Who would have known the shocking trials that Dino Melaye faced in the early years of his life. Dino Melaye is a senator of the Republic of Nigeria representing Kogi west. He is also the Senate committee chairman on FCT. In this interview with Chinenye Ugonna and Nnenna Ibeh of NAIJ.com, Melaye shared his life experience growing up as a child, his career, Saraki’s ongoing trial and many more. Read interview and watch video below.
Who is Dino Melaye?
Dino Melaye is one Nigerian who lives below politics. I am a distinguished senator of the federal republic of Nigeria, former member of the House of representatives. I am a social crusader. I am an anti-corruption campaigner. I founded an NGO called Anti-corruption network. I graduated from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and I also attended university of Jos. I went to University of Abuja and studied political science. Even as I speak to you right now, I am still a student. I am doing another masters in international relations and diplomacy in ABU Zaria. I am single. I have three kids. That's just me.
You lived your whole life in the North. How was life growing up?
Growing up in the North was fantastic. The North used to be a very peaceful place. I was born in Kano and grew up in Kano. Has my first degree in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria. I lived in Kaduna till graduation before I moved into Abuja. So all my life I have lived in the Northern part of the country. Unfortunately, the North is not as peaceful as it used to be. Jos used to be a very tourist attraction centre because of the weather. Growing up as a child in the north was very interesting. I had the opportunity to have a cooperative religious knowledge. I have a very deep knowledge of the Quran, a little Arabic and those days there was no discrimination. It was fantastic!
You mentioned earlier that you are a social crusader, is that where your flare for politics came in?
My flare for politics has always been there. As a child, I was the first to organize the first protest in school when I was in form two. When we were being shortchanged in terms of feeding on the boarding school. I started the press club in secondary school and eventually became the head boy. I was also head boy in my primary school so I have always had the leadership skill at a very early part of my life. In university, I became the student union president so I will say it's inborn. I played politics in the university, I contested president of my university and I won. I rose to become the student general of the West African Union. Politics has always been part of my life and my definition of politics is an instrument to change the life of the down trodden. For me, politics must be developmental and once it's not, it's not constructive. It's an avenue to make the society a better place.
Knowing that you represent Kogi west, what have you done since you assumed that position?
The first motion of the Senate was mine which was the deplorable condition of the roads in my town which passed. As a result of that motion, the Senate set up a fact finding committee to find out the statute of Nigerian roads and I can say because of this, one of the major roads I complained about is in the 2016 budget which is the road to kabba, some substantial amount of money has been provided in this year’s budget. For the past two weeks, my contractors are in various sites. That is ongoing. We have a programmer coming up in three weeks which is one for widows and we are going to have the 13th edition in May where we empower widows. We also have a skill acquisition programme for the younger ones, also scholarship for the indigenes. We are also going to provide some automobiles for some organizations. Some buses have been purchased. I do not believe that politics will be an infrastructural purpose but human development in terms of creating jobs for my constituents that we get our share of the national cake and political appointment, we are not shortchanged or sidelined. I am sure we have a legislative agenda and we are going to follow it up.
Yahaya Bello was accused of frolicking with the PDP. What's your take on that?
As I am sitting here I am a leader of the party in the state. The highest decision council in the party is the national executive council where the president is a member which I am too. My own part is the part of reconciliation which is what we are doing now.
What will you say about politics in Kogi state generally?
The state and development has eluded us absolutely because of past administration. There's is a lot of amelioration and commitments to be done. But now, we need to be more transparent. Completely under developed, no sign of development. It is a glorified local government. We do hope and pray that with the APC now at the helm of affairs because of evaluation and monitoring within the party, we would be able to grade ourselves.
You talked about people's participation in politics in your state, are there plans to replace the late junior minister of labour and productivity, James Ocholli?
Definitely, it is a constitutional thing that every state would produce a minimum of one minister. It is a matter of constitution and definitely there would be a replacement for Ocholli but the choice of that replacement is at the pleasure of Mr. President. But we are also obliged to make nominations or suggestions on that.
What would you say about the late Ocholli?
Ocholli was a very great Nigerian, I regard him as one single Nigerian with multiple competencies, highly intellectually mobile and mentally sagacious. He helped in the building of the party, he helped in the founding of this party, he was a member of the constitutional committee at the formative stage of the APC and more importantly, he is a gentleman, a pastor and reverend, a highly regarding family man.
It is a great loss and growth to the people of Kogi state. James Ocholli was a very civil Nigerian, very patient, unassuming and very humble, it is a great loss. On the day Ocholli died, you arrived the National Hospital Abuja in what people called "one of your unique cars". This also sent an uproar on social media, what is your reaction to that uproar?
My reaction to that is that maybe people are just being myopic. That is a tricycle, that is a "Keke Napep". It has got three tyres, so I do not know what is exceptionally fantastic. I did not go there with a Ferrari, I did not go there with a Lamborghini, I did not go there with a Rolls Royce. It is a tricycle.
Did you go to the hospital straight from your home?
I was actually racing because I bike. I was actually racing and I was on Kubwa express road when I was called that Ocholli had passed on and that his corpse was on its way to the National Hospital and it was also a spontaneous reaction. But even if, that was not it, it is the gesture of showing compassion and concern.
Whatever took me there, a donkey, a tricycle, an okada, is not important. And everybody has got his flair, everybody has got his passion and whatever I do, I do it openly and flaunt it lavishly because they are not proceeds of corruption.
As the Senate committee chairman on FCT, you promised to investigate land allocation since 1999. How far has your committee gone on this?
Yes, basically, we have set up machinery for the investigation on the allocation of lands and it is not just that we are interested in finding out how lands were allocated. It is because of the abuse of the Abuja master plan. Abuja is the only city in this country that is planned and if not properly tele-guided, we may end up having a Lagos in Abuja where the place becomes so crowded with houses built on green areas, houses built on sewage, pipelines and the eventual negative concomitant effect can be very disastrous.
So there is a need to main a strict adherence to the provisions of the master plan, if not, there would be congestion within the municipal and there would be no expansion and buildup of satellite towns. What we should concentrate on is the provisions of infrastructural facilities in satellite towns so that no one will need to live in Wuse, Asokoro or Maitama. You can live in the suburb and still benefit from what is happening in the city centers.
Then if those infrastructural facilities are provided, Shoprite can as well have a branch in Kubwa, in Gwarimpa, they can build a Shoprite in Gwagwalada, and other satellite communities of the FCT. So we have no compromise about that and irrespective of class, status or persons, we are going to make sure that the right thing is done. And we are ongoing on that and you will recall that some powerful Nigerians were already stopped from working on their construction sites. The illegal allocation of Maitama hills have been stopped and work have stopped in those places. I have no fear of any Nigerian, I mean, I fear no soul, and I only respect souls. And I can assure you that the right thing will be done, there would be no compromise in making sure that the regulations, laws and extant provision of this constitution is carried to the later.
Abuja is supposed to be the pride of Africa, it is supposed to be the pride of this country and we would not allow it to be messed up. The environment is so dirty, Abuja is so dirty and there is traffic abuse, illegal business transactions on our highways, hawkers, left, right and center. Cars parked on major roads and abandoned for days, prostitution on our major roads and major streets. This is not the Abuja of our dream. Abuja should compete with New York city, Abuja should compete with Washington DC, it should compete with Abu Dhabi. And that is what it should be because the city itself is modeled after Brazil and we must make sure that we correct our mistakes early enough before they become uncontrollable.
What other plans does the committee have to bring all these you mentioned to actualization?
We have engaged consultants, very professional consultants who are working on some details and we have given them till the end of May to give us an agenda for the committee. I want to believe that by the time we get this, we would swing into action. To make sure the sanitation in Abuja is seriously standardized, to also make sure that transport system in Abuja is being controlled, the bus stations must be respected.
Taxis will not just stop at any place but the bus stations, people should walk into bus stations. They were constructed for use but now they have become abodes for either mad people or garbage. We are a civilized people, we have no other country but this country, so we must do everything possible to make sure that our capital city is decent and with international respect and dignity.
When you are driving into Abuja you should know that you are in a Federal Capital City, so we would do everything to make sure that the sanitation in this country is up to standard. I have told the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency that we need to rejig the place, we need to wake them up and we need to punish those who have bastardized the activities of the place. Apart from the transport system, we would also look into water provision, we would look into electricity provision, we would look into road maintenance and especially blockage of drainage lines that have the capacity to cause catastrophe, especially during rainy season.
We also have to look at traffic in the city, and we also have to make sure that we look properly into constructions in Abuja; you cannot build a mall without sufficient car parks. And if you are going to build a mall, you should have either an overhead parking space or an underground parking space. So we would make sure that the relevant agency in Abuja that is responsible for this, that is the Abuja developmental control. When you have cars littered everywhere, eventually the place will be dirty. So these are issues we will bring up. So even the land allocations, the buildings are wrong areas or presidential areas, you will see commercial buildings coming up there. It’s unacceptable anywhere in the world. The corruption in the civil service especially the land sector where there is double allocation of land. All those corruption will have to go. We have to have a system where the real owner is identified and those guilty will be penalized. These are areas we will be focusing on. Our oversight functions will be taken seriously.
You threatened to beat up James Manager, is this true?
Unfortunately, only one media house reported it and that is Sahara reporters. You know who they are. No sensible person takes Sahara reporters seriously. It is a commercialized media outfit. Unfortunately, they are getting away with all they are doing because they are not registered corporately in Nigeria. They have no office, they are not a member of the Nigerian union of journalists so it’s just a cyber-operation of some commercialized purposes who report falsehood most times. I will not want to belabour myself from lies. If it were to be a major outfit, I would have reacted, but the truth is James Manager and I spoke last night. There is no reason for the reports but Dino Melaye is a head to sell Sahara reporters news so that’s why they mention my name every day. They should start paying me premium for using my name.
You are known to be a very controversial person. Is this how you really are or this is just what the media reports?
The truth is the only one to be afraid of is God. He is the owner of my soul. If everyone keeps quiet in the face of obscurity, and injustice then the word will not be a better place. I fear no soul and my conscience is clear. I have never done government contracts in my life. Whether in states, federal and local government. I have never been in the executive where I manage funds so if I have never been involved in any government transaction, then that is why I am not afraid. I have six university degrees. If I can’t convert that to money, then I am intellectually stagnant, myopic and porous. I serve a God who answers prayers and he said he will grant my heart desires. So whatever my heart desire is to give him a call and He never gives me missed calls. He has been awesome in my life. I had a very lonely background. My parents could not pay my school fees at form 2. I trained myself through secondary school, I trained all my younger brothers and sister. I trained myself through university. I stay in the university then go for Minna and Kano for jobs and come back to school. I’m from a humble background and I am very proud of it. So you can mentor Nigerians that you can make it from grass to grace. I want to tell Nigerians that you do not need to have a name with a NAFDAC number to be successful in this country. For those who think I am being flamboyant, they haven’t seen anything yet.
What type of menial jobs have you done?
I have worked as a bus conductor, sold mineral and Kunu, as attendants in filling stations. I have worked in Nickle sweets in Kano, I worked there for six years. Whenever I am broke in school, I go there and work there all through the night. I bought my jamb form from being a conductor. It has not been rosy. People always ask questions like what does he do, he is a thief etc, my business is my business. You want me to expose my business so you can destroy it. I am a politician. Whatever I do is my business but I will never do anything illegal. I was arrested last year alone by Jonathan’s administration 14 times.
I am one of the most investigated Nigerians maybe what they are yet to find out is where my placenta was buried and they will have to go to Kano to get that. Anyone who has any negative thing about me should please come out. Even right now, I am being investigated, petitions with the EFCC, some with the CCB, I even got information that the bureau is investigating me, I laugh at this because it will turn out to be a beautiful nonsense. I am a straight Nigerian and have never been involved in anything illegal. Today I can buy a private jet and I will buy one and put a D on it. I did not steal, I cannot steal and I will not steal. I abhor corruption so for Sahara reporters who are trying to say what they can say about me, they are just making me more popular.
How did this affect your education?
It definitely had an effect on me but I was also hardworking. I was able to pull through.
Would you say that has shapened you as a person?
Definitely yes! I am not frivolous, I know the value of money. I am big time into properties. Most times when I am not working, I am on my sites and not only in Abuja, I do property business everywhere and it pays. I do a lot of consultancy outside this country and it pays. When I try to enjoy the dividend of hard work, people say he is corrupt.
Sahara reporters listed my vehicles the other time and I told them you forgot that I also have a Rolls Royce phantom please add that. They said this house is valued at 1.3 billion and I told them they are undervaluing my property. It’s over 2bn naira because I did not steal. The richest man today is Warren Buffet, he did not steal government money, the owner of Procter and Gamble did not steal but for some myopic minds, you have to be in government or steal government money to be rich. That assumption is myopic. Nigerians should encourage people who work hard to get what they have. I have a flare for cars and I have no regret about it.
Everyone has got its passion. Once you passion is not in the terrace I have a flare for cars and I do not regret it. For some people, its cocaine, some its jewelries, some like Dieziani, its diamonds, some collect inanimate objects, shoes. So everyone has their passion. And once your passion is not against the doctrine of God then so be it. While they are wasting their time, I am already arranging for a new one.
What is your take on the 36 cars acquired by the Senate?
I do not have information about the number but I know vehicles were purchased for committee responsibilities. I know we have about sixty committees but only 36 was purchased. The walk in price for those vehicles is about 31 million so it was ridiculous to read on Sahara reporters that the vehicles were bought double the amount. Once you give out contracts, the public procurement acts require that you give maximum 25% profit. But this particular contract had only 10% profit. Senators are higher than ministers. It is possible that we should put into situation, the economic situation. The legislative arm of government is not the only arm of government. Director Generals use the same vehicles, NGO of parastatals use the same vehicle, and ministers have two or three of such vehicles in their fleets.
They all come to the National Assembly and we see what they come with. SSG in states are using land cruiser jeeps. Because of the economic situation, I can understand that but to say that we are not entitled to it is wrong. I don’t even need it. It is not our car, people forget that. It is a government vehicle and at the expiration of your tenure, you must return it or pay for the devalued price. I was in the house of reps when I was given a 407, at the expiration of my tenure, what they asked me to pay for the car was too high do I returned the 407. I did not go with it. The items that were bought for us, I did not take any so when I was leaving, my severance was intact.
People must understand these issues but because of the misinformation of Sahara reporters, with due respect, Nigerians are gullible. Once you pick a story from there, like wild fire is bring propelled. Let Sahara reporters bring a car dealer that will sell a land cruiser at 17 or 18 million. Even Prado is not 18 million. This 8th senate is all about the people. That why when we introduce a bill, once the people say we don’t want it, the senate will drop it. It is a pro-people senate. Because of outcry, laws that we know that the people don’t want have been suspended or stood down. This senate needs to be encourage.
What happens to the cars?
There is already a government stipulated guideline. If a car is used more than two years then it can be monetized. You have the first right of refusal. So it’s not a gift or your personal car. I am the chairman of FCT. If you are going on oversight functions, what will you use? Most of my cars are sleek cars, I don’t want to drive a Lamborghini on a rocky road, and I need a rugged car, a rugged jeep. So the needed for use is there. Nobody gets it free. You must pay based on financial regulations and guidelines so it’s not a gift and it’s not your personal car.
So once the people say they don't want we stop because they are the ones that those laws would be applied on, so if they say we don't want it, we have to listen. And this Senate have been listening to the people. Because of outcry, laws that would even have a positive effect on our lives have been suspended in reaction to public outcry. So this eight Senate needs to be encouraged to get it right and I assure you we will continue to be pro people.
If you are going for oversight functions what car will you use? I am the chairman of the FCT committee, I drive into the interiors, I drive rocky roads to go and supervise projects; most of my cars are sleek cars. I don't want to drive a Lamborghini for an oversight function, I need a rugged jeep, so the need for use is there and it is not a gift. People with lesser political status use same car in this country and the budget of the National Assembly this year - we are one of the three arms of government. But the entire budget of the National Assembly which includes, National Assembly Service Commission, the PCC that is the Public Complain Commission, which includes all legislative aides numbering over 4,000, salaries. The House of Representatives, the Senate and management of the National Assembly and even the National Legislative Institute, all the budget put together, of the legislative arm of government is less than 2% of the national budget.
And the National Assembly have shown sacrifice our budget for three five years have been steadily a hundred and something billion, it was reduced to N120 billion and now less than N100 billion, come on somebody should say well done!
What is your take on the drama that happened at the CCT, where there was some kind of altercation between a lawyer the CCT chairman, Danladi Umar?
My conclusion on the CCT trial is that we are not in court. We are not in court because the rudiments, the ethics and what they call the rules of the court are not being followed.
There is something called practice direction, the practice direction is not followed. So as far as we are concerned, the trial is not against the senate president, it is against the senate and we are not in court. Instead of being prosecuted we are being persecuted. For example, the judge said the lawyer is not supposed to speak as one of counsel but he was in court yesterday and the same judge took his name down. That yesterday again he was announced as one of the counsels and he took his name down. And for someone to talk to a senior advocate of Nigeria in that manner, someone who also have training as a lawyer; as far as I am concerned we are not in court.
But this whole prosecution or persecution as the case may be is a very long journey and will end up in Supreme Court. So nobody should think that it is going to end up at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. No, no, no, it will end up at the Supreme Court and from the way the proof of evidence is falling like pack of cards on daily basis definitely shows that there is no case.
If I have evidence that Saraki is guilty, I would not support him. But you don't persecute a man because of his admission. It is ridiculous that you say you have evidence against a man but the evidence is burnt. It is ridiculous that you brought a man to court but you never interrogated him or took his statement. Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution as amended is very clear, the principle of fair hearing, it is extremely clear.
A process where the prosecutor does not know the difference between a debit card and a credit card, I mean that's funny. A situation whereby a man is not earning salary but collecting pension which he had donated to a foundation for indigent people and you now charge him that he has been collecting salary after leaving office. So the case as far as I am concerned is persecution, it was orchestrated, absolutely orchestrated.
And there was no petition to either CCB, the foundation to any case in CCB is a petition. Which CCB will investigate, invite you on your infractions, you would respond and if they find you culpable, they will transfer you to CCT but in this case there is no petition. We want to know what CCB investigated before referring it to CCT. So for us, Saraki's four years in the Senate is not negotiable. If Saraki has one trillion supporters, I am one of them, if he has one billion supporters, I am one, if he has a hundred million supporters, I am one; if he has 10,000 supporters, I am one; if he has one supporter, I am the one.