A former member of the House of Representatives during the Second Republic and a delegate to the 2014 National Conference, Dr Junaid Mohammed is unhappy with political developments in Nigeria. In this interview with Onwuka NZESHI, he spoke on the state of the nation and a wide range of other issues
What is your view on the call by former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on President Muhammadu Buhari to retire at the completion of his current tenure and the moves to assemble a Third Force to lead Nigeria?
In fairness to all other political commentators, you have to admit that Obasanjo wasn’t the first to make a statement about the need for a Third Force. I have been saying this for two years before Obasanjo made his comment.
Secondly, after Obasanjo made his comments, another former Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida also released a statement saying the same thing. I can tell you that the two statements were not only timely but absolutely truthful. The accusation of corruption, incompetence, nepotism and all other things levelled against Buhari and his administration were facts. So, irrespective of the occasional stormy relationship between me and either of them, if what somebody has said is the truth, we should accept it for what it is. The truth is the truth irrespective of the person’s proclivities. So I can tell you that I share in the contents of the commentaries made by Obasanjo and Babangida. In this very instance, I am 100 percent with them because they are 100 percent with me, repeating what I said two years earlier.
As far as I am concerned, neither Buhari nor the cabal around him in the Presidency and the entire government has challenged anything any one of us has said about the failure of the administration. So if it has not been challenged, it is deemed to be true and I believe it is true.
Are you saying that Buhari hasn’t got a right to seek re-election?
I think it is important for us to realise that in a democracy, anybody who wins a credible election is entitled to be regarded as a legitimate leader and that legitimacy which is bestowed on the individual or group of individuals or party, ‘remains valid until the performance of the individual or group concerned loses that legitimacy.
I have said it before that if performance legitimacy is something important in a democracy, then Buhari has lost his legitimacy and the party he leads has lost its legitimacy. For all I care, there is nothing that has happened between the time I spoke and the time Obasanjo and Babangida spoke; nothing has changed.
This is a government that has failed to deliver and we judge deliverance on the basis of performance. And if you judge a politician by what he said he is going to do during the electioneering campaigns then this government has failed.
This government promised to rid our society of poverty; they promised to rid this country of corruption; they promised to rid this country of Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of insecurity and they promised to do a number of other things. They have not succeeded in doing anything. So if you are to assess the performance of a government by what they do after winning an election, you have to admit that Buhari and the cabal he leads have failed woefully and lost legitimacy.
Some time ago, I said I was willing to give them 30 percent in their anti-corruption war and 40 percent on the fight against insurgency, but now I am not sure I am willing to award them such marks now given the way the counterinsurgency battle has turned in recent times. The level of insecurity in the country has gotten worse.
We are no longer contending with the Boko Haram in the North-East and militancy in the Niger Delta, but we are now confronted with the Fulani herdsmen ravaging the whole country. There is a failure in all areas of our national security and I don’t see where can give them a pass mark.
In addition, there is an obvious problem of our country sliding into anarchy.
Out of the 36 states in Nigeria today, 32 are governed only with the substantial help of the military which means the civil authorities are in charge only in four states of the federation.
We have an Inspector General of Police who doesn’t take orders from the Commander-in-Chief and nothing has happened to him. He can flout presidential orders because his appointment was not done on the basis of merit but on either corruption or something else. He is the most scandalous IGP in the history if Nigeria and Buhari don’t have the balls to sack him.
We also have other issues. The Service Chiefs have had their tenures extended for a second time.
You don’t extend the tenure of Service Chiefs that way because of the consequences it has on the security services themselves. Now that it has been done, it will trigger demoralization of personnel in the Armed Forces because those who have been trained to take over from the current crop of Service Chiefs might never get those positions again in their career. Now if those currently in command of the security forces remain, the war in the North-East will never end because virtually all of them are involved in one form of business or the other. They get fish from Baga near Lake Chad and bring it down South to sell. Others are involved in other commodities and businesses. As long as these people are making money from the war situation, the war will never end.
Apart from being counter-productive to the counter-terrorism war, the tenure extension is also dangerous to the moral of the other high ranking officers of the Nigeria Armed Forces.
What will happen is that by the time they are due to leave finally, two generations of Army, Navy and Air Force officers who would have come on stream as Service Chiefs and Commanding Officers in the divisions and formations would also be shoved out of the services. That is not the dream of these officers who worked hard with the hope of being made service chiefs and commanders. Everyone wants to get to the pinnacle of their chosen career.
Why do you think these Service Chiefs are being retained in spite of these problems you have enumerated?
It is the typical style of this President and his government. Of course, they had their tenure extended by Buhari on the advice of the cabal for reasons best known to them. Unless something happens, I can’t see how we can have a peaceful transition from one group of elite and one political party to another party or from this President to another President. This is very dangerous for democracy because the litmus test of democracy is the peaceful transition of power from one group of political elite and party to another without the intermediation of force or violence.
What are happenings now is that Buhari is preparing us for a violent transition from him to somebody else. As far as I am concerned, this system has failed and it has failed woefully. So it’s better we start thinking of alternatives
Is it really feasible to do away with the two major political parties and set up a completely new political platform that would be strong enough to give us credible leadership in 2019?
Before the emergence of the APC as a party from the other parties, how long did it take? How long did it exist before it contested and won a major election? It was formed .in 2014; it became a party in 2015 and won the election in 2015. So there is no big deal there. Secondly, the issue is not just about a platform; the issue is that we have a set of very unrealistic circumstances dictating our democratic experience.
As we speak, there are about 70 registered political parties in the country and we have been told that another 100 applications are being processed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).Sadly democracy under these circumstances is nothing but a farce. It is never going to be a meaningful democracy that will allow power to be used for the service of the people in the right sense of it.
We have seen how parties come together not on the basis of any ideology. They come together simply because they find it convenient to couple themselves into one group, give it some kind of fanciful name and go to contest an election. When, of course, they are in the money and they lose, they remain a formidable force to fight that election.
Today, the two major political parties we have are untenable. These two parties are different only in their names. They are like two sides of the same coin. Both of them are corrupt and they have incompetent leaders. They have no attraction with the common people in this country. None of them represents the social forces such as the labour movement, civil society and other social groups. If the relevant social forces are not represented by a credible party that is a perpetuation of anarchy and that is precisely what we have today.
The situation has been made worse because we have an incompetent and nepotistic regime. Under this kind of situation, we have merely transferred the economic and financial powers of the state to an individual family like what we have in some Latin American countries where a particular family controls the entire wealth of the entire nation. This is where we are heading to under the Buhari administration.
So it is better we have an alternative in the event of the two parties going hay-wire because they have all said they are going to conquer; they are going nowhere. In the event of a crisis situation, we don’t have to justify a military regime and that is why some of us have decided to have a party in waiting for 2019. A credible alternative platform is needed in case something happens because I believe something is going to happen.
What do you think is going to happen?
Well, I won’t tell you now; another time
Is the Social Democratic Party (SDP) the political path in waiting?
Yes. It is the party in waiting. It is not a collection of individuals like me or Olu Falae or Jerry Gana or Tunde Adeniran. No.It is a conglomeration of political forces coming together. Since 2016, I have been the leader of one political group called Peoples Salvation Party (PSP), a collection of people from the former Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and then we have the SDP and one of two other parties that are likely to merge. There is the likelihood of the Labour Party (LP) either in part or in whole also joining the others to strengthen this multipurpose party in waiting. As it is now there are four parties coming together but there is the likelihood that more will join. We want to have this fusion of political forces and thereafter we can have individuals coming to join the party.
There are reports that Obasanjo is also involved in this arrangement and that he is currently wooing some key figures in the APC to come on board the new platform. How true is this?
Well, honestly, I will not be able to authenticate that because I haven’t heard that from any one of us who are the engine room of the new party. But the fact is that every one of us that are involved in the new SDP completely agrees with not only what Obasanjo said about the Buhari administration but also with what Babangida said about the same government. So to that extent, we are in bed together but there are a lot of us promoting the party who believe sincerely that now is the time for real change. We cannot have Buhari perpetuate himself forever. If by any mistake Buhari remains President after 2019 this country will be in very serious trouble and I don’t see how it can end peacefully
The major political parties think that those of you congregating around SDP is more or less spent forces who do not command the mass followership that could give your party victory in 2019. How would you react to this rating?
First of all, I have never heard anybody call me a spent force in the politics of this country. This is new to me. But it doesn’t matter. The choice is not for me to make; it is for the Nigerian people to make.
If they believe they are happy with what they have now; if they believe that the country is where it is supposed to be, they can continue voting either APC or PDP, but those of us who never joined APC or PDP can never be described as spent forces. I have never joined any of them because I don’t have faith in them. I have spent all my time from 1999 till date attacking those people and saying that these are not the right people to lead this country to the Promised Land. The spent forces are those who are either in APC or PDP and offered nothing new to Nigerians and I believe that the people have a right to choose. All we are offering is an alternative and the right to think differently.
What is your interpretation of the controversy between the Presidency and National Assembly in respect of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill?
As far as I am concerned, it is not the business of the National Assembly to micro-manage elections to the extent that they will be determining the sequence of the election. That is not democracy; it is the height of irresponsibility.
Secondly, these people have not given us a reason why they want a sequence different from the one provided by INEC. Is it because they think the sequence they provide will give them an advantage and that advantage may translate into something? I have read the Electoral Act and I am not persuaded that the responsibility of the National Assembly extends to micro-managing elections. If they know where it is in the law, they should show us.
Most of the people in the National Assembly particularly in the Senate are have question marks over them and lack any form of legitimacy. They only hide under the cover of their parties during the election and they have realized that with the present non-performance of Buhari if they go for an election alongside Buhari they may lose the election. I believe that if INEC refuses to accept the re-sequencing of the election, it will be justified by the law courts. However, it is too early to write off the issue but as far as I am concerned it’s a non-issue because it is not the business of the lawmakers to prescribe the order of elections.
There is a fresh outrage about the jumbo salaries and allowances of our parliamentarians. How do you react to a monthly payment of N13.5 million?
What the National Assembly has been doing is wrong, immoral, and hypocritical and rubbish. They have been giving themselves this kind of outrageous salaries and allowances which no legislator elsewhere on earth does. The idea is that a man who cannot make N100, 000 a month should now be given so much for doing nothing. Most of them do nothing, yet they are given N14m every month in addition to other allowances. It is, in my view, untenable and this democracy can never survive with this kind of people dishing themselves this kind of salaries that cannot be justified. They are the most irresponsible group of people on earth.
As we speak, the National Assembly sits for only three days in a week and yet they are paid as if it is a full-time job. How do you pay somebody full time for working three days a week? They don’t work on Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So who is fooling who? They are liars and a disgrace to democracy.
From day one, they set out to undermine the government and APC, their party. They are still doing the same thing three years after. If we want democracy to survive, we should never allow anybody to fix his salaries and allowances. I repeat, nobody should fix his own salary. There should be an independent body like the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to do that after a proper job analysis. We should never fall into the temptation of borrowing a salary template from anywhere and just dump it here. What we pay as salaries and allowances to these people is not acceptable to the Nigerian people. Besides, look at the size of the national economy
How many economists are there? How many scientists are there in the National Assembly? How many engineers are there and what have they been doing before they came to the National Assembly? What has been their contribution to the nation since they found their way to the National Assembly? Look at the turnover; about 80 percent of them don’t come back after every election. This means that even if they had institutional memory, it is lost at every election because the majority has fallen by the wayside. These people just go to the National Assembly because of the money they want to make and nothing else.
If your group eventually emerges as the alternative platform and gets to power, what will you do differently to change the system?
I want to assure you that an SDP government will never allow legislators to fix their salaries and will never allow this perversion called constituency projects. The SDP will pay legislators their basic salaries and the minimum of allowances charged on a pro-rata basis as well as on the basis of distances travelled from their places of work to their home constituencies.
We will also ensure that every member of the National Assembly is accountable. There shall be no sacred cows. Those facing must give way. Yes, there are those who commuted what you might call bailable offences but you cannot be on bail and at the same time, be enjoying the salaries and other benefits of public office. It is unacceptable.
Are you talking about those facing corruption charges in the National Assembly?
Yes. They should remain outside the National Assembly until their cases are disposed off by the courts. If the judicial officers could be suspended because they are facing corruption charges these lawmakers should be treated the same way until they are cleared.
Do you think INEC is ready to conduct a free, fair and credible election next year?
Yes, they are. I say so because I know at least the Chairman well. I know his antecedents; I know him since he was a student and so far he has given no reason to want doubt his ability to conduct the election. (New Telegraph)