The government of President Buhari has been an unmitigated disaster.
- You were one of the biggest critics of the All Progressives Congress in the run up to the 2015 elections, how do you feel today seeing Nigeria in arguably in its worst economic situation?
I feel very sad. This is a situation that some of us foresaw. In the first coming of President Buhari, everything went from bad to worse. We had to queue for essential commodities. Raw materials and spare parts needed to keep factories running were scarce. Rather than create jobs, tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs. Inflation rose to astronomical levels. It is not surprising, therefore that, when Buhari was overthrown in 1985, there was wild jubilation throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria.
Today, we are back again to square one. President Buhari has returned to make a bad situation worse. We have no one to blame but ourselves. Given his past record, he should not have been re-elected. George Santayana says: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
- But at the same time, the government has argued that the economy is doing badly because of oil prices that crashed, Nigerians’ over reliance on imported goods and the fact that past administrations failed to invest in infrastructure when Nigeria did better financially. Don’t you agree with the argument?
It is not true that past administration failed to invest in infrastructure. Some of the rail lines that the present government is commissioning are legacies of the Jonathan government. Some of the airports they are thinking of selling were rehabilitated by Jonathan.
The truth of the matter is that, while in opposition, the present government made sure we would not prepare for the rainy day. It mobilised the public against the removal of petroleum subsidy. APC governors fought the government against savings during the oil boom. But now in the oil crash, the government has been maladroit in handling it. While it certainly cannot be blamed for the oil crash, it must be blamed for mishandling the crash. This government is remarkable for making a bad situation so much worse. To date, Nero continues to fiddle while Rome is burning.
- Some people will also say that in addition to all the challenges mentioned above, oil and gas production has dropped due to activities of militants in the Niger Delta area, which has further affected the country’s income and power generation. Do you still think that this government should be totally blamed for the condition in which we are today?
The buck stops with this government and with this president. At his inaugural, the president claimed grandiloquently: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” But after 16 months in office, we now know that President Buhari belongs to the North and not to the South. His appointments have shown a distinct disregard for Nigeria’s federal character.
President Buhari’s maladroit approach to Nigeria’s diversity has created new fissures. Fulani herdsmen continue to kill innocent farmers while Buhari sees no evil and hears no evil. We are now saddled with a burgeoning secessionist movement that gets more incendiary by the day as the government continues to violate Nigerians’ right to self-assembly by shooting down pro-Biafra activists.
It is Buhari’s body language of Northern domination that has energized an irredentist movement in the Niger Delta leading to the blowing up Nigeria’s economic jugular of oil pipelines and installations. President Yar’adua was also from Katsina, nevertheless he was able to broker peace in the Niger Delta. But when you have a president who argues that he should not be expected to treat areas that only gave him 5% support the same as those who gave him 95% support, then it is not surprising if those in the 5% support areas start blowing up pipelines.
I have said it before and I say it again, the problem of Nigeria today is President Buhari. He has shown insufficient sensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity, and this has been highly problematic. President Buhari campaigned for the presidency with a “change” mantra, but he himself has not changed. The change must begin with the president.
- What do you think about the anti-corruption war of this government?
There is actually no real war against corruption going on today. There is not even a fight against corruption, how much more a war. What we have is a government attempt to decimate the opposition and create a de facto one-party state under the guise of fighting against corruption. The PDP was not the only party in power before 2015. Parties of the APC coalition were also in power at the state level. So why is it that only the PDP is being prosecuted?
You cannot fight corruption with corruption. That is what the government has been doing. You cannot fight corruption by abrogating the rule of law. We have heard so much hyperbole about this fight against corruption, but with very little actual results. It has all been just one big propaganda exercise. The fight against corruption has become a poor and pathetic make-shift substitute for effective public policy.
- What is your take on the recent arrest of judges by the Department of State Services?
There is no other way to see it. The invasion of the houses of the judges, especially the Supreme Court justices, was a blatant assault by the executive on the independence of the judiciary. This government has lost all credibility in its fight against corruption. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. The government attacks the judiciary when it does not get the verdicts it wants. It has been complaining that the judiciary is not backing its distorted fight against corruption and has now decided to cow the judiciary to compliance.
It has been blatantly violating the rule of law with impunity. Now it has opened another campaign that it is not getting its way because the judiciary is corrupt. What balderdash! The executive cannot become the judiciary. The executive must also not be allowed to violate the principle of separation of powers in the Nigerian Constitution. The gestapo display of the DSS in invading the houses of the judges in dead of night harks back to sharp practices of President Buhari’s secret police in his first coming in the 1980s. The DSS is not the EFCC. We must resist this blatant assault on Nigeria’s fragile democracy.
- The government recently proposed the sale of some national assets, do you think it was needed?
This should absolutely be resisted. It will just provide another scenario whereby some well-placed friends of the government will be dashed with the national patrimony. In any case, the less money this government has, the better. A government that allegedly spent N270 million cutting grass in IDP camps cannot be trusted with money.
- In the past, you have accused the APC of winning the 2015 presidential election because it was ultimately more unscrupulous than the PDP, what do you think about the recent elections in Edo State?
Do you really believe the APC can win a free and fair election in Nigeria today? I don’t think so! The Edo election was not an election. You conduct an election then collate the result at night and in secret. That is bizarre. What INEC did in Edo did was to inaugurate a new departure in election rigging in Nigeria. The result that was finally announced was out of kilter with what happened at the polling units. In my view, the election will be overturned at the courts. Perhaps the assault on the courts by the executive was part of the process of ensuring the election will not be overturned by intimidating judges.
- If you think it was rigged, some people will argue that the PDP has won elections in Bayelsa and other states under this government. So why then do people accuse the current leadership of INEC of working for the APC or off being an ‘inconclusive body’?
It is not surprising that the PDP won the election in Bayelsa and it would not be surprising if the APC wins an election in Katsina. Bayelsa is the home-state of Goodluck Jonathan: Katsina is the home-state of President Buhari. So we can expect them to prevail in their homestead.
It is right to accuse Buhari’s INEC of being the orginiser of inconclusive elections. Since 2015, INEC has organised inconclusive elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, Osun, FCT, Imo and Nasarawa. Perhaps it was in the attempt to try and break away from this tendency that INEC was constrained to announce bogus results in Edo. This government just does not seem to be able to do anything right.
- From the mindset that the APC is ultimately more unscrupulous than the PDP, what do you think will happen in the 2019 elections?
Under the present circumstances, the only way the APC can win the 2019 presidential election is if the election is rigged. Once bitten, Nigerians will certainly be twice shy. Certainly, it will not be possible for the APC to fool Nigerians again with the kind of pie-in-the-sky promises it made during the 2015 elections. Remember that the naira was supposed to be miraculously made equal to the dollar. Now it is over 500 to 1 dollar. Millions of new jobs were to be created in a matter of months. Now unemployment has skyrocketed. Even the banks have been hemorrhaging jobs.
Nigerians cannot be fooled again. Nobody will be impressed by President Buhari wearing a black suit and bow-tie again. In fact, the best thing for the President is not to even contest in 2019, otherwise he will be disgraced.
I don’t envisage the APC coalition surviving. I see Bola Tinubu seeking greener pastures. What I envisage is another coalition outside of the current APC but with a Northern president. That coalition will include the South-West, the South-East and the South-South with a big chunk of the North. If that happens, Buhari and the APC are toast.
- What do you think about the alleged current travails and conspiracy against Tinubu by a suspected cabal in the North and the presidency?
Tinubu is an experienced politician, but a bad student of history. In 2011, he formed an alliance with Atiku and the PDM, who represents a more progressive part of the North, but could not prevail against the colossus of the PDP. Therefore, in 2015, he entered into an alliance with Buhari and the core North, which has never even had any progressive pretensions. There is nothing progressive about President Buhari. Everything about the president’s politics was smoke and mirrors. He commanded the support of a significant number of the Northern poor, in spite of the fact that there is absolutely nothing in his CV about advancing the interests of the poor. He is a conservative politician opposed to any restructuring of Nigeria’s polity through a national conference. His only claim to popular appeal is a questionable belief that he is anti-corruption.
It was only a matter of time before uneasy bed-fellows of the APC came to logger-heads. Once the election was won, the APC started falling apart. The PDP wing of the party conducted a coup and high-jacked the National Assembly. Now the organs of the party have been wrenched from Tinubu’s ACN. As we get closer and closer to 2019, the fighting will become more vicious and more incendiary. I don’t expect the APC to survive.
- You wrote an article on ‘time to rally around Tinubu’, but some people will ask why they should do that when he was just another politician losing a political game. What do you say to that?
My article was not a personal defense of Bola Tinubu. My criticism of him in the past has never been personal. They have been about political strategy and, I daresay, political wisdom. My article was written as a defense of the South-West against what I see as a political plot by non-South-West outsiders to use the power of incumbency to split the South-West vote against the South-West.
The political reality on the ground is that Bola Tinubu controls a significant degree of South-West political allegiance. It has made him the bride of several of the more recent presidential elections. Without Tinubu’s ACN, APC would not have materialized. Without the support of the Tinubu wing of the APC, President Buhari would not have won the nomination for president of the APC. I keep having to remind people that the North did not vote for Buhari in the APC poll for the presidential nominee of their party. The North voted overwhelmingly for Kwankwaso and Atiku.
Without Tinubu’s wing of the APC, President Buhari would not have had the semblance of a national spread. The election would have had to go into a second ballot because the President would not have met the statutory requirement of getting one-third of the votes in two-thirds of the states. Without Bola Tinubu, Buhari would have been, at best, a Northern president.
Therefore, the current assault against Tinubu is not only an assault against Tinubu: it is an assault against the South-West. It comes from a determination split the Tinubu coalition in the South-West. In effect, it is an attempt to diminish the power of the South-West in Nigerian politics. My position is that this must be resisted politically.
- Tinubu, we know is a godfather, so are you saying that Nigeria is better off with god-fatherism in politics?
I would be the last person to speak in favour of godfatherism in Nigerian politics. It is anti-democratic. That was precisely why I spoke against Tinubu’s style of politics in the past. But whether I like it or not, the reality is that Tinubu has been operating as a kind of godfather of South-West politics, and that his godfatherism has been effective.
If the current assault against Tinubu had been about his godfatherism, I would have lent my voice to that and said “count me in.” But the assault against Tinubu is an attempt to replace a South-West godfather with another godfather. What is worse about this is that it is an attempt to replace a South-West godfather of the South-West with a North-West godfather of the South-West. That is unacceptable. It would amount to going from the frying-pan to the fire.
In politics, you have to be a political realist. You never really get your ideal situation. You often have to choose between bad choices. Often you have to make a choice between two flawed candidates. I am from the South-West. Ideally, I would rather not have any godfather of South-West politics. But barring that, under the present circumstances, I would rather have Tinubu as the godfather of South-West politics, than have Buhari as the godfather of South-West politics. To the extent that a Tinubu can never be the godfather of North-West politics, then Buhari must never be allowed to be the godfather of South-West politics.
- And even if Tinubu is being persecuted today, some people will also say that he has not totally lost out and that he has been rewarded for his efforts so far. After all, he is one of the richest men in the country. How would you react to that?
I am not qualified to speak about Tinubu’s riches. So I cannot tell if his riches come as a political reward or as a result of his industry. I don’t even know how rich Tinubu really is. But, in any case, I doubt if Tinubu has been or could have been financially rewarded for his political efforts under the present dire economic climate. The resources for doing that are now few and far between.
The issue is about political reward. In politics, power is traded for power and, in that regard, the balance-sheet for Tinubu at the moment is very dismal. He has been used and dumped. He has received next-to-nothing for his huge political efforts. Even the President’s wife acknowledged that, without Tinubu, her husband would not have become president. So what has Tinubu been given for his efforts? Nothing!
After the election, there was a lot of speculation that Tinubu would be rewarded with nine nominees to the president’s cabinet. He got none. His candidate for Speaker was rejected. His candidate for President of the Senate was rejected. He has not even been made Chairman of the APC Board of Trustees. All he had is a glorified title of “National Leader,” which does not even get him a seat on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party.
I believe that is why he has now found it necessary to relinquish even that inconsequential title, so that it can be evident to all that he has received nothing for his efforts. But the enemies of Tinubu in the APC coalition have not stopped there. They are now determined to cut down his Iroko tree in his power-base of the South-West. Time was, when it was presumed that the main organs of the APC was controlled by the Tinubu wing of the party. But the recent shenanigans in the party, in particular his public spat with the John Odigie-Oyegun, the chairman of the APC, shows that that control, if it was ever there, has now been lost.
- It is even surprising that you appear to be coming to the defense of Tinubu now when you probably blame him for bringing the current government in and it is obvious you don’t like this government and the APC Tinubu is part and parcel of. How would you react to that?
I think I have been justified in my dislike of this government. The government of President Buhari has been an unmitigated disaster. To tell Nigerians that now is preaching to the choir. I still blame Tinubu for being a midwife of this disaster. But my concern now is not about the past. My concern now is about the future.
Nigeria is a democracy. In our democracy, there are periodic elections. The next presidential election will hold in a little over two years’ time. Immediately the last election was conducted, the jockeying started for the next one. That is the reason why one of the first things this government did in coming to power was to arrest Sule Lamido. The alleged grounds were corrupt practices while he was governor of Jigawa. But, as far as I am concerned, the real grounds was the realization that he would give President Buhari a run for his money if he were to win the PDP nomination for president in 2019.
So, as I said, my interest is in the next election. My position is that under no circumstances should President Buhari be allowed to win another election in Nigeria. Four years of this government is more than enough. What is irritating is that, instead of implementing policies to better the lot of Nigerians, the government is making political moves designed to secure the re-election of the president in spite of his atrocious performance in office. This must be resisted. We need another president in 2019. We have had more than enough of President Buhari.
- If the alleged conspiracy against Tinubu continues in the party, do you think that Buhari or any candidate he brings forward can win the presidential election in 2019 without Tinubu’s support?
That is why I say it is time to rally round Bola Tinubu. If we rally round Tinubu, we will ensure that the South-West cannot be used again. If we rally round Bola Tinubu in the South-West, we will ensure that the South-West cannot be used to play political football in 2019, which seems to be the agenda of some of Tinubu’s now undisguised enemies in the APC. With or without Tinubu, I don’t think President Buhari can win another presidential election in Nigeria. He has no record to run on. Without Tinubu, the president should not even bother to run. But his body language says the president still intends to run. Moreover, there are still others in the APC coalition jockeying for position. What they are trying to do is get the South-West vote without Tinubu by cutting down Tinubu. What this amounts to is an attempt to get the South-West vote by enslaving the South-West. This must be resisted politically.
- If you think the APC may lose the election in 2019 without Tinubu’s support, then isn’t that a good thing since you never wanted the APC in power in the first place?
As I said, my concern is really not about Tinubu. My concern is about the bargaining position of the South-West in the coming political dispensation in 2019. The South-West should resist any attempt to neutralize it and diminish its power at the table.
- Do you honestly think that our economy would have done better under former President Goodluck Jonathan if he had won the last election with the way he was being regarded as ‘clueless’?
You can continue calling Goodluck Jonathan clueless if you like, but it is now clear that he had a far better grasp of running the Nigerian economy than does President Buhari. To be frank with you, one of the problems we are confronted with today is that President Buhari is clearly out of his depths. The president simply does not know what to do and he does not seem to have around him the people who know what to do. One of the indices of good leadership is appointing the right people to meet the challenges on the ground. To date, President Buhari’s cabinet is remarkable for its mediocrity. No matter what you say of Goodluck Jonathan, he had some very capable hands in his government. Many of them are now occupying choice positions at home and abroad. That is why at some point in the life of this administration, I wrote an article in the dailies saying it is time to beg Okonjo-Iweala to come back.
- Some people ask if you are a PDP-sponsored writer, with the way your articles seem to be more in support of the party than the APC. What is your answer to that?
I don’t belong to the PDP. I have never belonged to the PDP and I will never belong to the PDP. I am not a politician and I will never be a politician. It should be possible to criticize the APC without it being assumed that you are sponsored by the PDP.
- But don’t you think that the two parties are two sides of a coin as some Nigerians believe?
APC and PDP are tweedle dee and tweedle dum. They are yin and yang. That is why there is so much cross-carpeting. Today you are PDP; tomorrow you are APC. Quite a number of the APC bigwigs were yesterday’s APC musclemen. Nevertheless, in what is, to all intents and purposes, a two-party system; you still have to choose between them.
- You criticised Buhari, when he promised to make the naira equal to the dollar during his campaign then What is going through your mind now that our naira is over N400 to a dollar? Is it ‘I told you so’?
I think you are a little behind on that one. It is now over 500 to the dollar. There is no benefit in saying “I told you so.” No Nigerian can be triumphant about a situation that has impoverished us all. The problem is that there does not seem to be any end in sight. The naira is in free-fall. The government is in the laboratory, trying different experiments because the people it put in charge just don’t know what to do. But they would be the last to admit this.
The current state of the naira is perhaps the greatest indictment of Buhari’s presidency. What was he thinking when he promised to make the naira equal to the dollar? What is he thinking now? How could he have been so wrong? It shows President Buhari does not understand economics. He does not understand public policy. We are stuck with him until 2019. But come 2019, Nigeria deserves a better president.
(Interview with Punch Newspaper, 22nd October, 2016).