Senator Atiku Abubakar Bagudu
Senate Committee Chairman on Interiors, Senator Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, represents Kebbi Central senatorial district. In an interview with journalists, Bagudu spoke on a wide range of issues, including the botched plan to introduce N5,000 note into the nation’s currency.Omololu Ogunmade was there. Excerpts:
The aborted introduction of N5,000 note by the Central Bank of Nigeria generated much controversy than expected. How did really view the scenario?
I had expressed my view on this issue recently and it has not changed. About five years ago, we had a major currency restructuring where different currency notes were introduced and ever since, we have resorted to the use of electronic means of payment by Nigerians. Many Nigerians are using cards now than we did five years ago. I mean debit cards, credit cards. Many Nigerian businesses are using point of sales machine which are alternatives to the use of cash. The Central Bank of Nigeria has introduced on a pilot basis, cashless initiatives in Lagos which are to be extended to other parts of the country. So, one would have thought that these are very well thought out projects and one can see the merits of this project. Therefore, the introduction of high denomination currency like the N5,000 note does not appear to be in tandem with that initial well thought policy.
I think the reasoning behind the planned introduction of N5,000 note was not well articulated, certainly there was no enough consultation. A currency is a piece of paper or coin that is supposed to be trusted and which people are going to use. So, if you want to introduce them, just as Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had done before, you have to engage the stakeholders, the Nigerian public, because once confidence in the currency is not there, it will endanger its acceptance.
When Professor Charles Soludo (former CBN governor) was talking about this issue at that time, what he was talking about was currency redenomination in which we would reduce the size of the currency note. I know that this is a different governor but the same Central Bank. I had worked there before. I know that it runs a very effective committee system where there is policy continuity, irrespective of who the governor is. One would have expected to see a well developed argument on the issue and I think they have not been able to convince the people that the introduction of the higher denomination will not lead to some measures of devaluation of the currency because of the well founded argument about currency rounding up, that whenever you introduce a higher denomination, people tend to round up.
How do you see the agitation for state police, especially by South-west governors?
There is nothing like the South-west governors agitating for state police because there are many people in the South-west who have expressed opinions for and against state police. One noticeable elder and a great man in this country, former President Olusegun Obasanjo came out to express his opinion against this, among others. In the North also, there are some people who are in support of it while others are against it. I remember that former National Security Adviser, Umaru Shinkafi, wrote an article in support of the creation of state police whereas, Gambo Jimeta, a former Inspector General of Police, had a different view. So, there is no unanimity that this issue is region-based.
When the Senate held its retreat in Asaba (I am a member of the constitutional review committee), there were three categories of issues that were debated. There are some people who believe that state police is good but the current reality of the Nigerian federation is that if you have state police, there is no assurance that it will not lead to fragmentation of the country. There are some people who believe that police isn’t good because if the Nigerian Police has failed, then we should fix it. If it has failed because it does not have enough personnel or equipment, then that is what we should be addressing.
There are some people who are of the view that some states don’t have the resources to fund and manage a state police, while some ask the question that if we have state police, what happens to the federal? Are you going to disband it? Or run it as parallel arm with the state police? If it’s so, will the current fund allocation to the police continue? If it is the case, how is the state government going to expand or support their state police? Some of us have expressed the view that reasons given for creation of state police are good but certainly not for now. I believe we are not ripe enough, given the security challenges we currently face. The reality of the Nigerian federation today is that we are not ready for state police.
There are issues of congestion and dilapidated physical structures in Nigerian prisons and these have been said to be responsible for why cases of jailbreak are common today. What is the Senate doing about this?
The committee and indeed the entire Senate have been concerned about the state of Nigerian prisons and we have started the process. We are in the third reading of the bill to reform the Nigerian prisons and those elements of the reform include making sure that whoever, unfortunately, goes to any prison in Nigeria should come out a better person - that is, he must be rehabilitated and trained so that he can be a better member of the Nigerian society.
The second element is that we have considered a number of motions in tandem with the Prisons Reform Bill about what to do with awaiting trial problems. It is the main problem of the Nigerian prisons because out of 50,000, which is the total population of the Nigerian prisons, about 36,000 of them are awaiting trial. When I visited Oko Prison, I saw a case of somebody a young man of 17 who was detained since 1997 on the orders of a military administrator then. The last time he was in court was 2004. There is no excuse for this kind of things. It is either you try him and convict him and let him be sentenced or somebody should have the courage of saying that he should not be there.
Nobody should be in the prisons forever without being convicted. So, the awaiting trial issue is of paramount importance to us and we have examined various problems ranging from difficulties on the long time it takes for police officers to complete their investigation and sometimes to do their transfer in the midst of the investigation. Therefore, they could not complete it and it takes a long time for the director of public prosecution in the state to provide the file.
Another element is the infrastructural constraint that the Nigerian prisons face. Sometimes, they don’t have vehicles; you could see somebody who missed a court date because that same morning that he was expected to honour the date, the vehicles of the prison authority broke down or they may even have many people going to different courts at the same time and the vehicles are not enough to convey them all. The security of the Nigerian prisons is another issue which relate to their age. The senate is looking into all these with a view to enhancing funding of the prisons.
Virtually, everybody wrote off the PDP during last year’s general election. How was the party eventually able to pull it off?
I think two elements were responsible for this. One, maybe those analyses that were undertaken before the election were undertaken by those who could have been more informed. Sometimes we judge based on the reviews that we read and not really based on factual evidence because I remember that time that some of us, when we read those analyses by some of our friends in the media, even with some people we quite respected, we just laughed, asking, ‘where did they get this information? Why don’t they just come over and find things out for themselves?’
We knew that the evidence on ground was such that we could not expect anything better than an outright win because there was no local government or ward (we have 225 wards spread over 25 local government areas in the state) where something of development had not taken place under the Dakingari-led government. It was either primary health care centre, secondary school, road network, water, electricity or a combination of one or two of all of them. Certainly, the spirit of the people was very high to the extent that they were saying that ‘these are the kinds of things we want from government; we don’t want somebody concentrating all his attention on urban centres or making himself visible in the media.
So, we were confident that the people acknowledged that fact and they rewarded the governor because all the campaign promises he made were delivered and because the government was performance-oriented, we believed the electorate would reward him accordingly. And they did that convincingly.
Your state governor is said to be a quiet person. He’s hardly heard in the media or is it a show of resentment for the media?
Certainly, Kebbi State governor under the leadership of Alhaji Saidu Nadamu Dankingari does not resent the media because the government also has Ministry of Information and Special Adviser on Media. We have friends in the media and we try as much as possible to put in the media what is really being done in Kebbi, as well as projects and programmes being done. But sometimes government is a balancing act. It involves spending of government money because you have to place advert, pay honorarium for logistics which is an element that costs money too for the government.