Rep Aminu Sulaiman, Chairman, House of Representatives committee on Education recently raised the alarm over the alleged lopsidedness in the selection of the 2014 candidates for the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID). In this interview with Umar Muhammad Puma, the lawmaker insists that the scheme must conform to the provisions of the constitution as it relates to the Federal Character.
You recently had a meeting with Chairman of the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID), Professor Julius Okojie, on the alleged lopsidedness in the list of the 2014 successful candidates for the scheme. What informed your committee’s decision?
It is regrettable that as a nation we are here again confronted with what I will describe as deliberate attempt by those responsible for executing government policies, by action or inaction, to have committed a very serious alteration that is capable of sending a very bad and negative signal to a very large chunk of the community of the Nigerian people; suggesting that the government is trying, by way of deliberate policy, to deny them the right to enjoy patronage by the government as guaranteed and enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 14 and 17 as applicable.
We have received reports from about 24 states out of thirty six states of the federation protesting the non inclusion of even a single candidate from their states to enjoy the presidential scholarship on innovation and development.
The petitions received further stayed, in the opinion of the petitioners, a deliberate attempt by those appointed to execute the presidential scholarship to exclude those states that were mentioned. It is worrisome when the whole three geopolitical zones of northern Nigeria were almost completely not represented. If not for the mere allocation of one slot to Benue, one slot to Kwara, and three to Kogi state, you will conveniently say that the entire northern states are not represented in this exercise.
We view this, as far as we are concerned, as unfortunate; as reprehensible and unacceptable. As an arm of government, we are determined to assist our colleagues in the executive to ensure that the sanctity of the constitution, to ensure that the country is not portrayed in bad light and to ensure that the intension of Mr. President is not manipulated to serve the parochial interest and by implication portray the President himself in bad light.
I’m sure this is not the intention of Mr. President and I can vote with my heart that the President would not be happy if he sees this kind of attempt by those that ordinarily should try and place his administration in good light through their action and inaction.
Why is the House interested in the program only this year considering the fact that scholarships were awarded last year?
I have to be very frank with you, as the Chairman of the House committee on Education, I just got notice of this nagative development this year. As a matter of fact, it is an advitisement that the NUC placed in national dailies which gave the names and references of those that were qualified to enjoy the presidential scheme, that broke the news. When we saw this, it really beat our imagination and within a twinkle of an eye, under 24 hours, barrage of petitions, some through text massages and calls, began to pour into the members of the National Assembly from those states affected.
We have petitions even from Bayelsa, the President home state. We also have from Cross Rivers which also recorded zero. But the volume of the petition came from nineteen northern states which were completely denied. And we look at this as a very dangerous initiative by whoever is concerned. At this state, we have not even arrived at a decision as to suggest that we are accusing anybody of deliberately excluding these states that are affected, but some people may be right to conclude that this is deliberate.
Therefore until proved otherwise, the National Assembly, through the committee, will ensure, like I said the sanctity of the constitution, particularly as it relates to the specific chapters of the constitution which guaranteed the right of all Nigerians to enjoy patronage from government without consideration of their political belief, their faith, their geopolitical zones must be upheld. No Nigerian should be denied such opportunity.
Don’t you think those states you mentioned actually do not have qualified candidates for the scholarship?
This question, just like the answer the NUC Executive Secretary gave, is laughable; very, very laughable, unfortunate and reprehensible. How can you conclude that there is nobody that merit a presidential award in nineteen states of the federation; from three geopolitical zone. How can you ever think like that?
Secondly, what is the principle behind the formation of a schoolarship. A scholarship, is supposed to be an incentive, a sort of subsidy particularly to the disadvantage and the indigent and particularly to those that can easily access independent funding of scholarship. How can you say that there is no single individual that merits a schoolarship in the entire region? How would you conclude that there is nobody that merit a scholarship in two third of the entire country? No, this must be a joke. And those who perpetrated this have taken the joke too far.
Where do you think the problem is? Because from the look of things, it is likely the President may not be involved in the process of selection?
You see let me not sit here and pass judgement, since I’m privileged to head the committee on education investigating the matter. But, I also hold a personal opinion as a representative of one of the constituency, and one of the state that is completely denied and excluded.
My responsibility as a chairman is to establish the fact that there is no deliberate policy to exclude people from whatever diverse background. However, after establishing that, I also have dual responsibility to also ensure that the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, as mentioned in the course of this interview, is not violated by any serving public officer, either to please himself, or to think that by his action, he will be pleasing the head of the government.
One of the the most unfortunate thing that bedeviled development in Nigeria is our sycophantic nature. We always want to assume the role of a mind reader, to be able to read the mind of our principals. This is what he will like and this is not what he would not like, and in the process, you made an error of wrong judgement. Because if it is actually established, in an attept to please the powers that be, they might be wrong, because the powers that be may not be as parochial and sentimental as those who are operating the scheme.
I do not know the President very well, but my personal assessment of him is that he will not buy into this nonsense. I want to completely believe that the President will not buy into this. And if that is the case, then those who made this judgement has made a huge deficit of the integrity of the government, of the integrity of the ministry, and of the intergrity of those selected run this scheme.
Like we were briefed, government picked the base persons in specific displine, and it presupposes that these people should be above parochial interst. And if this people talk of merit, it is a simple arithmetic that by the time you allocate specific numbers to each state, and say the states must produced those with A’s in certain discipline, no state of the federation that will not be able to produce such numbers.
But where you put merit together, and begin to pick from a basket, it is ovious that you are moving into personal agenda, and I hope it is not going to be so at the end of our investigations.
Now that the House has put the entire scheme on hold, what next? What if the body ignores the House order and continues with the process? What will the House do in this regard?
I don’t think they will. They won’t dare to do that because we are running a government and the House that gave the directive is an arm of the Federal Government and therefore, we have given a specific directive and we are empowered to do that. Our responsibilities presupposes the defence of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is supreme. And therefore nobody can dare, with impunity, to go ahead with this.
The dangers: I’m not sure those who executed this actually are mindful of the provisions of the constitution and the political consequences of what they have done. Minus elected representatives, anybody appointed to serve in any position in the Federal Government, either at the executive or at any other level, is serving at the pleasure of Mr. President, and Mr. President is not a President of any state or any section, but a President of entire Nigeria. Therefore, he doesn’t have a constituency, his constituency is the entire country.
I only have responsibility in Fagge federal constituency of Kano state. Outside Fagge federal constituency, I lack mandate. The President have the mandate of people from Chibok village to Badagry in Lagos state and any other place in the country. He has a very comprehensive mandate and therefore those who are doing this are actually out to blackmail the President. And as a member of the legislature, I will ensure that nobody blackmails the President.