In this interview, Yusuf Ali (SAN) speaks on the calls for the impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari, survival of the country, the contentious minimum wage, among other issues of interest.
The air crash in which then Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Ibrahim Attahiru, was killed has attracted varying comments from Nigerians. What is your take on it?
Three air crashes in three months involving the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) leading to loss of highly trained and motivated security personnel is a bit worrisome for a nation that is facing serious insecurity from all sides. It is time government makes public investigations of earlier crashes. Why are we experiencing the crashes within months involving aircraft belonging to one arm of the armed forces? I hope we have seen the end of such occurrences. These crashes create more fear for the citizens; talking about insecurity generally as no place seems safe.
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Attacks on INEC facilities and police stations are the works of those trying to invoke mass unrest and civil war. We must handle it with a lot of tact. We should deploy high intelligence to avert them and bring to the fore those behind these acts.
The 1967 civil war started around a time police stations were being attacked. We must not allow history to repeat itself. We must be able to harness all our resources to address issues of internal and external security manifesting in kidnapping, banditry, cultism and others. Solving insecurity is easier nowadays with technology – high internet services and drones.
There have been calls by some lawmakers for the impeachment of the president over insecurity. Are the calls justified?
We shouldn’t do anything that will exacerbate the fragility of our unity. There is need to address the issue from all the fault lines. Impeaching the president is not the solution to the ongoing problems; they are beyond the president. The president should be encouraged to exercise more authority and provide leadership on all issues. Impeachment in a plural country divided along religion, ethnicity and tribal sentiments is not it.
Will all that is happening, can Nigeria survive disintegration?
Our strength lies in our togetherness. We are relevant globally today because of population and landmass. Every major bloc in Nigeria is as divided as Nigeria itself, and that is why we have so many states. It is allegations of marginalisation in the bigger groups that engender their breaking up into smaller groups.
Today, there is no state without undercurrent of domination by one section against another. Except we want to break up into small families; but even within families there are issues. We need to always communicate with one another.
Technically speaking, there is no unity anywhere in Nigeria. The Yoruba are not united, same with Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, South-South and the minorities. Our approach in solving the problem has to be holistic based on three crucial elements of trust, justice and equity. That is what is holding the American institution, but then, you can still see divisions.
The Minster of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, came under fire for his comment on RUGA. How do you feel about it?
That is the essence of democracy; freedom of speech. Just because somebody is not in tune with what you believe does not make the person an enemy. We must be able to engage and understand our views and find ways to accommodate ourselves. God has a purpose for creating us as Nigerians.
As the chancellor of a state university, how do you think we can respond to the insecurity in our universities?
Beef up security around our educational institutions by deploying the best of technologies and installation of CCTV in all our 174 universities to secure students. We should make compulsory for owners of commercial buildings like banks, restaurants, malls, supermarkets and hostels to assist the security agencies. Let’s identify critical areas of our national life in terms of places that people congregate.
Does that mean you are optimistic that things will get better in Nigeria?
Leaders are more focused on the challenges facing the country and demonstrate enough commitment to ameliorate the situation. There is need to seriously address unemployment and under-employment. We need a properly structured social security system. Giving people N10,000 at markets won’t address the issue. It should be holistic approach. The top-to-bottom approach is not working, it’s time to flip it by strengthening our local government system.
What is your take on the ongoing JUSUN strike?
The inability of those elected to follow through and be faithful to the oath they took is the problem. The constitution says all funds; both recurrent and capital, should be paid to the three tiers of government. It is the attempt by the executive to sit on it that is causing the problem. Nobody has the monopoly of prudence or management of resources, and we all know what becomes of money in the hands of the executives. Of the three arms, the judiciary houses the most educated people. The constitution says before becoming a high court judge, you must have been a lawyer for at least 10 years, and you can’t be a lawyer except you have a first degree. Whereas to hold the highest executive position in Nigeria you just need to present evidence that you attended secondary school; not that you passed. So the belief that the arm that has the most trained and educated people cannot manage its resources is standing logic on its head.
Therefore, I appeal to the executives to act in accordance with their oath of office and there will be peace.
On El-Rufai, workers and minimum wage in Kaduna, what is your view?
Nigeria is not running a unitary system of government where the federal government negotiates with the unions and imposes the outcome on other arms and strata of government. In federalism, states are autonomous to a certain level.
Recently, because of genuine complaints from young colleagues about welfare, the national committee of the NBA identified Nigeria by cities and agreed that lawyers living in Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and two other cities must have certain minimum wage, while places like Ilorin, Jos and others will have theirs. It didn’t work; law firms don’t earn the same income. Even in the media, journalists don’t earn same salaries.
Labour is very important, but not more than the country. You can’t distribute allocation with federal formula and fix salary unitarily when states don’t take the same amount, such arrangement hasn’t work since 1960; it can’t now. I want to assume that el-Rufai knows what he is doing; he is an intelligent person, a first class brain. People can’t sit in Abuja and say a poor state like Zamfara must pay Lagos salary; that’s crisis.
Some in the private sector earn hundred times what the president earns and several newspaper publishers are richer than many governors.