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CAUTION: Bandwagon probes could consume entire political class – Sule Lamido

Posted by By Steve Nwosu and Taiwo Amodu on 2008/05/11 | Views: 691 |

CAUTION: Bandwagon probes could consume entire political class – Sule Lamido

Members of the political class agitating for the probe of the immediate past administration of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo have been urged to tarry awhile and exercise restraint as such a probe could turn out to be a Frankenstein monster, possibly devouring the entire political elite.

Members of the political class agitating for the probe of the immediate past administration of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo have been urged to tarry awhile and exercise restraint as such a probe could turn out to be a Frankenstein monster, possibly devouring the entire political elite.

Speaking with SATURDAY SUN in Dutse, the Jigawa State capital in an exclusive interview, the state governor and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Sule Lamido, submitted that a thorough, comprehensive and sincere scrutiny of what transpired under the Obasanjo administration would leave ordinary Nigerians stupefied and the entire political elite at the receiving end of their anger because Obasanjo could not have done it alone.

”You‘re talking about a leader of Nigeria who was acting with a network of operators. I don’t think this $16 billion (the amount expended on the IPP project) is there in the account of Obasanjo… if we should go through the whole hog, it would be the end of the entire Nigerian elite. I’m sure by the time names begin to reel out, you will be surprised who and who is involved.’
On his home state of Jigawa and the plundering that transpired during the administration of his immediate predecessor, Saminu Turaki (now facing corruption charges), Lamido disclosed that the state is applying to be joined in the suit against Turaki, “not really to criminalise the former governor but to retrieve the oil block in his possession which he allegedly bought with money belonging to the state.” . Excerpts:

Ethanol project: one big fraud
Yes, the previous government here pursued an ethanol project. The ethanol project is an excellent project but the execution was a design to perpetrate fraud. The concept was totally at variance with the execution. There was this oil block which was wrapped up as a deal to finance the ethanol project and then, from what I’m hearing, it was also used in financing third term.
This is what I heard. Because a government can’t own an oil block, the former governor floated a personal company and this oil block was bought.

Now, the problem is that he actually took government money in paying for the oil block, using the ethanol thing as a decoy. So, right now, the ethanol project is something which I can’t really place my finger on. Part of what we’re doing is, because Jigawa state money is there, we’re now, in the course of the EFCC investigation asking that Jigawa be joined, not to criminalise Saminu Turaki, but to retrieve the oil block from him for Jigawa state, which we will then sell and get the money.
So, by the time we go to court and fulfill the requirements, we will retrieve the oil block. Then, whatever they do with Saminu Turaki, that’s their own problem. So, by the time we have this oil block and get our money, of course, we can do a lot with the money.

I won’t probe Saminu, but…
You see, you are right that Jigawa is the biggest-hit, in terms of this culture of monumental fraud, but then, for us, you just don’t go simply arraigning people. Simply going into investigation. What we did was through the transition committee which we put in place. We asked them to give us an assessment of what I was taking over.

Now, the committee was comprised of people, whose integrity can’t be questioned by anybody in Nigeria. I think I’d the most honorable transition committee in Nigeria. One of them is an economist, another former ambassador, there’s a former auditor-general of the state and so on. These are people of reputation, people whose track records in public service, whose public conduct nobody can question. These are people who worked meticulously and gave me their findings and part of their recommendations was that I should institute another committee to verify or authenticate the various projects in Jigawa, because we had projects worth over N74 billion – various projects, ranging from boreholes to what have you.

Only N3bn of N74bn contracts can be verified
Out of these projects of about N74billion, only N3billion could be certified. Other projects have either not started or have been abandoned. All the contractors were given a fair hearing…they were told to come and address the committee and most of them refused to come. Four companies took us to court – four companies, who’re our own contractors, given jobs to do by the then state executive council, under some agreement crafted and dated by the ministry of justice which they all signed, with provisions for resolving difficulties or whatever it is.

But when we called them to come, they took us to court; that we’ve no right to infringe on their human rights; that we’re harassing them. And a judge in a High Court in Kano gave injunction that they should not be called. We have written a petition to the National Judicial Council against the judge, because his action is despicable, both in law and in morality, even though I am not a lawyer, I am only a politician. But how can it not be when the companies in question, all of them, belonged to the former governor and they’re handling a contracts worth about N45 billion? And yet a High Court Judge in Nigeria ruled that we can’t call such a contractor to verify what he’s doing which he has abandoned!

Take the case of this water borehole. The government then was sinking at the cost of half a million per borehole and we were going to sink motorized boreholes at N75 million per unit. I think the cost of all these went to about N30 billion or thereabout. The companies took about N10 billion and gave a work worth only nine and half a million naira and yet we can’t call the company to come and verify.
Because, instead of appearing before the committee to verify, they went to court and there was a declaration that we can’t call them, even though they’ve not gone back to work. They have disappeared and we can’t trace them. One claims to be in Hadejia, we went there, but they were nowhere. Even in Abuja or Lagos, or anywhere. So, they couldn’t even be traced with any address.

But we know the names of the directors and yet, a judge gave a judgment that they shouldn’t be called.
Now, it is not that I don’t want to probe but that since we have this report from this committee, the thing to do is pick some areas which we think we can now treat. Because, right now, of all the claims of liabilities, the committee could only certify claims worth N3.5billion.
That’s what we’re paying and we’ll put it in the budget. We can’t pay in one lump. We make sure we put it in our budget in the middle or last quarter and then send the appropriate bill to the House, and if they approve, we then pay.

Getting the certified liabilities sorted out is my most immediate challenge, not putting up a commission of enquiry, simply because that’s the vogue in Nigeria – just to generate sensation and entertainment which the typical Nigerian believes in and enjoys. We are going to deny them that entertainment. The records are there under seal, in our archives and also in our banks and they will be there for life. So, any Jigawa citizen is free to go to court over those things and demand justice, because it’s their government. I’ve no time for probe, because there’s so much to be done. The state is already a ‘failed’ state. By the time I begin to probe, then everybody will be writing the obituary of the state: “here lies the remains of a state which is probing its past but which certainly is sadly not restored!” So, let me get the state restored first, let’s get the institutions kick-started and working first. Meanwhile, the records are there for life.

Anybody who wants, can go to court.
And there is something about these probes you are talking about: If you go by the Nigerian mentality, after being entertained, they’re also very, very humane. They’re very forgiving and the Nigerian is also very, very emotional. After you might have entertained him with all these accusations and then he’s engulfed by pity and sympathy, he is the one who will say, “leave him alone now!”

Look at the regime of Murtala Muhammed. After all those allegations of frauds and confiscations, what happened? You look at those towers along Ozumba Mbadiwe Road in Victoria Island and all the property confiscated have been restored to their former public officer owners - governors who, at that time, were perceived by Nigerians as rogues, as crooks and were vilified by the country, as Nigerians were being entertained by the details of their misdemeanor. Some few years after, the same Nigerian people of course, became very, very forgiving. Why? And it has been going on over and over again, hasn’t it?

Probe, a no-win case for me
Instituting a probe, will become a problem because whatever I do will be interpreted one way or the other. Number one, Saminu is in PDP--- he joined my party, we campaigned together. Now, if I put up a probe and the probe says he didn’t steal, they will say, “Ah! Didn’t we say it? Sule ‘chopped’ the money with him. He was part of it!! If they find him guilty, they will say, Ah! We know Sule is very, very vindictive. All along, he’s unforgiving’. So, head or tail, I will lose.

So, I know what I’m doing and frankly speaking, the regime of Saminu in the last eight years, should be seen as part of the conspiracy of the entire Jigawa elite and people. It’s to our collective failure at controlling or restraining him that he was able to do what he did. So, the records are there. I want the private prosecutor to go to court. Anybody is free to go to court over these things.

The records are there under seal, under lock and key. They cannot be stolen and they cannot be set on fire by anybody because they’re in fireproof vaults. Even if you go and put the place on fire, the vaults won’t catch fire. So anybody who’s interested can take it up. For now, I’ve no time to create tension, or division and - in the process - giving room to political money makers who thrive in crisis to make money out of government and out of those who have been perceived to be the accused. We want peace and luckily, we are getting the peace.

Why I won’t abandon Obasanjo
While every Nigerian and every politician, including those who worked with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, vilify him and treat him as a political leper, Lamido explains why he would not join the fray.
“You see, I worked with Obasanjo for four years and I regard myself as part of what he did between 1999-2003 as a government. That government, as far as I know, was absolutely on course. At least, within our foreign Ministry. I knew we were on course. We were doing what was right.

Within that space that I served Obasanjo, within those first-four years, I’d defend him anywhere. There are a number of things in our foreign policy which I did and he supported it. More than anything else, he restored Nigeria as a very, very strong leader in the context of race and development. His message was very clear: that whatever we may be, we could not take anything which would make us seem subordinated.

I think he made a very profound statement on western hypocrisy which, of course, offended even his Western friends. There was a time Obasanjo told them, something like, “look, when we are talking about retrieving our looted money, you talk about difficulty placed by your laws in giving these money back to us. But there are no difficulties in your laws getting this money into the banks in your country from our country. I find your laws illogical, if it encourages pillage and plundering and corruption”. He told them to their face that they were contradicting their advocacy for human rights because taking looted monies to enhance and support their own economies which means depleting our own treasury have dire consequences on the quality of life. And that there was no way anyone could talk about democracy if there was no prosperity and there’s no way you can guarantee prosperity if there’s no money to sustain it because the money we need for that kind of service to our own people is there locked up in European banks, to better their own economy and the life of their people. He said, “Now, we need the money, you say there’s a difficulty”.

So, these were the kind of things we did in our first four years, and we restored our pride, our honour and dignity and Obasanjo was very good at that. After I left, I have no idea of what he did. I heard it for the first time, only last week when the committee on power probe came here, saying that there are four independent power projects in Jigawa State worth billions of naira. The money has been taken and the contractor doesn’t even know where Jigawa is on the Nigerian map, not to talk of going to site.

OBJ didn’t do it alone …
So, I’m saddened. But then again, you see, being a governor now, I know what it’s all about. The government defines the general direction of policy and then designs programmes, get them authorized as contracts and give them out. But who’re the operators? So, what happened to the contractors who are Nigerians, the ministers, the advisers and so on?
So, though the revelations are painful and I don’t condone what might actually have happened. But again, we must see beyond the personae of Obasanjo and go beyond the Nigerian passion to vilify. I was just trying to tell you the way Nigerians behave when the tide is against you. We all swim in the ocean of emotions and nobody sees clearly. Look at the case of the Emir who stripped Obasanjo of his title. Here is a retired General who served under Obasanjo, who became a traditional ruler, who conferred on Obasanjo a title, for whatever reasons but I don’t think Obasanjo ever applied to the Zuru Kingdom to be made a title holder. Then you see the way he is trying to shame Obasanjo in his own way. I mean, there should be some decorum in our life for God’s sake! We must set some standards of official and unofficial justice in the way we judge issues and events.

I feel sad that we convict a person, before even trying him and you’re talking about a former leader of Nigeria who certainly operated with a network of operators. I don’t think this $16 billion is there in the account of Obasanjo. Although, as the president, he’s liable, he’s answerable even if it were that he had listened to wrong advisers, wrong ministers, wrong operators but it is important to note that he picked them from the Nigerian environment. I think all those involved should be publicly mentioned and publicly shamed and of course, arraigned, if found guilty convicted. We should go through the whole hog and it would be the end of the entire Nigerian elite, because I’m sure by the time names begin to reel out, you’ll be surprised who and who is involved. Now, I’m not really condoning whatever might have happened during Obasanjo last four years. I never believed in third term. He knew it. He was aware of that. We never discussed it. I spoke openly against third term and the tapes must still be there in AIT but I don’t believe he sat there alone and was doing all these things. Who are the other actors? I think its imperative for all Nigerians to do his own bit right, do his own portion correctly whenever given the opportunity to serve.

Restoring Jigawa
Well, you see, the state was declared as the poorest by the CBN and, I think, some international agencies that have been working here and collected all the indices. By their assessment, based on what they have seen physically, they came by that declaration that it’s a sorry state of affairs. So, coming here as governor always reminded me of the difficulties I always encountered in marching on in life and this started very early. Imagine a Fulani boy, a cattle rearer, you know, who lived all his times in the bush – under rain, under sunshine, rearing cattle, suddenly having to go to school. Imagine the shock of leaving that environment of birth, my village, then the shock of trekking some miles from my village. It was a journey to a totally new world altogether, because I thought, and you may not believe it, that my village was the only and the best place in the world.

Honestly, when I left village for my primary school (Government School Birnin Kudu (a boarding primary school), I faced some difficulties. I couldn’t speak Hausa. So I had to cope with more difficult learning process: first of the language, and then the academics.
So, early in life, I had been exposed to confronting difficulties. At home, I was comfortable as a village boy but then I had to go to school, trek there, learn the dominant language and coping with the academics then go to Barewa College, enter world of work, become a politician and end up as a foreign affairs minister. Of course, as a foreign minister, you can imagine what I have seen in my life. You can imagine what I have seen in my life – to come from that kind of background and then go into dealing with issues at the global level. So, all these gave me a very, very clear ground on which I can make a fair adjustment on what is called development.

So, this contrast of having seen the extreme of everything in life: the life in my village which is of toiling everyday to live, where life is pure agony and anguish and poverty, to the extreme of comfort and prosperity which I saw and enjoyed out there, has had a profound effect on me in terms what can I do for my people. Sometimes I look up to God and ask, why did I attempt to govern this state? Because, one, there are no resources; two, the institutions have collapsed; three, the people (even though they are very hardworking, industrious), they have to be motivated, because they have been switched off and they have to be switched on – even to attend to basic, routine things. So, I don’t think there’s some kind of parameter, but then you see, it’s like simply discovering myself in this environment which I think has no bearing with what I call standard life anywhere in the world.

Taking beggars off the streets
We did not make any law banning beggers from the streets in Dutse. No! You see, every human being has an inherent sense of decency and dignity. It’s conditions to which they’re exposed which took away their sense of human dignity and self-esteem and they go to a level which is subhuman. But when the environment and the leadership and people are prepared, to be humane, to be caring and compassionate, then you restore in them their sense of decency, their sense of honor, their sense of dignity. Simple.

So, there’s no law which says beggars shouldn’t be on the streets in Jigawa State but the fact that they’ve seen us as making efforts to address their most basic needs has simply restored in them their self pride, self respect and dignity. So, while our stipend is supporting them, it’s also restoring in them the feeling that they’re part of the human society and not unwanted. Of course, they’re still very poor but the environment is now caring and sensitive to them.

No amount too much to develop humanity
When you talk about how much is leaving government coffers, there’s no amount of expenditure which is too much to develop human beings, to cater for human beings. What’s the money for? What is it there for?
Imagine you being blind, you being crippled, and you’re in the middle of an inferno. While the animals would simply run away you stay there and roast because of your disability.
So, you must look at the deep feeling, the deep meaning of human being denied some physical attributes which you take for granted. It’s simply because over the years, our norms, our traditions, our values have been so distorted that the aberrations have become the norms. It is this rush for contest, this materialism that has blinded us to our sense of social duty. So, you see a lot of people who are in this society – former governors, senators, ministers, whose life after leaving office, you’ll be surprised
Fine, they made the money, but you find that after a few years of grandstanding and fooling themselves, they simply evaporate. They find it difficult to reintegrate into the society, because the money appropriated is finished. Most of us are simply being clever by half. That’s all. So, there’s nothing which I think is too much to support these people. If we help our people - their level of education, their health - they become more productive. And because they’re productive they tend towards civility- they don’t even like crisis or violence, because they feel responsible and they also want to contribute towards peace and order in the environment..

Arresting Jigawa workers’ weekend drift to Kano
The state, as I’ve been saying, was an unusual baby when it was created. Normally, when a baby is born, after all the pains of child labour, the mother carries the baby and you can see the swelling of joy in her.
The father sees his new baby, you can see the tears of joy, flowing. It’s something you can’t describe. But when Jigawa was created, it was the only baby whose mother was weeping tears of sadness because she was not happy with what was produced. The father was also weeping, because he was not happy with the baby produced.
So, nobody in Jigawa was really excited when the final configuration of the state emerged. On the date it was pronounced, there were a number of claims: Some were saying, it was a female, others were saying, no it’s a male, some said it’s crippled, there were those who insisted it had no ears – all kinds of claims, because of the chemistry of the state.

Those who wanted it and fought for Jigawa were not in Jigawa State (their towns did not fall within Jigawa boundaries); those who would never have thought in their life that they would be part of it, who fought for a separate state - based on their own permutations - found themselves in Jigawa State.
So, the chemistry was just one huge cocktail with nothing but bubbling crisis. So, with this kind of chemistry, it’s been a huge task, huge challenge for the people and leadership to blend this state and unfortunately for the citizenry, it has been abandoned. All of us, including myself, we’ve all abandoned the state. We only used it to make some claims on the federation.

So, when I came, we met all our leaders – political, religious leaders, those in private sector. To me they’ve to be reached and in reaching them, you’ve to be genuine and sincere in your mission. And they all came. But the journey in Jigawa is a marathon journey, not a journey for sprinters. It’s something which has to be systematic, something which has to be clearly defined, understood and you put in place the mechanism to be able to march forward. Because we are encased and enclosed, we want to first bring out ourselves. So, the government is making efforts to put in place decent houses, to be able to accommodate some critical segments of the workforce.

Now, with regards to the business community, they can only come, when they see the incentives for profit. No matter what you do, they will not come until they see something in terms of facilities, in terms of the infrastructures, in terms of the incentives, which will make them make profit. Go to Iraq, they’re killing themselves and people are dying there everyday, yet business people are there making brisk business. So, the businessmen will only go and invest where they see the opportunity to make profit.
So, I don’t fool myself. It’s for me to put the enabling environment and you’ll see the ripple effects.

Reviving State owned Corporations
You see, if you take the Hadejia rice mill for example, floated during the regime of the military administration, 15 years ago, I think since the formal opening - with all the funfare - nothing has been happening there. But it’s a huge investment. In today’s globalizing economy, and the position of Jigawa State in it, the truth is that we don’t have the resources to fund the companies from the budget.
These are areas which the private sector should find it very easy to take up, because they can make money out of it. So, what we did was to put up a committee of elders, with seasoned economists and financial managers to look at the situation. The main finding of the committee was that Jigawa State, because of the value of the Hadejia river, can really be an asset for whatever you want to do in agriculture and we’re talking with some companies outside Nigeria showing interests. The companies have seen the commitment the government is showing and in the next couple of months, there will be something agreed upon.

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Comments (3)

Okfold(Sobe, Edo, Nigeria)says...

I want the meaning of female owan name Ekeke (Edo state)

Toluwalase Samuel Olufemi(Ijebu, Ogun, Nigeria)says...

Authority belongs to God, once He decrees it is final and binding

Ikponmwosa Osamede(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Your meaning of Osamede is wrong. Osamede means God has given me a crown