Former Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, bares his mind on the fears that enveloped the state about the unconfirmed report doing the rounds in the state over the move by the state leadership of All Progressives Congress (APC) to use federal might to influence tribunal judgment in favour of Governor Samuel Ortom.
THERE are fears that President Muhammadu Buhari might be used to influence victory for the Governor Samuel Ortom of the APC in the petition brought against by him by Prince Terhemen Tarzoor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). What’s your take on this?
I think that fear is palpable, because of the activities that have been set in the past in the development of democracy in Nigeria. There is this fear that President Muhammadu Buhari, who is a product of the APC, can, most likely, use his position as the president of Nigeria to influence judgments in the various tribunals in favour of elected officials on the platform of APC whose elections are in the courts and in the tribunals.
The fear was actually accentuated a week ago when the newspapers were awash with stories that the president has set up a 10-man committee headed by himself to help salvage the electoral fortunes of APC members where their elections are threatened either in the courts or in the tribunals. And of course, particularly in Benue State, after the outcome of the meeting of APC gubernatorial candidates aggrieved on the emergence of Samuel Ortom as the candidate for the party that won the election eventually.
There was palpable fear quite frankly that the president could continue the intervention up to the level of the tribunal, because we all aware that in Benue State the governor has desperately been looking for people to intervene to persuade his aggrieved colleagues in APC to withdraw cases against him. He has tried to persuade his main challenger in the election from the PDP to withdraw his case all to no avail, until recently when the president was said to have intervened.
And so, there is this fear, really, that Mr President was likely going to use his position and good office to persuade the tribunal to give judgment in favour of Samuel Ortom, but that will be very unfortunate. For obvious reasons, Mr President has come out openly to say that he was going to be the president of all Nigerians. For the obvious reason that Mr President has come out to say that he was going to fight corruption head on; all of us believe in him, because of his antecedents. We also trust that he will do it to a logical conclusion. And Nigerians are waiting that he fights corruption to a standstill.
Having said that, therefore, I think it will be wise as a patriotic Nigerian to advise Mr President not to go all the way to influence the activities of the tribunals, not just in Benue State but across the country, because to do so will send a wrong signal on his preparedness to fight corruption. Secondly, it will be a serious drawback on our fledgling democracy and democratic process where justice cannot be obtained when obvious acts of undemocratic practices characterise even the nomination of candidates to run for elections.
And so, I think that Mr President will listen to the yearlings of the Nigerian people to allow justice to prevail. To some extent, the past administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan allowed free, fair and credible elections in states even controlled by opposition. It’s on record. And so, President Buhari would further deepen the tenets of democracy if he extends further this attitude of non-interference in the electoral process, including the tribunal processes. I think that that is the right thing to do and that will show to Nigerians that the president is actually prepared to fight corruption to a very large extent.
Are you comfortable with the Ortom-led government since it took over the reins of power in the state?
Well, while I can candidly say that it is too early to assess the performance of government, especially the government in Benue State. But I want to say that having been in government before at various levels, I know that people’s minds are fixated on a number of activities and periods of administrations. For instance, you know that 100 days is a celebrated period in governance in Nigeria. If you look at what is happening in Benue State now, the signs are very ominous that we are in for the worst of times. In spite of the much-touted bailout and loans that the Benue State government under Dr. Samuel Ortom has taken to pay salaries, salaries are not paid.
The governor ordered that two months salaries be paid recently but as I am talking to you, I have it on good authority that no salary has been paid. I don’t know how true it is and how realistic it has been but if you look at the records that are churned out recently, the office of the Secretary to State Government is alleged to have been allocated very huge sums of money ostensibly to run government at the expense of the payment of salaries of civil servants. In this austere period, I have it on good authority that the Benue State government has purchased for distribution to local government council chairmen Toyota vehicles in upwards of N7million each. It is on good authority too that arrangements are in top gear to raise money from the loans that have been secured to buy vehicles for commissioners and members of the House of Assembly.
I think that for a government that is anchored on change, a government that is headed by somebody who says he is going to run the government with the fear of God, these steps are missteps. They are not good steps in the right direction. The first set of activities that is expected of a government that is coming on the heels of despondency on the part of Benue State workers and the Benue people in general, is supposed to ordinarily ameliorate the conditions that they met on ground; the non-payment of salaries and the fast decaying infrastructure on the ground.
These are activities about which pronouncements should have been made and actions taken to ameliorate. So, two, three months after the assumption of office, salaries have not been paid and they are going on the profligacy of spending stupendous money on purchase of vehicles for local government chairman and workers at the expense of payment of even basic salaries for workers, and you must know the multiplier effect of non-payment of salaries.
If the fortunes of the state government nosedived as a result of the dwindling fortunes of our oil revenue, it’s understandable but if loans have been taken and bailouts have been granted for the sole purpose of ameliorating the conditions of workers and laying a solid foundation for the infrastructural development of the state and these loans are not being used appropriately but diverted to luxuries of vehicles for government officials, I think it is unfortunate and it is a bad beginning for this present administration in Benue State.
How would respond to the recent dissolution of boards of parastatal-agencies in the state. Don’t you think the action was hasty?
I don’t know whether that one is also change. You know that it has been the attitude of governments in Nigeria that as soon as they are elected, they dissolve boards of parastatal-agencies whether they are statutory boards or they are administrative boards; whether they are regulated by law or not regulated by law.
That is exactly what has been happening in Nigeria. What is happening in Benue State is not an exception from what has been happening around Nigeria. When government comes, the first action that they take is to dissolve boards, sack this person and sack that person, institute probe panel so that people will see you as being active.
I think it is wrong. As you have rightly pointed out, I think there should be reasonable time for a new government to evaluate what they have met on ground and then to take necessary steps to right possible wrongs of the past. I think it is unfortunate to think that a past administration in the state has done everything wrong except what this administration is going to do.