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Two-term governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, was among the top politicians who were recently questioned by the EFCC for collecting money from the office of the NSA. But unlike others who are angry over their invitation by the anti-graft agency, the former governor in this interview says he holds no grudge against the government for fighting corruption. Bafarawa asks all Nigerians to team up with President Muhammadu Buhari to stamp out corruption from the polity so as to give Nigerians a new lease of life.
Why are you talking about fighting corruption after being arrested and detained by EFCC along with some other top politicians over money-related matters?
I can say that I left behind legacies that generations yet unborn will be very proud of. We had a good leader, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was committed to fighting corruption and he created many institutions like the EFCC and the ICPC to handle the job. Whatever name you want to give him; whether he did it for fighting corruption or for witch-hunting, at least, it assisted in fighting corruption. He laid a foundation, he realised there was corruption and he fought it. After he left, his successors -YarÁdua and Jonathan-did not do much to fight corruption and that exacerbated the monster in the land.Well, from my analysis, corruption in Nigeria is not a thing that one man can fight. I believe fighting corruption is the responsibility of every Nigerian. Don’t forget that I served for eight years from 1999 – 2007, I served for eight years. When we took over from the military in 1999 the crude oil was $9 per barrel and in 2007 it had gotten up to $30 – $40 and then we left a lot of legacies in our various states during that period. When I left office, I left behind N12 billion in the treasury. You can see the fortune that came the way of the nation between 2007 and 2015 when the price of oil rose to over $100 per barrel. One begins to wonder why those who enjoyed the huge oil revenue should be asking for bailout from the Federal Government.
Today, one can say that up to 90 percent of Nigerians are corrupt because when you go to the grassroots level, that is where corruption starts. The electorate will demand money before they elect you into office no matter how good you are, no matter the kind of ideology you have and intend to bring for their own good. If you don’t give them money, they would not support you. The game is that anyone who comes and shares money to them gets the support and nothing more.
Is that why you are supporting Buhari’s anti-corruption war?
Certainly. My support for him stems from the fact that it is a blessing for Nigerians that Buhari’s administration is fighting corruption. We shouldn’t see it as Buhari fighting corruption but something that all of us must join and ensure that it succeeds because Buhari can’t do it alone. It would also be dangerous if we ignore the fight against corruption because it will swallow the country.
As I have said earlier when a huge amount of about $100 a barrel for crude oil is spent and all the money vanishes and government has to bail states out it shows clearly that something has gone wrong somewhere. Giving that bailout to state without the federal Government investigating what they did with their huge oil earnings was a bit hasty. I would have expected the President to raise a committee to probe how the states incurred their debts and how they arrived at seeking bailout and how they want to use the bailout funds.
For this administration to succeed in fighting corruption, the government must involve not just the EFCC and ICPC but also other Nigerians. The government must open an office for public awareness for fighting corruption.
Special office should be open to campaign for the common man to see the dangers of corruption. We have to consider preventive measures before prosecuting those who are corrupt. We must adopt the two methods if we must succeed. Nigeria is in serious problem because it appears to me that loan which the Obasanjo’s administration managed to pay up, we are going back to incur more debts for the nation. We seem to be back to square one by borrowing, borrowing and borrowing and heading to nowhere. No matter what we are talking about, we will not succeed if we don’t fight corruption. I want Nigerians to take the fight against corruption as a project and not just Buhari’s.
Let’s take it as a collective project otherwise we will continue to sink and our children who are not yet born will not forgive us. In 2012 when Jonathan wanted to remove fuel subsidy, Nigerians came out and protested but he had seen it coming that was why he decided to remove subsidy but it wasn’t supported by Nigerians. More than four years later, people have seen the need to do so. If oil subsidy had been removed when Jonathan wanted to do so, President Buhari would have gotten an easy ride to continue.
If we don’t help Buhari to fight corruption, the person who will succeed him will have many issues to contend with and the nation would suffer the more for it. I believe we don’t have any country than Nigeria and we have to tell ourselves the truth about the situation of this country. It is only in Nigeria that you will see a person looking for government office for them to amass public funds for their own selfish interest. It is only in Nigeria that when a man who had no house gets into public office and in few months after taking over office, he can afford to buy over the whole community because of illicit public funds.
Are you not afraid that you may be accused of supporting Buhari because of your recent arrest and detention by the EFCC?
This arrest issue was best known to the EFCC. I wasn’t in the country when they came looking for me and then I got in touch with them. I got my lawyer to write to them that I was not in the country and that when I am back I would report to their office. Five days later when I arrived I went there myself. When I went there I was told that my invitation was in connection with the N100 million which a former minister gave to me. I accepted that he gave me the money and I gave it to those it was meant for. I told them that the money was paid to the beneficiaries through cheques. The matter is already in court and I don’t want to say more than that for now.
It doesn’t mean that when you come to court you are corrupt. The investigators can do it rightly or wrongly but what they are trying to do is find out the facts whether what they are told or what has been seen in the books is true or not. It is left to the person to go and explain himself. So I am not going to accuse or blame EFCC for inviting me because they are investigating me. I know that in the course of investigation anything can happen. EFCC investigators are not judges but are merely trying to get to know the truth from those who have been mentioned or accused of doing certain things. So, we should all cooperate with the anti-corruption agencies to get to know the truth about the corruption cases they are investigating.
Are you not worried that the fight against corruption may defy the laws of Nigeria leading to extended arrest and detention of innocent people?
I am one of the victims. I was detained in prison for three weeks and then taken to court but thank God today the FCT Chief Judge has given them an order barring magistrate from granting EFCC holding orders. That means that we are making progress in this country. So, no more court orders from Magistrate courts to arrest and detain people without charging them to court within the stipulated time. We are the first victims and those who are coming will not be affected but at least, we are learning and moving forward.
So are you satisfied with the way corruption is being fought by EFCC at the moment?
I am saying that they are trying and when they make mistakes, they should be corrected for the overall interest of the country. What they need is to get more experienced persons into the system and adopt a more civilised way of handling corruption investigation so as to win the war.
So does it mean that you didn’t collect any money directly from the former NSA?
As I have said before, I am saying it again and again that I didn’t collect anything directly from the former NSA but let’s not go to that because I said the matter is still in court. Let the matter be decided by the court before I talk on it.
The government appears to be putting all its efforts in fighting corruption, leaving other vital sectors to suffer. What do you think about that?
You see, that is the danger of corruption. That is the problem Mr. President finds himself in. For this country to move forward we must have our resources. The government of the day is broke. The problem we are facing now has to do with massive corruption, security and economic issues begging for urgent answers. First, we should pity Buhari and do all we can to assist him to win the fight against corruption and terrorism staring this nation on the face.
I am not a member of APC but I am a Nigerian and President Muhammadu Buhari is my president. When he joined politics in 2003 he must have come with his own ideology. He has tried over the years to win the Presidency and use his leadership to change the country for the good of all. You can see his strident attempts from 2003 to date when he finally won the election last year and it is our strong belief that Buhari is going to turn around Nigeria’s fortune. The country was already in a bad shape by the time he was sworn in about seven months ago and I know that he needs to take his time to put things right.
Are you surprised to know now that the huge part of money which PDP used during the last general elections was meant for arms to fight Boko Haram?
I don’t believe any politician who received that money knew it was arms money. How would one know what the money was meant for by the time they were being paid? Absolutely impossible. How would you know the source having not been given a contract? But when we go to court everyone will explain himself.
Are you regretting supporting Jonathan in the last election?
I am not regretting. I have never been a member of PDP since the creation in 1999 up till 2014. I have never been a member of PDP because my ideology is different from theirs otherwise I would have joined them. I found myself in PDP by accident. What I mean by accident is that I was part and parcel of the APC. I am a founding member of the APC. I was forced to leave APC because of corruption in politics in my state when PDP governors defected to the APC. Corruption came into the system along the formation of the party when they said that the PDP governors were going to join APC and I happened to be a victim. We were forced to hand over the party to my governor, who was a PDP member. So my followers insisted we must remain in PDP and I had to work with them.
I had to work with them. I joined PDP at the state level with my people without coming to Abuja or anybody enabling me. Even the top shots in PDP, including former President Jonathan did not believe that I had indeed joined the PDP when he was told. He could not believe that because during the days of Obasanjo, I had a lot of pressure to join the PDP but I refused.
Mind you I am a professional politician; I have ideology so I have to protect my profession. I started as a local government counsellor in 1976 so this is my profession. So I still stand on what I believe. That was why I had to join PDP just to get my people to have a place where they can contest election. The same way Buhari finds himself in this system is the way I found myself in the PDP.
So how long are you going to stay in PDP?
I will remain in PDP for as long as it is convenient. The APC is the same with PDP. I used to call them PDP 1 and PDP 2 because almost many of the people in PDP are now in APC and vice versa. For instance, the Number 2 man in PDP who ruled this country for eight years as a vice president is now in APC. If you count all the governors in APC, most of them were at one time or the other were in PDP. You can say so of at least two National Chairmen of PDP now in APC.
You joined politics in 1976 and that idea has still been with you. What exactly is that idea?
My idea is to work for the people. That is the ideology of being a politician to help the needy. When you join politics, you are just like the human rights fighter; you fight for the common man not yourself. So this is my own ideology to help people. When I was a counsellor in 1976, we did not pay much attention to what we could get from the government. In fact, we did not know much about money and acquisition of wealth.
I was only 22 years when I was elected into local government council and I later became the deputy chairman of the local government. Our major concern was how to make the people happy by providing service.
At that time we weren’t looking for money but popularity. We were more interested in doing something for people in the society and to please the people. It was during that time Obasanjo created UBE scheme and I was one of the counsellors in charge of education and we were building primary schools and health centres in the villages. At that time we used to return money allocated to us by the state government at the end of the year because we could not make use of the entire amount allocated to us.
When I was a governor I left almost N12 billion in the treasury. So if I was looking for money at that time when a billion Naira meant a lot of money, I would have stolen that money.
If you were to look back at your tenure of eight years, what would you point out as the most outstanding achievement and what really excites you about that tenure?
A lot. If you go to Sokoto, you can see the over 1000 kilometres of roads which I constructed and the numerous educational and health institutions which were done by my administration. When I took over the leadership of the state we had only 30 indigenes that where medical doctors but before I left I produced more than 100 medical doctors. I trained them locally and abroad before leaving office and today they are proud and rendering quality services to Nigerians in Sokoto State.
The people of Sokoto State really love and respect me and that is what gives me joy today. Recently, when they heard that I had been released on bail, they took over the airport to receive me back home. It took me more than an hour to reach home from the airport because of the large number of people who had assembled to receive me.
People came on their own to receive me. When I reached home I met thousands of people waiting to see me. So if I look back to the time when I left office and the love that my people continue to show me, I have enough reasons to thank God.
How best will you advise Mr. President to fight corruption?
Buhari has started well and should be encouraged to do more. He cannot stop the war half way. But he should set up public communication centres to educate or enlighten Nigerians on the dangers of corruption so as to elicit their support, goodwill and understanding for the fight.
Some Nigerians particularly, the opposition, claim that President Buhari is selective in his corruption fight. Wht do you think about that?
What I am saying is that Buhari has just started the fight against corruption and we should give him time and maximum cooperation to win the war and save Nigeria from stagnation and poverty induced by graft. These arrests being made in connection with corruption just started like a month or two ago. We need to give him time for us to see if indeed he is selective or not. It is too early to say that Buhari is selective in the fight against corruption.