Babachir Lawal is a former Secretary to the Goverment of the Federation. He was appointed in August 2015 and sacked in October 2017 over allegations of contract fraud. He hit public limelight recently when he was alleged to have called the Yorubas, ‘troublemakers’.
In this interview with select journalists in Abuja, he addresses certain allegations against him. He also spoke on the rising insecurity in the North-east, workings of the National Assembly as well as the internal party crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Q: What is your reaction on the trending issue that you called the Yorubas troublemakers? Is it that your message was not well-understood? Or a political move to smear your image? Has your position on the regional security outfit (Amotekun) changed?
Babachir: They got the message but they twisted it to achieve their specific goals. What did I say then (on Amotekun), I said that any part of Nigeria that is safe is beneficial to everyone, the problem I see, however, is that there is no proper stakeholder management because the processes leading to major policy positions like that need to be properly debated in the public domain so everyone understands his role and second is what protection he expects to get from the system. In this case, as I said the last time I was surprised, this process, proper consultation has not been done.
To the extent that certain sections of the country felt like that this security outfit was targeted at them. Most importantly, consequent upon that, so many other regions started talking about their own security outfit. If not properly handled it can lead to problems.
If the North-east has its own security outfit and they do not handle the stakeholder management everywhere and some certain portions of the nation feels that it was targeted to exclude them from their legitimate businesses and movement within the North-east that is not good, it will bring social dislocation. That has been my position. In this particular case of Amotekun, this was not done.
For the attorney-general to come out and say it’s illegal, that is to say there was no proper consultation. I take note of the fact that out of the six governors involved in this, five are APC, they have direct access to AGF, to the IGP, to the president and indeed to the vice-president who is from their side.
So it looks like the government was ambushed and hence the reaction from the attorney-general but as you can see, it appears that they have retraced their steps so proper consultations were done and I think things are being done properly.
Q: Insecurity in the North-east has been on the rise and people are calling on the president to replace the service chiefs. Others are saying you cannot change a winning team at the middle of a game. Where do you stand?
Babachir: My own understanding of these dynamics is this, Nigerians are entitled to complain if they are not getting results from their leaders. Generals appear from the public, therefore, they are accountable to the generality of Nigerians.
However, in government, there is a bigger picture. Nigerians must take note of the fact that it is not always possible for the total information to be available out there in the public domain – information on which government takes decisions.
The president has access to all the relevant information necessary to take the decisions. When you talk of security, you must also factor in that the president is a retired major-general of the Nigerian army. He has been involved in so many incidents as a young officer, he was in the battlefield in Biafra.
I remember when he was general commanding officer infantry division, when Chadian rebels invaded Nigeria, it was General Buhari who drove them out and followed them up to Chad itself before the political class intervened and we withdrew to Nigerian borders. So he has information that not everybody has and he is an expert in this field.
So, while we have to criticise, we must concede to him, the right to take the decision on the facts available to him and based on the fact that the bulk stops on his desk. As the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces – the implication of this is that all other positions of authority in the political domain are ‘donated’ by the president.
Q: As a Nigerian and one who has been in government, what is your position?
Babachir: I am from the North-east and it is for the president to decide whether his service chiefs are doing the job for which he appointed them. He appointed them so it is for him to decide and it’s for Nigerians to let him know that their understanding of the goals of the service chiefs are not being achieved. It is all part of the dialogue in a political system. The voter has a right to say what he thinks he/she has to say.
The leader has the right to take a decision based on what he thinks is the correct thing to do.
Q: Will you say this government or the president has failed to tackle insecurity in the North-east?
Babachir: The perception that insecurity is on the increase, I contest that. At one time Boko Haram was occupying vast territories of this country in the North-east in which nobody had access to it. In Adamawa State that I know very well, seven local governments at one time were totally under the control of Boko Haram. But now it is not so.
I’m not a security expert but I seem to think that Boko Haram simply changed tactics and are going after soft targets, they are no longer going after hard targets. Initially, they were attacking the military and taking over territories and instituting governments but now they don’t do that anymore.
They attack soft targets which makes it difficult to predict. Guerilla warfare is difficult to fight. But the longer it takes, the more the government side develops the competence to handle it. It might be more pronounced now because of the targets they are attacking.
Anybody who does not see anything good in government, this is an opportunity to promote divisive tendencies. That is the way I see it.
Q: Soldiers have complained of poor welfare despite the billions allocated to the army annually. Why the gap and how can we right this wrong?
Babachir: I was an ex-soldier. In our time, even when we went on holidays, they calculate the necessary allowances and give us. They also give us food. They are entitled to these things. I don’t see them with these type of things again.
There are so many things that needs to be improved upon by the military themselves because if you make bad policies and laws just because you won’t be a victim, you don’t know when it will catch up with you or a relative.
I have a theory that part of our economic crisis and lack of resources is because of the of money being pumped into the military for all these insurgence. A single bomb cost millions of naira, bullets and rifle too.
While I am not the security expert, I feel there is a need to upgrade our military.
Something is wrong. They must deploy the technology. This war can only be fought with technology. We don’t fight wars with infantry men again, they use drones and the likes.
We must also call in those who are culpable. This Boko Haram works with money, who gives them the cash? They buy arms, who gives them the money? They are fed, who gives them food? All these are things that must be looked at holistically.
I conceded to the president that as a general, he knows what he is doing. And we must concede that to him too.
Q: Let’s take you to APC. There is a National Reconciliation Committee in place. Do you have confidence in the Bisi Akande-led reconciliation committee to resolve issues affecting the party?
Babachie: I have a high regard for Chief Bisi Akande. He is a very senior member of the party. He is a very senior politician in Nigeria with tremendous track record in governance but I read about the reconciliation committee in the papers like every other person and i started wondering, who are they reconciling?
In my state, Adamawa, for example, who are they going to reconcile? And that is the same thing all over the country. They must tell us where the frictions are and where they need reconciliation.
This APC is funny. As we speak, the chairman and his loyalists have suspended the deputy national chairman (North), the whole north, the chairman, national vice-chairman (North-west) which is the largest geographical zone with seven states has been suspended, he is no longer attending National Working Committee (NWC) meeting. The national secretary of the party who is from the north, from Yobe, has left to become governor of Yobe State as we speak, there is no firm decision to his replacement.
For more than one year or so, a very substantial part of the country are not represented in the decision making. The other deputy national chairman of the party who is from Ekiti has moved to become a minister. So the whole NWC has been decimated. Key people, two deputy national vice-chairmen are not in the NWC. The auditor-general has left to pick up a political appointment. That again is vacant.
So when you go to reconcile a decimated house, who and who are you reconciling? Senior stakeholders of the party have been suspended. I don’t know whether Okorocha has returned to the party. I don’t know if Chief Amosun has been returned to the party.
Definitely, these are aggrieved people as regards the manner they were suspended and given their position in the political system. So the reconciliation is between them and who?
Could it be between them and the national working committee that took the decision or the chairman of the party. Again, in politics, sometimes it is better not to reconcile, somebody must lose out.
In democracy, the number is important, the bigger the merrier. I believe if anybody can do it, it should be Chief Bisi Akande. If we know what they are going to reconcile. In Adamawa for example, the time for reconciliation has passed – since the time we had acrimonious congress and then the primaries which we took divergent positions and views that led to APC losing the election.
So what are you going to reconcile now after we have lost the election. It is no more beneficial.
Q: All appears not to be well with the party, what do you think is APC’s fate if it continues like this up to 2023?
Babachir: APC, in this form, lost Rivers; on this form APC , lost Zamfara. APC lost Adamawa, APC lost Oyo State and you can trace it to the party itself, its internal conflict and its management issues.
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So APC needs to put its house in order in terms of election, whether you win or not depends on the candidate, how good he is and how popular he is and things like that. So I believe someone from APGA or ADPA has the capacity to win an election. Independent candidates do win election without any party structure in other countries. The party is just a platform.
As you can see, the management system of the party can do it. Look at what happened in Bayelsa. The court disqualified somebody because he did not have a certificate. Why was this thing not detected by the screening committee. The (party) constitution has screening committee.
I remember during our time at the NWC in those days part of the screening is what have you contributed to the party. You bring your certificates, it is verified and it is returned to you and when eventually you are submitting the form after you have sworn an affidavit that the documents you are submitting with the forms are genuine, you sit with a party executive and there is a checklist. If I turn up with a certificate bearing six different names, why did the party not detect it?
The system has a mechanism for that but in this case the mechanism didn’t work.
Q: Are you saying the party under Oshiomhole is not doing a thorough job?
Babachir: No human being can do a thorough job, Oshiomhole I believe is doing his best. He could improve his style, it is important that if he listens to me, he could improve his style, improve his communication skills with the people, personal skills with the party leaders, rank and file. I’m quite close to members of the NWC, they always complain about not being carried along. The chairman of a party is not an executive president where whatever you say is, you need to carry everyone along.
That is the essence a national vice-chairman North-east for example, he is for North-east and there are things unique to the area which he is aware of, which his own exco has brought to him for processing at the national secretariat. If he does not get the proper hearing and opportunity to present those things, they are disenfranchised.
Like I said, there is no reason why almost the whole north has been disenfranchised in the NWC. Why? Last month, there was major acrimony over the national secretary. So why are they doing like this? It is not for the generality of the party members to solve this problem, it is Oshiomhole and his working committee but it is not working.
Q: What is the way forward for the party?
Babachir: The party has to be reorganised, there is no running away from it. If we are going into 2023 with APC as it is…
First of all, there has to be confidence restored in the NWC that they have the capacity to be impartial and fair in the decisions they take on behalf of party members. As I speak, I don’t think there is any APC member that can confidently tell you that he expects the NWC to be fair and just in some of the cases because we lost election on account of this.
There was a decision that sitting national legislators should be given automatic tickets especially the senators, what informed that decision? I don’t know but it didn’t work out that way in implementation. In some states, they got automatic tickets, there were no primaries. In other states, they were not given the tickets to contest.
The party must have rules that are properly adhered to, that everybody knows these are the rules and whoever runs foul of it faces the consequences. I think we must refill the vacancies that there with credible people to augment the other credible people that are still there if there are any.
Q: The Senate has just set up the constitution amendment committee, what will you like to see in the amendment?
Babachir: I’m not a constitutional expert but I know if I had my way in the setup of this country, the governors in the middle are just parasites that are taking the major share of the resources that are supposed to the go to states, they abuse it.
If I had my way, there would be federal government and local governments, such that the resources that are due to the state, would be shared equally with the local government at that level and a lot of things will be done.
In the case of the federal government, we understand why it has to be federal government. There are some institutions that have to be national in itself. The army for example, the federal police must be there, foreign affairs must be there but the states, we can devolve the powers back of the states to the local governments.
At the local government, they are closer to the people, because they are closer to the people, people are able to monitor them. People are able to get in touch with them, people are able to check their excess if any.
If I had my way, the National Assembly will be single and not bi-cameral as it is and then we will reduce the number (of lawmakers).
Another option will be to return to the parliamentary system, where everybody in the parliament is an elected official that is accounted to the people. The presidential system is so expensive and the presidential system has concentrated power and authority on one person and whoever else he chooses to delegate that authority to.
In a place like Nigeria where we have different aspirations, different belief systems and different world views, decision making needs to be decentralised.
Q: There have been complaints about the funds allocated to the National Assembly especially the recent N37 billion for renovation. What is your position on this issue?
Babachir: To justify that amount, they ought to give a bill of quantities. Before you appropriate that type of money, you must show a breakdown of the expenses. Its not the final amount that matters but the justification for how this money is going to be deployed – at the beginning, not after.
If the National Assembly asks for N37 billion, they must show the bill of quantities, how they arrived at this figure.
The things with the National Assembly is, they are the ones appropriating the money and they have this mindset and arrogance that they will take care of themselves first because they are appropriating the money – there are constituency projects, there are special aides. That is where the problem comes. For every other person, before you can increase your salary, you have to go through Salaries and Wages Commission or RMAFC for political office holders.
But the National Assembly doesn’t have that limitation. Their salaries are fixed. They can decide which allowances they give themselves. That’s where the weakness came.
Part of the problems I had with the National Assembly was the constituency projects. The projects is run by Ministry of Special Duties or Office of the Secretary General to the Government… the first problem I ran into was, I inherited project of about fifty something billion. Debts were piling up because fund releases for the projects were not been made accordingly. That’s the problem.
It also has its advantages because, “if they are not” there, some parts of Nigeria will never feel the presence of government but the implementation is the problem. I support the National Assembly when they say they do not carry out the contract (s), it is the executive that carries out the contracts. The National Assembly has the right to allocate to itself what the think they need for themselves.