, you have also resigned from the group, why is that?
I resigned effective July 5 this year over irreconcilable differences between me and my vision and that of the NC Front. The way and manner press releases were being made without consulting me is too much for me to bear.
What is your take on the widespread insecurity in the country, especially in the North where school children are kidnapped almost every other day?
The insecurity is very unfortunate and I ascribe it to the failure of governance in the country. Since the inception of this democratic dispensation, there has almost been no governance in the states. Most of the time, the state governors are in Abuja. It is such that even the local government chairmen, who are in any case the acolytes of the state governors are not functioning. Democracy is only strong when there is connection with the people, but that has not been the case because the governors are busy trying to consolidate their hold over the people instead of empowering the people. This has become a natural security problem and unfortunately, when there is insecurity, it becomes the responsibility of the security agencies to tackle them. Nobody talks about the socio-political and economic forces underlining these problems, so it is not even fair to blame the security agencies. The blame should be on the political leaders that fuel these problems; the security agencies are doing their best even if it is not 100 per cent.
Some people believe insecurity persists because it has become a money spinning industry for some political leaders?
The political leaders should interrogate themselves and find out what fuels the insecurity and how to stop it, they can stop it, the political will should be there but it seems they want to continue with the same template with which they have been mismanaging the affairs of the country in the last 20 years, which means the problems will continue. Of course, every problem that exists offers opportunists a chance to make money especially in a country like Nigeria where people are not adequately taken care of, so when they see opportunity to make money, they will take it.
Do you think the Federal Government should explore the option of negotiation with bandits?
It can be an option among many options. The Federal Government should make it clear to state governors that they must allow internal democracy in their states. The political space should be open to everybody to aspire to whatever he or she wants because people, particularly youths have been shut out politically and that can be akin to a situation where you deny a river its course of flow, when you try to bank a river, it will find its flow. By shutting youths out, the only option they have left for them is banditry and kidnapping. We must also redefine banditry to include what the governors are doing by denying youths opportunity to reach their potentials because it is also a form of banditry. Through the obliteration of internal democracy, governors have become demigods, so the youths must rise up and fight for their rights.
You said governors have become demigods and there is agitation that some of the items in the Exclusive Legislative list should be devolved to the states, what do you think?
That should not stop devolution of powers to the states; the governors are individuals and the current governors and the tendencies they represent will go but the country will continue.
The country will only make progress when certain powers which the central government has acquired over the years and which they don’t need in any case are devolved to the states so that even the stiff agitation for presidency will be reduced.
What do you think of state police?
State police is desirable, but establishing it will take into account a lot of things. We have state assemblies that make laws they cannot enforce unless they go to the federal police; this necessitates the establishment of state police. But establishment of state police should be looked at very well to prevent abuse.
What do you think of the unity of the country, is our diversity an encumbrance?
I don’t believe the diversity should be a problem. The country is divided of course but when you look at the way we interact, we are still a united people. The unity we are talking about is unity in a functioning manner, that is to agree on things that are common and to the extent to which they are common and I think that is subsisting in Nigeria. What is causing problems are the disagreements among the political class on power rotation.
What is your take on rotational presidency?
I don’t believe in it, I think any Nigerian as long as he is qualified can be the president. People talk mostly about the president, but we also have the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and other officers. All these offices are important in the power configuration of this country. I believe that any Nigerian as long as he has the pedigree can be the president no matter where he comes from. What I want to see is somebody who has the pedigree to be my leader and I believe all parts of Nigeria have these people; what is remaining is for them to put them forward so that we see who they are; you cannot just rotate an office without knowing who is coming.
Talking about the National Assembly as important in the power configuration of the country, how do you see the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan’s statement that the National Assembly will approve whatever President Muhammadu Buhari lays before the Senate?
Senator Lawan was not speaking in isolation of the process that made it possible for him to become Senate President or even be in the Senate. All the National Assembly members with the exception of few are members of the chambers because they were certified by their governors to be in the chambers. If you see what the governors put them through to become members of the National Assembly, you will weep for this country.
What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari in his six years in office?
Since the administration of President Buhari came into office, my purchasing power has dwindled and I have therefore not made any progress; whatever I have has depreciated. When the administration came into office, the dollar was N180, today it is N510. this shows that the administration has impoverished us further and it has been taxing people and increasing the rate of utilities. Whatever gains we have made has been obliterated by the administration.
In 2023, about two years from now, the country will go for another general elections, what is your advice to Nigerians?
Nigerians must be conscious of the fact that their rights have been taken away from them; the government has taken over control of their lives by force because the powers given to us by the constitution has been hijacked by the governors; our votes don’t count. In the political parties, our rights have been obliterated. Nigerians must be conscious that all these have denied us what democracy is supposed to give to us; we should rise up and take back what belongs to us.