Senator Sirika brass his mind on national issues

Senator HADI Sirika

In this interview with SHUAIB SHUAIB, Senator Hadi Sirika who, recently, through the Supreme Court got a certificate of return from INEC to claim his seat as a Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) Senator from Katsina, carpets government for removing the subsidy regime, stressing that the savings will be frittered away on corruption. He also spoke on the internal wrangling in CPC, the Supreme Court’s resolution, security crisis and other topical issues.

Fuel subsidy regime has just ended with the presidency promising to reinvest the saved funds in infrastructure and palliatives to bailout Nigerians. What are the chances this administration will Honour its promises?

I do not believe that this government as it is presently constituted will do that. I do not believe so. From 1999 till date, we have heard them issue these kind of statements. They have been saying that they will, they will and till date, they have not. The Apprehension and the apathy that Nigerians have on this matter is that since the beginning of the present democratic dispensation or maybe even since independence, except maybe, during the PTF which was headed by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, there has never been a time when government said it was going to increase the price of petroleum products and the proceeds would be used judiciously to provide infrastructure and services.

Time and time again, government has made such promises but failed. So, Nigerians do not trust and believe this government. Nigerians do not believe the government will do it. In simple terms, the money will be lost, the money will be stolen and this is the only thing that Nigerians enjoy; moreover, there have been so many arguments whether there is really a subsidy. Even if they have the intention, the huge amount of corruption that is in place at the moment will not allow them to carry it out.

So it is an unnecessary hardship that our people are going to face. We have been suffering, we have suffered enough and they want us to suffer some more. Some of us stood up for election because we believe we can create the necessary change and we will deviate from the present status quo which is only good at throwing its hard policies on us and we have no choice because our people have simply refused to do what needs to be done at election time; to come out and chase them out. I do not believe that government will come out and use this money for any infrastructure. I am not alone; I believe 160 million Nigerians believe so.

There are arguments that government should not have removed subsidy without recourse to the National Assembly. Do you share this view?

I have read a lot of people talk about the legal questions arising – whether the executive has the right, without the PPPRA board sitting and agreeing to review the prices because they are legally responsible for the pricing of petroleum products. I align with that argument. Then again, the question of whether it should go to the National Assembly; I believe whatever the legal implication of anything as sensitive as this that is going to affect the lives of 160 million people in this country needs to at least be heard by the National Assembly who are the representatives of the people. They should at least be consulted to enable them debate it and also consult with their constituencies to aggregate opinions then advise as appropriate or take a stand on it.

For sure, the National Assembly make laws; they can decide to review the law or the Act that established the PPPRA and take over its responsibility because there is what we call the doctrine of necessity. Even if this is not covered by the functions of the National Assembly, the doctrine of necessity will make the National Assembly to intervene on behalf of the people because the parliament is actually the people’s parliament. We in the National Assembly represent the various constituencies – and their views and opinions must be heard and must be respected by government, irrespective of whatever law there is. We are the lawmakers, we make the laws. We can use the doctrine of necessity which has been used before in a situation like this. If government is coming to short-change people or throw them into hardship, we should be responsible enough to stand up for the people and in this case, I think National Assembly can and will.

The PPPRA was created to regulate petroleum products, but with the subsidy removed, people are suggesting that the PPPRA be scrapped because it has no use any more. Without the subsidy, it has no right to dictate price to marketers. Do you think there is sense in this?

For me, even when there was subsidy, I do not believe in the multiplication of agencies. I see them as conduits, as drain pipes. This thing can be handled by a department in the petroleum ministry. It is a very simple and easy task. It has been done in so many countries. I never believed that these agencies should exist. I believe that there are functions that could be done by a very small amount of people. Now, you have its executive secretary, it board and retinue of people coming to put their hands in the purse of government.? Of course, we already have an over bloated civil service and government as it is. So, I do not believe it should exist in the first instance – whether there is subsidy or not.

Gen. Buhari has told government to reduce the cost of governance. Do you really think that the cost of governance is a hindrance to the country’s development?

Indeed it is. All that he said was very clear and he meant it. We believe in it and if you know the amount of wastages and the amount of money being siphoned, which a classical example is the jumbo salary in the National Assembly. In a country where you cannot afford to pay $120 a month as minimum wage, then again, having looked at the jumbo salary of the National Assembly, it is probably even better than the executive arm because some of the lawmakers were voted in by the people.

But in the executive arm of government, you will find that a minister has an approval limit of N1 billion without going to the Council. He can sit down and issue out jobs of a N1 billion each 10 times, that is N10 billion. He goes for 10 %, that is N1 billion. If he likes, in a year, he can issue out those kind of jobs 10 times and that is N10 billion because the system is corrupt and we know it is happening. So a member of the National Assembly can be paid jumbo salary; I do not know how much it is but it will never hit N1 billion in a year. But the minister will sit down, without going to the Council, without any approval, on his own and issue out contracts and his limit is N1 billion. Not many Nigerians know this. They issue out these contracts everyday; N999 million, N999 million.

Government can fix our refineries and get them working; it has been done before. Since the refineries, pipelines and depots were built, they have not been able to add a single pipeline or single refinery. In fact, they cannot even maintain them. Let them maintain the old ones that we have, improve on them, refine our products and refine here. So, all these issues of subsidy will not be there.

For me, I think Gen Buhari was right. The government is too large and there are a lot of wastages and we should block them. It can be done. It has been shown from 1995 to 1999, PTF was set up and they were in every nook and cranny of this country.

Everybody felt them and that was just with about N100 billion. So, it can be done. You can cut down the cost of government and then the weight of government and then try to create some more jobs for people.

Let’s shift to the internal crisis in CPC over the 10 National Assembly seats. You seem to have given your own interpretation to the Supreme Court verdict on the case, but so has the other camp. With no consequential order from the apex court, there is nothing to suggest that the present lawmakers have to relinquish their seats.

The Supreme Court does not need to give any consequential order because it has ruled that in this matter, the very first court, the court of Abdul Kafarati had no jurisdiction to listen to a matter that is internal. The whole affair is one of CPC. Let me put it more clearly for people who have not been following? the issue until they will understand it.

The CPC had given INEC programmes and dates for which it will carry out activities from the ward congress to local government, to state congress and national convention, and then to primary elections and the presidential primary election. All those activities were to terminate on January 14, 2011. They made allowances for rerun in case there were problems. In our case, in Katsina, we should to have National Assembly primaries on the 8th and governorship primaries on the 13th. We went for the election on the 8th.

There were some problems with the election and the party decided to cancel the election of the 8th and later, the Board of Trustees of the party ordered that another primary election be conducted on the same day with the governorship. We had the unique nature of primary elections which was direct. You just queue behind your candidate because we wanted it to be as transparent as we could and we wanted participation by every card carrying member of the party. We chose that and it was a simple process. Just queue up and they count you. It was conducted by the party on January 13 and on the 14th, the names of those of us that won were submitted to INEC by the party.

Those in the other camp also participated in the election but they lost. INEC gave us the forms; CFOO1 and CF002B which were the prescribed forms that the Electoral Act described that every candidate must fill for him to duly return with an affidavit to INEC as a valid nominated candidate. Our names were forwarded to INEC through those prescribed forms in accordance with the Act and INEC received those nominations, accepted them and acknowledged by giving us acknowledgement cards as at January 31 2011 when the nominations were closed.

And by the Electoral Act, once nominations are made, political parties cannot change those names within a certain period and that was the cut-off date, January 31. After that was done, this other group went to the court of Abdul Kafarati who is a judge of the Federal High Court. He gave them the judgment they wanted. After our primaries on the 13th, they lost and they decided to conduct their own primaries on the 15th claiming that it was supervised by the state organ of the party, not the national. They now went to court, to Abdul Kafarati’s court and said that they did a valid primary election and they want him to pronounce them as the candidates of the party. We were joined in the matter.

We went to court. We took minutes of the Board of Trustees meeting to court to show that we were the authentic ones, that we were approved by the highest organ of the party. We also tendered acknowledgement cards from INEC that they had received our names as valid candidates of the party. We showed so many other documents but the judge in his own wisdom, or limited wisdom, as this case has shown, he ruled in their favour that they conducted valid primary elections and they were the valid candidates.

But we appealed that judgment at the Appeal Court and we won. Having won at the Appeal Court, one would have thought that INEC will now go ahead to either give us certificates because we had a superior court judgment which was the Court of Appeal judgment or at least maintain the status quo until when the matter is decided by a higher court which is the Supreme Court. Now, suddenly after, they appealed the judgment of the Appeal Court which said we were the candidates. But before the matter was determined, they had their way and I wonder where they got the certificates and what was the reasoning behind INEC giving them certificates and they went to the National Assembly and they got sworn in.

We had to wait for the Supreme Court to pass its judgment. The Supreme Court said, in simple terms that both Abdul Kafarati and Appeal Court that gave us the tickets had no jurisdiction whatsoever to entertain a matter which is entirely the? business of CPC. The constitution is very clear, the Electoral Act is very clear; it is the party that will decide who the candidates are. So, from the beginning, the courts had no business listening to it. This means there is no need for a consequential order.

From the primaries that were held, two issues came up. First, there were media reports that the primaries held on the 13th had been cancelled which was why another one was held. Then there were claims that the national headquarters of the party was trying to impose candidates on the state chapters. Should the state chapters have been given more independence?

Well it is not true. If the primaries of the 13th were cancelled, who cancelled it? It was the primaries of the 8th that was cancelled and they ordered for a rerun on the 13th, which was upheld. If the party had cancelled it, there is no way they could now turn around to submit the names of those who won on the 13th to INEC. And they never ordered for the one of the 15th. And when you are talking about the national secretariat imposing candidates on the state executive, the state is a sub-unit of the national party.

You cannot have an independent or run a parallel CPC. Everybody is subjected to the same CPC and to the same decisions. And by our constitution, the supreme body that overrules every other organ of the party is the Board of Trustees of the party. They approve our candidates, they approve our elections, and they constituted everything.

The NEC is the administrative organ of the party and the decisions to be taken, the policy matters that are to be ratified are to be ratified by Board of Trustees of the party.

Both the NEC that is running the party at the national level and overseeing everybody, from Akwa Ibom to Sokoto, from Borno to Lagos, Katsina inclusive is being run from the center by the NEC and it had produced our names through an exercise that they ordered for and was ratified by the BOT.

Our names were also subjected to scrutiny by the BOT and the result of the primary election which they ratified and said. So, you cannot have a state exco independent of the national. It is a sub unit of the national. It cannot be independent otherwise there will chaos. State by the constitution of Nigeria and by the constitution of the party, is subjected to and is a sub-unit of the national organ of the party.

The other camp had also alleged that the primary of the 13th was predetermined because the national secretariat hand-picked it’s own candidates. With the Supreme Court ruling that parties pick their own candidates, what stops a party from bypassing the entire process of electing a candidate and just hand-pick candidates and hand them over to INEC?

I think all this is being suggested by people who want to bring confusion into the system, people that have been defeated and rejected by the people now trying to come out to have a face. This is untenable and unfounded. How can you imagine that the national headquarters of a party will sit and start hand-picking candidates for all the locations in this country?

The Federal? Government just declared a state of emergency in some 15 local governments across four Northern states and some people have suggested that the emergency already existed because of the large number of soldiers there and the government in reality lacks ideas on how to tackle the problem and nothing new will be done. What do you think?

Whether they have ideas or they lack same, it is evident in the fact that we are still having bombings. If they had ideas or knew what to do, by now, they would have at least done something to reduce these or at least eliminated them. Government is a serious business. I cannot imagine a government which will not have information on each and every single soul that lives in this country. Government is serious business, it is not a joke and neither is it for jokers. I would want to presume that whoever occupies that office in the Villa will have the intellect and the wisdom to put together, an intelligentsia and check crime, detect it, prevent it and stay on top of it.

To make a bomb and bomb a place on a Christmas day or on Sallah day in Jos takes a lot of planning; you need to beat so many security systems. They have informants all over the place, almost in every household or at least on every street and bombs are not bought on the counter like drugs that you just buy and then detonate. You make them, someone must know and then you go all the way to a certain Church or a certain Mosque and plant it. They went all the way to the army barracks to bomb the barracks.

They went all the way to the police headquarters to bomb it. They went all the way to Eagle Square to bomb it and then you tell me that the government has the capacity to check it!

I believe this state of emergency is a ruse and also, I do not believe that it is a step in the right direction. They should detect, prevent, check and stay on top of the issues on security. The whole essence of governance, for me is security.? No more, no less.

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