INTERVIEW: How I Became President Jonathan’s No 1 Enemy — Bukola Saraki

A former Governor of Kwara State and senator representing Kwara Central Senatorial District, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, fielded questions from PREMIUM TIMES Editors, Musikilu Mojeed, Festus Owete and Sani Tukur two weeks ago. In the interview, Mr. Saraki speaks on why he defected from the PDP to the APC, the politics of his defection in the Senate, the crisis in the NGF, Kwara politics, the nation’s economy and other sundry issues. The second part of the interview will run later this week.

Excerpts:

We understand the PDP leadership is negotiating with you to return to the party. Where are you on this?

It appears you have more information than me on this. As I said to many people, the current chairman of the PDP is somebody I know very well. We were colleagues at a time and we have quite a good relationship and have great respect for each other. That is as far as it is and it has nothing to do with the issues, presently.  I am now in the APC and he is in the PDP. Politics does not mean that we cannot continue to have great respect for each other. May be that is what has been overstretched to conclude that there are negotiations or discussions. But there is nothing like that.

We asked because we read somewhere that they are talking to some of you who defected to the APC. Are you saying there is no form of negotiation going on between you and the PDP?

There is no negotiation going between us and the PDP.

You just said you are already in the APC, have you formally declared for the party?

I have registered (and) I have a card. What else does one need to be a member of a party?

But we are aware your letter indicating your plan to defect has not been read at on the floor of the Senate?

That is at the Senate; that is simply the tradition of the Senate. It is about the tradition of what happens on the floor and it has nothing to do with my membership of the party. It is not the Senate that will certify my membership of the APC. From the day the party started to register members, I went there as an individual and signed my name and submitted my two passport photographs and got my membership card, what else is left? Please don’t read too much or have a lot of concern that may be there is something happening. When we started a lot of people said it was not possible for us to leave the PDP. It is nothing but just talks. We had more doubting Thomases then than even now. And now the talk is that we can’t stay in APC and that we will come back. Definitely as politicians some would say come back now; don’t do this. But we are not fighting anybody. There are issues that we have taken decisions on and we need to forge ahead. I will be more than surprise if anyone decides to go back because this is not something that started now, like a knee jerk reaction. This thing has been on since August or even before that because there were issues that were happening in the party and we have been engaging ourselves (to ask that) these things must change.

People can be skeptical because a few months after you joined the APC, some of your members in the House of Representatives returned to the PDP?

With all due respect, some of them are speaking as individuals. For instance, when I take a decision, it is not just Bukola Saraki that is taking a decision; I consult widely because I am representing a lot of people. My kind of decisions is far reaching. I can’t just wake up because the Chairman of the party has come to see me here in Abuja, and so I will just come and call you to tell you I have declared. There must be series of consultations and with even my supporters. I cannot just go to them and simply announce to them, it is not possible. There must be serious fundamental principle issues that must emerge and I haven’t seen them and I doubt if they will emerge in the next few months.

Your letter to the Senate informing it of your plan to defect to the APC, listed 16 Senators, but only 11 signed. What happened?

One of the Senators in Sokoto had a rethink. Another Senator from Kano also had a rethink. Actually 12 signed because one person has just joined us and two more are likely to join us as well. So, basically I will say we lost two. But many more will join us because politics is local and you will see what will happen in some states, especially in the South East. There is definitely going to be issues in some of these states. Movements will happen not because some don’t like the people in the PDP or Wadata Plaza, but it’s going to be due to their own local political permutations. Already there are some seats in the Senate that are going to be a problem. You know some Senators know that certain powerful people in their states want their seats. I tell some of them that I will only know if you are truly PDP or not after your primaries. So, I believe those changes will also make a difference.

Now, why did you leave the PDP?

A lot has been going on about the way the PDP is being run, starting from right after the last convention and they dissolved the congress of Adamawa. I am one of those who said we can’t just get up and be doing those kinds of things because it sends a wrong signal about the party. Take also the issue of the NGF and what followed with not following due process and internal democracy which now led to the party not holding meetings and the like. Take also the case of Kwara state: we concluded plans to go into local government elections and we have gone through primaries and the party had even gone to inspect the primaries and then all of a sudden, 24 hours later someone sits here in Abuja and just writes a list of 193 councillors and 16 chairmen with no respect at all for what the wishes of the people are! There is no way a serious politician who has the interest of his people be party to this kind of thing. Our main purpose of being in politics is to protect the interest of our people. So it was even not me, but the people who said we cannot continue to be in this party and support this kind of process. That is why whenever people ask me whether they are talking to me, I tell them that this decision goes beyond me as an individual. How do I go back to the state and tell the people that PDP is a party that represents their wishes? To them what the party did was like a rape on democracy. You know at the grassroots level, the people are not so interested on the president or governor. They are deeply interested in who become their councillor and chairman. So when they go through a process and Abuja said no, if you are a politician, you know what that does to you.

But some of these things are not new; they have always been there…?

No! It depends on the level of impunity. In isolated cases, when you have issues you resolve them, but not in the case of an entire state. You cannot totally disregard the structure and do something different. The level of impunity in the past has not gotten to this level.

In a way you are the godfather of Kwara politics now, and you said the people of Kwara…

(Interrupts) Let me explain something: some of you due to your profession, you see what is happening politically and you know that there is a change going on. So, even in politics now, there is nothing like the godfather. Today, whoever wants to continue to be relevant must be able to marry the wishes of the people vis-à-vis what you think should be the direction of the people. It is no more a case of servant-leader, where if the leader says we should go this way it becomes sacrosanct. No! One might do that, but he won’t last.

Are you saying you are not the godfather of Kwara politics?

I don’t like your use of the word godfather; because honestly it doesn’t happen like that. The level of participation in politics now is so high. That is why you will see shockers in 2015. Look at the registration exercise that we just did, it tells you that the ordinary people really want change. You can’t just sit down as a leader and say this is the way we must go. Many people are going in different direction with their leader. You see if not because of what happened in Kwara with respect to the local government election, we might have to work hard to convince the people to move. In Kwara, it was not the PDP as a party that was winning us elections. We only win elections through the hard work that we do. We are doing the work, and all we wanted was for the party to recognise that, but instead, the party left the majority and decided to work with the minority.

If truly the majority of the people of Kwara are tired of the PDP’ how come you are not able to convince your siblings to be with you in the APC?

First of all, I only have one sibling that is in politics. This is not the first time that we are having different political views with my other sibling that is in politics. It is not abnormal. It happens all over. We all have our own different political aspirations and wishes.

We asked because we thought Oloye (their father Olusola Saraki) reconciled the two of you before he passed on?

But at the same time, with the issues on the ground we might have different views and that is the beauty of democracy.

Your party, the APC alleged that lawmakers were offered money to return to the PDP. Were you offered any money to return?

Whether anyone has come to offer me money? (general laughter) Well I am not aware of that.

Ok, let’s go back to the Senate; have you changed your sitting position, because we know sitting arrangements are made along party lines. Secondly, you had a meeting with the Senate president on your defection plan, what really transpired at the meeting?

Look, our view is very simple. This matter has been going on for a while and once we decided that we wanted to leave we submitted a letter, and normally such a letter is read on the floor. On the day we submitted it, the Senate President did not come to sit. It was the Deputy Senate President that presided and he said he could not read or take any action on the letter. He said the Senate President want to take action on it. He said the Senate president wants a meeting with the members that defected and there was no time and place for the meeting. But finally, the meeting took place, though not all members were there. It was just I and one other member. I told the Senate President that we want to defect to another party and as the head of this institution we know it is within your right to ask us why we are leaving, but not stop us. His initial view was that he has legal advice that because the matter is in court, he cannot take any action. We told him that if you can’t take any action, let us read our letter and inform our members that we are moving because this is not the first time that people have moved since 1999. Even when there was no crisis at all, people had moved. But he insisted we should go and have another meeting and look at it. One thing is that we thought maybe he didn’t want to be the one to read the letter for political reasons because we know he was under a lot of pressure from his party. So, we offered to read our letter so that it can just be recorded in the votes and proceedings. That is what would have shown that the National Assembly operates as one and the Senate President is for all members. But the Senate President came under one of our rules to say that whenever a matter is in court it cannot be deliberated upon. The rules allow the Senate President to interpret what he wants to interpret. There was no doubt in the minds of everybody that he was just looking for a way or something to hold on to; to prevent us from moving because I can’t see the need for any debate on this. But the movement just has to do with members’ local politics and it has nothing to do with any leadership change in the Senate. There is this fear that if we are allowed to move, the numbers will grow and some people will be removed; but how long do we have in the Senate before elections? There should always be consistency. We should play politics within the rules, sometimes it will favour us, other times it will not. You cannot obey one rule because it favours you and flip it when it does not. This is killing the institutions. A good example is that PDP has gained from this in the past and so if it is losing now, let it be. Don’t use your authority to abuse a process. It may not be legally wrong, but morally we all know that this is being done to protect the interest of PDP. What about the House, is it not the same case? Is it not the same law, the same rule?  There has to be consistency on this issue. As I said, it does not stop our activities at APC. We will pursue the case and the issue of its legality will be resolved.

But one basis for defection is that a party must be factionalised and there was a court ruling that said the ‘new PDP’ does not basically exist?

No, that was not what the court said. This country is sometimes amazing. I must challenge you guys because it is like a market place – go and read the judgement. What the judge said was that “I recognise the Bamanga faction”, he did not say there was no faction, but all of a sudden information began spreading by mouth to mouth. No one cares to sit down and really read the judgement. ‘New PDP’ was challenging that we are the executive, but the judge said no, the executive that I recognise is Bamanga-led executive. The man never ruled at any time that there was no faction. Even by the pleading of the PDP, it recognises the faction. By even going to court to say that there is one group is an acknowledgement of the existence of a faction. Justice Chukwu said ‘you Baraje faction is not recognised, I recognise the Bamanga faction.’ So by even recognising one faction, it means there is another one.

As it is now, the Nigeria Governors Forum is polarised, as a former chairman of the Forum what do you think is the way out because it is important for the NGF to come back as one house?

I am happy you say that because some of us feel very sad and again it is back to what I said. We do not try to preserve institutions. We are so much concerned about what favours us today. I know the efforts I made to make sure that this problem did not happen. Up to two days before the election, I tried to reach out to the highest quarters to try and prevent an election because whatever is the result of that election, nobody will win. What do I mean by that? If Amaechi wins the election; it will looks as if he has defeated the presidency because it was deeply involved. The best thing was just to avoid having an election because once you don’t accept the result of that election, it will mean problem. How long is two years? Amaechi at that time had even accepted just one year as a way out. It was clear that he won. If those you sent to go and do a work are defeated, let them bear the cross of their defeat. They should not instead go to create an illegality. How do they even know that Amaechi would have finished his tenure? I know that even before the problem started, Amaechi was not having the total confidence of his members. It is this problem that even made him popular. Unfortunately I cannot see any way out until after 2015.

What does that mean to some of NGF’s laudable programmes, especially the one on polio? What is the implication of this whole problem?

They can’t meet. Forget NGF (because) the matter has now even entered National Economic Council. Throughout my period as governor; NEC never goes beyond one month, but the council has not met now for five months? That has never happened before. So the thing is now beyond NGF, as it has gone to Northern Governors’ Forum, and has now entered NEC. That was a matter that could have been easily resolved. What does NGF chairman do politically? Nothing! Can Amaechi stop the President if he wants to contest? It’s not possible! These are governors, they are all equals. It is just that there are lots of sycophants around. I was there and if a chairman is doing something they don’t like, they would call him to order – ‘Sir, this is not what we sent you to say, sit down.’ Often times, you are always the scapegoat who carries the bad news. Whenever difficult things are to be said, maybe you need some money or you need the government to reduce some spending, you are always the one that will have to convey the message to the president. The one conveying such messages is always seen as the bad person.

So it cannot be resolved at all?

Honestly, the only way I see it can be resolved is for Governor Jang to accept that he did not win and may also appeal to Rotimi (Amaechi), though he has a mandate for two years. It is just unfortunate that this thing has gone too far

Most of these governors are your friends, why are you unable to….  

You can’t imagine how much I have tried. I had done so much. Had it been that there was no election or that even after the elections or if certain actions were not taken, it would have been easier. It’s because a lot of recognition has been given to an illegal act. It has now emboldened others not to find a way out – opening a parallel secretariat and doing all kinds of things. Now at the end of the day, the whole organisation is losing and there are a lot of benefits attached to the NGF.

Sometime ago, you raised the issue of subsidy which raised a lot of dust that we are witnessing today. What really are the issues?  And it appears you know a lot about this kerosene subsidy. What are the issues?

There is PMS (subsidy) and there is Kerosene subsidy. When I raised the issue of the PMS subsidy in 2011, it was something I believe to be a turning point with regards to accountability and transparency. I raised it because I felt it was a danger to the economy and budget implementation if we are spending over N2 trillion on PMS. It was not that whether subsidy should exist or not. What I was saying was that even while we were having subsidy, it could be managed within an amount that was more reasonable than this. The subsidy was just being used as an excuse to mismanage funds, breed corruption and not be transparent. And the amounts we were talking about were too huge for everybody to keep quiet. There was a lot of pressure on me to keep quiet and I know what I have gone through because of that subsidy. Before that subsidy I had a perfect relationship with the entire executive arm of government. I worked hard for the PDP; I was hard working, a very good boy. I was in good books. But my problems began the moment I took up the issue of the subsidy. I have never been to the SFU before but from that time I became a regular customer. They even organised students under NANS to do a demonstration against me. Due to my private sector driven background, I am not against people making money or being in business, but there are things that are a danger to all of us. Within the last one year you hear the Minister of Finance commending the government for saving over N500 billion for Nigeria through better management of the subsidy. So now they are clapping for themselves? If people like us did not take the risk to bring it out for you to now change your processes to reduce the number of importers, improve the criteria for which you can import and better documentation on import, is it that they do not know that there was the need to change all these things before?

That is on PMS. And there have been significant changes on the product. We now have better players and they are doing better scrutiny. There is still room for improvement, but it is definitely much better than before.

At that same time, we talked about the issue of kerosene; subsidy on kerosene has been removed since 2011. There is a presidential directive to that effect, but because of the high level of impunity and illegality, people just continue paying subsidy on it. Because of that we are losing close to N700 million daily. For people like us, these issues are too huge to keep quite.   If you are doing one contract may be the profit is N10, goodluck to you, but this one is endangering our economy. At $107 per barrel, we have no money in our excess crude account, and states have not shared money. It is not like before. For the last seven months now, states have not shared money yet the thing is still going down. So why shouldn’t we all be responsible enough to say these things must stop.

The man you said you are subsidising for is not buying at N50. Nigerians buy kerosene at N120 to N130. Filling stations are even issuing receipts, so it is not something they are hiding.  Why is an importer who supposedly bought from NNPC at N50 selling at N120?  Surely it is not because he wants to make N70 profit; it must be that the product is not getting to him at N50. We all know this!

The man on the street that you claim you are subsidising for is not getting it at N50! Why can’t we do what is right?  All these things are not personal. Whether it is Jonathan or Yar’adua that is the president, it does not matter. What is wrong is wrong! This subsidy on kerosene must stop-yesterday, not tomorrow!

We continue to speak, but every day, N700 million is gone. Just imagine it, every single day N700 million going into some people’s pocket.

But what do you make of the claim that presidential directive without being gazetted can be ignored?

Oh please! I don’t like people insulting our intelligence. What do you mean by presidential directive not gazetted? It is nothing but an afterthought. Gazetted? Even Ministry of Finance said it is not in the budget. So, what supersedes? Is it what is not gazetted or what is in the constitution? Those are lame excuses, it’s not about gazette. Is it in the budget?

You don’t see it as disrespect for the office of the president?

Forget this entire directive or gazette. Is it in the budget? If it is not, where did you get the authority to incur expenditure?  One is driven by the constitution and the other by gazette. This expenditure you are incurring on kerosene, where is it in the budget? The authority that allows you incur this expenditure, does not exist, that is the truth!

What do you think should be done to those who committed this illegal act?

I know where you are going, but I am not going there and I will tell you why. Why am I shouting? I am not shouting because it’s about Diezani (Petroleum Minister) or it is about Mr. President. I am shouting because I am looking at the economy and I am looking at the amount of money that we are losing on this nonsense. If we politicise it, it gets more difficult to do the right thing. Let’s do the right thing first. Ask me that question after we have won the battle to stop it. Let us first stop it because the moment we start talking about who and who, it will just be like Stella, they will say it’s because she is a woman. So let us first do the right thing. The country cannot afford to be spending $3.5billion on something that is not necessary. After we do that and we send to whoever is responsible for sanctioning anyone, they can do what they should. But I don’t want you to miss the point, by bringing the cart before the horse, where people will believe that it is because of politics, that it is APC trying to rubbish some people. It is not about that.

Even if you go back to 2011, we stated in our recommendation that this kerosene subsidy must be stopped. It is just an issue that resurfaced because it is the CBN governor who is part of the executive that is raising it. So my take is that we must first stop the bleeding. As a medical Doctor, we always try to stabilise the patient, after which you decide whether to take to surgery, or intensive care.

But who is going to do that?

Which is more important, to stabilise the patient or the surgery? Remember we are losing N700 million daily. Just imagine how many bore holes that kind of money will provide. That is what we should be fighting for first. One thing with this government is that whoever is caught doing something wrong will say it’s because I am from the South East or it’s because I am from Kwara. We always try to bring ethnicity to defend anything we cannot defend.

But does it not bother you that whenever you highlight an important national issue, nothing gets done?

It does, but we have to continue under the processes that we have because eventually certain actions must be taken. For instance, recent decisions taken by the government shows that they must be listening. Some ministers have been removed. Forget what they tell you that they are going to contest elections in some places that have already been concluded. But with this kind of pressure, I believe Mr. President will do something about it.

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