2023 ZONING CONTROVERSY: Why the South should not believe El-Rufai— Abaribe

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In the second part of his interview with Sunday Vanguard, Senator Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe, Minority Leader of the 9th Senate, speaks on the state of the nation and the 2023 zoning controversy.

Let’s discuss the state of the nation. The government campaigned on three issues of fixing the economy, tackling insecurity and corruption. Have they met the expectations?

I did an interview a short while ago at Radio House in Abuja, it was done before the NBC came up with their five million Naira fine and they became the National Assembly that makes laws and the judiciary that imposes penalty, and so they became a part of everything: The executive, the judiciary and the legislature.

So, when I granted that interview and they asked this same question, I said I will answer using an allegory from Fela Anikulakpo Kuti; that Fela sang a song called ‘Confusion break bone’ and, in the opening part of the song, he spoke about mismanagement and stealing by government; saying “everything na old news be that”.

So, what you’re just talking about sounds like old news, sounds like a broken record repeating itself and that is the most pitiful part of everything.

The same things that this government complained about when they came in 2015 have even got worse and, of course, when they were getting worse before the last elections, we complained and people were also complaining and pointing out to them that “you guys are doing exactly the same things that you complained about and nothing seems to be getting better”.

And at that time the APC government always had a fallback position and that fallback position was that “PDP left this place in shambles and we are coming in to repair it”. Fine! It is now five years after PDP and they have left the place in even worse shape than they complained about, and so we are now looking at them and remembering Fela saying “old news”. There is nothing you can do, this government has lost it. So, when we talk about the state of the nation today, I think what we actually ought to pray for, which was what I called for on that day, is that it is about time patriots step in. By the time they finish, there will probably be no Nigeria left and we will continue to say it. There will be none and if there is no Nigeria, then all these things that we are doing, all the running around, all the ups and downs become an exercise in futility.

Many people think the National Assembly is collaborating with the executive. A good example is the suspension of investigative hearing into some of the MDAs being carried out by the House of Reps. Tell us your perspective?

We also have to take this in perspective. When this government came to power in 2015 and the first set of leadership at the National Assembly at that time led by Bukola Saraki and Co came in, what we heard from the executive was that the National Assembly was hampering whatever efforts they were putting in; that they were antagonistic and all the things they wanted to do, they couldn’t do them.

Now fast forward to 2019 and the present National Assembly and, on the day we were to choose our leadership, all the lawmakers of the APC showed up and there were efforts to ensure that they toed party line. Now after getting what they wanted, we still have not seen any change in the circumstances of Nigerians, rather things are worse.

So you can now see that even with a National Assembly that is collaborating with the executive, they are still unable to do well and that is why I said you must put this in perspective so that you don’t look at the National Assembly and say “oh, the National Assembly is collaborating with them”. When the National Assembly didn’t “collaborate” with them, they will now explain their failure away from themselves by blaming the National Assembly.

It is just like I told you before that they were also explaining their failures away by blaming PDP which had left office and who they said they were coming to change. And in fact, one of the very funny things that we always got was a default position where they said “after all, PDP did it”. I mean, that never made sense.

And I always came out to point it out to them by saying “how can you say PDP did it and therefore that is why you are doing it?” You came into office saying those bad things that PDP was doing you were going to eliminate them and that is why you were carrying a big white flag and so what do we get?

But you have almost same number of senators as APC. You could have checkmated some of these things…

No, we don’t. We have more senators in APC than in PDP. We have never had equal number.

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Isn’t there anything that you can do as the opposition?

Our job as the opposition is to oppose and say “no” which we will continue to do on the floor but the provisions of our rules and democratic ethos say on the floor of both chambers, voice vote and cast votes determine where you go and so, despite your opposition, the votes still say that they should toe the line of their party. We have no options left.

Going forward, 2023 is almost here and parties are clamoring to grab the most powerful seat at the federal level. Where do you think the pendulum will swing because the APC is out there trying to retain power and your party, PDP, is also strategizing?

Well, I think the verdict is already out. 2023 is not almost here, it is three years away; we are in 2020. The other day the President came, trying to find a lame duck way to say “I will leave some legacies”. What legacy is he going to leave?

He is just going to leave a legacy of debts, a legacy of difficulty and the most important legacy which the President has left or will leave will be a legacy of making things totally impossible for whoever takes over from him to govern and I will tell you how it goes. This government has been the only government that has gone against the laws of this country.

It has gone against Section 14 (3) of the Constitution which talks about Federal Character. It has gone against the Federal Character principles that were even brought by previous governments before us in order to weld us together in terms of unity.

Even the Federal Character Commission itself that is supposed to be the ombudsman that would check the breaches of the law by government was also compromised by this government where today both Chairman and Secretary are manned by people from the northern part of the country.

Before now, you had a Chairman from the northern part and you had the Secretary from the South and this is what I am talking about that this government is going to make it extremely impossible for whoever takes over from them to do well.

Assuming somebody takes over and he is from the South-West, will he follow what this government has already instituted, for example, by putting all security agencies, the 14 or 16 of them, under people from the South just like the Federal Government has done today by putting all under people from the North?

How is it going to function? Assuming it is somebody from the South-East, will he put everything under people from the South-East?

Will this country take it? So, what this government has done is to lay landmines that will destroy this country and when we were shouting and telling some elements that they are laying conditions to make this country rupture, they said the President needs to work with only those that he is comfortable with and now you can see the consequences of that.

Now that he has instituted nepotism as a fundamental part of the architecture of government, somebody coming after him, supposing his own people come to him and say “it’s been done before” just like they are telling us “oh PDP did it before” and so, if I become President and I decide that all my brothers from the South-East will take over everything and so, I retire everybody and put my people because it has been done before and, if you talk, I will say, “listen, Buhari did it”.

You set dangerous precedents you don’t even know. What happens in a country, how do you build a country? You build a country in a way that even things that you want to do against your natural instincts, you think of others and you think of tomorrow.

You have a holistic view of everything, but we have a very narrow-minded and provincial person who just does not care. And so, it is the implications of what these things are going to bring that we have continued to talk against and that is why we are in this conundrum today. And coming to the question of APC; APC is dead today.

APC swallowed its own Chairman and brought a Caretaker Committee and what will the Caretaker do? They will just be modeling along but when the time comes, they will now say “let’s do a convention and bring up a Chairman”, where are they going to get the Chairman that will not trigger the same things driving APC apart?

That is the first issue that APC will have to confront. The second issue that APC will have to confront is, where will the presidential candidate come from? Any which way it goes, APC is in trouble.

So, you find that when we talk about the future, we want to go from today to tomorrow and be sure that there is even a country and that is why my very good friend, Peter Obi, some people were asking him the other day, “do you want to be Igbo President?” and he said, “listen, why can we be talking about that when we have existential problems right in front of us?” Can this nation survive?

We have the Covid-19 pandemic which, combined with the drop in oil price to zero, now led the country to go into a borrowing spree to fund recurrent expenditures and so, a few days down the line, where do you think we are doing to go?

So, the debt situation calls for concern?

I do not even think that the truth about the debt situation is very open and you will notice that every time they are questioned, they flare into a rage. The question is, you are a public official and you are acting on our behalf.

We elected you into office and we raise legitimate questions and you don’t settle to even answer us in a very supercilious manner. You now say we ought not to have even asked that question. And one of the unfathomable things I heard from a minister was that even this loan you are talking about, it was signed under PDP. Can you imagine? So, if PDP signs a MoU and you come in and the thing



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