President Muhammadu Buhari, in his New Year message, put the blame of the ongoing acute fuel scarcity on some saboteurs. What is your take on this?
I think it was too cheap. He is the president of this country; he has more power than any individual, in or out of government. He is, in addition to being the president, also the Minister of Petroleum and he has all the responsibilities on all matters of oil. Part of the campaign rhetoric when he was running for the presidency was that, first, he was going to make the problem of fuel shortage a thing of the past. He was a minister before and it was felt that he handled the ministry very well. He was a minister before, now a minister and also the president of this country. If he didn’t know that there are saboteurs in the oil industry; if you don’t know that a lot of the crises in the oil industry are man-made and are not inevitable, then it is too bad. Frankly speaking, I think he has lost the right to be a minister. Secondly, all that we have been told about his competencies is nothing but lies. I do not want to take up issues with him or anybody because he has been a minister now since 2015. He must carry the blame and he must stop passing the buck. He should carry his responsibilities.
The first thing he should have done is to apologise to the people of this country. Secondly, after the apology, he should tell us what is the way out because we are sick and tired of this crisis, especially around Christmas and public holidays. Now that he has agreed that there are saboteurs, what does he plan to do to them? If they are going to be punished, how is he going to punish them? Is he going to punish them within the rule of law or is he going to go out and do what he did during his first term as the military Head of State by taking unilateral and arbitrary decision by appointing special tribunals and sentencing people to 60 years, 100 years or 120 years imprisonment? Whichever way you look at it, he has bungled the whole thing; he has messed up the economy of the country and he has run out of ideas, even bad ideas.
He said there is nothing wrong with the Nigerian structure as it is, but the process. What is your take on the president’s position as related to the issue of restructuring?
First and foremost, I think he is being disingenuous. He is not telling us what exactly is his mind and in this kind of situation, whoever is the president or head of government must come clean and tell Nigerians what is on his mind. You don’t have to be 100 per cent correct or 100 per cent wrong, but let us know what is in your mind. I am not one of those people who are blindly supporting this so-called restructuring; in fact, I don’t believe in it. Most of the agitations are based on falsehood.
First and foremost, we should implement the proceedings of the 2014 National Conference. I was there, I represented my own state, Kano, which is one of the biggest states in the country. Let me tell you this: what is being said now on the pages of the newspapers and the social media has no bearing with the reality of what happened at the conference. None of the things which are now being bandied about was even discussed at the conference, not to talk of being adopted. The entire National Conference itself was an act of illegality. They should go to the Nigerian Constitution and tell us where a provision was made for Sovereign National Conference. You cannot amend the documents of a country by venturing into illegality.
As far as I am concerned, whatever is the attitude of President Buhari to the National Conference, he should be truthful and come out clean and clear about whatever he has in mind because it is never a crime to make public his stand on the issue. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo publicly made it clear his stand about a National Conference. There were also quite a number of some other prominent Nigerians who made their position known. What Buhari does not have the right to do, however, is to attempt to mislead Nigeria the way the protagonists of the National Conference are trying to do. That is, coming out to bandy some foreign words that do not have any meaning. He said there is nothing wrong with the Nigerian structure; may be to him, there is nothing wrong with it. But to me, he has no right to come and cause confusion by what he called process.
If he is talking about process and those who are engaging in the national conference did not tell us precisely what they need, over the years they have engaged in waste of time. It was only about two or three months that I started seeing some people telling us that what we need is to go back to the constitutions of 1960 and 1963. Okay, I have no problem with that, but it has to be handled democratically and in an open manner. When they said we should go back to the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, they are telling us that we should go back to the Parliamentary Constitution; they don’t want the presidential system again. Why can’t they come out cleaner to say, ‘we don’t want the presidential system; we want the parliamentary system again’? That is more honest, that is more honourable.
Now that the president is talking about the so-called process, he has not told us what he meant by process. What kind of process: political, legal, constitutional? What does he mean by that? As far I am concerned, it is a very dangerous thing when leaders who are wielding supreme authority for a country are attempting to mislead the people of this country. If you try to mislead somebody, it means you don’t respect him. The attempt by the leaders to mislead us showed that they don’t respect us and they have no right, having gotten the mandate of the Nigerian people, to govern.
So, both sides are just wasting our time. There are very serious issues confronting Nigeria that they should handle. There are more economic, political and security issues, including the Boko Haram insurgency which they claimed had been technically defeated…
But Mr President, in his message, said the group had been beaten…
On the day he spoke that Boko Haram had been beaten, the leader of the group, Shekau, came out on the social media, claiming responsibility for the deadly spate of attacks on many parts of the country. So, I don’t know who is fooling who, but those who are suffering and are being killed daily know that Boko Haram is alive. The man who is supposed to be the Commander-In-Chief is claiming that Boko Haram had been defeated, but who are the people killing people in the North East? Are they ghosts or are they people? Have we gone to investigate thoroughly the underlying socio-economic issues which brought about the Boko Haram phenomenon? This is because, if he believes he has the security of the people in mind, then he should go round and do his homework and make sure that he handles and deals with the underlying problems. But he has not done anything. I never believe that Boko Haram was destroyed; they are very much alive and the problem has increased within the last two months of last year and the first week of this year. So, what is the president talking about?
He also said no human law is perfect and therefore there is a need for periodic structural development, in line with the changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic development. Can you fault the president’s position?
If you analyse what they wrote for him in that sentence, you can see that it is absolute rubbish; he didn’t say anything. I don’t know how that sentence can be interpreted into the type of English Language that I understand. Honestly, forget about it. And that really is a tragedy because, if you are empty, even if good speech writers put up something together for you, at the end of the day, you will still be empty. This is because the emptiness is reflected, not in the speech you read, but in you. Can we look at that sentence and think it will be good for policy formulation? No, it will not. It says nothing, as far as I am concerned and let me tell you, I challenge the speech writers of those in government, the members of the cabals in the government who are around him on a daily basis, to come and tell us, arising from that buffoonery of language, what they want to do, in concrete terms, not in showering useless languages.
He accused Nigerians of not being patient enough that we want an improved condition without considering the available resources and the capabilities that we have…
Well, I agree with him, but then no people who are suffering can be patient. Nigerians are impatient, yes, I agree, giving my little experience in public life. But then, these are people who are suffering. You cannot tell a man who is hungry, poor, wretched and insecure in his surroundings to be patient. You cannot be patient if you are suffering. So, the president has to come, with the available resources and Nigerians also have plans to be patient, but you don’t tell people who are suffering that they are impatient. That is not true and that is not realistic.
Let me tell you this, Nigerians have been more than patient, but unfortunately, their patience has not paid off. If they insist that they don’t want to suffer, they are right. As far as I am concerned, there is no problem with that. But my concern is that what is the leadership doing? What are the people you put in government doing? Most of them he does not know and most of them, they don’t know what we are talking about. Most of them have scandals. What is he going to do about them? He has been asked several times to reshuffle his cabinet, but what has he done? He said he was going to appoint boards of federal parastatals since 2015, but they released the list of the appointments and you don’t know that some of them have died. It took him two years to compile the list and you don’t know that some of them have died. Are you telling me that one of them, somebody who rose to the level of a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) died without anybody knowing about it? In fact, some people will die and you will see the number of condolences and even delegations from the Presidency. But President Buhari is telling us that he didn’t know that some people died. Who is fooling whom?
He acknowledged the high cost of governance and public services and said this should be looked into, to avoid extravagance, waste and corruption in the system. Are you on the same page with him on this?
I think that is a very honest and very sincere observation and I think we must do something about it, but the opportunity for him to do that is gone. If he had wanted to do something about it and if it was something that his administration was keen about, he should have attempted to get the control of his party and the government machinery itself and make sure that he has cowed the National Assembly and from there, the state Houses of Assembly and the local government will also take it too. But let me tell you this: there is nothing he can do now because he has left the course out of the vanguard because it shows from the fact that in his government, members of the National Assembly could challenge him and get away with it.
And the man is not helping the situation. In his inaugural speech, he said he was for nobody and he was not against anybody. These are kind of empty nonsense to clearly prove that this man does not know what competitive representation and democracy demand. You cannot say everybody is your friend and you don’t have enemy or that you are opposed to nobody and therefore nobody should oppose you. In fact, he has been trying ever since to get away and put a very long distance between him and his political party. But it was the party that put him in office; it was the party that gave him the platform to contest for an election and he won. But if he now wants to deny the party after he had gotten into government, it shows that there is gross ignorance or lack of sincerity because you cannot pretend in our system that you win an election outside the party. Nobody wins election outside of the party because you don’t even have the room to contest election without a party. I mean you said you are for everybody and for nobody, but in life there will be some members of your family who will agree with you and some others will not agree with you. So, you don’t simply waive fundamental differences by pretending that everybody is your own. At the end of the day, those who are not your own will not be your own. I don’t know how many people have changed their views about Buhari on the strength of that statement, but since then, he has incapacitated the party; today, the All Progressives Congress (APC), as machinery, is a joke. Governors are holding the party by throwing money around, but at the national level, the party is a joke.
The solution to the high cost of governance is to make sure those salaries, allowances and the complete package of remuneration is controlled from the centre. If the states are to be given the opportunity to make their own appointments, there should be a limit. I am not a fan of military rule, but I think the military regime is better than the civilian government because the latter allows people to, one, decree whatever amount for themselves, sane or sensible, as their salary and to decree for themselves all manners of stupid allowances and to decree for themselves that these monies should be on the First Charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund, whether money is there or not. In my view, that is a very dangerous thing. That is the beginning of the mental mindset which the members of the National Assembly have that they can do whatever they like. But they must be accountable to somebody. As things are now, these people are accountable to nobody and they didn’t care about economic cost of governance. So, why is the president just remembering this now?
We are trying to manage the cost of governance, they are just trying to increase the number of wishful ideas and put it in his speech. A national speech of this nature is supposed to give us a sense of nobility and a sense of national pride. You infuse in Nigerians the need for sacrifice, the need to advance the country and, of course, to itemise the goals of Nigeria within the year or within the next few months of the last lap of the government. Clearly, he wanted that New Year message to be used as propaganda; he has already started his second term campaign and rolled out projects that do not exist on the ground. I can tell you about those projects that he said are in existence or have been approved; I know that almost all the projects do not exist in the North, not even on paper. I follow the road from here to Kaduna and Abuja and I know how many times I lost. I know that most of the projects he is claiming cannot be done and the whole idea of linking every state capital with rail lines is nonsensical. I don’t know their definition of development. What are the elements of development?
So what he did was a campaign issue and not an issue of national address and that is why he is getting so many knocks from so many because, quite frankly speaking, Nigerians are tired. So what are we talking about? This is a very insincere, very sinister and very shameless tactic and you see that it fell flat on its face.
The president also insisted that his administration is always receptive to ideas that can improve governance and ensure peace and stability.
I don’t believe him one bit. I think he is just being economical with the truth. This is the least receptive administration we have had in the life of this country, both civilian and military. It is not receptive because he himself has demonstrated by his own personal examples his contempt for those who elected him and his contempt for the country and its institutions which have already been weakened before he came to power. So telling us now that his administration is a listening government how is that? What areas of his government are dedicated to listening to people? The National Assembly has gone rogue; the political leadership is wayward; his own party is being humiliated on a daily basis, a ruling party that cannot afford the finances to hold a non-elective national convention, having consulted for about three or four times publicly. So, what are we talking about? He should first listen to people around him who are empty or the party which put him in power but which is now non-existent. So, where do we stand? This is not a listening or receptive government at all