Senator Joshua Lidani, a lawyer and a second term Member of the 8th Senate, representing Gombe South Senatorial district in Gombe State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview withIgnatius Okorocha speaks on the reconstruction of the North East zone, the PIB and Buhari’s administration among other issues of national interest. Excerpts:
Would you say that your emergence to the senate for the second time was born out of your record of performance in constituency projects or because of your background as a Christian?
Don’t you think that if other counterparts in the race under the platform of PDP had performed in their areas as you did in your senatorial district, they would have been voted in?Well, throughout my stay in the Senate during my first term, I paid a lot of attention to the execution of my constituency projects. I have four local governments under my Senatorial district. I have 40 wards and in each of these wards I made sure that I carried out a project that is beneficial to the needs of the people. In those wards it is either that I constructed a school, classroom blocks or I constructed a solar borehole, a clinic or some other projects that people could easily see. In addition, I was able to organize a remedial classes for students who couldn’t make up the required grades to qualify them for admission into the university. I was doing that in four centers in three of the local governments and these gestures helped a lot of people to gain admission to universities of their choice because so many students flocked out of schools because they couldn’t make up their papers. So I was able to help a lot of students to qualify for university admission plus the fact that I was also helping students who had problems in their schools and my people appreciated the gesture. This is in addition to other assistances I have been rendering to various communities in addition to settling their communal disputes and the fact that I was able to assist the unemployed youths get jobs in various organizations and institutions at Federal and state levels. I was able to fixed about 70 jobless graduates into meaningful employments. So I didn’t have much problem in my people showing their appreciation and sailing my candidature and that was why they endorsed my candidature overwhelmingly.
But for the other candidates that lost out, religion played a major role in their failure because people from those areas thought that PDP was a party for the Christians and APC was a party for the Moslems and Buhari was a symbol of that move because he is a Moslem and Goodluck Jonathan is a Christian, so anybody even if he is a Moslem who contested on the platform of PDP was regarded not as a true Moslem and as such, he was voted out but any person who contested under APC even if he was a Christian was regarded as a friend of the party and as such they voted for him. The whole exercise assumed a religious dimension and also because of the fact that I have substantial number of people from my constituency who are Christians( in fact Christians constituted majority in my constituency) so that kind of propaganda didn’t really make much impact in my area. So they voted for me on the ground that I did a lot for them and decided to vote me in for a second term.
Well, my governor contested under the PDP and won because he performed so well during his four years in office. Ordinarily going by the storm that Buhari’s candidature brought into the state, he would have lost but because people appreciated what he did they voted for him. So, for the governor his emergence was clearly as a result of his glaring performance in the state and no wonder the people stood by him during the election but for the other candidates, they had that problem of religion and religion is a very serious issue in the North. Even if they had performed they hardly would have survived the storm because there is a limit legislators can do in terms of provision of physical infrastructure. For the governor, yes! he is there, he has the money, he has the resources to carry out developmental projects as an Executive. So, people will assess him by his performance but for the legislator you don’t have those resources. So once you are faced with that kind of storm it is very difficult to survive.
In the assessment of some Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari is too slow in meeting the expectations of the teeming Nigerians that voted for change in the last election. Do you perceive his administration in the same light or do you have contrary opinion?
I feel that it is too early to judge the performance of President Buhari. I think Nigerians should give him time. He has just been sworn-in and he needs to study the situation before he starts to act. There is no point rushing and then realizing that he has made some mistakes and trying to undo what he has done. So, let us give him time for him to start working. Nigerians are generally in a rush to assess and judge people, so we should give him time. I believe he has the right heart, he has the interest of this country at heart. What we are not very sure about is whether he has certain influences that may hinder him from performing fairly from being fair and just to everybody. If he has such influences then it would not be in the best interest of this country for him to be influenced by those considerations but if he is able to rise above that kind of sentiments, I believe he would succeed going by his promises during his election. He came with a lot of goodwill, so if he continues in that show of goodwill, he will do well. But if he allows certain influences to becloud his sense of judgement and sense of duty and the need for him to act fairly to all segments of the society then he will have a problem.
Do you foresee an end to insurgency in your region?
I think the Boko Haram took advantage of the transition period of the Buhari administration to regroup and launch a comeback attack to parts of the North East zone but if you observe the level of confrontation between the soldiers and the Boko Haram has reduced. All the territories that were recaptured by the by the Nigeria soldiers are still intact, what we are witnessing now are cases of suicide bombing. I believe to a large extent that we are still on cause. Again the dismantling of the roadblocks that have been serving as check-points then also paved way to the infiltration of the insurgents to parts of the Northern region. I thank actually gave them the window of opportunity to launch the attacks in those areas but with the reintroduction of the roadblocks in parts of the country to a large extent will lead to the final phase of the eradication of Boko Haram in the country.
The Senate has been criticized in some quarters for calling for the rebuilding and reconstruction of the affected areas of the North East zone ravaged by Boko Haram insurgence in the recent motion it passed a couple of weeks ago. Don’t you think it will be an exercise in futility now that the war against insurgency is not over?
No we are not saying that the reconstruction and rehabilitation of those areas should start immediately, what we are saying is that since we are witnessing the final phase of Boko Haram, let us be proactive, let us set up committees to work directly with the president. Very soon the 2015 budget will expire and a new budget would be brought to National Assembly and as such, it is good to anticipate that this committee would be in place so that we will capture expenditure that will take care of the operational cost of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the areas. This is because if you don’t do that and 2016 budget is presented, it would be difficult to capture such capital project in the budget. As to whether Boko Haram would be eliminated, it is our hope that in no distance time they would be flushed out from the zone and people will go back to their original homes and live normal life.
You were part of the 7th Senate, how would you rate that Senate based on its challenges and performances?
The 7th Senate was very focus, fair and very stable and I think it performed very well. People shouldn’t judge the Senate by the number of Bills it passes. How many Bills were passed anywhere and how many Bills were passed into law. You see the public generally puts a lot of pleasure on legislators. To sponsor motions, to sponsored Bills whether they are relevant or not. I think the important thing is to look at Bills or motions that will have an impact on the lives of the people, the development and the unity of the people of this country. There is no need passing Bills that have no relevant to the wellbeing of the people. Bills should be sponsored and passed that have relevant, that touch on the lives of the people. Not for somebody to sponsor a Bill so that his name will be in the record of those who have sponsored Bills and you the Press are putting legislators under pressure unnecessarily. A legislator shouldn’t be jug bed by the number of Bills he sponsors, a lawmaker should be judged by the number of contributions he makes either during plenaries or in the committees. Somebody could make better contributions at the committees level that at the plenaries. So you can contribute in the plenaries or at the committees without necessarily sponsoring any Bill but the Press generally then to rate those who sponsor Bills at the plenaries higher. Considerations should not be channeled to only sponsorship of Bills and motions, it should be extended to committees and constituency projects/ matters in addition the quality of Bills passed by a given Senate.
President Buhari recently dissolved the board of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), sacking key management personnel in the corporation and latter announced that the corporation would be splinted into two. As a lawmaker what level of restructuring would you recommend for the Executive in carrying out this assignment?
I think the call by the governor of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasir El-Rufia for scrapping of NNPC was not given consideration by the President who instead came up with restructuring the corporation for effective management and productivity. I remember that the restructuring of the corporation is captured in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that couldn’t be passed by the last Senate. That Bill should be resuscitated and repackaged in line with the policy of the present administration and sent to National Assembly legislation and then we will look at it and pass it appropriately. So, I don’t see scrapping of NNPC as a solution to our economic woes. You cannot throw away the baby with the dirty water. Let us look at it holistically and pass it. We should be able to ask ourselves what is the best interest of this country that could be served if the NNPC is reformed. How should it be reformed? What is the best practices available worldwide that we can now key into so that we can reform the operations of NNPC accordingly. We should also look at how we can diversify our economic base from oil to other sectors of the economy because we have seen that reliance on oil is causing us a lot of problems. Once the price of oil crashes at the international market, our economy suffers. If it is diversified, any problem affecting one sector of the economy, the other sectors will be able to absolve the shock.
In restructuring NNPC what would be your input in the exercise?
I don’t think that splitting the corporation into two will solve the problem, rather we should be guided by the recommendations from the PIB when passed. The PIB has a lot of good intentions. I think we should look at the PIB and look at those institutions that are proposed in the PIB and see how we can make some adjustments. There are certain provisions that are definitely not acceptable in the Bill. We should take out those provisions and look at the good provisions that we have that will take care of all the interest of the country that will make the NNPC and all the organisations that would come out of the corporation more effective, more efficient and more result oriented.