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PDP Lost Kwara In 2019, Rigged Out In 2023 –Ahmad

You were a senior lecturer before serving in the government of former Governor Bukola Saraki as Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state. Can you share your experiences during this period?

To correct you, I was an associate professor when I joined the administration of Governor Bukola Saraki before the end of his glorious first term. I was equally in my late 30s then. But even as I joined his government, my scholarly passion was still there, so I continued teaching at the University of Ilorin. However, I resolved then that I would not apply for the next rank of professorship until I was back full-time in academia. So, it took me much longer to migrate from associate professor otherwise known as readership to full professor than it was to climb to associate professor and I love it that way. If I begin to narrate my experience in government, I could spend the whole day, but let me take you on a lighter one. One of the first shocks I had during my first year in government was that at the dead of the night around 1.00 am, the then governor, a workaholic leader, would call and ask, as he normally did: ‘Ali where are you, are you sleeping already?’ Someone like me back then had a solar system and it shuts down around daily. But you know you had to go to Government House immediately, that question would always occur to me while asleep. For me to maintain my good relationship with the then governor, I know for sure that I must deliver on my assignments. It is not whether you spent lots of time, energy or resources. Only the result mattered and everyone knew it. Result, here and now. So, if he (Saraki) needed you, called and you missed his call, it is not a crime but you must find a good reason to explain why you failed to show up. As a dutiful Muslim, the excuse that can fully absolve you is that you were performing your prayer and whatever prayer that was due then. Otherwise, when you need him to do something, you will have to follow the long queue. Jobs have to be done and you have only four years, he would tell you.

What are your tough moments as a lawyer and academia-turned-politician?

As a young lawyer, I was initially put off from practice by the accepted attitude of lawyers on adjournment. They didn’t teach you that at Law School. You prepare your case, do your research and get to court but the counsel on the other side would just come up with a lame excuse and the case would be adjourned. And this is normal. Thank God, this has been somehow addressed in criminal proceedings with our work with the landmark Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. Again, an unforgettable challenge in practice was the one I had in the United States. Immediately after my Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) in the year 2000, there was a Washington Post series titled “Body Hunters.” I remember the series focused on how pharmaceutical companies in Western countries used to conduct illegal drug trials in developing countries without follow ing the World Health Organization (WHO) standard protocols. Incidentally, the paper extensively reviewed the Kano trial conducted by Pfizer during the 1996 meningitis epidemic which resulted in the killing and maiming of hundreds of children. I made two quick decisions: That I was not going to let go of the matter. Secondly, I would never file the case in Nigeria and since I was called to Bar in New York, it had to be in New York and nowhere else. So, since there was the Aliens Torts Act, a uniquely American Law that permits Nigerian children to sue in the United States. Having been satisfied that in principle I had a good case, then came the most difficult challenge: How would a Nigerian sue Pfizer and win? If you know Pfizer in the United States, but to the glory of God Almighty, although it took me about three months to prepare my suit, when I was done, I became the beautiful bride, and law firms were contacting me from all over New York to partner with me. The most daunting of it all is that it took us two years to locate witnesses and procure evidence before we began the case. In the end, we got close to $100 million in compensation which was paid during Ibrahim Shekarau’s administration in Kano. Many people did not know my involvement with the Pfizer case but I fired the first salvo on the matter and I chose not to get involved in handling the compensation in Nigeria.

Were you paid for the effort?

Yes, as a lawyer, indeed, and in dollars. But that was secondary. The case, Abdullahi v Pfizer, which went up to the United States Court of Appeals, focused the attention of the medical world on the issue and contributed to changing the drug trial landscape by big pharmaceutical companies in developing countries. It was a celebrated case the world over.

Most people accuse your party of not playing enough opposition, especially since it lost the 2023 general election in Kwara and at the national level. As a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), do you see your party as an effective opposition to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)?

No! We lost in 2019 but we were rigged out in 2023. But that’s part of the rudderless system we operate in Nigeria. Politicians believe they can procure people’s consciences and use security forces to harass others. The 2023 gubernatorial election in Kwara State qualifies as the most monetized in the history of our beloved state. It is beneficial to reorient our people to tenets and ideals of good citizenship that demand good governance of its leaders.

As an experienced lawmaker, how would you assess the current leadership of the Kwara State House of Assembly under Hon. Yakubu Danladi?

I shudder to talk about personalities as such, except in their relation to official acts. Hon Danladi is a friend and brother and we talk. We all former speakers do.

But he is now occupying a public office?

Yes, I can answer your question relating to his capacity as speaker but even at that, he is just first among equals. He does not make the Assembly. For me, anywhere I have been, I try to make it better and if I see something that pricks my conscience, I don’t mince my words. It’s not about belling the cat. At the twilight of Senator Ahmed Lawan reign as Senate President, it was widely reported when I wrote to him to veto some bills that were vital to the independence of the legislature in Nigeria. He didn’t heed my letter then, but today as a senator, not a presiding officer, he (Lawan) would wish the parliament had those powers to veto these vital bills. For the Kwara Assembly, we must be frank to admit that there are challenges and one would have hoped that the Assembly where speakers like Alhaji Shehu of blessed memory, revered Benjamin Yisa and our own Bio Ibrahim and Tunde Mohammed have presided is in a better shape than we all left it.

How would you assess Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq?

Do you mean his administration because the governor as a person looks harmless? I like talking about institutions. About his administration; Kwarans now know. You know you are known for who you are. We now know his policy. Even a lack of policy is a policy if you know what I mean. So, being stressed about transparency and accountability is their policy. Governing by happenstance is their policy. Otherwise, how do you explain it? Kwara State University (KWASU) had been without a Governing Council for years and look at the rot. Admitting over 10,000 students beyond the carrying capacity of the university just to meet financial commitments affects the quality of our dear university that we laboured to establish. You wait till an investigative report by a journalist before you quickly announce the council. But thank God, at least we now have a council and they will right some of these concerns.

Can you be specific about the Assembly then?

I am pained stating this for the first time regarding the Assembly that had people’s confidence, especially nonpoliticians, is waning. Indeed, lots of people, including APC members do not hold our House in high esteem. Today, people have a hunch and rate Tajudeen’s House and Akpabio’s Senate differently, Kwara Assembly too.

You said people do not hold the Kwara Assembly in high esteem; what do you mean?

You don’t need to go far. In a saner clime, regarding this issue of Kwara Hotel renovation, an Assembly properly so called would have contributed to resolving the matter and let us continue to have a semblance of governance, good or bad. At least, let’s pretend there is one. But now you have all these distractions and the House has descended into the fray.

How would they have resolved it?

There is more than one way to kill a rat, just kill it. The Assembly could invite or summon Kwara Holding, the relevant commissioner, the Crystal Group and get all the facts, and even Craneburg. Whoever is found to be right should be given fair treatment. But now, the Assembly is a decider of the competence of Crystal Group and not that of the Tanke contractors. And you pass a specific resolution against Crystal Group to stop what you call spreading misinformation without inviting it before you. The Assembly is not the executive council for God’s sake. It is a hallowed chamber for all Kwarans, not just Kwarans that love the governor. Now, without facts, the House just passed a resolution basing it on some vital information it received. From which public hearing did you gather the vital information, by which committee and provided by whom? So, you surreptitiously received one-sided vital information and you changed your earlier resolution. Why are we trivializing a hallowed process? How do you pass two conflicting resolutions on the same matter, without first rescinding the earlier one; under which rules? Now the Assembly passed a resolution in favour of Craneburg and has not rescinded that one of Crystal Group? Is it not elementary that Crystal Group will successfully plead estoppel if they go to court, which we don’t hope for? No, our Assembly cannot be a problem escalator.

What is the way forward?

Our interest is not who wins or does not win a contract. It’s the sanctity of the people’s House. The way forward is that the Kwara State House of Assembly should desist from allowing anyone to compromise it. During the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, remember that the governor washed off his hand’s snow white on the forehead of the Assembly members and they are happy to carry on. He allegedly asked them to amend the bill but cried more than the bereaved that the House killed it up till this day. And the surprising thing is that all of them, in unison, slept off putting their pillows in one direction. The Assembly should not allow itself to be used as the fall house. This will surely haunt them, not the governor. I am just one of millions of Kwarans, but whatever, I call on the Assembly to take charge and address the issue about their standing. Firstly, they should resolve these public-interest matters transparently; the Kwara Hotel issue; the Tanke Bridge and the need for the Unity Bridge. Have you held a public hearing and asked Kwarans whether they want that bridge or not because it is their money. This attitude that the executive is always right makes the existence of the Assembly redundant. A parliament is a wedge, to apply brakes to some of the controversial activities of a governor. They should apply a brake for once, and not continue applying grease to a disjointed elbow. How many times has this Assembly applied a brake on behalf of the people? Senators are debating about moving some departments from Abuja to Lagos, is it that they dislike the President? No, everyone is doing their job.

What should Kwarans do now?

You too have now seen what is happening and it is up to you and we will continue to demand that our current leaders do the right thing if they will.

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