Barrister Bala Ngilari served as governor of Adamawa State between October 2014 and May 2015. Before then, he had served as a member of the Constitutional Conference between 1994 and 1995, member of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Committee, popularly known as the Oputa Panel, and also member of the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007 before becoming deputy governor for over seven years. In this interview on Trust TV’s Daily Politics programme, he expressed optimism that Nigeria would be better under President Bola Tinubu.
What is your take on President Tinubu’s government so far?
This government inherited a backlog of so many things. I mean going back to probably 20, 30 years that didn’t begin with this government, and there is no magic wand that any other person would have done and the problem is solved.
Therefore, in all fairness, President Tinubu has been steadily tackling these things. It will take some time for us to see the results.
You mean the positive impact of his decisions?
Yes, but the problem with the Nigerian, he’s so impatient, he wants results immediately. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world. I do know that given the steady rate at which they are going, give this regime the next six months, believe me we will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Why are you so optimistic that things will work?
I am because, look at this for example, one very radical decision that the Tinubu government has taken is to say no more borrowing. For me this is a wonderful economic step. They are saying whatever we will do, in terms of development, will be based on what we can generate internally. We will not borrow again, Nigerians are overburdened.
What is more, here is a government that appears to be a listening government. I’ve seen some criticisms like the initial attempt by the government to give Nigerians N8,000 palliative. There was massive criticism and the government made a U-turn. That is the way it should be.
Do you think that Tinubu is on the right footing going by the calibre of people he has appointed as ministers?
Believe me, in terms of the composition of the cabinet, I cannot say he is wrong. So many things must have informed his decisions to put people where they are.
Let me demonstrate the fact that we too should give him the benefit of doubt in regards to what he has done in his appointments. Look at my good friend, Barr Festus Keyamo (SAN). He has been placed in the aviation ministry. Believe me, in the last eight years there was a professional person who was manning the aviation sector. But for me, without prejudice to whatever the former minister did, you can see the new direction. Keyamo has set the ball rolling. I see a revolution in the aviation sector coming.
In one fell swoop, Keyamo said the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, the gateway to Nigeria, must be closed down. There has to be renovation. This is thinking out of the box.
Do you think that once somebody who attains a certain level can fit in anywhere?
Absolutely! What you do need are experts who will advise you. Look at somebody like President (Paul) Kagame in Rwanda; everybody is hailing what the man is doing. Our governors just returned from Rwanda where they went and had some retreats.
Rwanda was once a war-ravaged country…?
Between the Tutsi and the Hutu, you know what happened. This is leadership by example. Rwanda is a landlocked country, but look at what they are doing.
So, you believe that there’s nothing wrong in taking people like Dele Alake, who is an information management guru, to the solid minerals ministry?
Well, we give him time, if he doesn’t perform, we make noise.
But are you not worried about the size of the cabinet? We are trying to manage, with the government asking Nigerians to bear the burden of subsidy removal, but we have an elaborate cabinet by the president?
A president has to balance between politics and economic realities. Here, he is divided between “let me do something to assuage those who supported” and considering the economic realities. I’ll still give him the benefit of doubt.
What is more, you can see him addressing certain things that were things that would have annoyed people.
For instance, those who are going to New York, he has drawn a line. Here are the people who will go, unlike in the past where it was a jamboree of Nigeria overtaking the whole place.
What is it about your group, the All Progressives Congress Professionals Forum, what informed the name?
It is a collection of professionals; you can be a journalist or an engineer. We have everybody: from experts in rocket science to the ordinary man professionals who are concerned about giving us massive agricultural input and results on the field. We have bankers like the chairman and former Governor of Bauchi State, Malam Isa Yuguda. Yes, doctors and all other professionals that you can possibly think of. It is a hub that has the very best, and our existence is predicated on the fact that we thought there should be a reserve of talents like this which the government can always consult. We can have an input into what we think ought to be done and we can advise the government. Where we think things are not going well, we should advise the government without prejudice.
Is it that you identified maybe a leadership vacuum along the way which prompted you to come up with the forum?
Not really; but the fact that we thought a collection of intellectuals and professionals can always be opinion moulders that will shape government’s thinking in projects conception and execution. And where we think the government, MDAs and other agencies of government are going wrong, we will without fear or favour interject and say that this in our view is wrong. This is the way to go.
Is there imprest for you from somewhere?
No; we decided to levy ourselves to be contributing to host all those things we have done.
You met with the president in August, how was the conversation?
It was excellent. By the time you are in the saddle, so many things happen that you don’t know about, but if you have a second force outside your cabinet that will always draw your attention to what is happening….
Did you offer some advice in terms of the economy?
Yes! Behind the scenes we are also interacting with him and he values it. He expressed gratitude to the forum. We will continue to interface and give him advice that will take us to the next level in this country.
Were you surprised with the recall of ambassadors from all over the world, knowing that Nigeria has 109 diplomatic missions worldwide, 76 embassies, 22 high commissions, 11 consulates…?
Honestly, I know of some first class non-career ambassadors that have performed excellently abroad since their appointment. I can talk very well about those that I know who are from Adamawa; they did excellently well in their places of posting.
But when things like that take place, a few innocent people are bound to suffer, but generally, I think the president has taken the right decision.
Let me give an example: when I was in the House of Reps between 2003 and 2007, we took an official trip to Austria, the committee on habitat. We got to our embassy in Austria, you can’t believe the decadence that we saw. In fact, it will shock you to know the chairs, the carpets were those installed and laid in 1979 when late President Shehu Shagari was in power.
What are the diplomats doing?
So, you ask what the hell they are doing! Honestly, I support hook line and sinker what the president did, but in rejigging, they must be people of character that he should send out there to represent us, because once you are out there, you are the face of Nigeria.
You served as a member of the Constitutional Conference from 1994 to 1995, you also served as member of the Oputa Panel. From these, are there any takeaways that you feel deeply pained that have not been implemented?
At the Constitutional Conference, the document that we ended with, which I would say is the harbinger of what later became the 1999 Constitution, was a very good document.
But of course those that held power then amended it, but we would have been glad if that document was allowed to take the shape we intended, because what we thought was giving the peculiarity of Nigeria with six geopolitical zones that we proposed, we created at that time, let the presidency go round. It would then have taken a cycle of 30 years, and then it would be flung open to anybody. We would have matured, but for reasons best known to those in power, that was not allowed.
And you think this is one of the reasons we’ve been having issues of true federalism; up till now?
I think so, but I think we should be able to move away from that. All the average Nigerian today wants is good governance.
But what is your definition of good governance and how can we attain it?
The way to define good governance is to demonstrate by example. First of all, anybody in place of government, whether elective or appointed, must bear in mind that there is a trust that God has given you to manage people or resources.
For me, every day I live with eternity in view, meaning someday I will leave this planet and transit to somewhere. As Muslims or as Christians, we believe in eternity somewhere after this life. And for me as a Christian, you can only go to either heaven or hell. I fear going to hell. Therefore, if you give me trust, I want to hold onto it so that when God calls me home I should be able to say this is what you gave me in trust and I did the best I could.
The fear of God will instantly make you do the right thing, and if you want I can give a practical demonstration.
Is it when you served as deputy governor?
No. I was a deputy governor for seven and a half years and by divine providence I became governor from October, 2014, to May, 29.
Not long after I became governor, somebody came to me and said he supplied fertiliser to Adamawa State worth N4.5bn and he sought to give me the document that I would sign to facilitate the payment of his money. If I signed the document, he would then come to the Federal Ministry of Finance in Abuja and the payment would be staggered into three or four.
The man was so desperate. So, I made a quick check and asked my staff to check from the Ministry of Agriculture how much was it he supplied. I asked him to come the next day. The results showed me that the totality of what he supplied was about N100m. Now, it will shock you to know, I received calls even from Abuja from highly placed people that I should help the man to collect his money. He was prepared, first of all he was prepared to give me the equivalent of N800m in dollar bills.
Was that in 2014?
I think it was 2014, about a month or so after I was sworn in. When he didn’t find me agreeing with him, he said he could even give up N1bn.
N1bn! Did you have such an amount in your bank account then?
No; certainly not. The man followed me to my house and I said to him, “My brother, as we sit here in my office, it’s you and me and God, I could easily say bring me this money in dollar bills, nobody will know, nobody will see, it’s only you and me, and guess what, I like money, but this is not the type of money I will ever, ever subscribe to.
“Has it occurred to you that if I collect this money today and I move up to my room and you go away, I sign this document that you have given me and you go, nobody will see us, there is no third party, nothing, there’s no policeman, nobody is here. But has it occurred to you that tonight God can call me, God can take my life, if God takes my life, are you saying when I die and cross over, the first thing that I will meet my Creator with is this money you’ve given me, what would I say?” He was stunned, he couldn’t answer me.
So you didn’t collect the dollars?
Of course I didn’t. I said, “Go with your money and I will not release this document.”
And you didn’t release it”
Thereafter, have you ever held like N1bn of your own?
If I see N1bn now I will faint.
Then why did you become the first victim of courts since the return of democracy in 1999. It was after you left office that you were convicted of over I think N166m and sent to prison.
In fact, the good thing is that the greatest difficulty for a person who tries to be honest and righteous is that you gather so many enemies. Till tomorrow, I say it boldly without fear or favour, if you take the proceedings of the courts that arraigned me on a five-count charge, there is not one count of the five that said I took one naira or diverted one naira, not one.
Is it that you violated due process?
It was just political. They said procurement; that we bought vehicles without following due process, but guess what, Sections 42 and 43, I believe, of the Adamawa State Procurement Law says that in a state of emergency you can put on hold the provisions and deal directly. We were in a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, and the requirement of the law that we must advertise procurement in the papers and call others to come were suspended for the purpose of the emergency.
We had to buy 50 Hilux vans for the use of our people who were the security persons, and guess what, even the lady who supplied these vehicles was also arraigned but was discharged and acquitted, just like me. So, it was a political witch hunt, absolutely no more no less.
Did anyone seek your forgiveness thereafter?
No, they don’t need to, I’ve forgiven them. In our religions, you must forgive. Particularly, if you as a Christian don’t forgive, whatever prayer you do, God doesn’t hear you; you must forgive.
But I will appeal to prosecuting agencies, particularly with the new attorney general, a very good person who has been versatile, they must really do some real legal advice, check the facts before they arraign somebody in court.
You served as governor for a very short time, have you contemplated going to vie for the office again?
Quite frankly, I did under pressure, but again, you know one of these things is that when you don’t have money to spend no matter…
In fact, I tried to contest for the Senate too under APC. I went round, toured and two, three days to the primary election, I called and reached out to the delegates through my director general and my coordinators. The delegates told me, “Look, sir, when it comes to the right person to go for this thing, you are the right person, but honestly we will be sincere and honest with you we cannot accept N100,000 which you want to offer us.”
N100,000 as a delegate’s fee?
To help. My idea was that I could offer N100,000 for probably 200 people. That would come to about 20m, so that they could go and start something at home.
Is that not bribery?
No, no, to help them start something. I mean N100,000 at that time was something. They said, “No, sir, we will not collect your N100,000 because there are people who are willing to give us one N1m each,”
So you packed your things and went back to Yola?
I withdrew from the race even after I bought the forms.
You served as deputy governor for quite a long time with ex-Governor Murtala Nyako. Did you have any issues with him?
We got on so well with Nyako. He even nicknamed me Damo Sarkin Hakuri (the patient one). I had no vaulting ambition for anything.
I remember you won the primary of your party for a second term in the House of Reps but Nyako picked you as deputy.
Absolutely, Nyako in his wisdom and those close to him did that.
Like Professor Jubril Aminu?
Very fantastic people; they decided that I should be the running mate to Nyako. Their thinking was that ba zai fitine shi ba (he will not disturb him). And I think this is why till date, virtually every three weeks or so I visit Nyako, we sit down and crack jokes.
But some people are saying that you cunningly became governor because during Nyako’s impeachment crisis you took your letter of resignation to the wrong place?
No, no! Let me tell you what happened, (Ahmadu) Fintiri (then Speaker of the Adamawa State House of Assembly) who is governor today said they were going to impeach us.
Fintiri sent his deputy to me and said, “Give us your letter of resignation because in the order, the constitutional hierarchy, that is the way it should be, the deputy governor must resign before we deal with the governor.”
I wrote my resignation in accordance with the dictates of the constitution, addressed it to my boss, Nyako, and copied it to the speaker, but when it was handed over to him, he said I should change it and address it to him.
Yes! I obliged and did it. You see, there’s always the God factor in the affairs of men. When I took and they accepted my resignation, little did they know that that mistake of addressing the letter to Fintiri instead of to Nyako, which appeared in their votes and proceedings, was what saved me, because when we went to court, the court said I could not address my resignation to the speaker, that it must be addressed to the governor and copied to the speaker.
So you became governor by providence?