'As minister, I was not 'privileged' to share blood money'

Joel Danlami Ikenya is a former minister and senator from Taraba South. He is popularly known as the political bulldozer in the state. In this interview with Senior Correspondent, Fanen Ihyongo, he speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption and a range of socio-economic and political issues affecting Taraba State and the country. Excerpt

It is believed that trouble is brewing in the Taraba State House of Assembly, having been divided over the nullification of the Speaker’s election. Some members said they want a new Speaker but the governor is allegedly interfering.

I am not a member of the state house of assembly. Although a stakeholder, I am not aware that the state assembly is divided. I am aware that the Speaker’s election has been nullified, and there would be a rerun which all of us are waiting for. I also know that the state house of assembly is an independent arm of the government and the governor is not a member of the assembly. If the members fail in their responsibilities, I don’t think it is proper for them to run to the governor for solution, or the governor should be blamed. By the way, if the election of the Speaker is nullified, the Deputy Speaker automatically becomes the Acting Speaker. He can act as the Speaker and every business of the legislature can continue. I don’t see any reason why the House’s activities should stop when there is someone to act, to ensure no vacuum is created.

Taraba got N9 billion bailout funds and used over N6 billion to settle some of the loans. Was it the right decision?

Why not?

Workers said it was wrong; that the bailout fund was their own.

How can it be their money? The money was not meant for workers. The state government does not owe them salaries. The intervention fund was meant to offset some debts, so that the state government can continue to function. It is wrong that some states collected the bailout funds and paid the salaries of workers which were being owed for about seven or eight months. But for us in Taraba, with the settlement of some of the inherited loans, the state is going to have a relief; it is a plus for us; the government can now settle down and concentrate to make progress.

You are in support of Buhari’s war against corruption?

Why will I not back him? Don’t we want to fix this country? We should fix this country. Nigeria must be fixed. And the issue is that we can either do it or we all sink. I believe that what the president is doing now is to invite corrupt officials to explain the roles they played. It may appear as if PDP members are the only ones being invited, but the time is coming when APC members would also be questioned. Whoever that has stolen public money must return it.

Some people say the president is on a witch-hunt mission.

To me, I differ, because I believe in social justice, fairness and the rule of law. I don’t think the president would be myopic in fighting corruption. He is starting with PDP members because they are the ones who had been in government.

What about the arrest of the PDP spokesman, Olisa Metuh, who had been criticising Buhari’s policies; has that not justified the claim by PDP that Buhari is out for witch hunt?

I think it is coincidence. The people who sat down and shared money in the office of the security adviser are not fare to us, especially to those of us in the North-East where people, including soldiers, are being killed by insurgents daily. There were no weapons for our military to combat the terrorists. So, to me, anybody who collected funds from the office of the National Security Adviser should face the wrath of the law. Metuh is the spokesman of the PDP, yes, but what is the link between PDP and the office of the National Security Adviser? What did he collect this money for? What is the link between somebody working in a party office and one occupying the National Security Adviser’s office?

But Dasuki also fingered President Buhari for collecting two jeeps and some money from him?

As a former Head of State, Buhari is entitled to his entitlements.

Entitlements from arms funds? You just said the money was meant to procure arms to fight terrorists?

President Buhari was not in government at that time. And the directive came from the office of the former president that the man should be given his entitlements and equipped with some bullet proof vehicles. It is not his sin if the due process was not followed. It was the duty of those in government to do the due process while giving Buhari what was due for him.

You served in Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet. Are you among the former ministers who have been invited by the EFCC on allegations of corruption?

Well, I served in the Jonathan’s government as minister for three months, which I have not been paid yet. I have not been invited by the EFCC. I was minister in Abuja but I did not know Dasuki’s house, neither did I know his office. I was not ‘privileged’ to be among the people who shared blood money in his office. I am not among them and I will not be there with them. I was too busy to share money.

Are you in PDP or APC?

Why do you ask that question? I have been working for the PDP, and I am in PDP.

We know that you have been working for the PDP in the state.

That qualifies me to be a member of the PDP.

But outside the state, we often see you with many APC chieftains such as Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, George Akume and many others. Are you planning to defect to APC?

Let me say this. I work for candidates. That is why APGA can win my federal constituency. I want this country to be fixed. For me, Tinubu is my Godfather and political mentor. I cannot be separated from him. I cherish him because he is a Nigerian who wants progress. Look at the man; he is somebody who is not greedy. He has groomed up many political children. The governor of Osun State was his commissioner for eight years; from Lagos to Osun State. The governor of Ekiti State was his Special Adviser; from Lagos to Ekiti State. And he did so to many others. Tinubu is not a leader in Nigeria; he is a leader in Africa. He is one of those who are positioning Africa. To me, he should be emulated and embraced.

But you turned down Tinubu’s proposal to work for the APC candidate, Aisha Alhassan, in the governorship election in Taraba State?

He was misinformed so I told him the truth. I properly informed him (Tinubu) and that decision was properly taken because I am for justice and fairness. Taraba is structured in such a way that we are all brothers, we are all minorities and we must share and eat together.

There is rumour that you are supporting Ishaku for only a single term, that you are positioning yourself to wrestle power from him in 2019; how would you react to this?

It is a clear figment of imagination of an enemy. If I want to run for the governorship election, I will not hide my ambition. At the appropriate time I will tell the people. For now, I don’t have ambition. But how can I have ambition to contest election when this government is only seven months; is it wise? How can you have ambition when you have a governor that is ready to work? The performance of the present government so far is credible, so why think of having ambition, except someone who is trying to be mischievous. The governor is from my place and I have a role to even see that he performs beyond reasonable doubt.

What if he fails to perform?

Well, we can’t asses that for now until we get there.
-The Nation ‎