By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
National Chairman of All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation, asserting that President Muhammadu Buhari has done well in 100 days.
The President has spent 100 days in office, how would you describe the journey so far?
In 2015, after 100 days we did not have a cabinet. This time in 100 days, we have ministers and from my interaction with several ministers, I learned that the 2020 budget is already being prepared. Government is already effectively on ground. That alone shows a remarkable departure from the past. He has done much in 100 days unlike in 2015. Even the current issues in South Africa, the prompt manner in which the President reacted showed that that President has been working since he was sworn in. He sent a clear message to South Africa that we would no longer accept the humiliation of Nigerians in their country. I think that the President has been very much engaging. I think that as a party we have access to the President. We see him any time we want to see him and share with him whatever we want to do. President Buhari can beat his chest and say that he started well.
Oshiomhole on Debt profile, unemployment, and killings
I am not worried about some of these issues because they were well captured during our campaigns. If you playback the campaign messages, President Buhari was consistently reminding Nigerians that the three issues of which this government was elected in 2015 remain ever valid. They include economy, security, and anti-corruption. Now we did not pretend that we have solved the problem. We have taken the country out of recession and we achieved a positive growth rate of about two per cent. We also acknowledge that the two per cent growth rate cannot be the basis to address poverty on a sustainable basis. We need to grow the economy far above the population growth rate. Ideally, we should be able to hit six to seven per cent. How do we get there? It is a challenge of this government. Now, on the debt profile, people must have a clear understanding of how the debts accumulate. By the time we took over the government in 2015, Nigeria was already a heavily indebted nation even at a time of surplus revenue for one reason or the other which I don’t want to go into now. At that time, the cost of servicing the debt was already very huge. What happens is, as you look for money to service those debts, more debts are accrued. Sometimes when you cannot service all your debts, you recapitalise your interest and the debt by itself keep increasing. Of course, we have had to borrow, and I believe we borrowed sensitively to deal with issues of critical infrastructure, particularly roads and rail. There can’t be a competitive Nigerian economy without rail or good roads in addition to the stable power supply. Now, there are still huge challenges in those areas. That was why in that policy dialogue, we emphasised that the government has to cut cost. There are still a lot of wastages in the system. We do not need a lot of agencies and parastatals in the system. We need to find the courage to do a couple of things differently.
Oshiomhole on Frequency of foreign travels
We need to reduce the frequency of foreign travels and the size of delegation to foreign activities. When you hear of recurrent expenditures, people often mistakenly assume it is about salaries and wages. Some times when you put together what goes into estacodes, Duty Tour Allowance, DTA, and avoidable trips, it becomes obvious that Nigeria is losing money. The President did not leave anyone in not doubt that tough decisions would be taken to deal with the cost of governance.
Oshiomhole on Insecurity
Economic development cannot be achieved in the face of insecurity. As they say, the dollar is a coward it does not go to a war zone. However, we have to acknowledge that this government in its first term did a lot to decimate the Boko Haram terrorists. I saw images on Channels TV showing how United Nations headquarters was attacked by Boko Haram such that people were afraid to go to shopping malls even in Abuja. Of course, this happened in the past. There is no doubt that we need to deal with kidnapping and other crimes. I often joke with the Minister of Labour that he was the first person to be kidnapped when he was a governor. That is in a lighter mood. Kidnapping started under the PDP regime when they were targeting white people but now it is everywhere. It is something we will continue to deal with. And the security agencies must devise new ways and means. I also believe that security chiefs should re-examine their tactics.Also read: Xenophobic attacks: Organizers of Abuja filmfest, AFRIFF suspend entries from S’Africa
Do you think the security agents need to be changed?
I leave that to the judgment of the President. The President is a general and he knows the Armed Forces more than I can ever claim. What matters to me is that whoever is there, whether new or old, must recognise that as the nature of criminality keeps changing, the dynamics keep changing. We must be able to reexamine our tools. It is wrong for people to be trivializing the issues. Ethnic champions should stop approaching the issues from an ethnic perspective. Ethnic champions must take it easy and allow for an objective and constructive national conversation on how to deal with security. All of us are supposed to be players because these people live in our communities with us. If we all decide to report suspicious people to the appropriate authorities, I think half of the problem will be solved. Everybody must contribute to peace-building and secure the nation. That is the best way to go.
Oshiomhole on Restructuring and state police
APC is the only party that has taken the issue of restructuring seriously. President Obasanjo set up a political conference in his time, his successor President Jonathan also set up one, is it not to their shame that they spent taxpayers’ money setting up these structures for the national conversations, in the end, they did not come out with any specific policy. I believe that conversations are going on. I think that whatever anybody wants to say, it is to our credit that we have taken the debate further by setting up a committee. Are you aware that the PDP set up any committee? If they did who was the chairman? Who were the members and what report have they turned out?
But they are not in government?
They were in government. They did not have to be in government to act. If you understand the job of a political party, it does not end with elections. We must continue to engage our people in government. That was why I spoke for APC about our feelings regarding what is going on in South Africa even though the Federal Government is also doing its own thing. PDP as a party exists and they also have some states under their control. It is not beyond the opposition to produce their report on restructuring. I think that we should push people to specifics. APC has gone to some level of trying to address the specifics. This is a Nigerian project, not something that one party will do. As a party, we already have a document we are looking at and we are having a conversation around that document but the other political parties do not have any other thing than throwing words that we need restructuring, but they are not telling us how the restructuring will be.
The most fundamental things we need to restructure are our hearts and our attitude to governance. We need to be careful because at the heart of the Nigerian condition is the attitude of the political elite including the business elite.
Oshiomhole on Criticism against EU, others
My problem is that you quote these guys as if they are neutral. What were the findings of the African Union? I don’t subscribe to the notion that the black man is inferior, so when you list selectively what some people have said, I must remind you of what other people have said that you choose cleverly to ignore. In Edo State, nobody was killed, in Kwara, I don’t know of anybody who was killed there. If they were violence in one or two states is that a basis for a credible organisation to engage in generalisation and condemnation. The truth of the matter is that some foreign interests came with the mindset of regime change. That was why the opposition was appealing to those interests. It was clear that this government’s determination to proffer homegrown solutions that did not go down well with those who wanted regime change. I had the opportunity to engage with some of the envoys who commented on our criminal justice system. When an Ambassador tells the federal government that it ought not to have replaced a Chief Justice who had multiple foreign accounts, we do not need anyone to tell us about their intention.