Auwal Musa-Rafsanjani is the chairman of the Transformation Monitoring Group, TMG, and Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC. In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, Mr Rafsanjani speaks on the state of the nation, including a rebuttal to the State Minister for Labour, Festus Keyamo, who accused him of being sponsored by the opposition party after calling for his resignation as minister.
You have always expressed reservations about President Muhammadu Buhari’s style of fighting corruption, why?
Nigerians and Nigeria are facing serious challenges of increasing public corruption, looting and diversion of public funds. The government has not been able to block the leakages, especially the revenue leakages. There is an outright diversion of public funds and stealing. Government officials are still doing these without modesty and decorum. That is why the country is facing serious economic challenges.
Right now, we are borrowing money to finance even payment of salary, to finance payment of subsidies which many people see as payment of fraud because we cannot be spending N4trillion on the so-called subsidy that Nigerians are not benefitting from. If you go around, you would see that the majority of Nigerians in every local government area are buying fuel at the so-called black markets. So, why are we subsidizing corruption? It is important that the government prioritises its spending because we cannot be borrowing money to finance things that have no economic or human developmental values.
The Nigerian government under President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to experience denial of public looting. Every now and then, when you draw their attention to that there are gaps and leakages, they respond by attacking human rights and anti-corruption activists while official corruption is on the increase. In the past, the Buhari government prioritized asset recovery simply because it was broke and they needed money at the time. So, civil society supported the government in its effort to recover money from yesterday’s looters. As we speak, the government under Muhammadu Buhari cannot account for the recoveries both local and international. In all honesty and sincerity, Nigerians have not seen the impact of these recoveries.
We are hearing allegations from one government official to another that the recovered assets had been re-looted by another official. That does not show a coordinated effort in the fight against corruption. Right now, there are multiple agencies doing asset recovery and there is no central data to show how many of these recoveries each of these agencies undertook and to also show Nigerians how these recoveries were utilized.
The entire anti-corruption of this administration has been watered down. Take for example the public procurement law which was signed by Late President Yar’adua, it has been extremely disregarded by the officials of this regime. The Freedom of Information Bill that was signed under President Goodluck Jonathan is completely disregarded.
There is even a continuous shrinking of civil space and disobedience of court orders. These are part of the incidences that show that the government is not willing to fight corruption. That is why we doubted if President Buhari wanted to fight corruption because he had not been able to galvanize support from the ties of the government to buy into the crusade which, unfortunately, he himself does not have any concrete ideas and strategies to do it. That is why every day you hear about monumental corruption being reported.
There is corruption in defence procurement. Every day, you would hear a huge amount of money being spent yet insecurity is on the increase. The National Assembly is also increasing more funds for security, yet nobody is seeing any improvement. So, corruption in the security sector has exposed Nigerians to more danger and risk under President Buhari. This is not to say that there was no insecurity before the Buhari administration. We have always had security challenges but not in the manner in which we are having. More aspects of insecurity had been established without appreciable efforts to deal with it.
You recently called on Keyamo to resign as a minister following his appointment as Tinubu’s presidential campaign spokesperson but he said he commits no crime in combining the two tasks. What is your take?
You know when somebody is determined to bend the law and when somebody is determined to disrespect the conscience and integrity of the nation, there is nothing that that person would not say. Everyone knows that there is no way you can be a minister and a spokesperson for a presidential candidate. Mind you, being a spokesperson is a huge work that requires daily media responses because you are speaking on behalf of that person. You are going to cheat on the work that the nation has given you as a minister. Not only that, you are cheating on time. The time you are supposed to be doing your work as a minister, you would use the same time talking on behalf of that presidential candidate.
In other words, the reason why Keyamo is refusing to resign is simply because of his personal interest and lack of respect for the nation and also his attempt to blackmail people who caution him. I can bet that if Keyamo was to be on the other side of the political divide, he would have gone to court to challenge that person. But we are not going to join issues with Keyamo. Our duty is to point out that he cannot be a minister serving the nation and using the time and resources of the nation to do another job.
In fact, he is actually undermining Bola Tinubu because he is not going to focus on promoting and projecting his image very well. So, he is both undermining the Nigerian people and Bola Tinubu because he is not going to be able to give them the necessary attention and time that the two jobs require.
As it is, Keyamo cannot be able to promote and speak on behalf of his candidate without competing with the time and the things that he is supposed to be neutral on. As a minister, you are supposed to be neutral because you are working for Nigeria. Nobody says Keyamo should not be in one political party or the other but he is supposed to know that he is taking a job outside the job of a minister that is a full-time job. So, for any job outside his ministerial job, there will be a conflict of interest.
Keyamo also accused TMG of working for the opposition party, what is your reaction?
Anybody who knows us knows that our integrity is intact. We have no political party affiliations or religious sentiments. I am somebody who can speak on the truth and Nigerians will also speak on my behalf. I am not a politician. We have spoken to people with all sorts of political affiliations. Buhari is a Hausa-Fulani man, a Northerner, and I pick up on him too. So, I am not a tribalistic. When Jonathan was there, we raised issues; when Yar’adua was there, we raised issues; and when Obasanjo was there, we raised issues in their administrations. So, who is Festus Keyamo to say that we are politicians? I am not a politician and my organization has nothing to do with any politician. We are purely human rights and anti-corruption organizations.
And people like Keyamo and the rest of them would definitely blackmail organizations and individuals that speak the truth because they are enjoying the government and they don’t see any reason why somebody should speak against what they do. Festus Keyamo can make that unsubstantiated allegation and he is free to do that but he doesn’t know that he is only mocking and ridiculing himself, especially when he is speaking to people that Nigerians can bear witness that in the last 30 years they are not into that kind of train.
I have personally been consistent in this struggle, from the time of IBB to Abacha, Abdulsalam, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and now Buhari. Keyamo should go and check my track record. I have not been associated or linked with any scandal, contradiction or anything that is questionable. So, his blackmail will not stop us from pointing out things that are wrong. If Keyamo is a man of honour and integrity, he should be able to listen to people not dismiss or blackmail them the way he is blackmailing because he has so much baggage on his head. Keyamo came to work under people he was challenging as corrupt. What kind of contradiction is this? So, in other words, Keyamo is a man of contradictions. If he doesn’t have principles, others have.
Was there any personal beef between the two of you before now?
No! I have never had any issue with him. I think I met him two times in my life. He only said what he said with pure intention to blackmail. Let him go and check my track record from 30 years back. I am not sponsored by anybody. I speak against even my own brothers who we share the same identity with. It is about Nigerians and it’s about honesty, and sincerity and about strengthening the democratic institutions and having responsible and responsive governors. That is why we are speaking even If it’s against our own people.
Everybody in Nigeria is my person unless you violate or contradict the law, then I would have an issue with you. I am not a sentimental person, so Keyamo’s blackmail would not go anywhere. That is why nobody takes him seriously. This person in particular had once served as a lawyer for some people that the EFCC was actually prosecuting and shamelessly because there is no integrity, he had to work under them as a junior minister.
Only a man of contradictions would accept to work for someone he had onetime accused of certificate forgery. It is fresh in our minds that Keyamo had sued the Lagos State House of Assembly for clearing Tinubu of alleged Certificate forgery. Look at the scandal he had regarding the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians to the extent that even the National Assembly had to intervene.
Keyamo is a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and, by implication, he is my minister. So, if I see him cheating Nigeria and Nigerians, I should be able to point out to him and we responsibly, honourably and respectively drew his attention to that. We did not insult him but he is now insulting us, saying that we are agents of the opposition. This is the normal blackmail people who do dubious things engage in. They dismiss and abuse and turn things upside down, but at the end of the day, Nigerians know the truth. So I’m not bothered about Keyamo because his response was just desperation to defend his position that is clearly not defendable.
As a lawyer who is known as very vocal on raising wrongs in the country, I would have expected Keyamo to think. If you fight civil society who are human rights and pro-democracy champions, then who are your allies if you are truly a progressive lawyer or minister? It means that you are just a ‘chuwa-chuwa’ person. If you say you are a progressive Nigerian and the only people you would attack and insult because they tell you the truth is the same civil society and human rights and anti-corruption groups who fought for the democracy you are enjoying. Where was Keyamo when we were giving our lives to activism?
People should go and trace our history, from my level-one in the university I was in NANS. I was a student union leader at Bayero University, Kano. So he’s talking to the wrong person because right from my university days from 1989 till date, I have been consistent in doing what I consider social justice. Let Keyamo place his own integrity side by side with mine and see who is who. I have been part of all the major human rights organizations and pro-democracy organisations – from Campaign for Democracy, CDHR, and Women in Nigeria, to Democratic Alternative.
All of these platforms are platforms that fought for democracy and continued to fight for human rights. I am the Chairman of Amnesty International (Nigeria), and I am the Head of Transparency International. Let Keyamo present his credentials. So coming to dismiss and blackmail us is illogical. Is it not the PDP we have been challenging? We don’t care about the party, what we care about is for Nigeria to work and you cannot be taking taxpayers’ money and doing private work. Resources are not only money, time is also resources. The intellect that we are paying you a salary for is also resources. So he needs to learn how to talk responsibly, especially to his seniors.