Jonathan Regrets Misruling Nigeria – Ex-minister
Former Minister of State for Education, Chief Kenneth Gbagi, in this interview speaks about the arraignment of Senate President Bukola Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, just as he examines the tenure of his former boss, Goodluck Jonathan
HOW would you react to arraignment of Senate President Bukola Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal?
We have a problem in Nigeria where we don’t have people of honour, dignity and integrity. The mere fact that the Senate President has allegedly lied by doing anticipatory declaration means he has no business being a Senate President living on tax payers’ money.
First, Nigerians will not have faith in anything that comes out of a Senate that is chaired or presided over by that kind of person. The entire international community will not believe in the passage of any bill under his leadership. This government is not like previous governments where you think you get in and it will be business as usual, it is not true. Saraki should find another profession.
But some senators say they will stand by him
The senators themselves are going to be cleaned out. They think it is business as usual and they think like before they will be able to hold the government to ransom. It is a lie. Nigerians will go to the streets. It’s not going to be possible. We have had too many setbacks in our polity as a result of criminals, hijacking the reins of government. But you cannot give President Muhammadu Buhari a bribe. So if you ask me, it is a fait accompli, that matter is done with.
Do you think the Senate President won’t join hands with the President to fight corruption?
Which Senate President? Senator Saraki? With the documents presented by the Code of Conduct Bureau, stating that
Saraki allegedly falsely declared, in a proper country he should be out of office already. And I think Buhari is not doing enough. The only reason why America is still a great country is that no matter who you are, once you cross the rules of the law, you must pay for it. Until we get to that level, we are just wasting our time. First and foremost, he cannot be seen to sit in that Senate now as a Senate President because whatever he does questions the integrity of the entire Senate.
Where do you think the President should start his anti-corruption crusade?
There are powers vested in the President. The President has the power of probing everybody or any institution under the Federal Government: ministries, parastatals and so on because that is where you have the bulk of the money.
Are you pleased with the role the judiciary is playing in the fight against corruption?
Buhari has not done magic, but the mere fact that everyone knows that Buhari is not somebody you will offer $200m and he will take it, makes people to sit up. Do you know the American government was going to foreclose Nigeria unless we established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission? so it was a horrible thing. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo therefore had to establish it, but it has since become a conduit pipe
The PDP has accused Buhari of being dictatorial. As a member of the party, do you share this view?
By my level and association in this world, I am above party politics. But I’ll always speak the truth as I have done. The PDP or persons within the party need to say something to make it appear as if there is a problem. Let us be categorical in what we have done and benchmark it with what other presidents have done; where is the element for dictatorship in the system? Once I see it, I will shout out and trust me, I will. The mere fact that agencies like the CCB that were comatose are now working does not amount to dictatorship.
Some say Buhari is vindictive
A drowning man is bound to say something. A robber that is coming to your house must tell a lie to pass security before entering your house. What is the vindictiveness? Was he there as President when Bukola Saraki declared his assets? If the man in the CCB, who was before now compromised, does his job because he knows the kind of man Buhari is, how does that amount to vindictiveness?
They argue that the trial is because Saraki emerged as Senate President and Senator Ike Ekweremadu of the PDP as his deputy against the wishes of the APC
No. But for the embarrassing revelation of what has happened to Saraki, the emergence of Saraki as Senate President was not bad.
Why must he be disgraced out of office?
There are many people; someone else can emerge as Senate President. Let people begin to see that governance and public office is not a place to steal or cover up issues. For you to be a public office holder anywhere in the world, you must be one of the best persons in the country. The reverse is the case in Nigeria, the dirtier you are, the more appointments you get. So people like you who have been writing all your life can never get appointments because you can’t give a bribe and you are not a thief. Before now the people that held office were dirty and that is why when they leave office, they cannot speak. Former ministers, presidents, governors cannot speak because they are thieves. Before he or she opens his or her mouth, his people will come out and say, ‘look we have this on you’ and he or she will shut up. So it’s a good thing for our democracy. Let’s stop distracting Buhari. You people say you want a clean government, the system is cleaning itself. We have lesser people jostling to be ministers in Nigeria today in the entire history of Nigeria. We must let things evolve. We are too colonial; it is stupid of this country to be where we are today. With all the wealth and everything we have seen, we should have done a whole lot better.
Still on corruption, what in your own opinion went wrong that made the EFCC and other anti-graft agencies docile under former President Goodluck Jonathan?
Jonathan was my boss. I have rejected four ministerial appointments in Nigeria starting from the regime of late Gen. Sani Abacha, and Obasanjo. But let’s put it this way, you have a President who you know has the power of life and death over you and by that I mean he can remove you today or tomorrow. And you know his body language. Only an idiot would still be in that office to do otherwise. Did people benefit from that situation? Yes, the Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahmi Lamorde, was the greatest beneficiary of that stupid behaviour. Did the country benefit? No, it lost massively. I know and I say categorically, and I can tell you this today, that two things Jonathan never wanted to hear of were the EFCC and the ICPC.
I give you one single example and I won’t mention names. We were to appoint people into offices in the educational sector. We went through the process and conducted an exam for them. My colleague, the minister in the ministry, had a candidate and he was a thief, a jail breakout and not a person that should be in governance. The people who came first, second, third, fourth and fifth in that exam to run the big education job were all there. And I just thought that all we had to do was to forward the recommendations to the President. My colleague in that instance was honest to Mr. President. She said, “Mr. President this man is from my place but reports show that he is thief and criminal.”
What was the President’s reaction?
The reply of Mr. President was that “if you follow all these reports of the EFCC calling people thieves, we will not move; appoint him.” She told the president that this man was a thief. I gave you just one instance out of many. But to my shock, that man was appointed and believe you me, I refused to participate in anything that had to do with that man until I left the ministry.
The problem is that many Nigerians want to work for the government because they have no job. If they had jobs, you know what it takes to make money and be a great man, you don’t need a government job and of course if you go there, the best you can do is to speak the truth. Jonathan knew from day one that I would always tell him the bitter and blatant truth. What has cost Jonathan his job today is that he was listening to job seekers who had no business being ministers or advisers. Today they have all run away. I am sure in his sleep he will remember Gbagi every day.
I am not a friend of the former Director General of the Department of State Service, Albert Horsfall. But he spoke to Jonathan and said ‘if you really want this country to move forward’ the person you should make police affairs minister is Gbagi’. I didn’t know Horsfall. So I sat down there and the president said, ‘Gbagi move to police affairs’. It is because I will say the bitter truth. Retrospectively today, I know Jonathan will think twice. I know in his toilet, he will be saying, ‘we ought not to run this country as if we were running a kitchen’. Nigeria will outlive all of us. People built Britain, America, Canada and other great nations. Let leaders, including Buhari, make things right. The country will certainly outlive us and our children and all we need to do is do it right and unless we do that, we all will pay the price. We are still paying.
But you never moved to the Ministry of Police Affairs
How could I have moved if they knew I was going to tell them the bitter truth, which is what is causing all the problems we are having today?