28 May 2008

Nigeria: Why N'assembly is Probing - Senator Mustapha

Lagos — Senator Olalekan Mustapha who represents Ogun East Senatorial District in the Senate, is Chairman, Senate Committee on Interior affairs. In this interview with Jaiyeola Andrews, Mustapha speaks on the recent validation of his election by the tribunal, Freedom of Information Bill, the probe of former President Olusegun Obasanjo's tenure among other issues

The Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abeokuta gave your mandate a judicial confirmation by upholding your election, but your opponent said he would appeal the judgment. What is your reaction to this development?

Well, first of all, I want to commend the tribunal for taking their time to go into the details of submissions made by the counsels to both parties. That is, counsel to the petitioners and the respondents. If you look at the judgment, it is a very detailed judgment because every argument canvassed by the petitioner was carefully looked into.

So I think, well of course I am not a legal practitioner but I think some of these things are just matter of common sense. Of course the law permits they can go on appeal, but to my mind I do not see the appeal court doing anything different from what has been done by the tribunal. Issues generally, are based on facts available to the court. I think they are going to address issues, not necessarily sentiment. So since they are going to address the issues, I think there are enough issues documented that they would have to look at and go through it, and then do what is right.

So, basically I believe that the decision of the tribunal would be upheld by the Appeal Court , by the Grace of God.

The Freedom of Information Bill has not been given accelerated attention by the National Assembly. Why?

Well, you know that we have just finished the budget, the 2008 budget because of some ups and downs in the process. So, I think now that we have done that the freedom of Information Bill is one of the issues that would be looked into by the National Assembly.

It is not for the benefit of Journalists alone, but for the benefit of everybody in the country. Because if you have no access to information, you have no freedom to disseminate information, then it means we are not in full Democracy. So, we are also committed to it.

The National Assembly is presently probing the tenure of the immediate Past President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Do you think anything concrete will come out of the probe, considering similar probes in the past that were swept under the carpet?

Well, it depends on the way you are looking at it. What we are doing at the National Assembly is not necessarily a probe, as you may want to call it. But it is just an exercise of looking into the records of what happened in the past. Apparently, first of all to correct some of those ills so that things like that would not occur in the future.

So, I think there are many reasons why people can go into the records, look into the records of the past, maybe to bring those who erred during that period to book, and then also to make correction for the future. Some of these things may not necessarily be called probe, because if it is going to be a full-blown probe of Obasanjo's administration, then it is not going to be selective.

It is not going to be on different arms of government, for now, they are looking into the books of the power sector, they are going to start looking at the books in the oil sector. Basically, some of these things are being done for us to be able to prepare and make amend where it is amendable.

Why probing Obasanjo's tenure alone?. Don't you think it has become imperative for the National Assembly to probe other past regimes?

Unfortunately, things happen the way they are destined to happen. It is not that nobody has looked into the books of previous rulers before Obasanjo. Of course between 1999 and 2007, the National Assembly of that time looked into the books of some previous administrations. They looked into the records of Abacha, they looked into the records of Gen. Abdusalam Abubakar. So, it depends on the way you are looking at it.

But I can tell you that nobody is being targeted by all these committees put together by the National Assembly. What I want to say is that, these committees are put together for us to correct some of the errors of the past.

You are a member of the Constitutional Review Committee, what areas do you think needs amendment?

Well, there are so many areas, which I think requires attention in the constitution. One of them is about the local governments. If you look at the local governments today, they are like the proverbial Bat; the bat is neither a bird nor a rat. So the local government do not have the kind of autonomy that can strengthen them to perform to the expectation of people.

So, we have to look at the structure of the local government and see how they can be strengthened to enable them perform their duties and responsibilities to the people. So that is one major area which I think is going to be looked into. Because the committee has not been inaugurated by the National Assembly, therefore I would not want to dwell too much on possible areas where the committee would want to address. I would rather wait until the committee is inaugurated so that the committee can identify their areas of interest and also set targets.

Considering the impediments surrounding the creation of additional states, is it feasible now?

Well, there is nothing cumbersome about creation of State, it is where there is a will there will be a way. Creation of State is something that affects everybody in Nigeria , there is no part in this country now that you do not have people clamouring for the creation of more States. What affects all, affects everybody therefore since it is the wish of everybody that states and local governments be created in their domains, I am sure it is something that is likely to have favourable consideration by the National Assembly and of course the State Assemblies across the Country.

It is something that would affect the lives of the people in the entire federation. I want to believe that it is something practicable, you can only express some reservations if this request is being made by one tiny section of the country. But as it is, it is everywhere in the country that you have people clamoring for new States.

Then if it is structured in such a way that everybody would be adequately considered, then I can tell you that it would require overwhelming support by the generality of the people in the country and their representatives in the National Assembly.

On Ijebu State, just like every other person have gone in their own demand for the creation of various states, that is what we have also done on the creation of Ijebu State. But I can tell you that by the grace of God, if States are going to be created at all, Ijebu State will be one of them.

Nigerians have been criticizing the Senate for throwing its weight behind the Chairman, Senate committee on Health, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo - Bello over her role in the controversial N300 million scam and her evasion of EFCC's arrest. Don't you think the senate position negates the rule of law?

What the Senate did, was based on what we have in our books. The rules of the senate allows agencies of government and private outfits to support committees in the National Assembly when they are interested in a particular bill that is being debated, or that is going to be debated by the Assembly. So it is not out of place for an outfit of government to support a committee that has relationship with that outfit in as much as it does not go outside the rules of the Senate.

The fact that some people are expressing some sentiments does not mean we should go and throw our rules into the dustbin. We must follow our rules, following our rules is one thing, and if other agencies like EFCC feels they have an issue, they can also go ahead and establish it.

Because we do not know whether there are facts available to EFCC that are not available to us, therefore I cannot fault whatever they are doing. But of course in our own little way, we also must follow our rules and that is what we have done, and we have been following our rules in supporting, in seeing that as far as the Senate is concerned, Iyabo's committee on health going to Ghana for a retreat, sponsored by the Ministry is something that is permitted within the rules of the senate.

The Senate committee recently toured prisons across the country. How can government reform our prisons?

Well, basically what we have seen in the prisons is lack of commitment by successive administrations on the improvement of the prisons and the living condition of prisoners. We went to some of our prisons, and the conditions that we met in some of these prisons were very bad. We met them in a bad shape, and within the limited resources available to government, we have made reasonable provisions in the 2008 budget for the upgrading and rehabilitation of some of these prisons.

Just like everybody knows, Rome was not built in a day. There has been decay in the our prisons system for some time. We can only correct the decay step by step, and that we have started, we have taken off and I can tell you that within two, three years, we are going to have good prisons across the country where inmates will not be dying like goats.

There is this insinuation that the relationship between Governor Gbenga Daniel and Senator Jubril Martins Kuye has gone sour over political differences. What is the situation and what efforts are being made to resolve it?

Well, you said sour relationship, it is also a milder form of saying something is bitter. But I can tell you that our party is so big that the moment you begin to see people canvassing the same opinions, and then it means they are deceiving themselves. But as it is, whatever issues is on ground, are issues of politics and I can tell you that they would be settled.

I can tell you that within a very short time, the party would come back together. Don't forget that in the constitution of PDP, there can only be one leader of the Party at the state level, and also at the National level. President Yar'a'dua is the National Leader of the Party, in Ogun State , Otunba Gbenga Daniel is the leader of PDP.

So, if there are issues to be resolved or discussed, I can tell you that at the appropriate time, stakeholders will be involved and it will be discussed. But all these sour relationship and things like that, that you are talking about are just the creation of some few people in the party who really did not contribute anything to the party. But they feel that it is only they can cause division between the rank and file of the leadership.

But of course, things like that is just a flash in the frying pan. If it happens, within a short time it would fizzle out. Because these people are not genuine leaders, and I can tell you that our Governor is so experienced that if you are not a genuine person in the party, within a very short time he will discover and you will be put in your proper place.

So, I can tell you that there is nothing happening between our Governor and Senator Kuye that is not out of place, that is completely out of place as people might want you people to believe. Whatever it is that is happening are just minor issues and I can assure you that it is also being resolved, if it has not been completely resolved.

It is even speculated in some quarters that you are also engaged in a bitter political row with Governor Gbenga Daniel. What is the true positio?.

Well, I do not know the political issues you are talking about. But just like I told you, what we have in the party is a system of leadership that bestows the leadership of the party both at the national and state level on the president and the Governors. So because of that we have laid down procedures of going about issues.

So, issues of politics definitely whenever it occurs, it will be settled. Because we do not have two leaders in the party, therefore we must all sit down and discuss issues under the leadership of our Governor, because we do not have two leaders.

Of course it is possible for people to want to cause division, or people to want to feel that because they have not been opportuned. Some of them run away from election, and when they run away from election, they now want to come back again and compete with those who have gone through election, which is absolutely impossible.

It can only last for a while, for people to constitute themselves into some kinds of rumour mongers, back biters, people spreading false rumour. But, by and large as times goes on, I know that some of the very dirty tricks of some of these people will be exposed. And just like I said earlier, they will be put in their proper position.

What developmental project are you trying to influence into your constituency.

Well, whatever it is that we would do in my constituency would be divided into two sections. Some of those things that I would do, some of them are personal, while some are things I am going to influence via appropriation, that is Federal Government projects.

Some of them are on-going and there are some of them now that we have in the budget of 2008. By the time we start the implementation of the budget, then I will be able to tell you categorically some of these projects..

We must keep those things to our chests so as not to allow some of our detractors to go about discrediting some of these things, even before we started

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