Ali’s Action Will Demoralise Younger Customs Officers – Sen Olujimi

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Senator Biodun Olujimi is representing Ekiti south senatorial zone in the upper legislative chamber. In  this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the lawmaker spoke on the recent encounter between the Senate and the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu and the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali.

Some Nigerians were surprised that the Senate again refused to confirm the acting chairman of the EFFC. What informed that decision?
Anyone that comes for clearance comes with a security report. Unfortunately when Magu’s people came, they didn’t come with a security report. So the Senate wrote the DSS, asking for the security report. When the report came, it was damning. And so when he came for the first time, he was told that due to that security report, there was a need to get clarification from the president because it is possible the president didn’t see the report before sending his name. We agreed that when the president comes back, we will know what to do. But before he left, he presented a letter, stating that he had gone through the allegations and believed they were unfounded.
As the security report came, Magu himself being a security official, knows that the president cannot clear anyone by fiat. He needs to get back to the security arm that didn’t clear him to clear himself but he did nothing of sort. So when the president came back, the Senate decided to take it up again and looked at it, wrote to the DSS again to say we want to clear this man now, do you have any contrary opinion because we believe that in the interim, something should have happened; that he would have cleared his name and the DSS would have reported back to say, ‘sorry, the other letter does not suffice’. We expected them to say they had cleared him and this is a new status. But unfortunately, on the eve of the day he was to be confirmed, at 5.02pm, the DSS brought in a report reaffirming their earlier letter, stating that they are standing by what they said.
The Comptroller-General (CG) of Customs, Col Hameed Ali, also incurred the wrath of the Senate when he refused to honour your invitation to appear in uniform. What is the matter?
I have been one of those who kept hammering on the need for the Comptroller-General to wear uniform. I didn’t even know it would come to this. I believe the position of a CG is such that everybody in the system looks forward to becoming one. It is not a political appointment. It is a rank that everybody in that system looks up to it. If it is a sole administrator, it is different. If we allow leaders to break laws like this, the place will collapse and then corruption will increase. Some officers start from the beginning with the hope that they might end up as CG one day, but with what they are seeing now, they will now be despondent. They will lose hope in the system, they will have nothing to look up to. So the job will suffer, ethics will be put to question.
I have been one of those who thought it wasn’t right to bring someone from outside to go and head it except as a sole administrator. If he was a sole administrator, it would be clear that they are not tampering with the system.  I don’t see why they will bring somebody from outside. I have been of that opinion from day one. I was going to bring it up but the leadership of the Senate said, I shouldn’t bring it up because I believe that others will become despondent and they won’t do what they will do because they will lose face.
If he started from there, he will wear uniform because he would have grown through the ranks and he would know everything about the service. He will feel proud, elated to wear the rank of a CG but because he is coming from outside and the office does not mean anything to him, he thinks it is not necessary for him to wear the uniform. But the inspector-general of police wears uniform and the act of customs is tailored like that of the Police. He should be wearing uniform except of course he has decided to be a sole administrator which is not usual in this clime. So he needs to live according to the law. People around the president must learn to follow the rules.

Still on this government, does the state of the economy bother you?
That is the biggest problem for all of us, there is poverty everywhere. I went home recently and I saw people thanking others for just N200. That is demeaning for me. It was really excruciating for me. What will that buy? But for the person to say thank you means he has not had anything for a long time. Yet they say inflation has decreased but nobody is feeling it yet. There has to be a drastic action to change the situation

What will you advise?
I think they need to put money in the hands of people. I am not talking about these big projects they are talking about. Let’s look at micro finance and see how people who are farming can come and take loans. We have micro finance banks who can quickly tell them what to do. Let’s look at people who are doing small businesses and give them loans. Let’s look at how we will give them the loans and how they can get it back so that some will not think it is government’s largesse. The FG should give the states money to clear all salaries because there are homes that both parents are civil servants. By the time you do that you will rejuvenate the system, it doesn’t mean that infrastructure will stop, it may be at a slower pace but then the people will be able to pay school fees and feed. But if we are waiting for one consultant to do this or that, and then we will take five years to plan one event, the years will just fly away.  I believe that we need to reflate the economy through micro finance.

Are you in support of the calls for restructuring?
I am from the South-West and we believe in restructuring in which we can earn money and keep it. The only reason we are clamoring for restructuring is that, federalism is not working. What is federalism when some people take money home and others are suffering? What is federalism when the land that produce the oil is suffering and others are benefitting from it? Restructuring is part of true federalism.

The PDP crisis seems to be getting worse by the day, are you worried!
That is a huge question because I am worried. The reason being that the elections will start in 2018 and we have just one year to prepare or thereabout. I am worried because this is a great party that should not be allowed to go to the dust. This is a party that has roots in every LG, unit and ward and so you cannot allow it to go to the dust. We have just been out of power for two years. In America, the Republican Party take power for eight years and democrat take it for eight years and the system continues. I know we won’t wait that long but then, individuals are allowing their ego to impede on the proper running of the party and that makes me sad. These are small issues. All I need, if I don’t have ulterior motive, is to step back and put an arbiter.
However, there are lots of activities going on. I have been part of some of them. I think the way out is political solution but there has to be a political will too.  If there is ulterior motive and some drummers behind the mask and you are the only one hearing the drums because this is not anybody’s property. We all joined on equal footing. There is so much of ego in all of this and I pray God will help us. Some of us are not going to give up because the party has served us well, we have benefited and so we will not jettison the party, even God will not forget us.

Some senators have abandoned the PDP for the ruling party, does this bother you?
They said they have their reasons but personally, I feel that the PDP gave you an opportunity to contest on that platform and the fact is, the other party would never have given them their ticket if not the PDP. So why will you use the platform and then jump from there. It’s unfair and insensible. It shows a gross lack of integrity. I feel if a platform supported you and you want to resign, you resign and go.

Looking at Ekiti State, some Nigerians are worried that the way Governor Ayo Fayose is attacking President Buhari administration could cause problem for the state.
I don’t think it can cause any problem, we were all here when the APC was in opposition and they called the then president all manner of names. The one I hate most was when they described him as clueless. How do you call your president clueless? But you see, the PDP doesn’t know how to be in the opposition that is why we don’t hear us being insultive. When the APC were there, they were abusing the PDP at will. There is no profanity that was not used at the PDP. If there is no serious opposition, this country will have a dictator in no time. See when the president returned, they are not thinking of their poverty again, they are ready to follow the government in power. That is why you need a voice, somebody to keep the government on their toes.
There is no country that you don’t have strong opposition. The PDP would have been a strong opposition if not for its problems. Yes we could have done it the way the APC did, but because we are more experienced, we didn’t use profanity. They didn’t see all these things coming. Look at what they said about electricity and dollar? Have they done it? Look at petroleum, they said they will make it N40.00 but they can’t do it. When you are in office, it is the person with the data that knows the true situation, you from outside can only speculate. That is the situation that the APC put themselves.

What is happening to your bill on women that was struck out last year in the senate?
We are still on it, even though we have watered it down. We are still seeing how we can network and negotiate. It has nothing to do with any institution or any person. Nigeria is a signatory to international laws. It makes sense to domesticate it. In truth, are women not being marginalized? We are not asking for equality, we are saying, parity. Let everybody have equal opportunity. Why shouldn’t we? We have gone to school, we are better than some men. Let no one say, they don’t want to employ married women or pregnant women. Women must be treated like their male counterparts. I have been married for close to 40 years and I have been pursing my dream. My husband has been supporting me. He will tell me that as long as I don’t do some things, he will support me. He gives me food to eat. So let us allow those girls to be given opportunity. Nobody should be left behind.

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