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NIGERIA: President, Govs should not enjoy immunity – Jubril Aminu

Former Petroleum Minister and two-time Senator, Prof Jubril Aminu, is not a politician who hides his feelings on any issue in Nigeria. Fearless and outspoken, he speaks his mind no matter whose ox is gored.
In this interview, he knocks governors, who defected from the PDP to the opposition, saying they should be honourable enough to step down and also insists that many northern politicians who are opposed to President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election in 2015 are acting in their own selfish agenda, as they do not have the blessing of the North. He also says the current National Conference can be used to make some fundamental constitutional amendments despite the short time at the disposal of the delegates.
Excerpts:
What do you make of the impending National Conference given your experience as a delegate to the previous ones?
The rationale for holding the conference at this point in time is very valid.  The truth is that certain long standing or protracted issues have not been clarified. Issues like Fiscal Federalism and True Federalism and so on have always been there. Anyone, who questions the purpose of the conference at this time, is right: they don’t mean any harm. Number two, I think that the proponents of the conference also know that it cannot possibly have the same significance as some of the preceding ones where people were elected  and given one year to deliberate on sundry issues of national importance. So, I don’t think it is logical to expect a three-month conference with no election and limit to be able to accomplish what an elected one could do. Number three, it looks to me like they have been given the latitude that the delegates to the previous ones did not have and yet you look at the amount of work that is required to be done by them. If you look at the previous one, there were no restrictions and they had a whole year to work, but in the current one, there are no-go areas and the time is just three months to do the job. So, I don’t think it is logical to expect this current conference to do as much as the previous ones.
What will be the use of the conference?
Let me say that it is always good to have the opportunity to talk and then you buy time between now and the next election. So, people will be talking. But I know that there are some fundamental constitutional issues to be discussed at the conference. I suspect that some people will come to the conference with big issues but I don’t know if they will have the time to exhaust them. I know in particular that my friends and brothers from the South-West will come with their agenda that may be difficult to be easily decided at a conference like this. Like I said earlier, you need to elect the people to this conference and not mere appointees by governors, some of whom are on their way out. In an atmosphere of dastardly politics, you cannot expect any objectivity. The things that are on the front burner of this country at this time, apart from Boko Haram, is 2015. This is basically what is bothering everyone and not many will be thinking of the big issues because of the season we are in. But the conference can look at some constitutional issues that can be changed before 2015. Constitutional amendment has been going on in the National Assembly but there are fundamental issues that cannot be resolved by the NASS because of one thing: the process required of them to get two thirds concurrence by the states would not be possible because of their governors. But I don’t know if this conference can be given the mandate to do that.
 
But I know that if this body is sufficiently empowered, they can do things which the NASS cannot do by their procedures. Number four, the conference should remove immunity for the president and the governors. There is no reason for any elected official in Nigeria to enjoy immunity. This immunity was given to the Queen of England from the beginning. It was not given to anyone else. There is no British or American politician, who has such type of power. No! The British Prime Minister does not have immunity as such. The American President does not have it too. They go to courts. Why should governors in Nigeria enjoy such immunity? For what? We must have forgotten that it was the prerogative of the Sovereignty of England.
That means it is not applicable to our system because we are not running the Parliamentary system of government. So there is reason why governors and President in Nigeria should enjoy immunity. It was given to the British Colonial governor because he was representing the queen, who is sovereign and is immuned. That should be removed immediately because it has no bearing with our system or any democratic nation.
 
The North may not be keen on taking part in the conference because the Northern Elders’ Forum believes the conference is just a ploy by the President to buy the support of the delegates for his re-election in 2015?
It may well be so but they should go to the conference to stop whatsoever they think is not right for them. But if they stay away, they cannot stop anything. So, they should go to the conference. If you refuse to go, they may do whatsoever they want to do.
Are you concerned about the timing of the conference?
When we started, I talked about the timing. But I want to say that since they have decided to hold it now, we can always turn it around for the good of this country. We can find some good things to do at the conference. But the kind of things that politicians are talking about and blowing their ego is not possible to be done at this conference because the conference is not of that sort.
But the argument by many Nigerians is that if you strip the President and governors of immunity; they would be distracted by endless litigations thereby slowing down governance?
So, what?
In my opinion, that is an unacceptable argument because it is ridiculous and does not apply to any other country that I know of. Look, if President Nixon had not resigned, he would have been impeached and removed? He would have been pushed aside. Was Clinton not taken to court as a President? Did he not respond to the charges as President? So, no country escapes from that.  So, as far as I am concerned, immunity must be removed.
Beyond that, the way governors are handling public funds is not the best. It does not happen like that in any other country. Governors have unhindered access to public funds in this country. There are laws which are not being obeyed. Governors just take any amount of money they want. This is ridiculous and criminal but it goes on.  It is criminal. You have your budget and no one should go beyond that which is provided for in the budget. The state governor should not spend one Naira outside his budget. Whatever the President or governor spends should be subject to an auditor. You remember that an auditor in this country was sacked because he dared to scrutinise the accounts of a certain President in this country? Things have gone so bad in this country that if the President or governor does not like an auditor, they sack him outright. So, what is happening in this country is completely lawless. If the President of the U.S is going to Japan for instance, can he tell the treasurer to give him $50,000 to put in his pocket just for the trip? No, it cannot happen. But we do that as often as possible. The other thing we also indulge in, is the powers of governors to destroy the Local Government Areas. The constitution says you cannot control local governments, but the governors insist they must control LGA money. Some of them set up and dissolve LGs at will. It is not done anywhere else in the world. This is illegal and criminal and must be stopped. There are a lot of lawlessness going on in this country and we say we are lawful. But the conference can be made useful to correct some of these anomalies.
Some leading northerners are contending that President Jonathan is not qualified to vie for a second term having been sworn in for two times. What is your position on that argument?
You know we can all split hair if we have a very efficient machine. Every law has its letter and its own spirit. The spirit of not swearing in the president more than twice, what is so sacrosanct about it in the Quran or the Bible? I think what they are saying is that you don’t allow somebody who was supposed to serve two times to come and serve more than that. In my view, that is not the most serious issue because people can be sworn in any number of times but you have to allow it to the jurist to determine what was intended by the law. President Jonathan came in to complete the term of Yar’Adua, who died in office. May his soul rest in peace! He is going for his second term now and nothing more. I don’t think that it is right to stop Jonathan based on the interpretation of the law they are quoting. To me, it would have made sense of they had been able to prove to Nigerians that Jonathan did sign an agreement to run for only one term. That would have made more sense to us than to argue over a matter we have not seen. If you don’t like Jonathan to stand election, say so. If you really feel he must not stand, work hard and defeat him. If he does not win the election, he cannot continue to be president. Can he? So, it seems that is not a very serious issue to be used to put Nigeria in a difficult atmosphere. Look at what happened when the presumed winner of the June 12 election, Chief MKO Abiola, was denied the opportunity of being sworn in. Up till now, some of the things that happen in this country derive from the crisis of June 12. So, we have to be very careful over what we say and do about 2015. I personally think that anybody who does not want Jonathan in 2015 should defeat him. He should ensure that nobody rigs the election. If you go to a place like Kano, you cannot rig even if somebody has given you money to do so because the people will not allow it to happen. There are so many ways of stopping rigging. So, in my opinion, all these arguments whether Jonathan should or should not contest do not hold water. What is important is to show if indeed Jonathan signed an agreement to serve for only a single term. There are more important issues than that. I would use that to judge him if there is enough and acceptable evidence to prove that he signed the agreement to serve only one term.
Some governors claim the letter Jonathan signed is with the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum.
It serves no purpose because the person holding the letter can always deny its existence. Such a document should have been taken to a superior court and signed as an affidavit before a judge with competent witnesses so that nobody can deny it later.
What do you think about the defection of your governor, Murtala Nyako and four others to the opposition? Are you not afraid that his defection could lead to the defeat of the PDP in Adamawa in the next election?
Well, I have told you a number of things that should be done to the constitution. If you are elected by any group of people, no matter how big or small they may be, and you jump out of the office, you have lost the right to that office. So, all these governors, who have changed parties, should relinquish their offices immediately otherwise there is no honour. But I remember that in the NASS, I argued with them on this matter when I was there. They were trying to do an amendment to the effect that if somebody decides to stay or leave, he can do so provided there is no division and I said no! I got up and said no. The people running the Senate said the people should live with their conscience over the matter of crossing from one party to the other and they just left the matter like that.  How can you talk about conscience where politicians are involved? To me, the matter is simple: if you leave the people who sent you to the office, you leave the office.
But the argument is that the PDP has been poaching governors from other parties and celebrating their exit from their former parties? So, why are they complaining now?
Are you saying that two wrongs make a right? Is it because the party got away with that violation that it is the correct position? If we have a chance, all we need to do is to spell out the correct position in our law books.
Is this the global position?
In the U.S, a certain lawmaker from Maine disagreed with the Republican and remained there but could not leave his party even though he was voting with the Democratic Party. But he could not leave the party because that would have cost him his post in the congress.
But will the exit of Nyako affect the fortunes of the PDP in Adamawa?
Governor Nyako’s exit will not affect anything in PDP in Adamawa. We have defeated him before. He was defeated in his own home when we did a by-election for a lawmaker who died. Now, there is a new situation in the state and the governor goes about making noise thinking that the new situation is in his favour. Let me also tell you that what some of these governors are doing is selfish: they pretend that what they are doing is on behalf of the north but it is not so. They are not doing anything for the north but themselves. If they were doing anything for the north and I am convinced, I would have been on their side. But I am convinced what they are doing is an after thought.
The basic thing is that they disagreed with the President and then they go around to tell the people that they are working for the north. The point I really want to make is that some of the people who are claiming that they are opposing the President on behalf of the north are not saying the truth. They are saying that the Presidency should return to the North. It is very unconvincing. I don’t think they can fool the people of the north to vote for them. If you want the Presidency to come to the north, say so but don’t use the people to advance your own personal political interest. This is just for themselves. They are doing it for themselves because of some other disagreements which have happened. This new reason is what they cooked up lately in order to elicit support from the north.
How do you feel about the emergence of new groups in the north, such as the Northern Elders Forum and the Northern Elders Council?
These groups are formed by interested parties but let me say that the Northern Elders Forum has been there for a long time from the days of the late Abdulraman Okene. They used to meet in Kaduna even in the days of the military and particularly when the President was from the north. After their meetings, they would meet with the Presidency and discuss their deliberations with the leadership. But that is no longer the case now. The NEF had its own respectability. But I don’t know about the Northern Elders Council. That notwithstanding, they have the right  to pursue their own interest. The only concern is why it is necessary to start another northern council now in the presence of Arewa Consultative Forum and the rest. The only thing I can say is that everyone has the right to form any association and move freely.
As a former Petroleum Minister, are you worried about the friction between the CBN and the NNPC, which eventually claimed the CBN Governor?
I don’t want to get into this argument. But let me say that it is not as simple as they say that NNPC collects oil money and spends. It is a complex situation because Nigeria depends largely on oil. Anybody in NNPC who is in a position of authority knows how this money is shared out for the benefit of the nation. What happened recently, what did not happen recently and what should have been done and was not done is not my business today. What I can say is that I did not like our two institutions-Ministries of Finance and the CBN and ultimately the Presidency-arguing over the NNPC matter in the public domain. I am sure there were better ways of handling it.
And it consumed Sanusi?
I don’t think it consumed him because he was set to go in June. He was about to leave so he should have been left alone to finish his term in June. That is another thing that the British people would not have done. The Presidency needed to have put in a few more checks around him and leave him so that when he finishes, he leaves. That way, the government would have saved itself a lot of trouble. I think we need to be a bit more mature than we are. What we seem to forget is that Nigeria is now a modern industrial state, which is quoted around the world.
What happens here influences world finance. I am sorry to say with due respect to all those involved in the debacle that the respect and recognition of Nigeria’s strategic position in the world market was missing while the people played in the public domain.
 

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