Dr. Nuhu Shem Zagbayi, is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He was a commissioner for health and a deputy governor in Niger State for many years. In this exclusive interview, he speaks on the cause of the crisis in his party, the reason why some sections of the country are opposed to restructuring and other issues.
How would you assess the 8th Assembly generally in terms of its performance?
I will say they have done well considering how they started. The fact that the Executive couldn’t impose the kind of leadership they wanted was good for the legislature because by now, the leadership should have collapsed. We all know the Senate President is not in the good books of the Presidency and his political party, yet he has survived and has kept on. One might argue that it is because of that they have sidelined him, but the Deputy Senate President who is in the opposition party speaks out whenever there is need to do so. He might be doing it to support his own party and he might also be the mouthpiece of the Senate, because if the Senate President speaks out, he could easily be accused of trying to undermine his own party in power and they might come after him. It is on that basis that I would say they are doing well.
The Ajaokuta deal has been mired in controversy for a very long time, but the Senate sort of soft-pedalled on it and it just scaled through effortlessly. Shouldn’t the Senate have scrutinised that deal better because the nitty-gritty of the deal does not seem to favour Nigerians?
If I were in that position, looking at it dispassionately, Nigeria has lost a lot; the Ajaokuta deal has been on for so long and we just have to get it started because once it produces steel, people would be employed.
Does it mean that the money that was invested in this project has been wasted?
It has been wasted, because contractually, whatever they did, we paid for, but we couldn’t fulfil our own obligation and that is where we are. But, I think there are still other aspects they had completed which are useful, but the critical one is what is still outstanding. Now, if we can have someone come in to complete it, then we are ready to go. It is just like the refineries. In my own opinion, if someone could come and take those refineries for a token and get them to work, we wouldn’t have to pay the staff in that refinery again because the product will pay them their salaries. That would be better for us than just keeping it on and still paying and we are getting nothing out of it and that is what is happening in Ajaokuta.
Are you advocating for the privatisation of the refineries?
I am in full support of the privatisation of refineries; in fact, any business at all because all over the world, governments don’t deal in business. Every economy that is doing well is run by the private sector. You can see the Chinese economy, when they were under communist control, they were not doing well, but now they are almost dominating the world. Everybody is going to manufacture there because they have allowed the private sector to thrive.
What do you think can be done within a short space of time for the economy to bounce back?
The National Assembly should ask for the progress report on the implementation of the budget and know how far they have implemented it, because it is a document they passed with all the heads and sub-heads and projects.
If the Executive is saying most of the budget has been implemented, it is the job of the legislature to find out for us.
What is your reaction to the issue of budget padding and its different controversies between Speaker, Dogara and Jibrin?
Nobody can extract or insert funds from any budget without the Executive’s approval, because it is the Executive that implements the budget. So, the Executive can say okay, if Legislator A said I am allocating N100 million to a project in my constituency; has that project been implemented? The executive can crosscheck; and if they had done that, all these controversies would have been resolved by now. And then for Jibrin; is he claiming this is the first time such is happening? If he has done it before, where did the money go and did he partake? If he did not and he knows that padding took place, then he should say it and if he did, then he should come clean and clear and say I confess. Last year, when I was chairman, the previous years, there was padding and this is how much I got and here it is.
But legally speaking, the Reps members have come out to say there is no terminology called padding. That what they do is to insert some certain things where some certain things were not inserted…
The budget process is such that once the budget is sent by the Executive, you as the legislature will look at it and find out whether it meets the expectations of your constituents and in the process will make adjustments. And moreover, there is now a discussion and the Executive has also accepted that there shouldn’t be constituency projects because certain representatives will recognise that there is a special need in his constituency which the Federal Government can intervene in and then make a case for that and a provision is made.
The fund for that project, who is it released to? Is it the Executive that carries out the project?
It is released to the ministry that will carry out the project. If I want boreholes for example, then the funding will be to the Ministry of Water Resources. If it is a health budget, it would be to the Federal Ministry of Health or Primary Healthcare Development Agency in their payment.
In some cases where the Executive arm colludes with the Legislature, those projects may not be implemented fully, but all these can be checked. No money can get out of the system without the Executive’s approval.
Between 2015 and now, a lot has changed, the prices of commodities have tripled, and the country is in recession. What went wrong?
It was because the price of oil in the international market fell.
How much was oil in 1999 when Obasanjo took over?
Oil price was low, but then, the country’s wage bill was not high till Obasanjo came in and increased salaries, and most people were employed in the civil service. If you look at Nigeria pre-1999, significant infrastructural improvements have taken place. There are more vehicles on the roads, more buildings that have come up, more universities have been built, we have more industries and so on.
But the President has said the PDP did nothing in the last 16 years
I think people are not being fair, because every individual who is an adult in Nigeria today, if he is sincere, he would say my life in 2014/15 was better than my life in 1998. I will tell you a story, a civil servant when I was Deputy Governor who told me that but for the Obasanjo administration, he had never bought a bag of rice and taken home, he used to buy in tins, but now he could buy a bag of rice to his house. That man has gone back to buying in tins because he cannot afford a bag of rice, and salaries are not being paid.
So are you admitting that there was a high rate of corruption in your party?
Has anything changed? It is the Nigerian that is corrupt, and not the party. It is the Nigerian. What I would have expected the President to do was to tackle it the way he did when he was a military Head of State. If you arrest the big guys, the small man is still corrupt.
You know we have two shades of people – the Nigerian in his village, he is upright; out of his village, he is a different person. Most of us, when we go to our villages, we behave well; you wouldn’t hear that we steal, but when you come to town and you are in the ministry, it is when you can steal.
Do you agree with the critics of the President who say that his war against corruption has been one-sided?
There is evidence that the criticism is true. I know that occasionally someone from the ruling party would be arrested. But we are watching because there have been allegations against Amaechi, but nothing has been done about it.
The President has said nobody has brought evidence against any of his ministers
Is it people who should bring evidence? It is the DSS or the EFCC that does that. Are they not the ones who will come to your house at night and find out whether you have dollars or not? So, if you say ordinary people should do that, then I don’t think we are really sincere because most of the people that had been arraigned, were reportedly investigated by the EFCC and DSS investigated.
What is wrong with your party? Can it ever get it right?
I’m sure the party will recover because it is solid. If you saw what happened in Port Harcourt, and the number of people that turned up, you would understand. Only about two or three states did not go to Port Harcourt and that tells you that we are solid. You also know that Amodu Sheriff wasn’t in PDP.
If he wasn’t, then why did the party bring him in despite the warnings by stakeholders?
What we heard was that the governors were pulled in by him because he promised to fund the party. Governors usually have been under pressure from the national party leadership to finance the party, but when Sheriff came, he pledged that he was going to invest N40 billion of his money into the party. So, the governors were happy; and they felt that for the first time, there was someone who would fund the party without asking for money. They felt relief and immediately brought him in, and that is what landed us where we are today.
So did he eventually invest the money like he promised?
That is why he parted ways with the governors because he didn’t.
So, it turned out that it was all a hoax?
Yes! It was just a ploy to get in; and immediately he got in, because he had the support of the governor initially, the future looked very bright for him. He then felt that it was likely that he could be a presidential candidate when it was played up that the north would produce the next presidential candidate of the PDP. So, he saw himself as one.
Did he see himself as a potential candidate, or did the party see him as one?
No, no, no. He saw himself as one and in the process, he became too ambitious. We learnt that he had discussions with some governors and promised each of them that they would be his running mate in 2019.
I don’t have any evidence to prove that, but then, he didn’t speak to just one governor; he spoke with two or three of them, and when they got to know that he has promised each of them the VP ticket, then they said ah! ‘this man is a crook’. Then everything scattered.
And it is holding the party to ransom?
He is holding us to ransom unfortunately, but the party is still strong. How long can we hold it? Or the court cases will resume because at one time, they said okay, they suspend all court cases until these talks have been resolved but from what we are hearing, they have not made much progress.