In his time as governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa and most of his colleagues lived a spartan life because corruption was very minimal and governors were excitedly submissive to the President and their parties. But corruption has become a lifestyle rather than an exception and corrupt politicians are now being worshipped as gods rather than shunned as criminals. President Muhammadu Buhari is wielding the sledgehammer against the monster as a cardinal objective of his administration. And Balarabe Musa has thrown his weight behind the President’s renewed effort to eliminate the cankerworm from the polity. In this interview, Musa thumps up for Buhari’s anti-graft drive and encourages him to build special prisons to incarcerate corrupt Nigerians to serve as a deterrent to potential treasury looters in the country.
How do you feel about governors who use their positions to amass wealth with impunity and make a mockery of public office?
I feel bad because these are resources that should be used to liberate the people and provide welfare and security for them. It is even more worrisome that in most places, those in power have not provided even the basic things for their subjects while they swim in opulence and mindless extravagance, creating a big gap between them and those who elected them into office. That is directly responsible for the negative things the nation is grappling with today characterized by unemployment, poverty, insecurity and loss of confidence in public service. That is why I strongly advise President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently build special prisons for those people as a matter of urgent national interest. The danger is that if he does not go after those who stole so much from the nation’s treasury, these malevolent elements could use the ill-gotten wealth to topple Nigeria. Many of them are believed to have stolen as much as trillions of Naira and stashed away in foreign accounts. A recent report revealed that some crooked Nigerians might have stolen more than the annual budget of Nigeria.
Do we have strong institutions to carry out this anti-corruption war?
Let us establish them.
What should he establish again since we already have the EFCC and ICPC?
The President needs to strengthen them and give them the needed independence to operate optimally and send corrupt elements to prison. For instance, he should be able to set up special judicial committees to investigate the fundamental aspects of the state of the nation, which contributed more to this level of mind-boggling corruption and stealing and such committees would determine which aspect of corrupt matters should go to the EFCC for further investigation and prosecution. It should not be left to him or the EFCC to decide who should be tried because the EFCC itself has become an institution of corruption. EFCC can also on its own identify such an area and deal with it. But certainly, the current state of investigation and prosecution by the agency leaves much to be desired and it is a serious setback to the anti-graft war.
Are you not afraid that Buhari may end up sending many Nigerians to prison given his resolve to wage an all-out war against the corrupt among us?
Let them go to prison…. In fact, I would advise him to build special prisons for those who plundered Nigeria because it has to be done. If you allow these thieves to continue stealing and eventually controlling political power in the country, you will lead this country to destruction, anarchy, sustained instability, military coup and social revolution. That is why I strongly advise Buhari to go the whole hog in dealing with those who plundered Nigeria’s wealth.
You seem to be highly unpredictable given the way you have been speaking about leaders in Nigeria. When Dr Goodluck Jonathan was in power you neither fully supported him nor distanced yourself from him. With the emergence of Buhari, it is all too clear that you really do not support him. Where do you really belong?
Well, whatever my position is, is a matter of principle. It is not personal at all. Now you got it slightly wrong because in 2003, 2007 and 2011, I supported Buhari because I considered him to be the least risk. I didn’t say he was the best among all Nigerians; but I considered him to be the least risk because in a situation where money and power play leading roles in politics, it is not possible to know the best but you will have to choose between two alternatives that are not fundamentally different. For instance, when it comes to the election of the President in your country, you may not have a suitable president. But there will be a president whether you choose one or not and it is better to have reason to align with one because remaining neutral may sometimes be negative. In 2003, 2007and 2011 we considered Buhari as the least risk in choosing who will become the president. We supported him.
But since Buhari has been elected by Nigerians, what are your expectations of him?
Let me tell you in totality without wasting time. We think Buhari can’t deal with the negative state of the nation, which is characterized by poverty, unemployment, hunger, corruption, collapse of public institutions and lack of confidence of the people in the leadership.
But why would Nigerians lack confidence in a president they freely elected?
I want to say that in spite of what I believe, Buhari is still better than all those he contested the election with and that is why he won. Buhari is still better than even those who have already begun to position themselves for 2019 even though we are still in 2015. I am very confident that these elements will not do better than Buhari given the way they have tried to position themselves almost through the back door.
Given what you have said, what do you think that Buhari should do to succeed in his war against treasury looters?
What he should do now is to convert himself into a revolutionary.
What does that mean?
What it means is that he will confront the problems of the country realistically without pretence and without deceit and face the problem of the country with open mind in order to change the system. He and his cabinet should enthrone public interest over and above self-interest. Nigerians have suffered enough under corrupt administrations and he needs to adopt radical measures to change the way things are being done in the country and give Nigerians a new lease of life, restore their hope and sense of pride as citizens of the largest black nation on earth. It is his place to make Nigerians be respected across the globe by adopting global best practices in all facets of our national life.
But how should he do this? Is it by way of legislation that we don’t have or deploying political will?
He should show the needed political will in confronting our problems. For instance, in prosecuting this anti-corruption campaign, he shouldn’t spare anybody. But at the moment, he seems to be sparing some of those who looted the land with impunity. He said he would probe only Jonathan’s administration; he would not probe the other administrations. That is negative, that is short-sightedness and it will not solve the problem.
So you want him to go the whole hog?
Yes, the whole hog from 1966 up till date because it was from 1966 that this level of corruption started to disable the government; that was when the military took over and they are the people who brought about this level of corruption to Nigeria. He should probe everyone, including himself.
If he cannot probe himself, he should appoint a dispassionate committee to do so. All those found to have corruptly enriched themselves while serving in one capacity or the other should be jailed.
Do you support the setting up of a committee to advise the government on how to end corruption in Nigeria?
Absolutely, but my only fear is that a committee is too small compared to the size of our country. Nigeria is very big. Let the president expand the committee and even spend the next four years to deal with the monumental level of corruption and criminal waste of public resources and register progress there. Even if progress in other sectors is relatively smaller than what he has done in stamping out corruption, at least at the end of four years, he would have dealt decisively with the issue and he would never be forgotten and he would have made it easier for any other leader to continue with the campaign successfully. During the colonial era and the First Republic, there wasn’t this level of corruption and I can tell you that whoever stole a kobo of public funds was investigated and prosecuted.
Some have called for the setting up of special courts to tackle corruption. Do you think this would help?
Oh yes, that should be done immediately because these general courts are even part and parcel of the problem.
Where do you think the judges for the special courts will come from? Are they not still Nigerian judges who have not performed well in the normal courts?
Look, there are courageous and incorruptible judges from all parts of Nigeria and they can do the job satisfactorily.
What was wrong and what was right with the Jonathan administration from your own point of view?
In the first place, Jonathan should not have been the president of Nigeria. I say so because he did not have the experience and competence. Look, we are talking about Nigeria with over 170 million people and it is not a joke. America can have anybody as its president because there is a system which controls everything and there is a standard of conduct in public affairs, which nobody is expected to go below. But we don’t have such standards and it is whoever becomes the president that sets up that standards. For instance, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan never had such standards. None of them had social experience in terms of public or private sector service before becoming president and vice president of Nigeria. Yar’Adua never had more than two years’ experience in the public sector of Nigeria. The same thing goes for Jonathan who was in the university. But simply because it served Obasanjo’s interest, he brought the two inexperienced men to rule over Nigeria. But none of them was capable of running Nigeria. So one can say that Obasanjo brought the tragedy of selecting unqualified Nigerians to rule over the rest of us. The problem with Nigerians is that they don’t assess their leaders before bringing them on board.
But there were certain things that Jonathan did very well and was applauded by Nigerians.
Of course, even the devil himself sometimes does things right.
So, how would you advise Buhari to succeed?
I would like him to convince himself that he is morally and politically capable to undertake the responsibility of cleaning up Nigeria. I would advise him to constitute a government of national unity drawn from the major political parties in Nigeria. He should deal decisively with this monumental level of corruption in the country and should do so honestly without emotion and ensure that the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians is protected. He should not do it with any malice.
Do you support the claims by the opposition that Buhari is going after his opponents and being selective in the anti-graft war?
Yes, it is Buhari himself who made it clear that he would only go after those who served under Jonathan. I will not mention names but I want to say that there are people in both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) who are even more dangerous than Jonathan.
Looking at the National Assembly and what happened during and shortly after the election of principal officers, do you think all is well with the polity?
I am genuinely worried over what happened because it has the potential to torpedo the system and distract the government from working effectively for Nigerians. It may make it very difficult for Buhari to get the cooperation of the Senate in carrying out his set agenda for the country. We know there have been issues that the President has taken to the Senate and they were approved with dispatch. But when you look at the body language, the behaviour and relationship between the President and the Senate President you would doubt that when it comes to critical issues whether there would be this cooperation. If this develops into something worse and a complete breakdown of relations between the President and the Senate president, to the extent that Nigerians have to choose between the President of the country and the President of the Senate, then the choice would be quite obvious: They would stick with the president of Nigeria because Nigerians elected him to conduct the affairs of the country. As important as the Senate and the House of Representatives are in the country, they were merely elected to play their roles as legislators to assist the president to succeed in promoting and defending Nigeria’s sovereignty.
Breakdown in relationships
So, if Nigeria faces anarchy, as a result of the fact that there is no cooperation between the President and the National Assembly, Nigerians know who to blame. Nigerians should be mindful of the consequences of such breakdown in relationship between the President and the Senate which may include military coup, anarchy, social revolution, etc, and I hope the NASS will hear this and begin to work harmoniously with the President and for Nigerians.
But from your own point of view, was it right for a few members of the NASS to have gone ahead of the election of principal officers when most of the APC senators were waiting to have a meeting with President Buhari on June 9?
We cannot blame them for that. The blame cuts across. Both the APC and their senators were at fault. In the first place, the Senate election was well publicised. Why did the APC senators go for a meeting with the President at a time they were expected to be at the NASS for the crucial election?
Perhaps they did so out of respect for the President of the country and the leader of the party who we were told summoned the meeting?
But the President should have said no and allowed the members of the Senate to go for their election. In fact, the President should have avoided any meeting with the APC senators until after the inauguration. In the case of the Senate, they should have respected the President by recognising him as their leader and shifting the time of the inauguration until after the meeting with the President. So, the blame cuts across the two parties. Again, it is the responsibility of the President to have used his skill to convince the Senators to let bygones be bygones and forge ahead. And if the President has not done so, then he shares another blame. In spite of that, the Senate should remember that it is the President who is the leader of the country. If there is need to surrender, it is them who should surrender to the President and not the other way round.
What do you mean by that?
The Senate should agree to review its position on Senate principal officers for peace to reign and not to be at odds with the President.