Senator Sani Musa represents Niger East senatorial district. He speaks with selected journalists on the state of the nation, the crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and issues bordering on the electronic transmission of election results. SEYE OLUMIDE was there.
Has the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari done anything worth commending in rejigging the economy, its acclaimed anti-graft war, and national unity?
IF you take a closer look at Nigeria at present, it is obvious that things are not the way they used to be anymore. Our country in the last few years has passed through a very challenging period. But within this period, it has also recorded some major gains. We have had to endure a plethora of issues that have constantly put the leadership on their toes – to change policies where necessary and come up with a problem-solving approach in handling these challenges.
Corruption is a global phenomenon and it is not peculiar to Nigeria or Africa. No doubt, any serious nation that hopes to grow its economy and develop every facet of its country must give priorities to its anti-graft war.
In 2015, when President Buhari came into power, he pledged to fight corruption and empower the anti-graft agencies to function effectively without interference. We all witnessed the pervasive corruption and impunity that characterised the last two administrations presided over by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) before APC came on board. President Buhari’s anti-graft war was endorsed by world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and ever since then, this administration has successfully carried out high-profile prosecutions, convicted criminals within and outside of the political space, and secured assets forfeiture.
For the first time, we witnessed the prosecution of judges, government agencies (NNDC, NSIT, and EFCC), top military officers, and expatriates who were wanted. The anti-graft agencies under the present administration had recovered funds in excess of N800 billion and secured more than 1,400 convictions. These recoveries in cash (local and foreign currencies) and assets, I believe will help stimulate economic growth.
You can also see what the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) is doing. Before now, drug pushers had a busy day trafficking illicit drugs and tarnishing the country’s image abroad. Today, that institution has recorded numerous successes in smoking out these bad eggs and this has drastically improved our image globally. So, when you look at the records so far and compare them with what was obtained before, you will agree with me that things are not the way they used to be. The era of lawlessness, impunity, highhandedness, and a lack of political willpower to tackle corruption head-on is behind us now.
The government also deserves some commendations on how it is handling state aggressors. We must continue to support the government in fostering national unity and eschew every divisive tendency capable of heating the polity and a breakdown of law and order.
What are the implications of the current leadership crisis in the ruling APC to the polity and how can it be resolved?
Every political party has its own challenges and APC is not exempted. We have had our share of this crisis before, during, and after the 2019 general elections and we have been able to manage it. President Buhari is the leader of our party, and he did the right thing by dissolving the National Working Committee (NWC) and appointed a caretaker committee. Since then, our party has witnessed tremendous growth and the efforts of the caretaker committee are yielding positive results across the states.
So, when you talk about the leadership crisis, maybe you’re referring to the major opposition party because, despite our internal challenges, the APC remains the most disciplined, inclusive, and friendly party trusted by the majority of Nigerians.
We have witnessed the defection of serving governors, lawmakers, and political heavyweights’ into our party alongside their supporters. Some of the aggrieved members that left the party are coming back; court cases instigated against the party have been dropped. So what happened after the 2015 and 2019 elections where we lost Edo State and some of the State House of Assembly, Federal and Senatorial elections due could have been better managed but we are trying to address all that now.
The APC recorded an overwhelming victory at the polls in 2015 and in 2019 respectively, and with the right leadership and structure, we can replicate these feats in subsequent elections. As a loyal party man, I have strong confidence in the leadership of our great party to do the right thing and set it on the right path to continue these innovative reforms it needs so badly to break new territories and secure more electoral victories.
How can ongoing separatist agitations be stemmed in the country?
People and groups have always agitated for one thing or the other since 1914. So, Nigeria’s stability and resolve have been tested by separatist movements. Foreign observers have at one point or the other predicted that Nigeria will not stand together as one nation – look at us now, we’re managing our diversity to ensure we live as one indivisible nation.
What we need is dialogue, what we need is to look at our books and see where we can amend the constitution in the interest of our people.
Already, we have gone closer to the people to collect memoranda and concluded the public hearings on the constitutional amendments in all the geo-political zones and at the moment we are considering the harmonised version of the Bills at the Constitutional Review Committee level. All these are done in line with the yearnings and aspirations of all Nigerians.
With the way the country is now, is there any assurance APC will remain in power beyond 2023?
APC came into power in 2015, and the party was re-elected again in 2019. We know why Nigerians don’t want to go back to the era where political office holders capture state institutions and where state resources are used to enrich their cronies. We are gradually departing from the vicious politics of patronage and clearly, the people have called for a paradigm shift both from the political parties and to the system of governance. I have no doubt that the APC will remain the people’s choice come 2023 and beyond.
Majority of your colleagues in the Senate voted against the electronic transmission of election results contrary to the desire of Nigerians?
My position on this has not changed; I am fully in support of the electronic transmission of election results. I have remained consistent in my legislative work in the overriding interest of my people. The confusion on this particular section of the INEC amendment was fueled by a section of the media to paint the APC senators in a bad light. Majority of us were in support of Section 52(3) of the proposed Electoral Act, which seeks to give INEC the power to transmit election results electronically. During the clause-by-clause consideration of this Amendment, Senators have the right to propose further amendments where possible and this is a standard legislative practice worldwide.
My colleague from Niger State, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi brought to the attention of the Senate that the words ‘electronic transmission of results where practicable’ as used in the report of the INEC committee were rather ambiguous and this could lead to arbitrary interpretations from different quarters. He further stated that the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), being the regulatory institution in charge of communication infrastructure across the country be made to work with INEC in determining the “where and when practicable” in the report to ensure that voters in rural communities without access to communication network are not disenfranchised. So, you see, the disagreement we had on the floor of the plenary was on which version of these two drafts on electronic transmission of results do we adopt and not that we totally expunged electronic transfer of results as widely claimed by some of your colleagues in the media.
All senators were in support of the transmission of election results electronically, what Senator Albert Akpan, representing Akwa- Ibom Central Senatorial District, proposed was for the Senate to stick with the earlier recommendations by the committee against the amendment suggested by Senator Sabi Abdullahi.
There was disagreement on that and we went into voting. Some voted ‘YES’ to electronic transmission of results “where and when practicable” and others voted “NO” due to the ambiguity that that phrase will work to the disadvantage of those in rural communities with little to zero network infrastructure – and so we did this to ensure that INEC was guided by data and scientific realities to prevent future problems. It is mischievous for anyone to report that the voting was a choice between supporting or rejecting the transfer of election results electronically.
Will you blame or commend the country’s political parties for the state of the nation’s politics?
For Nigeria to be among the best democracies in the world, we must build a strong multi-party system that will increase the confidence of the electorate and improve our electoral system. If you look at the way our political parties are structured now, you can trace that to our political history that dates back to the era of the oldest parties that we had then; the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) and the Nigeria Youth Movement (NYM). These parties were formed by the Nationalist movements during the colonial era. Before the end of the military rule, most of the political parties formed under the 1945 Constitution that separated Nigeria into the Northern, Western and Eastern regions were on the basis of ethno-regional-based party systems. And this deepened ethnic politics and conflicts along tribal and regional lines.
So, when you look at the dominant political parties today, there’s a pattern, a historical pattern that defines who we are today. You can see in 2013, that it took the APC, to have honest conversations about these ethno-regional concerns to persuade political parties from different regions to merge and form a party with a national outlook. This was needed to link citizens from all tribes to the government and act as a platform for the people to be a part of the decision-making and influence government.
In the past, most political parties were organized along ethnic and religious lines and sometimes even along geographical zones. So, I think I can commend our major political parties today because when you look at them closely, you cannot say they are for or belong to a particular ethnic group or religion. I will also commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for deregistering about 75 political parties who have failed to meet the criteria provided for by section 2 25A of the 1999 constitution thus leaving the system with 18 political parties.
The other issue in contention will be the issue of party ideology; this is based on acting in the best interest of the party or out of a commitment to ideological principles. More often than not, we have witnessed many situations where incumbents dumb their political parties for another political party. Whether this is hinged on personal interest or the interest of the general public, the fact that this process is accompanied by the law makes it legal. Unless the law is amended to make cross-carpeting an offence, we will continue to witness the influx of people from one party to another. So, I believe that our political parties play a critical role in entrenching our democracy and stabilizing the polity.
Money has continued to be the main emphasis during elections, ranging from high nomination fees and inducement of voters. Do you think the situation will get better or worse?
Well, as more and more political players come into the fray, money will continue to be a key factor in our elections. Let’s be honest, vote-buying is not only restricted to Nigeria or Africa, it is only more rampant in developing countries like ours and the reasons for that are not far-fetched. We will continue to enlighten our people on the danger associated with selling their votes for a pot of soup. Voter’s inducement and bribery is a serious offence under section 124 of INEC’s Electoral act 2010, and the penalty for such upon conviction is a maximum of N500, 000 fines or 12-month imprisonment or both. It will interest you to know that the 9th Senate under the leadership of Senator (Dr.) Ahmad Lawan recently passed the landmark bill establishing the commission of the electoral offence. This amendment has given INEC the discretion and power to prosecute any electoral offenders.
As far as party nomination form is concerned, I cannot speak for other political parties, but the APC is setting a good example in this regard. Our party announced a 50% reduction in fees for all women and physically challenged aspirants contesting in the wards, local government, and the state congresses across the country. So, where aspirants for the Ward Chairmen are paying N10, 000, the female aspirants will pay N5,000 only and I know this will soon be reflected in other nomination positions such as the Governorship, Presidential, State Assemblies, and Federal and Senatorial elections. From here, I think things will get better.
With the current security situation in the country, do you think campaigns and elections would be held in 2023?
Why not? Elections were held in many states last Saturday. Anambra will vote on November 6 to elect a new governor. So what is the issue? At the Senate, we’ve also passed the supplementary budget to enhance the capacity of our military and para-military agencies to tackle the various security challenges in the country and they will be involved in the election process to maintain law and order.
We have also done our due diligence by screening and approving the INEC commissioners that are qualified. If anyone is aggrieved on any issues, isn’t it best to go to the polls and use your voting power to effect the change that you would like to see? So, I have no reason to think or feel that elections will not take place in 2023.
Recently the Central Bank of Nigeria banned Bureau de Change operators from accessing dollars. What do you make of the policy visa-a-vis the economy under APC?
If we put emotions and sentiments aside, this is a good development by the Central Bank Governor. The advantages are numerous, but it also has some consequences especially to the lower class of Nigerians that can’t get FX in the banks. We are also aware that some of them have become the conduit for graft, illicit funds, and corruption. Why do you think most big firms bypass the banks to patronize the Bureau de change operators including embassies and international companies? The economy has been facing serious distractions globally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Nigeria is not exempted. Yet the APC administration under President Buhari worked so hard to grow the Nigerian economy in line with the expectations and forecast of having to grow by 1.8 per cent in 2021 despite the high uncertainty about the forecast.