Interview

Chief Clarence Olafemi, former Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly and one time acting governor of the state, spoke withYekini Jimoh on topical national issues and the state in particular. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government?

I have told people that we first need to find out why President Muhammadu Buhari was persistent with his ambition of becoming the president of Nigeria. Buhari’s persistence to be president of this country was because he already knew much about this country. He is not the only one. Many had been in government up to the presidency and knew what was going on, but a lot of them kept quiet. I don’t want to say they kept quiet because they were afraid or didn’t want the country to disintegrate, but Buhari saw it and felt that if given the opportunity, he could make a difference.

He contested for the first time and lost. In his second and third attempts, he still didn’t give up until the fourth time, then, you should have known that the man was not coming in because he wanted to enrich himself or because he wanted to make a name. He believes that corruption is the root cause of our setback as a country – a former PTF chairman with little assets – and up till today nobody has come out to challenge his assets. What an honest person!

You can see how the economic situation in Nigeria has been bastardised by some selfish individuals. What do you want to do, for instance, with 1 billion U.S. Dollars for God’s sake? Is it for you to secure yourself or your family? When I was in school in Okene, the school authority in the afternoon gave us free oranges, free banana and would also provide us with free clothes, inner wear, trousers and soaps.

They provided us cap for Sunday service and Muslims too for their Friday prayer. In fact, virtually everything was free and yet, there was no oil boom. But the leaders then were very mindful that they needed the resources of this country to develop the country.

All the over-head bridges were built by the Gowon regime in Lagos and it is the same over-head bridges that are still there up till today, with the exception of the third mainland bridge. So, which recent development has taken place in this country?

Look at all the industries that we laid their foundations – instead of reviving them so that employment can be generated – our people turned their eyes against them. If our leaders had made sure that NEPA functions well, there would be no need for generators and the cabals would not have any generators to import.

If the automobile industries that collapsed at the same time in this country are functioning now, don’t you know that more than 200,000 Nigerians will be working in those places? They were established and functional. But what was responsible for their collapse?

This is economic disaster caused by massive embezzlement of Nigeria’s money. So, when he got to power, he wanted to face the scourge of corruption. My problem now is that the man knows that the problem of Nigeria is corruption and he doesn’t care if he uses four years to fight it. But he needs to be careful because Nigerians are not patient.

We have problems in the petroleum sector and the president will like to fight them. The cabals too will not keep quiet; they will fight back. So what we need to do now is to find a balance between cleaning up the mess and moving the country forward. If you fight corruption for the next four years, people will say the president has not done anything. So, he needs to be very careful so that at the end of his four years in office, people should be able to say he has done well.

The president has been accused of victimising some innocent people in the fight against graft. Do you think that is correct?

It’s a normal expectation in a situation like this. The president is not victimising anyone. They are right to think that way because corruption actually did not start with the Jonathan government. Corruption started far behind. I wouldn’t know because I did not serve in Yar’Adua’s government or Obasanjo’s government, neither did I serve in Abdulsalam’s nor Babangida’s government. But corruption started not from Jonathan. We had devalued the naira several times before we got to where it is now, and why? It is because people were dodging to solve the problem head-on; they found a short cut to cover it up.

We were importing massive crude oil while the refineries were not functioning and bad people were benefiting from the importations. All these are corruption. We had a situation, where our roads were bad, and yet if something was 1000 naira, somebody will just add another zero behind and it would become one million naira. A lot of our monies were stashed outside this country by people who had been in government.

We don’t need to be told, but the president knows this himself. I have strong feelings that there is no way you could solve those problems without stepping on toes. I still strongly believe that he must go beyond Jonathan’s government. However, if he tries to carry the load at once on his head, the pressure will collapse him. I believe even now that he is carrying too much load because there are still many issues he needs to look into. Look at the corruption in the railway sector, oil sector, arms deals and others that the president is yet to fully investigate.

There is a swirling insinuation that the president and Senator Bola Tinubu, a leader of the APC, are not in good terms. As a member of the party’s Board of Trustees, do you not think such in-fighting could affect the standing of the party in 2019?

As a member of the BoT of the party, I am not aware there is problem between the president and Senator Ahmed Tinubu. But even if it is true, I believe there are no true friends that will tell themselves the truth and not quarrel. Where they may not quarrel is when they refuse to tell each other the truth. But I can tell you that the APC I know has been through hell before it could stand as a party.

Sometimes, whenever a problem was coming, you would think it would consume the party but it usually did not. For instance, giving the party name was a heated debate. Setting up the structure was another problem. Choosing the presidential candidate was also a problem but because APC was the only option open to Nigerians for change, everybody swallowed their differences when it came to moving the party forward.

Whatever the problems, they cannot be more than the problems that we had encountered before. I believe that the leadership of APC is very much conscious of this. However, if the APC collapses now, we will hold some people responsible and we will say to them that it is as a result of their selfishness because there is no need for it to collapse.

In the first place, it was Buhari, who chose his minister and some of us had our reservation, but what can we do? That is the beauty of democracy and life must continue. That does not mean because I was not considered for a ministerial appointment, I must kill the party in my state or because I was not made governor, I must kill the party. It is easy to kill the party than to build. Don’t say that the man that lost out can’t kill the party; he can kill the party but if such a person made any attempt to kill the party, it means that he joined the APC for his selfish interest in the first place.

I didn’t join APC for my selfish interest. I saw that the economy of the country was in bad shape and we needed change. There are a lot of expectations from Nigerians. We will surmount any problem that comes our way before 2019.

Having acted as a governor for a brief period, what was your experience like?

My experience as Kogi State acting governor during that short period was full of challenges. Each time you are on the seat of governor, all you have to do is to call unto God to give you the wisdom, knowledge and understanding otherwise, it is not easy to be a governor of a state, particularly Kogi, where you have so many numerous interests – tribal and religious – each transforming into political interest.

Once you become governor of a state, you should see yourself as governor of every part of the state not just where you come from. You should equally see yourself as one, who has the development interest of his people at heart. Kogi depends so much on federation account because we have little to generate from the state unlike Lagos State, where a local government council can function effectively because of its IGR.

If you have a small state like Kogi with little IGR and you want to behave flamboyantly like Lagos, Delta or River States, you will crash. If you suspend federation account for one month in Kogi, that means you are killing the state. To pay staff salaries alone, you need 2 billion on a monthly basis. So, as a governor, it becomes a serious headache because you have little to generate.

How will you describe the appointments made so far by Governor Yahaya Bello?

Well, it took the president many months before appointing his ministers. So, I believe the appointments His Excellency, Yahaya Bello is making now are an ongoing assignment until his government finally sits properly. One month is too small in the life of a governorship of four years. But the ones he has announced now are his personal aides – they are not constitutionally bound. He doesn’t need to go to the House of Assembly to request for approval for the appointment of Director of Protocol or Chief Press Secretary to the governor or any appointments announced so far.

But as governor of this state, he needs competent hands because APC was massively voted for by the people of Kogi State. Those of us who are very close to him are trying, albeit politely, to caution him not to bring in people that are novice on the job. He should not repeat the mistakes of the immediate past governor, who brought people from outside the country – some from Ghana and Canada – and at the end of the day, they ended up disappointing him.

The Governor should mix old hands with new ones so that he can have proper advisers. Well, the present deputy governor was a two-time legislator; he should be able to use his experience to guide the governor in the area of legislative reform. I have made up my mind to support Yahaya Bello and anybody I am supporting, I will tell him the truth.

I will never deceive him. I will tell him the way I see it. It’s my party, he is my governor and if he does not do well, all of us will bear the burden. He is a listening governor. Whenever I go to him, as busy his office is, he is never in a hurry to dismiss me from his office. He listens attentively to what I tell him and he admits wherever he thinks there is a mistake with explanations.

If you don’t see anything good about Yayaha, you will never see anything good about his government. You don’t criticise just for criticising sake. So, let us give Governor Yahaya Bello a chance. He is just coming on board. We need to assist him and cooperate with him because he means well for the state.

The governor recently directed that all workers in the state must be screened as a form of recertification of their employment. Do you share his position?

The screening must be done. Part of the allegations either true or false, is that the Permanent Secretaries had compromised because they were the chief accounting officers of each ministry. So, if there were ghost workers, they must have tolerated it. I support the governor to go to any length to flush out ghost workers in the state and the local governments’ civil service so that a greater percentage of the people will be sure of their salaries at the end of the month.

For the eight years that I was in government, we never owed one month salaries. It is criminal and sinful that somebody works for you and at the end of the day you refuse to pay that person. It is criminally-minded people that will be criticising the screening that is ongoing.

The immediate past government failed to pay political appointees their four months salaries and severance package. If you have your way, will you advise the present government to pay them?

I advise the governor to pay all political appointees that served with the immediate past administration. They worked for it and so they should be paid. Once it is established that they have not been paid, it becomes the responsibility of the governor to pay even if you have to pay in installment, you just have to pay them.

What is your relationship with former governor Ibrahim Idris?

Our relationship is still cordial. He was my boss as governor of the state. We still talk when it is necessary. I may be his boss tomorrow and we could even still find ourselves in the same party.

Quote

Whatever the problems, they cannot be more than the problems that we had encountered before. I believe that the leadership of APC is very much conscious of this. However, if the APC collapses now, we will hold some people responsible and we will say to them that it is as a result of their selfishness because there is no need for it to collapse