Senator Ayo Arise, a member of the sixth Senate of the National Assembly, representing Ekiti State, is a businessman-turned-politician. He was in the Peoples Democratic Party but is now a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress. In this interview with Sola Shittu, Arise says people must be held accountable for their actions if the anti-graft campaign must be successful. Excerpts:
Recently, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State announced the government’s intention to build an airport in the state capital, Ado Ekiti. Do you think that is what the state needs now, given the fact that the Akure Airport is just about 45 kilometres away?
If Fayose says he wants to build an airport, they should allow him to build it. My reason is very simple. If he does not use the bailout fund for infrastructure that we can see, he would probably end up squandering the whole money. But now that he has said he wants to do something for the Ekiti people, I think we should encourage him to do it. The airport will be there long after he might have gone. It will be a legacy that we can say he has given us, something that we can point to.
Today, people are alleging that Akpabio has misappropriated N108 billion, but to the average Nigerian, Akpabio used a lot of money to build infrastructure in his state. He built a state-of-the art stadium, bridges, airport for his people and the roads are magnificent. We know that in doing all those things, he might have helped himself to some money, but the majority of the people from his state will continue to say for a long time that this man has done a good job for them. He is different from those who are just stealing money without doing anything for their people. However, this does not mean that if you are corrupt, you should not face the consequences.
If you are corrupt and you are caught, you should face the music. There are some states in this country with very bad roads and nothing to show for good governance. In the time of Brigadier Ogbemudia, he tarred almost all the roads in the entire Mid-west. He became almost a small god among his people. Many people travelled all the way to the Mid-west then to see good roads. So when people start talking about corruption, at least we should let them do something for their people first; then, we can start probing them for those ones that they have stolen. But it would be a crime against humanity to allow them to steal the whole money without doing anything. So if he says he wants to build an airport, let him build it. The people of Ekiti State will work there while the airport is being built. Those supplying sand, gravel, iron, etc, will have work to do.
What is your view on criticisms that Mr. President’s anti-graft campaign is selective and is a way of witch-hunting political foes?
The truth of the matter is that those who say it is selective are the people who do not wish this country well. The Peoples Democratic Party was in government for about 16 years at the federal level and was controlling more than 20 of the 36 states in those years. Let me ask: who were the people helping themselves with government money, who were the people in government? So, naturally, when a probe of this nature is to take place, it is likely to gravitate towards those people who were in government then. It is not a case of witchhunt or selective probe. I believe that if anybody needs to be probed, they have to put everything on the scale. If we start probing those that stole N100million and leave those that have stolen billions, then we have missed the point.
I think this thing has a scale with which they are looking at it and it is coming in gradually. It is going to touch everybody. We cannot do anything in this country without people saying something. If you are not guilty, why would anybody want to try you for an offence you have not committed? People who are guilty had better start looking for other modes of defence. But for anyone to say that ‘government is probing me because the President does not like my face’, I don’t think that is a tenable reason. Everybody in government has contributed somehow to the mess on the ground.
There had been laxity, lawlessness and impunity among those that were saddled with the responsibility of serving our people. If there is a call now that things should be done differently, we must start from somewhere. We must be willing and ready to say ‘if you have done wrong, then you should pay for it.’ Payment can come in different forms. There are some crimes we could look at and say ‘okay, there will be plea bargaining, you can forfeit all that you have stolen from the state and we leave a little for you, and then you can bag about six months imprisonment at the end of the day.’ So that at least, you would know that you are paying for that crime.
But when people just go scot free, then everybody would want to do the same thing. Even though the six months could seem so small because
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