Senator Dino Melaye, a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), represented Kogi West senatorial district in the Eighth Assembly and until last November, in the 9th National Assembly. He speaks with TAIWO AMODU in this exclusive interview on the leadership of the National Assembly under Senator Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila, review of the Nigerian Constitution , How he was scammed to support Buhari in 2015 and why President Muhammadu Buhari will never agree to a workable constitution for the country.
You challenged the victory of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress candidate for Kogi West senatorial district, Senator Smart Adeyemi, at the tribunal. You also lost at the Court of Appeal. Have the pronouncements of the justices in any way affected your faith in the judiciary?
The truth of the matter is that we are in a very precarious situation in this country where not only the judiciary but most of our institutions have not only collapsed but have bowed to the draconian nature of the Executive. Not just the Executive, but the Federal Government. Compromise from anywhere may not only be monetarily induced; it can also be out of the fear of the system. My faith in democracy is unshakable and you cannot discuss democracy without discussing the three tiers of government. So, the Judiciary, Legislature and the Executive, I have irrefutable faith in them. I have unshakable faith in them. That we have problems with some of the arms of government today does not mean that it will continue like that forever. I believe that there are better days ahead and we will get out of the woods.
You have maintained that you didn’t lose at the ballot but that you lost to the electoral heist. There are those who also claimed you stepped on powerful toes. With benefit of hindsight, do you think there are certain things you could have done differently?
There is nothing I could have done differently. I will continue to be the mouthpiece of the people. If I find myself in the Senate, I will repeat exactly what I did there which was speaking for the people, defending the masses and the interest of this country which was speaking against authority stealing, speaking against malpractices, inadequacies in government. I will never regret whatever I did in the 8th Senate because I did it in the interest of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have been victimised, arrested and intimidated. Between 2018 and 2019, I was arrested by the police and detained and I spent about 176 days out of the 365 days in 2018 in police custody. I was also arraigned in 12 different courts: Federal Government vs. Dino Melaye, I survived four assassination attempts, blatantly and openly. But all these, I am not discouraged or disillusioned. For me, the battle to salvage this country from economic cankerworms and financial scavengers, from vagabonds in power is a battle of no retreat, no surrender. So, I have no regrets. Every sane, reasonable, logical person in Nigeria knows that I won the election. Even before the election, I was intimidated physically by the people in highest authorities in this country and they didn’t want me in the Senate because they believe I am going to criticise, work against their draconian authoritarian character. But they cannot stop me in or outside the Senate and I want to say that their victory over good is temporal and evaporative.
Does that mean you miss the Red Chamber?
Definitely, I do miss the Red Chamber as a platform for carrying out democratic evangelism, but there is nothing I will say on the platform that I cannot say outside the Senate. And now, we are fully back to the anti-corruption network and we will use it to speak for Nigerians and defend their rights.
You were already part of the 9th National Assembly before that election stripped you of the status. The perception of Nigerians now is that both chambers are mere rubber-stamp parliament, an appendage of the Executive. Do you agree with this claim about the 9th National Assembly?
You cannot separate the baby from the umbilical cord or the placenta, there is an internal connection between the placenta, the umbilical cord and any child. The present leadership of the National Assembly, both at the Senate and the House of Representatives is a creation of the Presidency, a creation of the Villa. So, you cannot separate the posture, character and attitude of the leadership of the National Assembly from those who created that leadership. The leadership is not the creation of the Senate or the creation of the House of Representatives. So, they will only sing the tune of those who created them. I assure you that the Senate or the House of Representatives cannot be independent in this 9th Assembly and, unfortunately, I have not seen those who will put them on their toes.
Even in the Senate?
That is what I am saying, even from within the Senate.
But there are members of the opposition in both chambers. Are you saying the PDP, which is the main opposition party, is not giving effective opposition?
You are also a Nigerian like me. So tell me one or two people who have given effective opposition in both chambers.
[Enyinanya] Abaribe is there.
He spoke once.
You said I should mention one or two persons.
I said he spoke once by saying that the Federal Government should be impeached. Do you impeach the Federal Government? He couldn’t even pronounce the name of the president.
In other words, there is no opposition even on the floor of both chambers?
There has been increase in Value Added Tax, Stamp Duty, electricity, price of petroleum product. There is a vexatious bill on communicable diseases. Has there been any effective opposition to all these anti-democratic bills, elements or discussion in the Senate? There has been approval of unrealistic borrowing that will not meet legislative approval because the law says before you can approve loans, the details of the loans must be given to the National Assembly and National Assembly must approve the loans before the loan can be given out. Are those details being given? But everything that comes is approved.
But don’t you think that the impotence you are talking about is as a result of the so-called bi-partisanship that the lawmakers embraced?
It is just that there are no extraordinarily committed people who are ready to be arrested, harassed, to be persecuted and who are ready to be floor members not getting induced with the chairmanship of a juicy committee or afraid of being removed as the chairman of committees. So, people have personally elevated personal interest over public interest.
Chieftains of five political parties pooled forces together to form the APC: the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, All Nigerian People’s Party, Action Congress of Nigeria, the new Peoples Democratic Party and certain chieftains from All Progressives Grand Alliance. Looking at its performance in the last five years, would you say some of you were hoodwinked to partake in the APC project?
Not at all. I worked by conviction. Unfortunately, as an individual, I will speak for myself, I did not have the celestial powers to read the future. That is why people are born into Christian families and when they grow in that home, they discover that they are not convinced by that Christian faith, they convert to Islam. That is why a Muslim becomes a Christian; that is why people got employed and resigned because the condition of service is not palatable.
When we joined and helped make President Buhari the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we worked with what he said and what he told us. We believed at that time there was the sincerity of purpose and heart to rebuild Nigeria, revive our economy, create infrastructure, give mass mobilisation and eradicate poverty. But going on that journey, I discovered that I have been scammed. I was scammed to support President Buhari. So all I can tell you about the formation, the activities of APC, my involvement is that, once I was blind, now I can see.
We have erstwhile chieftains of the PDP who defected to APC along with you. Some of them are still in the ruling party, holding cabinet positions. You think they share your perception?
That is why I said this is my personal view and my honest view that what we promised Nigerians during the campaign period is not what we saw after assuming power and I cannot be hypocritical like others have decided to be. Even when I was in APC, I was criticising government; when I was in PDP I was criticising government. It is about the people and sincerity of purpose of heart and commitment. Nigerian people are the most important.
We have known you to be a vocal voice in the polity and a very resilient individual . Though 2023 is still far, what is your next political aspiration?
I am not on leave. I am still very effective and active in politics. I am too young to retire. So, next political ambition, when we get to that bridge, we will cross it.
What is your take on power shift to Kogi West?
I don’t believe in anybody shifting power. Power can only be taken and we are working towards taking it.
There is this discordant voice within the top hierarchy of the PDP over where the presidency should be zoned in 2023. We have the likes of Senator Gabriel Suswam saying the North should still retain it, whereas there are others who are saying it is the turn of the South East, what is your stand on this?
As a grass-roots politician who has ears on the ground, I will say it is too early to discuss this.
You don’t think it must come to the South?
It is too early to discuss the issue of zoning.
The Senate has unveiled the Constitution Review Committee which is to look at the constitution and make certain amendments on power dissolution, revenue allocation formula, creation of states and so on. The Northern Elders Forum has said it is a jamboree that will ultimately not give any tangible result. If you are to make recommendations to that committee, what would you be canvassing for?
I will not make any recommendation because it is an annual ritual for two purposes: fulfil all righteousness and to make money. Every year, about a billion or over a billion naira is budgeted for the constitutional review committees both in the Senate and House of Representatives and nothing has come out of it over the years. The best we got was the Senator Ike Ekweremadu-led committee. But as far as I am concerned, Ovie Omo-Agege and his committee have another opportunity again to dance Makossa.
Is it the leadership of the Constitution Review Committee you have issues with or the process itself?
The entire process. Do you see President Buhari as someone who will sign the constitution review from the National Assembly? Over 70 per cent of the bills passed by the National Assembly have not been signed by President Buhari. So, that is why I said it is a jamboree. Even if they do a holistic exercise, it will not be signed by the president. The National Assembly under the leadership of Bukola Saraki did everything to pass the Electoral Amendment Bill, fantastic work done, but it was never signed. And till this minute as I am speaking to you, he has not signed it. So, how do you expect to see a borehole in the desert?
There is a trending video emanating from your sprawling apartment here in Abuja, when the publisher of Ovation magazine, Dele Momodu, was your guest. To most Nigerians, it is a brazen display of opulence that is not in sync with the mood of the nation, even your fans have passed scathing comments. How do you react to it?
I think I did not post it. The question should be directed to whoever posted it.
But it has your endorsement… the fellow who posted it was your guest.
You must have extraordinary powers to know that it has my endorsement.