Bajoga: President Buhari Should Fight Corruption with Institutions, Not Whim

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Ambassador Nuhu Bajoga is the immediate past deputy governor of Kaduna State. In this interview with John Shiklam, Bajoga says the President Muhammadu Buhari government is fighting corruption with a passing impulse that would not yield meaningful benefits for the country. He recommends a more systematic approach that strengthens the institutions of the state to make it difficult for people to perpetrate corruption. Bajoga also speaks on other political issues. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of President Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign?
He is fighting it wrongly. That will not give us the results. Assuming people cannot steal now, if he goes tomorrow, he has done nothing to end corruption. But if the institutions he will leave behind are strengthened such that it makes corruption difficult, then we shall know that he is fighting corruption. But he is not fighting it that way, he just believes in taking you to the prison and squeezing your neck to bring back the money you had taken and many people have come and they have given the money and they have gone. They are not even prosecuted for it.

I know of some people who returned some money. That is why they are saying they recovered over N70 billion. If that same person finds himself back in government he will still steal and the person you put there is just waiting for you, the slightest chance he gets, he will steal because the system has not changed. Sometimes when people are pushed to the wall they steal. You have not paid somebody for six or seven months and he has a family to cater for. If such a person has the opportunity to collect some revenue for the government, do you think he will remit that revenue to the government when you have not paid him for these months?

Our actions are not even helping in fighting corruption. You cannot beat somebody and stop him from carrying. So what I am saying is that you have to be able to have a just government, rule with the fear of God, let people have what is due to them. According to the Bible, even before the sweat dries from your body, you should be paid your wages. So corruption has to be approached more pragmatically than what it is today, not just catching and sending people to jail and squeezing their neck to bring back some money and you allow him to go. That has not addressed the issue. Where he stole this money has not been repaired, anybody there will still steal that money tomorrow. Once you don’t put the checks and balances that will make it difficult to steal, people will still steal. The approach should be focused more at the system and the institutions.

What have you been doing since you left office last year?
Really, I have not been doing much since I left office. I had many options of what to do or what I thought I would do when I leave office, but with what is happening in the country today, it becomes impossible for one to do any of those things I was thinking of. I thought of farming, I even went to Jere (in Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State) where we have a vast land, prepared for both dry and rainy season farming by the federal government. There are many hectares, you can think of 200 hectares at a time and farm. I surveyed it, but again you have to pay some money to the federal government so that the land is leased to you because they provide the irrigation facilities and everything. When I put my pen to paper to see how much I will put into the farm, I was thinking of how much I will reap after the harvesting. I found out that if one goes into that type of farming without subsidy from the government, nobody will be able to large make profit.

You find out that you have to buy the tractors because to farm on that large scale, you have to go mechanised. You have to buy planters, if possible, you have to buy even combine harvester, which costs about N10 million. A tractor costs over N4 million and so many things put together. Come to think of it, Kaduna State is not subsidising anything. Even fertiliser, which at one time we got free from the government, this year, government is not putting one kobo into fertiliser. They didn’t buy any anyway. So to go into that type of farming, it is going to be a disaster.

What would you consider the major discouraging factor for people like you who want to go into large scale farming?
The main discouraging factor about farming for people like us is insecurity. Take your Jeep today, go to anywhere on Abuja road to Jere, you may not come back home, you may be kidnapped at the end of the day. So nobody can risk it. Even the smaller farmers are not safe. Our bushes now have become no-go areas and you are afraid to farm because you may be kidnapped or something may happen to you. Even in the villages, you find out that people go to farm together in a large number to avoid such things. You don’t dare go to the farm alone these days.

Another option I had in mind was mining, since the federal government is thinking that we have to diversify to mining. I was thinking of going into mining. I got some foreign partners. I can at least mortgage my property to finance the mining activities. We were told that there was gold in Birnin Gwari, not as much as South Africa anyway, as the governor was claiming. We found some quantity of gold there and there are small local miners trying to do mining. We wanted to do full scale mining, we were able to secure large machinery with my foreign partners, they are here in Kaduna. We had gone into agreement with the owners of the area and we secured the license, but we cannot go into Birnin Gwari bush now because of insecurity.

There are criminals wielding AK47 rifles all over that area. Even the indigenes of that area now are deserting the whole place. That one is also being delayed because you don’t have the courage to go into that bush. So all options opened are closed because there is no security to execute my plans. I ended up whiling away, sleeping. I have been praying to God to bring something for me to do because I cannot think of what to do and politics is not a profession. We find time to go into it, it is giving us a livelihood, it is helping us but it is not something that you will depend on, especially now that you are not in government.

Many Nigerians blame your party, the Peoples Democratic Party, which governed the country for 16 years, for much of the insecurity in the land today. What is your reaction to this?
That is what they have said and we, the PDP, have said that it is caused by the All Progressives Congress government because right from the beginning when PDP won the elections, we were warned that they will make the country ungovernable. The insecurity at that time persisted, and the security challenge that time was Boko Haram. We lived through it and they are taking the credit now to have brought it to an end or bringing it to an end. But if you noticed, before former President Goodluck Jonathan left office, it was very much contained and it was a matter of time. So there is no magic they have done to bring it to an end.

But all the same, because of their bad policies, they have opened other fronts of insecurity. You find the Fulani attacks, call them by any name, these things are real. It started like a joke from Plateau State, came to Southern Kaduna – you remember the massacres in Bondom, Kaura Local Government Area and Sanga Local Government Area. People were having running battles with them. It is true that they accused us of being the cause, but is the PDP still the cause of it now?

What are some of the bad policies you can associate with the APC federal government?
The bad policy is that they have not even accepted that these things are happening. The northern governors said some time ago that there was nothing like that and they could not contain it. How can these people keep on doing this in Agatu, Taraba and now it has been extended to the eastern states and nobody has been arrested. Just some few days ago, I heard that a group of young men were arrested; I hope they are the Fulani that are causing the havoc.

Another form of insecurity that is brewing now is emergence of the Biafran agitators, which is becoming violent with clashes with security agencies. In the South-south, it is a different thing. The boys in the creeks now have a field day. They wake up and decide which gas pipeline to blow, we can see it happening everyday because the government came with a bad policy as far as they (Niger Delta militants) are concerned.

Let’s take the South-south, for example, immediately the government came in, it banned many ships and badges from lifting oil. The owners, what will they do than to go back to where they started.

The people who were mining the pipelines were being called criminals. So you can see that there is nobody that is securing anything in the South-south today. These boys came up and said if that is the case, they own the oil and nobody can get it, they want everybody to lose. So the insecurity now has changed from that of Boko Haram to other dimensions. Before, kidnapping was not prevalent in the North, but even in Kaduna here, we have had cases of kidnapping. Even the killing in the villages keeps going on. Recently in Gwantu, a district head and one other young person were just murdered. If you have a government with good the policies, I don’t think we should have criminals having a field day as they are having today.

Are you not worried that the current crisis in PDP may spell the end of the party?
As far as I am concerned the party is on the right direction. The situation has been doused and we have one leadership with a mandate to hold a convention in three months to conduct elections. What is the state of the PDP in Kaduna? There used to be various factions within the party in the state and it was said that these factions were responsible for the defeat of the party in the state during the 2015 general elections. We don’t have factions anymore; we have one party now, headed by Hon Hassan Felix Hyet. We recently inaugurated the leadership of the party at the local government level. So I am not aware of any faction of PDP in Kaduna State. It is only in the APC that I am told they are into two now. They called themselves names, but I am not surprised. But in PDP we are together and the party is even stronger than before. Our grassroots contact is still intact. Because of the misrule and lack of focus of this government, they have virtually pushed more people back to us, even their own members.

How would you react to the insinuation in some quarters that PDP’s 16 years of corruption and undemocratic rule was responsible for its loss of the last general election?

I wouldn’t put it that way. If we are talking of corruption, then the present government would not have been in place. Tell me who is in the present government today that has not been part of these 16 years of PDP they are talking about. None, apart from Buhari himself, who has never been in PDP, as well as Tinubu and, maybe, some few other people. The person that has ruined this country more than anybody and who is running around with this government is Obasanjo. He was the man at the centre of PDP for the past 16 years. He was president for eight years and he was instrumental to bringing Yar’Adua and Jonathan to office. We went for the convention and Jonathan was made presidential candidate. Nobody even thought of Yar’Adua as presidential candidate. It was single-handedly the work of Obasanjo. We woke up the next day just to be told that Jonathan had been made the president. Nobody knew that he was going to be there.

So, to say that corruption is PDP because APC has said so is wrong. Very many of those in the APC have their root in PDP and if it is corruption that has made them what they are, it is corruption that gave them oil, that has made them to be where they are today. They must have made the money and then transformed themselves to what they called APC. Look at it this way, corruption is not a question of a party. It is an endemic thing in Nigeria. Put it this way, most Nigerians are corrupt given the chance. That is why Jonathan was saying that you build institutions that will make it difficult for people to be corrupt, but not because you pick one Nigerian today and locks him because he is corrupt. You have done nothing by doing that.