|Buhari’s Transition Committee Chairman Joda|
Ahmed Joda, a retired permanent secretary, chaired President Muhammadu Buhari’s Transition Committee, which interfaced with former President Goodluck Jonathan’s team. In an exclusive interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the ‘super permsec’ of the 1970s and 1980s, would not reveal any of the recommendations his committee made to President Buhari.
But he was forthcoming on the state of the nation and the challenges the new government will face in the next four years. Malam Joda was frank and witty in this explosive interaction.
Can you recall your experience when you were appointed to head the APC transition committee and your feelings over the appointment?
I really don’t know how I felt. I had gone to bed and there was a bang on my door at about 1:30 am and I was naturally feeling sleepy and even afraid that anybody should wake me up at that hour. But they persisted so I opened the door and asked what it was and they said it was the president-elect who wanted to speak with me. I woke up a little bit jolted and the person who was on the telephone said the president-elect wanted to speak to me but they couldn’t get me earlier so he had just gone up but wanted to see you tomorrow. I do get surprises like that sometimes but I went to bed and slept without knowing what he was calling me for. But I guessed that it must be some kind of involvement in the transition, though I didn’t know in what capacity.
The next day I flew back to Abuja and met with the president. He told me about my appointment as chairman of his transition committee. I thanked him for the honour and privilege to serve our country and that was it. He then gave me a letter with the terms of reference attached and said I should do the work in two weeks and I made two observations. That, for the size of the task the number of the members was too small because I anticipated that we needed to set up a number of specialized committees that would receive volumes and volumes of papers from both the government and from other interested parties: the business community, the society groups, individuals who felt they wanted to make an input. He explained to me why the size of the committee was kept too low and I said the time was too short, but he said I should try and do it. Our first problem was where to meet and work; how to get the personnel that would help to do the work, set up the secretariat and appoint the resource persons, appoint rapporteurs and everything. It took us three days to find a suitable area of buildings where we could do our work efficiently. We then had to buy the computers and the necessary hard and software with which to work.
At the end of the first week we were ready to go and I had my first meeting with the former secretary to the federal government after one week of being appointed and we learnt that the government handover notes, upon which our terms of reference were based, would not be available to us until sometime in May, which would be four weeks after we were appointed and two weeks after our mandate would have terminated.
We had to strategize to receive memoranda; sometimes even without invitation there were a lot of memoranda coming from the public, trade groups, chambers of commerce, industry experts whether oil or gas, agriculture or electricity or transport, railway, waterways, port, harbours; everything was coming. But there was nothing coming from the government and we did not receive a single piece of paper until May 25, four days to the handover. This came in many volumes amounting to 18,000 pages so we had to set up our work groups and about five sub-committees. We spent the next three to four days trying to sort these papers out and assigning them to the various committees. We couldn’t start real work until the first of June and we eventually submitted our report and our recommendations. on Friday the last week to the president.
Specifically, what were the major terms of reference given to your committee?
Broadly speaking, we were to receive the handover notes from the outgoing government, study the notes, analyze them and make recommendations to the government on the economy specifically, on governance, security, corruption, on ministries and departments of government and agencies, defence; nearly everything you can think about. Specifically, we had to look into revenue streams from NNPC, from Federal Inland Revenue Service, Customs and other big corporations of government.
In the course of your assignment were you under some kind of pressure from people coming to lobby for one favour or the other?
There was a lot of that from people who wanted contract, who wanted to be given special favours.
They were coming to me day and night and I said to them these are my terms of reference; they didn’t include things like award of contracts or recovery of bad debts from government or for employment of any group of people or individuals.
I told them these were not part of our terms of reference. But we continued to receive them and nobody believed me when I said I could not appoint them ministers or chairmen or whatever; they said look you have influence on Buhari and I said I don’t have and even if I had I didn’t think he would respect me if all I did was go to him with piles papers and saying he should do this favour to this or that man or this or that woman. Also, I was inundated with telephone calls. For example, somebody telephoned and after introduction said he wanted to vie for the position of minister of sports. I said well I don’t know the address to which you would send it to.
Did you come under similar pressures from people connected with the government of the past government who wanted to cover or influence certain things?
No! Not one single case. I have had people coming to me to say they had information about what went wrong, but I said to them we were not an investigative panel, and even if we were given that term of reference we would politely tell the president that we could not be investigators because we didn’t know how to investigate and more importantly we didn’t have time to undertake such investigations. But where people submitted documents incriminating people we just put them in envelopes and sent them to the relevant authorities.
You said it was barely four days to May 29 when you received communication from the past government’s transition committee. How did that delay impact on your assignment?
Of course, it delayed our work because we were mainly to receive the handover notes from ministries, departments and agencies of government. But we could not receive them for five or nearly six weeks after our appointment and, to that extent, our work was delayed. But as soon as we realized that this was going to happen we devised methods of getting our information because so much of this information is in the public domain. The problem was that you couldn’t define the true situation in the government.
When you submitted your report to the president you called on Nigerians to be patient with him over his cabinet appointments. What informed that appeal?
Well, I was the chairman of the transition committee in 1979 when General Obasanjo handed over to president Shagari. That handover was the military deciding on their own to handover power back to the civilians. They conducted the elections, accepted the outcome and decided to hand over and go and rest. There was no acrimony between incoming and the outgoing government because they were all polite and nice; it was smooth. By the time I was appointed chairman the Obasanjo administration had set up a complete office, furnished it and equipped it together with committee and conference rooms. He had also appointed people from the civil service and from the private sector to serve as rapporteurs, resource persons and so on. All we needed to do was to walk into these offices and start work; absolutely there was no problem.
In 1999, I was on what Obasanjo called Presidential Policy Advisory Group under the chairmanship of General T.Y Danjuma and I was Number Two and the same thing happened. We had a complete office block already made, vehicles and buses and our accommodation had been booked and when you arrived everything was smooth, including all the handing over notes were prepared on the first day. We had everything. Now, this election is the first time in the history of Nigeria that an opposition party had uprooted a ruling party. It was not just changing the president or changing the members of the states or national assemblies. We were all witnesses to the election campaigns, how bitter it was. There were predictions that the country would collapse; there were also all sorts of allegations and counter-allegations and the environment was very hostile.
People were expecting the worst, but God, in His infinite mercies, diffused all the tension but, perhaps, the outgone government did not expect to lose the election, I don’t know. They lost the election and had to put up a brave face. I, as a person, I completely understood the difficult situation emotionally they were in but the meetings I had with both the SGF and Vice President Namadi Sambo were extremely friendly. They offered me all the cooperation and we discussed things as Nigerians. I personally decided that I was not going to enter into any controversy or make the situation worse.
In any case, whatever they did or did not do would not likely affect the critical question of the change of government on May 29. And if they didn’t give us any information that information would be ours on that May 29. Therefore, I worked on this basis and I think our committee accepted that way of doing things instead of creating unnecessary additional tension to the political environment.