Frankly speaking, I think we will be unfair to the President on the issue of ministerial appointment. The President was elected for a term of four years. If he spends four months planning what he is going to do in four years, I don’t think it is out of place. When you appoint ministers, they don’t come to office with their own agenda. Ministers are handed the government agenda and party manifestoes to implement. It is the government that says this is my blueprint. This is what I want you to do in education, health or agriculture. We all agree that ministers can as well contribute to it. It is the responsibility of the government or President to have a blueprint. It is the blueprint that the ministers are going to implement. In the past, ministers had been appointed within two or three months that the president assumed office, but what has been the result? What has been happening is that they are either removed, reshuffled or you have to relieve some of them because they cannot perform. The President as far as I am concerned was short-changed by the last administration. The Transition Committee that he set up was not allowed to function the way it should. In short, handover notes were not handed over to us until May 26. It was then that we knew what we were inheriting. That is why the President is taking his time, calling every ministry, and asking to be briefed. Again, there has been some useful effect to not appointing the ministers because if they have been in place, the President will not have access to the information he has. The permanent secretary would have reported to the Ministers. The perm secretary would not be able to see the president directly, except through their ministers. All the information that we are hearing about $600 million being diverted might have been buried. The information by the Ministry of Mineral Resources that touts have taken control of the industry, if that kind of briefing had not taken place, the people will not get to know. I think Nigerians should look beyond this obsession for ministers. At the end of the day, the President will be held responsible for the quality of his policy. And it will not be a credit to him that he appointed ministers within one month and things did not work. I believe that the President is being thorough, very meticulous because he really wanted to know what he is inheriting before he appoints ministers. Basically, if he appoints ministers today without knowing what is on ground, what is the brief that the President is going to give? All the report that the President is getting is forming part of the blueprint that he is working on. He has promised us September and it is just around the corner.
Does that explain why he has not also appointed the Chief of Staff, SGF etc?
You see, The Chief of Staff and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), are people that relate daily with the President. So, the President must appoint people that he has confidence in. I believe that the President has the prerogative to choose who he wants. If he has not found a suitable person, they should give him more time. At the end of the day he would be held accountable for any decision he takes. He has assured us, and I am sure when he will come out with the appointment, Nigerians will applaud him. They will applaud him, just like they applauded the appointment of the MD of NNPC.
Nigerians and investors are worried that there is no clear cut policy direction of government on the economy for now; what path is government towing?
I think the economic direction of the government is very clear, even from the manifesto of the party and also from the steps taken by our government. When people say they are worried about the economic direction or policy of the government, I begin to wonder what the problem is because the action that has been taken, would determine largely the economic direction of government. Nigeria’s economy depends on oil, for the 70 per cent of its total revenue. Unless you get that industry right, the entire economic policy will wobble. I think getting the reform in the petroleum sector right, has been the pointer to what government direction is heading. Not only do we a have world acclaimed reformer and expert at the helm of affairs in the NNPC today, but we have also taken certain bold steps. This shows that even the refineries that were not supposed to be working, by 2016 they will reach 90 per cent capacity. And when you look at the economy today, what you spend on oil accounts for more than 40 per cent of your foreign exchange expenditure. Now, if you get your oil industry right, with the refineries working, you need to import less. And then you also spend less money. The Federal Government has issued a statement directing everybody to pay into Treasury Single Account (TSA). If you ask me, what is the economic direction of this government? I will say transparency and accountability.
Can the refineries be optimally utilized to set the economy in the right direction?
As a matter of fact the Kaduna refinery is capable of producing five million litres per day and that is at a loss.
Is it not better to sell them to people who can run them? What about the subsidy issue being raised regularly?
I don’t share your position. Take the issue of timing, there was a time in this country, when the refineries were working and we were exporting refined products. So, why can’t we go back to that era? Without prejudice to those who want to set up refineries, if we sell these refineries today, if they work in the hands of the new owner, it is either they improved on their equipment or the work ethic has changed. I don’t think selling is the only solution. It can work, and we can reach the capacity of 20 million litres a day. I think it will solve our problem. Nigerians don’t even know how much fuel they consume in a day. We are told it is 30 other say 40 million but all we know is that when we reviewed the package only five companies were involved, now it became seven. What Buhari has read and there has been of lot of literature on this, he is yet to be convinced whether there is subsidy or not. If we refine oil locally, the issue of subsidy will not arise at all. Today, if we import the entire 40 million litres that we need, it means we are subsidising the entire 40 million litres if there is any at all. But, if our refineries start working, if we need to import at all, it is only the balance that we are going to import. We seem not to understand the mathematics, when oil was selling at $140 per barrel, Okonjo-Iweala told Nigerians that we were subsidising with N72 per litre. She said this is because the cost of crude accounts for 80 percent of the cost of refined product. Therefore, if we are paying subsidy of N72, when oil was sold at N140, the subsidy that will be available now, when oil is sold at N50 or under N50, should be an improvement. The President wants to be sure that where there is subsidy at all and if there is how do we cure it. And the best way to cure it in my view is your local production capacity. So far, he has not been convinced on the argument for subsidy removal. The issue of subsidy is not a close issue. There are many schools of thought on the issue.
Members of the PDP have accused the President of being selective in the anti-corruption war; how accurate is the allegation?
The President has said no member of my party will escape justice. Now, people, especially PDP members are saying the war against corruption is selective. That only PDP former governors are being probed and I said it is not true. Murtala Nyako was an APC governor, he is facing the EFCC. Silva, Goje are under probe, so that argument is not valid. The truth of the matter is that if there is going to be a probe, and it is going to affect everybody, for every one APC member, there will be 10 PDP. Let us face the truth, who were on the board of NNPC were they APC people? How many governors did APC have compared to PDP? Even at the height of our glory, we had only 14 governors, they had 22 governors. Who had been in power for 16 years? Who made all the appointments? It is only natural that they should top the list.
What do you make of the row over the acting INEC chair, Mrs. Amina Zakari, who Prof. Jega handed over to? The PDP is insinuating that she was given the job to manipulate the forthcoming governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States.
People are not seeing the appointment of Hajia Amina Zakari in correct perspective of the law. They are not divorcing the person of Mrs. Zakari from her position as a national commissioner. The Constitution is very clear on who can be the chairman of INEC. The President alone can nominate the chairman of INEC. And the only condition attached to it, is that he must be a person of integrity and must not be under 50 years. Look at Mrs. Zakari, forget that she was a national commissioner. The President could today like Jonathan did the other time, pick somebody from outside the commission and make that fellow the chairman of INEC. It is also clear that if he can make a substantive appointment, he can also make an acting appointment. In other word, he can nominate the chairman of INEC. The law also inferred that I can nominate whoever is going to be the acting chairman. There is no law that says that the acting chairman must be an INEC commissioner. Mrs. Zakari, and I keep telling them this argument would have held water if she is a new appointee by us. Mrs. Zakari was appointed by the PDP government. Whether she is related to Buhari or not is irrelevant. We met her there; she was the most senior and Jega handed over to her. When her tenure expires she just became an ordinary Nigerian like me and you. Her appointment as acting INEC chairman has nothing to do with her past as a former national commissioner. Just like Buhari could have appointed you in acting capacity. And unless they can tell me, if the law gives him power to appoint a substantive, that he cannot appoint an acting chairman. They know and are only being mischievous. It would have even been a different case, it the law says that only a national commissioner can become the chairman. The we would say, you cannot become chairman because your tenure has expired. When Jega was appointed, he was from the university.
As to the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, a President must never be intimidated. Once you are convinced of the correctness of your position, you have checked with the Ministry of Justice and you have not violated the law, no matter the noise, just remain focused. And that is where the issue of Mrs. Zakari comes again, she is not our appointee, we met her in office. There is no record that she has been biased. But, if you allow them to intimidate you, the next person you are going to bring, won’t that person be an appointee of the President?
What is the guarantee that the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa will be free and fair? In addition, what are you doing about electoral reform?
If you had listened to the President, he keeps saying that there will be free and fair elections under him. For the electoral reform, if not for the adoption of the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and the Card Reader, he would have not won. Clearly, we will uphold the innovation. Our government is going to improve on the level of transparency that helped us to get to power. The President has said so, even in his inaugural address that the electoral reform will ensure that henceforth, government will be elected solely on the wishes of the people of Nigeria. I don’t think the government is going to micro-manage any particular agency responsible for election. We came to power on the back of a ‘free and fair election’; I think it is morally right to ensure that the elections do not come short of expectations.
What have been the President achievements since assuming office?
If you look at the areas which we have based our campaign, security, corruption and economy, I think he has achieved a lot in these areas. If you look at the area of security, he has succeed in channelling international, national and regional supports in the fight against Boko Haram. We now have a rejuvenated Nigeria army, that is far more purposeful and mechanical to tackling the challenge of Boko Haram. We now have the Multi-national Joint Force (MNJF) to combat the insurgents. We have been able to impress it on the US to review its law to allow their troops to come and train our personnel to combat the menace. We are of the view that Boko Haram cannot only be combated with weapons, but we are looking at the underlying causes of what have made the ideology attractive to young men. This we believe is the economy, the lack of jobs and things like that. I think it is a step in the right direction that the Vice President is visiting the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), to give them hope. I think the facility by the World Bank of $2.1 billion will go a long way in making the Boko Haram fight successful.
It is true that in recent time there have been cases of suicide bombings in the Northeast, anybody who is familiar with insurgency phenomenon, will know that it normally happens when insurgency is on its way out. A year ago, about 14 local governments were under the full control of Boko Haram in Borno State alone. They had their emirs and collected taxes, they even hoisted their own flags, today you cannot find such a thing.
But Jonathan was able to handle them…
There is no doubt Jonathan did a lot, but we kept the pace. We could have lost territories back to them, but we have not lost one inch. We have been able to dislodge them from the Sambisa Forest. What we have now is lone suicide bombers. I believe that the new crops of Service Chiefs, many of them have intelligence backgrounds which they will deploy to the combat.
On the economy, I think the trip to the US has been largely successful. We have been able to get commitment in the area of power, agriculture and health. We have been able to secure almost $11.5 billion commitment and we have been able to get 20 committed business interests of international repute to invest in our economy. Locally on the economic side too, I think we must give credit to the government for the bailout package. Without it many of the states would have been on strike by now. There would have been massive industrial unrest. What the President did much more, I think is the restructuring of the commercial bank loan for 20 years tenure. Most state governments were choked, they were spending between 20 and 30 per cent of the allocation servicing debts. Now, they have enough money not only to pay salaries but to embark on projects.
I think in the area of transparency and accountability, he has encouraged lots of people, to come and invest in Nigeria. The cost of doing business in Nigeria is now far cheaper than it used to be. Again, the President’s directive that all payments be made into a treasury single account will also help in enhancing the economy.
On the war against corruption, the President has achieved a lot. He is one person that has the political will. And sincerely there is enough laws in Nigeria to address the issue of corruption and bad government but what has always been lacking is the political will to tackle it. There is no new head in ICPC or EFCC but all of a sudden they have reopened all cases, all because there is a man at the top that will not stop them from doing what they ought to do.