Buhari’s cleansing effort on the right track –Senator Ayo Arise

•‘Looters must face the music’

By Omoniyi Salaudeen

UNTIL his recent defection to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Ayo Arise was a loyal supporter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, he applauds the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari, insisting that treasury looters must be made to face the music and submit their ill-gotten wealth.

How would you assess the performance of the 8th National Assembly in the last 15 months or thereabout of its inauguration?
There has been so much controversy in the National Assembly since the beginning of this administration. But I believe some of these challenges will further strengthen the contribution of the legislature to national development and growth. A number of issues are not quite clear, but as each day passes, we are growing in knowledge in terms of what should be the role of the National Assembly vis-a-viz the executive in a democratic setting. It’s been quite challenging for the current National Assembly particularly the senate.

But are these not avoidable controversies?
There is no way you can have a stereotype congress or National Assembly where challenges will not occur. Whether avoidable or not, that is not the real issue. What is important is to face those challenges squarely and ensure that the constitution prevails.

Then, to what extent would you say that the principle of separation of powers has been upheld?
Obviously, it’s been maintained. There is no two way about it. The National Assembly is still responsible for lawmaking and the executive is responsible for execution. I don’t think there is any ambiguity in terms of separation of powers. The executive is responsible for the executive actions, for maintaining law and order in the country and the National Assembly is still responsible for lawmaking. If for any reason the executive now tries to start making laws, then you will say certainly there is an overlap or a complete anomaly. As long as there is no such intervention, there is nothing that can be considered meddling in the executive/National Assembly relationship. As it relates to individuals being charged to court, I think the power still falls squarely within the purview of the executive. As long as there is no immunity, there will still be situations where questions can be asked when there is a situation that suggests that some laws have been broken. Even though the laws are made by the National Assembly, to execute and maintain those laws is entirely left to the executive arm.

What’s your take on the sentiment being put forward by some people who see the trial of the Senate leadership as a threat to democracy?
As far as I am concerned, if there is any problem between the executive and the legislature in terms of somebody being challenged, then you look at the two cases on ground. That is, the issue of forgery and false declaration. These are things that happened to individuals not to the National Assembly as a body. So, I don’t see it as a threat to democracy because the lawmakers can always replace any officer who is found to be guilty of any misconduct.
As far as I am concerned, it is an unfortunate incident, but that does not take away the fact that the executive arm has the right to ensure that there is no fraud in the polity, that people don’t break the law, regardless of who is involved. You may say that, maybe, things could have been settled in the usual political way, but the government is now saying whoever breaks the law would have to face the music, if it can be proven. It doesn’t matter how highly placed you are in the society. As long as this is being applied uniformly across the board, it is better for the country. If the allegation against the Senate president and his deputy can be proven beyond reasonable doubt, they have to face the music. It has nothing to do with the independence of the National Assembly. If, for example, the Senate president leaves today, somebody else will take over immediately. It is not a situation where you go and call Supreme Court judge to come and swear in a new person. Everything will be done quickly. So, I don’t see how that has come to be a threat to democracy. The only thing that can be a threat to democracy is when charges are whipped up just to threaten the person.
As I keep saying, if you don’t have a case to answer and somebody comes up to you and says I am alleging or accusing you of this, the society outcry will overwhelm such person. Why this sentiment is coming up is because nobody is used to anybody in such high position being tried in the past. There is no need for anybody to be sentimental. We should begin to treat everybody equally before the law.  That way, we can begin to make progress. But when people commit an offence and go scot-free, you begin to see lawlessness in the country. Even if Saraki is confronting the president frontally, if he has not done anything wrong, they won’t be able to cook anything against him. So, if he has not committed anything wrong, there is nothing to worry about.

How do you assess the support base for President Muhammadu Buhari in the last one and a half years of his administration?
I am one of those who support the position of Mr. President to cleanse this country and give everybody equal opportunity to belong. We have been hearing the kind of money people stole in Nigeria and some of us who were in the last government couldn’t believe it.  If these people are not queried or questioned on this level of irresponsible looting of the national resources, we will lose so much money. At the end of the day, we will have no roads, no water and no electricity. Infrastructure will be in total disarray. When you are talking of giving out contract, it must follow due process. Even if you go for a bidding process and lose, you will be happy as much as it follows transparent due process.

Do you support the clamour for restructuring by some Nigerians?
There is no question about it that some form of restructuring is required in this country. There must be improvement in the way of doing things. If restructuring will help, so be it. But the question is: what form of restructuring are we looking at? Is it economic restructuring or political restructuring? If it is economic restructuring, yes we need that. Whatever each state produces, you can benefit from it and pay tax to the centre. That is the way it is done in America and it has worked for them. Whatever is working is what we need to copy. We cannot live in isolation. We must work towards ensuring that things work the way they should work in our country. We must put in place a structure that will make it difficult for corruption to thrive in our society so that development can spread.
The moment we make stealing a serious crime and we put in place the structure that will make it impossible for culprits to go away with whatever they have acquired illegally, people will go into genuine enterprises and there will be development of the economy.  The structure we are looking at is the structure that will take this country to the next level.
So, for me, restructuring is very necessary but what kind of restructuring are we looking at. But we must restructure towards a progressive nation where it will be impossible for criminals to hijack government.

What is the future of APC in Ekiti State?
With the situation with the governor and all the revelations, the PDP is certainly going down. And, of course, APC has been able to attract a number of bigwigs which certainly give it a better advantage in the next coming general elections in 2019. Besides the attitude of the governor, there is also this tradition of not allowing two terms back to back election for the same person and by extension the same party. Ekiti people are reasonably sophisticated in terms of voting. Ekiti for now is grounded because the government is not paying salaries and there is revelation that the governor has stashed away so much money belonging to the state. That has not gone down well with the populace, particularly with the level of hunger in the state.
It is inconceivable that the governor will be so rich within less than two years of coming into office. That is a major problem. APC people are still very much intact. A number of us moved from PDP to APC for so many reasons including incompatibility and governor’s attitude. So, I do not see the PDP winning the next election in Ekiti State particularly if APC can speak with one voice.

In spite of all this, Governor Ayo Fayose will still tell you that he is an unbeatable political leader in the state.
(Cuts in)…That will amount to living in the fool’s paradise. He is no longer a popular person. He himself must realize that, because now he waves to the air and nobody acknowledges. You cannot say you are peoples’ governor and you stash away so much money. I can assure you that APC is actually the government in the waiting in Ekiti State.

The anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration seems to be losing steam. Don’t you think that there is a need for change of tactics?
They need to pay this money back into the government’s coffers. Nigeria is broke and that is why nothing is moving. If these people are not punished, they will still believe in the same concept of free money. And a weak economy cannot support that. We will just go under. It is important that those caught and found guilty are punished accordingly.

Now that you left the PDP for APC, don’t you think that there may be discrimination against you, if eventually you come up later with an ambition to contest an election?
There is always that tendency. But if you look at my own antecedent, I had election to become governor on the platform of the ACN which now becomes APC. It was as a result of the way the primary was conducted that I moved to the PDP and a lot of my people moved with me. So, I am known across the two parties. I don’t think anybody will see my coming into APC as a new person because I am coming in with a lot of values. It is not even anything to be worried about. God has been kind to me and I have been able to do a lot of things for my people. I don’t know whether I can achieve that feat again in public office.
So, seeking elective position is not a thing I am really crazy about. For now, my major concern is how to bring my business back. Once we have due process and everything works according to the process, you can always find your space. It is only when the society is rotten that ability is not considered. If you are not corrupt, it is difficult for you to function in a difficult society.

Where do you think you can render most effective capacity to your people?
Having being a senator, I cannot go for the House of Representatives. The minimum is to go back to the Senate. Beyond that, the only post that is open at the state level is governorship. These are the two positions I believe I should be able to do well. If I go back to the Senate, I will become a ranking senator and I believe what I did when I was there is what is sustaining me now. So, certainly, I won’t run for anything less than Senate.