Senate President Bukola Saraki over a week ago in an exclusive interview with Channels TV questioned the integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari. He said the president was running a corrupt administration that lacked the moral high ground to check fraud elsewhere.
Mr Saraki, who spoke in his capacity as the head of the Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, anchored his allegation on the Buhari administration's opaque handling of petrol subsidy and its failure to prosecute top government officials accused of corruption.
This is the text of the interview as transcribed by PREMIUM TIMES.
What is your general assessment as we approach the general elections?
The environment presently is completely different from what people are used to in the period leading to elections. By and large, major apparatus of states are ensuring that the normal flow of elections activity go as they used to be.
As far as our party is concerned, we have started regional campaigns across the geopolitical zones. From the beginning of this new year, we are going to start throughout the states, state capitals and do campaigns on the street and also we will be doing a lot of town hall meetings with different interest groups. But I must admit definitely the atmosphere now is completely different from what the country is used to be in usual campaign, people are no longer as free as they used to be as was the case in the past.
If you look at the participation of civil societies, support groups compared to 2015, you will see that people are a bit more edgy maybe because they have seen actions of government as they show gross intolerance for different opinions. That is affecting participation of people.
Are you saying the government is frustrating your campaigns?
No, what I am saying is that the atmosphere does not allow the kind of campaign we are used to. In terms of people being free to support whoever they choose it.
So the APC government is choking campaign generally?
Yes, they are choking campaigns generally, that's the feeling. If you look at the level of support groups, if you look at dinners, fundraising dinners. Fundraising dinners in 2015 were held everywhere, we were having dinners with the business community. Now those business communities don't want to come out and see that they are getting involved in politics.
So the environment is different. You talk to a lot of people you will hear them also say activities are not as bustling and active as it used to be, but be that as it may, we are marching to get our message across using different strategies because our messages are about election for good governance. It is about referendum of the government. Despite harassment, intimidation, choking and trying to frustrate campaign process, but you cannot hide away from the truth, you can't hide from the message. So we are devising many better tactics of pushing out the messages.
When you say the government is frustrating or choking your strategies, or the environment, do you have evidence of this?
I will give you an example. CSOs play a key role in working with political parties and pushing their agenda. A lot of the CSOs when you call them now, they are very jittery to come out.
I give you an example. Look at the gentleman, a young boy who came out to march, he has been locked up and is probably going to be locked up till the election. So they are scaring a lot of people that should participate.
The police are allowed to break the law and do things that are not conducive to ensure a free and fair election. So it's those that are strong-willed that come out in this kind of atmosphere.
Some have said your campaign organisation has funding challenge. Is that true?
I think generally the funding environment is different. I am saying the apparatus of the state is going about arm-twisting financial institutions. If you talk to people handling financial institutions, they will tell you today they are being hounded.
They are being told: send us names of people that withdraw money. These are things that didn't use to happen before. An environment like that, financial institutions as you know, once they start getting those kinds of harassment from agents of the government, they sort of crawl into their shells. These are business communities; they are scaring them with this kind of activities. I think that is happening but it is not stopping the activities of the parties. This is not what we are used to leading to elections is not the same. What we are seeing now is that the environment does not reflect us having a viable democracy.
So you think it's an acoustic process of democracy?
Yes, it is. Of course, it is. We are going about starting state by state campaign.
When are you starting the state by state campaign?
Oh really because it's just about 40 days to the election.
We are going to have the campaigns and we should finish a week before, like 10 days before the mega rally in Abuja. We are doing that and as we are saying, we have done geopolitical rallies.
But you have not done that in the South-east and South-south.
Those two, yes because they came over the holiday and generally that part of the country is 'infested' during Christmas and we said this is not a good time, that we wait till after the holidays to do those two parts. That's why we have met, done those two parts. Straight after the holiday, in January, we will now pick dates to do that. But the other parties are not doing anything.
Again, there are insinuations about a problem within your party, for example, some governors seem to be having problems with the party?
That's propaganda. It's not happening. I think at the initial stage, of course, there were some issues that came about particularly as regards the choice of vice president. In every political party, things like that will happen but immediately after that, there were discussions and everybody has moved on to work towards winning the election.
Some of the criticisms against your campaign is the choice of your vice presidential candidate. Analysts believe that your party should have looked to the South-west. Do you think the party made a mistake there?
No. I think the party has made a very good choice of a vice presidential candidate and that is not the problem within the party now. The issue with governors is propaganda to try and show that there is a division in the party. I think there is bigger division in the other party (APC) where you have governors in the party saying they are campaigning for their party for one election and openly campaigning for another party and that is happening in at least four or five states.
Now that is huge and you are not seeing that in our party. I know there is no governor in our party who is saying I am doing PDP for one election I am doing another party, openly, we are not seeing that. They (APC) are trying to cover that and that is why yo see all those propagandas that there is division in our own party.
In a party where governors can be doing that, getting tarsi-support from the president, it shows there is a problem. I have never seen it happen before in politics so that is where there is a problem.
You have been around for a while and you know the president, you worked closely with President Muhammad Buhari. Considering what he has achieved politically overtime, in the last 3/4 election circles, people are of the opinion that your candidate may have a tough time at this election. Don't you have a feeling that your party may have a very very tough time convincing the voters to vote for Atiku?
No I don't think that. Like I said, if you go round the country today, ask Nigerians that, are you better off today than you were in 2015 when they voted for president Buhari and the APC? The answer is a loud answer that they are not better off. You go North-west, South-south, South-east, North-central, the answer is no, they are not better off and like I said, an election is a referendum.
Where am I today? When you vote for somebody, whoever it is, (the issue is) President Buhari made promises. They came out in 2015 as a party and said I will do this, I will do this, I will do this, and in this election, four year's time, sit down and ask yourself, has he delivered? If he has delivered, vote for him.
But they said they have delivered on their promises?
You know they have not.
They said they spent about N1 trillion on restructuring.
Let me start with the three major cardinal points at the time they were going to the people for. One, security, two the economy and three corruptions. In 2015, the security challenges in the country was on the issue of Boko Haram in the North-east. Today, Boko Haram in the North East is getting more serious, we are losing territory now, lives are being lost.
The view at that time, people felt as a general he (Buhari) will be able to address the issue, that was the promise, that was the campaign but today you know that in the North- east, things haven't gotten better.
There were some local governments under Boko Haram at the time but they are no more.
But now there are areas we have lost.
No, they say they are in control of them.
We can argue that from now till tomorrow. But if we speak to the people in those areas today, there are serious challenges in the North-east. World data says today the country is fourth of the number of lives lost due to terrorism.
In 2015, the North-west didn't have a problem of security. Today there are security challenges there. In 2015, the North-central didn't have a problem, today there is loss of lives. In 2015, we had a country that had one zone with security challenges, now we have three zones.
So whatever statistics you want to cite, people have lost lives in the North-central which wasn't there in 2015. There are people who have lost lives in North-west, it wasn't there in 2015.
That is why I believe this campaign should not be on sentiments, it should be on what we see. So for a government to say they have met their promises, what promise? How have they secured lives and properties in zones that were peaceful before?
Are you saying that the APC government had failed?
They have failed in security of course. I will take security separately. Secondly, you talk about the economy, they promised Nigerians they will create more jobs, they have lost more jobs. Over 20 million jobs lost. So how have you performed?
Today now as everybody says we are the capital of poverty, over 80 million people who are over the extreme poverty line. That is what happened, they have not delivered.
Finally, go to the issue of corruption, my view that it is more propaganda than reality. Why do I say that? Even by diagnoses of a world organisation, if you look at their indices on corruption, we have gone back and more importantly also, what examples are they showing in the government?
Has anybody in the government been prosecuted? None, zero. Most of the cases you see are probably one of political commutation. Most importantly when you go to, look at the revenues, the revenues suggest there are serious leakages because government came out with three budgets of revenue levels and every single time, it shows leakages. On which of those three have they performed?
Are you saying this government has more corrupt people around the president than ever?
There is no doubt about that, there is no doubt that there are corrupt people around the system. Truly, I am baffled, truly baffled how a member of his government who has been found wanting up to today, no charge no prosecution. To me, once you can't do that, you lose the integrity, the moral high ground to say you are fighting corruption. You must show that nobody is above the law, you must show that no matter how close anybody is to you if there are enough cases, you will take action.
But his party believes that the man is a man of integrity.
Yes, then he must take the actions to support it.
Do you think he is corrupt?
The man as I see. Yes, he is corrupt, he must be. If you are not taking action against people who are corrupt, why are you condoning it.
So you think it's right to say Buhari is corrupt?
It will be right to say the government of Buhari is corrupt. You cannot vote for a government that condones people who are corrupt, to not go after people you know they are corrupt. How do you now define corruption? As I said, saying that the Jonathan government is corrupt, it was the government, there was nothing individual about him that he did, it was the government.
He must take responsibility as head of the government. So that perception is wrong because he represents the government so anything that is done by the government that is corrupt and action is not taken by who heads the government then he must take the blame that the government is corrupt.
Going into this campaign, a lot of Nigerians are looking at issues brought to the table. The APC said look PDP cannot talk about some of these issues because they ruled Nigeria for 16 years and according to the APC, the PDP failed. The chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole also said PDP is not an alternative in 2019. How do you respond?
So the people who got unemployed, people who lost their jobs in the last four years, it is because of PDP 16 years? Sure Nigerians are clever; Nigerians are not stupid. You came into government, you said you said this is what I promise, I am going to make your life better with a change and you did not achieve that. To now blame that on a government that was there before that. it's no excuse. You should deliver, you should at least even if you cannot create new jobs maintain those that are there. You promised you will create jobs but instead of creating jobs, you lost jobs close to 20 million, you now blame it on the government of 16 years ago?
Why do you think Nigerians will trust Atiku?
Yes, Nigerians will trust Atiku.
What about the perception of (corruption) about him?
Well, you use the word perception which you also agree is not reality. The question is why are we here? Where are we going? the country is going nowhere. There is no way out where we are today because the government has shown that it cannot address security issues.
The government has shown that jobs are not being created, there is poverty in the land and the government has no answer. The 2019 budget that should even show directly what that government is doing is hopeless which everybody agrees is not going to provide a future. On this side, you have a candidate that has a firm understanding of what he is going to do.
You have criticised the consumption figures being released by the federal government. You said those figures caused some leakages, that we are not consuming the fuel that we are reportedly consuming daily. You disagree with the figures?
Talking about the fuel subsidy, if you remember in 2015, 2014/2015 one of the areas where we labeled the Jonathan government on the issue of corruption was the fuel subsidy scam. One of the major issues that came up then was that we were importing 30 million liters for consumption daily and all statistics and all experts will tell you that Nigeria cannot consume maximum, 22/23 million liters a day.
So at that time, we said the Jonathan government was condoning corruption by allowing us to, because of that, we are losing a lot of money because instead of doing about 22 liters a day, we are doing about 30 million a day.
Now, you would have thought that the government that wants to fight corruption and fight leakages will even if it was still going to maintain subsidy, ensure the subsidy is better managed. Instead of the 30 million to go down, the government is doing 50 million liters. We cannot consume 50 million liters a day. It is just money being stolen.
So it's a fraud?
You think the President Muhamdadu Buhari is aware of this?
They report to him. I am not involved in his government but a lot of us have said there is no way it's possible for us to consume that amount of fuel.
Why is the National Assembly not investigating this?
We have. When you have an environment where agencies of government are emboldened to disregard the National Assembly, it is a big issue. we have said it.
I said it in last year's budget that we must bring subsidy into the budget, NNPC convinced the president to say no it is not subsidy it is cost recovery. What is cost recovery, its fraudulent?
They are not drilling oil to produce, they are just importing. Finally, in 2019 after two years, the president now decides to bring it in, he should have done that all along. The point is that this kind of thing has led to leakage because if it has been properly managed, there is no way we would have been here.
This is the new corruption because the main source of our revenue is NNPC. If we are losing 50 million liters, that is the biggest corruption, not chasing the local government chairman in one place or chasing one commissioner. This is where the huge leakage and that it is bringing us into fiscal crisis.
Let me go back and tie again to the issue of corruption. In 2015, if we could kick out Jonathan's government for fuel subsidy scandal based on 30 million liters and today's government that claimed they were going to come and clean things up are doing the same thing is now taking it up to 50m litres that is the point I'm making that things have not improved but even got worse.
Do you believe in the process towards the election?
That's a big concern. I said many times, I said PDP is competing against the APC and security agencies. That is the real concern because if you look at the numbers, the numbers there do not support any APC victory but if you see the way they are so relaxed, something is happening there.
If you look at some of the actions of some of the security agencies, you will see that definitely we have, all Nigerians have concern about the election. But what I know, what I began to see and love about Nigerians, Nigerians are determined, Nigerians have seen as a country in 2015 we made a lot of progress in the world. We showed that we have matured and we can carry out elections. Elections are bigger than anybody. The image of the country went right up in the eyes of the world by what we did in 2015.
We can't afford to do any election worse than that. We can't afford to have an election where security agents are seen preventing people from voting. We can't have an election where security agents are going around arresting those in opposition, we have gone past that as a country. What we do affects our image in the continent and the world. You here the president say it (elections) is not a do or die affair but the actions of those underneath him does not support that. He has to show by action.
If the president renews the contract of the IG of police, what will you do?
It is very clear the Constitution doesn't support him but outside of that (Constitution) it is wrong... it is wrong.
Do you have confidence in INEC?
I believe that INEC, if left alone will do well. I will give them the benefit of the doubt.
There seem to be a mild populist agenda which has become some kind of movement in Kwara aiming at defeating the Saraki dynasty. Are you afraid your stronghold in Kwara politics is coming an end?
I am not afraid. A few people when you say that "Otoge" they will tell you the price of rice is high. There is insecurity, there is poverty, there are a lot of reasons to vote out the APC and bring in the PDP.
But that is at the federal level. What about the state?
You can see in the last few years the development in the state (Kwara) by the governor. I know what the state was and what he has been able to do. if you look at the track record, the political party has been ruling, there are developments in education, and the health sector in the last three years.
Things have been very difficult as a fallout of what has been happening in general in the country, the poverty. In Kwara, sometimes you hear people say payment of salaries is an issue which we hear which is not particular to the state.
If the people of Kwara vote against your political structure, what happens?
The people of Kwara State will not because they know those who are committed and those working for them, they cannot trust Kwara State in the hands of 'these people'.
Will you be shocked if they do?
Every time we go to the election there is always this propaganda that they will vote against our structure but it will not happen because they (the people) know who is with them. The Saraki dynasty is still strong and you will see it play out in the elections. We will go to elections and we will win.