Erstwhile Senate President, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, in the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was also former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) under President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview with EMEKA NZE, he recalls the working of the Senate then and now and his role in the then Senate’s ‘doctrine of necessity’ through which Jonathan ascended as president, amongst his other thoughts on sundry issues
Do you think think that National Assembly of today is living up to the expectations of Nigerians?
You must know that every time, every period, every government has its own challenges. The challenges we faced is not the same as theirs, the situation we faced was not the same as theirs, the time we were in is not the same as theirs. And so, there is no need measuring our time with their time, our challenges with their challenges and our performances with their performances, I don’t judge such performances. But one thing I know is that whatever success you record in the National Assembly is a function of character of the executive you have. So, if you have executive that antagonises the National Assembly or do not recognise their existence, it will affect their performance. If you have executive that supports, it will affect their performance, it will affect their stability.
So, but there is no basis for comparison because if we have to start comparing, you have to also start to compare the type of executive we have and what they have but I believe that we did our part and they are doing their own part. The responsibility of a legislator is constitutional, it is not even to attract. It is to make laws for the order and good governance of the country, that’s pure and simple. Then, part of those laws they make is Appropriation Act.
Appropriation Act is the Act detailing the expenditure government is to make in a particular year and it’s their duty to make sure that the activities of government, including the allocation of projects are done in an equitable manner so that everybody is served, that is the responsibility of the legislature but because of the level of our development, the executives, particularly at the state level will want to instigate the people against the legislature using the barometer of projects as the success of a politician, that should not be. If the legislature could not do their work, the executive cannot perform and it is in synergy. Every arm of government is important. So, my conclusion is that it’s just the level of our development and I believe that people will begin to understand the responsibility of a legislator, it is not about projects and that is the mistake we make.
What is your impression of ethnic agitations clamouring for Nigeria’s dismemberment?
One very important thing I don’t forget which gave me the impression and the conviction indeed that Nigeria can be one, we can, we were that when I became under threat by the executive and then in our Senate, we had three political parties; the PDP, the APP and the AD. The AD is from South West, so, they are like Obasnajo’s main backbone. So, during an effort by the President to remove me, it was such a difficult thing because it got to a crescendo and the South West Caucus met and resolved that they cannot be part of Senate President impeachment. They said we cannot be part of Senate President Impeachment because we didn’t see anything wrong he has done, we cannot as well be part of Obasanjo’s impeachment.
My strongest strength was from the North and I used this opportunity to pay tribute to two of my colleagues who are late now, who supported me much more than my parents could do. One was the late Governor of Yobe state, Alhaji Mamman Ali.
He was one of my diehard supporters who could do anything for me at the worst of the challenges, Maman Ali will take it upon his head and go extra. The next supporter I had who also died even while we were in the Senate on motor accident was the then Senator Adamu Awugi from Kebbi. May their souls rest in peace. I had the greatest support all through my tenure in the Senate from the North.
Then down East, I had the greatest enemies from the East because understandably, if I go, another person takes over. So, those who want to take over from me would not want me to have peace. But looking back today that the greatest strength that I drew from the Senators was from the North and the West which ordinarily will take sides with their brother, the then President, said no, we didn’t see anything wrong, we cannot support the impeachment of the President of the Senate. Honestly, it gave me the impression that where you come from may not really be the problem, maybe the way you carry on and the way you conduct the affairs which you have responsibility.
Today, people spend a lot of energy promoting ethnic consciousness but my experience on the field is that my best friend may not the be the person that comes from my village or even from my region and I have had practical experience in every stage of my life. People who have in one way or the other affected me seriously in my little journey I have had are not necessarily my relations, they are not necessarily from my village, they are not necessarily from my region. Every person has a role to play at a stage and at a level that you come across the person but I have noticed and I have experienced that you can have a brother from the North, you can have from the West, you can have from your place, humanity is one, the little little differences we try to create is artificial and it is for lack of experience or if you like, that when people are greedy that they now look for opportunities to use anything as a weapon to get to where they are going.
Why did you not go for re-election after your tenure as Senate President
Because God sent me, when I finished, I had no reason to insist on going again because I think a number of people will now say he didn’t want to seek re-election and all that. In fact, I had every temptation, every pressure to seek re-election and I said no. I finished my assignment, I became President of the Senate, I don’t need to seek re-election, I wasn’t returning to the Senate and in any case which was one of the Hallmark interviews that I gave them. I believe in rotation and rotation can only go round quickly if it is done single term, that I have done a term, that everybody should do a term, even the President should not seek re-election and should anybody seek re-election, I will not support that person and if anybody wins, I will not congratulate that person, if anybody walks with them, I will not enter their office and if you watch during Obasnajo’s second term, I never congratulated anybody, I never entered anybody’s office and I never worked for anybody. And so, I minded my business.
It seemed as if you lost interest in politics until your appointment as SGF?
I think my next outing was when the party Chairmanship of my party was zone to South East and I looked at opportunity and said fine, I am less busy, I can run. So, I went to the President who was then Yar’Adua and said if you permit me I will run, if you support me. The President said go ahead, you are the kind of character we want to lead the party.
So, I enlisted in the race. It was a long story that may not be necessary but what was necessary was that I had such a massive support that I never believed it, more particularly, the people seeking to stop me, the former President, my state and even the then National Chairman of the party. So, I put my head and said I will contest and the National Chairman then was Ahmadu Ali and I went ahead with it.
Everywhere I went, it was massive support and people were donating money to my campaign. I started my campaign tour of South South, I did South East, I started North Central. At a time I was in the North Central, I started getting sick every day, my face was turning white, my lips was turning up. My wife started asking me what is wrong? You are not looking good and every week if I don’t take malaria drug, I will not be well, I will not get up. So, I started North West, I did Kaduna, Gombe. I managed to do Zamfara and I returned to Abuja.
I went into prayer, I was meditating on what I read in the bible when I heard a voice in the room-‘this thing will not work because it is not my plan’. I opened my eyes and there was nobody in the house. I was alone in the room but the voice was too loud and clear and I got up and said God I would have doubted this is your voice given the support I have but I didn’t get your support before I decided to contest this chairmanship of a thing. Since I didn’t get your support before I run, if it will not work, your will is perfect for me. I will stop campaign from now but I will not come to announce that I am withdrawing. I called my team and told them this is what happened, we may not get to the end of this and we are not going ahead.
So, we stopped the campaign tour. Of course, two days to the convention, Obasanjo moved to Abuja and said over his dead body, I cannot be the Chairman of PDP and it was a huge battle because the Governors were supporting me, the Chairman of Governors Forum then was Bukola Saraki and he mobilized Governors in my support, the President and his entire team were supporting me.
Tony Aninih was galvanising the former governors. So, it was smooth operation and they refused that Obasanjo will have his way and eventually, the Governors and the President and Obasanjo met and said okay, in order not to divide the party, that they will go for a consensus candidate. The following morning, governors send a delegation to me and told me that they are going to put up Vincent Ogbulafor, I said fine, even if you don’t want me to come to the convention ground, no problem.
So, Eventually, Ogbulafor became but you know what? What happened to Ogbulafor would have happened to me or anybody else because the governors then were supporting Yar’Adua against Goodluck taking over from him. So, Yar’Adua shortly after died and Goodluck Jonathan took over and when Goodluck took over, Ogbulafor was sacked from the National Chairmanship.
If it were me, I would have faced the same fate and may be that would have foreclosed my future but today, God spared me of that future by direct intervention, letting me know that he is not in this plan. Before the National Assembly acted, I led a delegation a delegation of 41 eminent Nigerians to do the needful for Goodluck Jonathan to take over and largely, I and my team addressed the two chambers differently like today, then, two days later, they applied the doctrine of necessity which was also what we advocated. So, it was fulfilling for me that I was part of the process and eventually the President had his second election and won.
How did you become SGF?
A whole lot of people wanted to be SGF. I know at a time, the then Ohanaeze Chairman invited me and spoke to me that were requested to make an input and they have looked at me and all that and I hope if they recommend me, I won’t decline. I said no problem, they should go ahead but what was very striking to me was that the day of Goodluck swearing-in was on Sunday.
So, I woke and said do I go for swearing-in or do I go for church? I said no, I will go to church, not swearing-in and I went to church. So, I didn’t attend the swearing in. But exactly the following day Sunday 2:pm, I was called that President Goodluck wanted to see me and I went to see him.
He said he has recommendations of who could be his SGF but he has watched me since I left my office as Senate President, I have carried myself quietly, no controversy and he thought that I should be the type of person he wants to work with as SGF, that he called to offer it to me if I will accept it. I said Mr. President, you are the President of Nigeria, whatever you ask me to do, I will not hesitate and he said fine.
So, the following day, he announced me as SGF. In every stage of my life, the hand of God has been very visible and I don’t take it for granted. He guides my steps, he directs the way I live. I pick a cause, no matter what it costs me, and I commit to it. If I convince myself, if God ask me what did you do in this situation? I will have reason to say, when the situation arose, this is what I did and it is also the reason why no matter what is happening here, I can decide to keep quite. So, my best time in my life is when I am alone, I don’t bother about I must be visible, I must to here, I must say this, I must say that. It is again one of the reason I talk less, I don’t need to be visible to get to where God planned for me, I don’t need to talk or be heard to get to where God planned for me.
So, from my birth to where I am today, it has been God, it has been by his mercy. And so, it gives me a whole lot of settlement in everything I do, a lot of peace in everything I do to reassure myself that God is in it because I am sure that God is with me. I don’t mind what anybody does, I don’t mind the type of army that is against me because I have learnt over the years that there are two factors that wins a battle; one will help you fight a battle but it is one that will deliver you.
The weapons you have can help you delay your enemy, wound your enemy, injure your enemy but it will not win the battle. The only factor that delivers victory is good conscience. If you have good conscience in any fight, don’t mind the weapon the other person is carrying, it can only make a loud noise, at time bruise you but the victory is reserved you for he who have good conscience and the reason is that God will stand with the person who has good conscience and I have had so many battles in my life that each day I look round, I look left, I say God I’m grateful. At times, these days when I want to pray, I spend more time saying God thank you. At 60, he has brought me to the point that I can say I can retire and I can say here I am, if you consider me worthy of any other assignment with you I can go.
Looking at the insecurity in the country, what do you think could be the cause?
Well, I must say that it is not really the matter of what I think, it is a matter of the fact that we have a government and the number one responsibility of every government is to secure lives and property. If you ask me what is the greatest problem of insecurity in the country today? It is a fact that we don’t all agree on the magnitude of the insecurity, the nature of the insecurity and the causes of the insecurity.
So, if government position is different from my position, is different from one community position, is different from another community position, the problem becomes very difficult to manage. The starting point is for us to collectively of unanimity of position agree that there is a challenge, maybe identify the cause of that challenge, then attack it from the root and that will bring a lasting solution. Every other that is Ad hoc, will not solve the problem and that is what has happened over time. Over time, we approach it on Ad hoc basis and it multiplies in the next phase of it.
So, I pray for the government to come to terms with the reality of the challenge, maybe seek opinion from all and sundry and have a good grip of the causes of this insecurity, then the solution will just be there and I am saying this with deep sense of responsibility because many people have different opinion of it. Government may think yes, people are challenging us because it is not their time. Others will say it’s hunger because its bad governance, others will say it is corruption. So, I think the greatest solution is for us to come to terms, a common terms on what the causes are, then we find a solution.
Do you think unemployment also contributes to insecurity?
It is really not what I think. My idea is that we should all agree that this is the problem. If I have an opinion that is different from what government believe is the problem and government is doing another thing in another place, it doesn’t solve it and I cannot say okay, government you must take my opinion. Government should have a way of getting every person on board to agree on what the problem is, then the problem will surface.