Daily Trust (Abuja)

20 September 2007

Nigeria: The Problem With the Reform Committee - Col. Bawa

interview

Abuja — Having ruled Gombe and Ekiti states as military governor, the then Col. Mohammed Bawa had tasted political office even as a military man.

Now retired, he has plunged into the political fray where he sought to govern his native Kebbi state on the Action Congress (AC) platform, in the last general elections. He is still bitter from that experience and that is why he faults President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's mode of electoral reform, which excludes politicians from the committee. Here below, he explains why the political reform committee needs reform itself.

President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has finally inaugurated the electoral review committee and many people have either praised or criticized it. What do you make of this committee?

Ordinarily, one should commend President Yar'Adua for his courage in setting up a committee to undertake electoral reforms. Because to me, the setting up of the committee by the president, is a subtle admission that the last election in the country was a sham. Apart from that, I am also curious that the president did not allow representation on the committee to be based on political parties. It is odd that when the Nigerian constitution says one can only contest elections on a platform of a political party, a committee set up to reform the electoral process would be made with the exclusion of political parties. To me, I believe that if electoral reforms are to be carried out, the proper thing to do is to work the reforms based on the contributions and suggestions from the members of the political parties.

But it would seem as if Yar'Adua wants the reforms to be done without the political parties. That to me is odd. All the atrocities of the 2007 elections were carried out by or on the behest of political parties, so if any thing needs to be reformed, it should start with the political parties. Out of the fifty political parties that we have in Nigeria, the only distinguishing features they have is their names. But when you look at their ideologies, programmes, manifestoes as obtained in advanced democracies, they are almost the same. Rather, they rely heavily on personalities and of course their financial clout to make headway. It is therefore not surprising that the average Nigerian politician regards party politics as a means to an end and no more. That is why it is very easy for our politicians to change their parties at the slightest provocation. Worse still, the politician is welcomed by the new party he or she crosses over to and is even offered to contest that same post he lost in his other party. Take the situation in Kebbi and Sokoto states for instance, where successful candidates decamped to another party after primaries and dislodged the bonafide candidates of that party. So, Mr. President, for any meaningful reform, political parties must be actively involved. It is the political parties that corrupt the electorate and subvert the system no matter how well articulated the system is. That is my fear for the electoral reform committee; otherwise I would have said it is a beautiful idea.

The House speaker, Mrs Patricia Ette is enmeshed in a crisis that has to do with the contract to renovate her house and that of her deputy, what can you say about the whole saga?

I read about the allegation in the papers. I have also read the attempt by some members of the House in trying to defend the action of the speaker. But to me, whether the amount involved is N300m as explained by some of the legislators or the N628m, I believe the whole saga boarders on legislative recklessness and insensitivity. I believe President Yar' Adua does not deserve such distractions. In the interest of justice, fair - play and due process, and for Madam Speaker to clear her name, she should submit herself voluntarily to both internal and external probe, simple. Because the matter would continue to be discussed for as long as the truth of the matter is not established and the necessary action taken.

You express so much concern for the president, how would you assess his first 100 days in office?

While I will say that it is a bit too early to make an honest assessment, but I am happy that within a short time, President Yar'Adua was able to courageously reverse some unpopular decisions of the Obasanjo era. For instance; the sale of the refineries, reviewing the pump price of fuel, and a host of other things. His often repeated promise to operate within the rule of law unlike his predecessor is another positive step. As a matter of fact and despite the legitimacy question hanging on his head, I would welcome anything or anybody that represents a change from those horrifying eight years of Obasanjo. In a lighter mood, I must add that I expect nothing short of what Yar'Adua has done so far; being a product of the famous Government College Keffi of Old. We have a very proud tradition in administration, diplomacy, sports and academics unrivaled by any of our contemporaries. So I would urge him to continue in that spirit. But I would have thought that what should be of priority to president Yar'Adua's Administration are; to turn around the epileptic services of P.H.C.N. in order to promote local production; rehabilitate the refineries so as to stop the importation of petroleum products; rehabilitate the dilapidated Federal Roads that were said to have gulped about N350 billion during Obasanjo; arrest the decay in tertiary Institutions due to poor funding, as well as vast improvements in the security of lives and property nationwide among others.

The last time we spoke you were appealing to the president to release Bamiayi and co who have been detained for eight years without concluding their trial, but the president has not been able to do that, does this portray him as someone who actually believes in the rule of law?

I want to make a passionate appeal to the President again to please, in what ever way he can, he should order the immediate release of Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi and his colleagues who have been kept in detention without concluding trial for the past eight years. Their case must have by now entered the Guinness Book of records, as the longest inconclusive legal trial ever. President Yar'Adua must view their case as a pure political vendetta by former president Obasanjo.

But I believe that the voice of reason should prevail in this matter because I am sure the government is aware of the number of appeals that have come out from our people in respect to this matter. While others resort to the use of militants and verbal terrorism to get their sons released from more serious allegations, we prefer to appeal to reason and sense of fairness and national reconciliation. But that is not to say we are weak, we are only being civil and hope that the government will reciprocate the gesture by listening to the voice of reason. Otherwise keeping these people in continuous detention will look ridiculous even to the international community, because even if they had been found guilty they must have either completed or would have been on the verge of serving out their terms, so Yar'Adau should not continue with this embarrassment. He should show respect to the rule of law.

What about the Niger Delta, it seems the region is still boiling despite the change in government?

I am happy that for now, the federal government has adopted the right approach to the crises. They have rightly separated those agitating for the protection of the environment and against the degradation of the ecosystem from common criminals who have hijacked the situation to visit mayhem on locals and foreigners alike. I believe Government is on top of the situation. The situation was unfortunately left to escalate during Obasanjo's admini-stration because he wrongly believed that "settlement" was the best policy. Every common criminal then became a militant, an agitator and a kidnapper, because the money from the sale of excess crude oil is there to settle them. I believe for now, the situation has drastically changed for the better. The government should also focus internally on what the Governors in that region do with their derivation allocation. They should improve the socio - economic well being of the region, as well as take all security reports from the operatives in the region serious. For once, the security operatives in the region are well on top of the situation, or so I believe, having spent over fifteen years as an intelligence officer with the military. If these measures are sustained, I believe that the ugly trend we noticed in the region in the past would be put behind us.

As someone who has participated actively in the last elections, in how do you think that the country's electoral process can be improved upon?

My experience in the last election has been very bitter, but at the same time eye opening. I also believe that the political terrain will change drastically after the conclusion of all cases at the various election tribunals. I am of the opinion that for us to have a virile and workable democracy especially in the Presidential System, opposi-tion parties must offer creditable alternative to the ruling party. One such viable alternative could be the fusion of the Action Congress (A.C); Buhari's A.N.P.P; Bafarawa's D.P.P and Orji Kalu's P.P.A into one party, which is how we can be able to eliminate personality cults in politics. But I guess that is a tall order. I believe if a credible opposi-tion is forged based on these political platforms, there would be a lot of checks and balances in the system which will result in a better political atmosphere for Nigeria. But like I said, it is a tall order because we are yet to move from the politics of personal gains. But the moment we can put selfish considerations behind us and work as a team for the good of the country, most of the things you see happening on the political scene would change.

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