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OBITUARY: Wakili, retired customs comptroller who spent less than a decade in politics

OBITUARY: Wakili, retired customs comptroller who spent less than a decade in politics
March 17
17:49 2018
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On Friday, Ali Wakili, lawmaker who represented Bauchi south senatorial district, joined the high and mighty at the Kano wedding of the daughter of Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man. They ate; they drank and enjoyed every bit of the moment. He probably planned to attend another high-profile wedding the next day, unknown to him that the party at the palace of the emir of Kano was his last social function on earth.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, who was also at the Kano party, was among the early callers at the residence of Wakili on Saturday morning.

Aged 58; the lawmaker was vibrant and active – especially at the senate. The news of his demise came as a shock to many Nigerians. “I saw him on the floor (of the red chambers) last week, looking healthy and strong,” Dyep Shibayan, a national assembly correspondent of TheCable, said adding, “who could have thought he would leave so soon!”

Saraki, Dogara, Mohammaed Abubakar, governor of Bauchi, and other dignitaries condoling Wakili’s family members

Wakili died in Abuja on Saturday after he reportedly slumped at his residence in Gwarimpa. During his time in the red chamber, the late senator chaired the senate committee on poverty alleviation and social welfare. He was also the vice-chairman of the committee on air force.

As the chairman of the senate committee on poverty alleviation and social welfare, he spearheaded many developmental strides, including the National Poverty Eradication Commission bill passed by the senate in 2016.

Wakili was also outspoken. He sponsored a number of bills and led the debate on many others.

TACKLED HIS COLLEAGUES FOR AMENDING THE ELECTION TIMETABLE

Wakili seated among his former colleagues

The late senator was among the members of the national assembly who openly opposed the amendment of the election timetable. Those against the decision of the red chamber said it might be targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari. Speaking during one of the deliberations on the amendment, the senator had accused his colleagues of not taking into consideration, the cost implication of the re-ordered timetable..

“Why did they wait until after the INEC has come out with timetable? If we look at the cost-benefit to the economy, four elections in one month will be too staggering. It is not well for the economy, politics and security,” he had said.

“We had inside this chamber, considered conference reports and we dissolve into house, look at it clause by clause, raise observations and return it back to the house of reps, why must it be different in this case?”

Abdullahi Adamu, senator from Nasarawa west, was among those who took a similar position with Wakili. Adamu believed that this cost him his position as chairman of the northern senators’ forum. Ovie Omo-Agege from Delta also opposed the reordering of the timetable and was referred to a committee, apparently for disciplinary action but Wakili’s fate had not been decided on the issue when he took his last bow.

‘MAGU’S REJECTION IS IN THE INTEREST OF NIGERIA’

EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu during a public hearing at the national assembly

Wakili was among those who defended the refusal of the senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Buhari nominated Magu in 2015 but following his rejection by the senate, he has remained in acting capacity since then. While speaking at an event organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Wakili said Magu’s rejection is “in the interest of Nigeria.”

“These are eminent Nigerians saying that whether we like it or not Magu is going to be there. Is he trying to blackmail us or not? We took the issue purely in the interest of the Nigerian state. Nobody loves Nigeria more than us,” he had said.

‘CONSTITUENTS EXPECT LEGISLATORS TO PAY THEIR BRIDE PRICE’

Wakili with his constituents

While speaking in an interview in 2017, Wakili talked about high expectations some Nigerians have for lawmakers representing them at the national assembly. According to him, Nigerian legislators are under “tremendous pressure”.

“Constituents expect lawmakers to pay their bride price, sponsor their children’s naming ceremony, dig pit toilets, wells, pay school fees, and write off hospital bills,” he had said.

On the “wrong perception” of the national assembly by Nigerians, Wakili had said: “The stereotypes, misinformation, negative reportage, bad public image and perception of the members of the national assembly, especially the 8th senate, are regrettable. From my little experience, the powers of the national assembly (lawmakers) are not even known to most Nigerians.”

REACTED TO THOSE WHO LABELLED HIM DOGARA’S ERRAND BOY 

Wakili in a group photograph with Dogara

Wakili came from the same constituency with Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the house of representatives and as a result, there have been a few insinuations that he is the speaker’s “errand boy” both at the senate and in the constituency.

But he had denied such. Speaking to journalists during a grand reception organised by his constituents in 2017, Wakili said he had a prayer for such persons making the insinuations: “Forgive them oh ye Lord, they do not know what they are doing.”

He, however, added: “ You see, by my parentage, by my culture, by my religion, my religion say ‘obey God, obey the prophet and those in authority’. Whether I like Dogara or I hate him, whether I like his tribe or I don’t like his tribe, whether I appreciate his religion or I don’t appreciate his religion, in Allah’s infinite mercy and wisdom, Dogara has been exalted above each and every one of us out of many Nigerians. He has blessed him as the fourth citizen, so I owe an obligation to follow, to come to terms with what God has done even if I don’t like it.”

Dogara had described the deceased as a brother, saying he receieved the news of his death with shock.

“The death of Sen. Ali Wakili is a personal loss to me. I’m short of words to describe how devastated and heart broken I am over the passing away of this true friend, brother and confidant, with whom I had excellent brotherly relationship and association,” he had said in a statement.

HIS VIEW ON RESTRUCTURING

Wakili: “We have more issues that should worry Nigerians than restructuring.”

While many Nigerians including Wole Soyinka and Emeka Anyaoku believe restructuring will address the allegations of marginalisation and other challenges in the country, Wakili argued it will not address the grievances.

In a 2016 interview, the senator had said the negative effects of restructuring will be felt mostly by the minority ethnic groups. He had said: “The issue of restructuring revolves around the control of resources, and that is why people are thinking that the federal government has enormous powers. If we devolve powers, I do not think that we would need to restructure.

“If we all agree that restructuring means that Nigeria should be balkanised, then the smaller ethnic groups would have no place to go because the issue of marginalisation would continue to resonate even to the lowest level. So, I don’t know why some Nigerians want restructuring, because if you balkanise Nigeria, so many minority groups will regret it….we have more issues that should worry Nigerians than restructuring.”

‘BUDGET PADDING NOT CRIMINAL’

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo signing the 2017 budget in 2017

The senator added that the allegations of budget padding levelled against Dogara and other princicpal officers of the house by Jibrin Abdulmumin, a Kano lawmaker,  is “an unfortunate distraction” as it is “not criminal as Jibrin is making the issue seem”.

He had said: “Abdulmumin is practising political brinkmanship, because padding a budget is not criminal as Jibrin and his co-travellers are making the issue seem. The budget has gone through due processes and the two chambers and the executive were involved. Where there were issues, they went through it before the president assented to it.”

Born in 1960, the late senator attended Lere Primary School, Bauchi in 1972 from where he proceeded to Government Secondary School, Damaturu in Yobe state in 1977 and later, to Bauchi College of Arts and Science in 1979. He obtained his Bachelors of Arts degree from the Bayero University, Kano in 1982 and proceeded to the Nigerian Customs Training School, Lagos, in 1984.

He retired as comptroller in the Nigeria Customs Service. Among the positions he held at customs were comptroller, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos; comptroller of Seme and Tin Can Island port area commands, still in Lagos.

According to his profile on the website of the national assembly, he retired from customs in 2009. After leaving customs, he joined politics but lost in his bid to replace Bala Mohammed, who was appointed minister in 2009. Mohammed emerged winner of the 2007 election in Bauchi south senatorial district but ex-President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him into his cabinet two years later.

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