Senator representing Ogun East District at the National Assembly, Prince Buruji Kashamu believes that President Muhammadu Buhari has all it takes to stem the rise of corruption in the country. He also speaks on the current fuel scarcity as well as the Forex crisis in Nigeria in an interview with journalists in Lagos. Olaoluwakitan Babatunde was there. Excerpts:
It has been said that the anti-corruption war of President Buhari is targeted at members of the PDP. What is your view on this?
I am shocked and embarrassed by comments that the trial of the people who allegedly misappropriated money that was meant to buy weapons in the war against insurgency is a political witch-hunt of members of my party, the PDP. The master minds of that crime wanted the war to escalate and if that had happened unchecked, the insurgency would have spread to other regions of the federation. The insurgents were already violating the peace of Abuja with tragic bombings and it would have been just a matter of time for states like Kogi, Edo, Ondo and Ekiti states, that are just a couple of hours away from Abuja, to be affected. The energy dissipated on undue criticisms and media bashing could be channelled into proffering alternative solutions to the issues affecting us as a nation. As at today, our security agencies have succeeded in weakening and pushing back the Boko Haram elements.
President Buhari has his work clearly cut out for him because this ongoing fight against corruption must be valiantly and consistently fought until Nigeria is free from the menace of corruption. This fight must be fought at all cost because it is the fight for the soul and future of our great country. It is a fight for the dignity of the citizen who is vulnerable at the point of rendering his patriotic duty just like some of the people who have been implicated in this unfortunate arms money scandal.
Political parties continually engage in fund raising and it is difficult to know the difference between money that was raised from such an exercise and money that was stolen from the treasury. Only those in government knew the true sources of the funds that they disbursed. And now, our great party, the PDP, is being stigmatized. The PDP is a good party that, like any other human organization, got infested with bad people. As a matter of fact, many high net worth individuals in the party and outside donated money for the last elections.
But the money was not managed by the PDP. It was mostly members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) that managed campaign funds in their various states. Thus, any party man sent to pick up campaign funds from them will simply assume that he was going to pick up money the party got from its fund raising and not misappropriated government money.
Are you saying parties should not be funded by government?
The culture that makes it possible for the party in power to be financed with public funds should be completely eradicated. It is high time parties looked for creative ways to fund their activities. Members should make donations and pay dues to their parties. Party administrators should rise above mere sloganeering and find a way to implement this. We should get to the point that parties will stop laying claims to public resources simply because their flag bearers won the elections. In fact, independent candidates should be encouraged to contest elections, and it will be catastrophic if they too decide to treat public resources like their personal estate.
Do you think the political class cares about the people?
The cry of the suffering masses is palpable and nothing should be left undone in the quest to alleviate the level of poverty and despondency in our nation. Whenever I remember how uncomfortable some top public officials were with a few days’ delay in the payment of salaries, I wonder about what it is like for less-privileged Nigerians across the states whose salaries have not been paid for months.
This is not the time for grandstanding and patronizing before the very same people that the political class is destroying. I have repeatedly said that we are done with the campaign and this is the time to knuckle down in unity and work for the people who voted us in. Let us all save the partisan arguments for the next campaign. Now, we all must team up with the President. We must at this time mobilize support for the Federal Government from the masses in our various constituencies because, God forbids, if anything untoward happens to the Federal Government, it will affect all the other national and state institutions, and more importantly, the masses.
This counsel is the moral obligation I owe to my people and should not be misconstrued as an attempt to switch from my party, the PDP, to the APC. When the elections come again, I will be a war horse for my party. But, right now, I am pitching in to contribute my quota to national reconstruction.
Nigeria is experiencing another round of fuel scarcity. How can we put this behind us?
First, it should be noted that the fall in the price of oil is a global phenomenon. And for a nation that generates over 80 percent of its revenue from oil, the fall in price was bound to affect us, especially when we failed to save for a rainy day. Let us all be realistic instead of playing on the intelligence of the masses. Nigeria is experiencing the consequences of the destructive tendencies and policies of past administrations that failed to act responsibly by dangerously creating the impression that Nigeria was making progress. The writing was visible on the wall and it would have just been a matter of time before Nigeria fell flat on its face without the current intervention.
The current attempts to revamp the sector are being sabotaged by remnants of that clique at the NNPC and its depots who are determined to continue selling products above approved official rates. While Mr. President and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources are working hard to reposition the oil sector, there is a clique that is hell-bent on frustrating their efforts. They ask the oil marketers to pay the official rate of N75 per litre into the officially-designated accounts and then ask them to pay a difference of between N30 and N35 per litre into a private account or bring it in cash. It is only those who cooperate with them that they allocate products. When the difference is added to the official rate, it shoots the price up to over N100 per litre.
To solve this problem, I think the allocation of petroleum products should be centralised, and the EFCC should be empowered to investigate transactions between the depots and oil marketers and scrutinize their finances in a bid to fish out unjustifiable funds. Henceforth, there should be a verifiable census of all marketers who are eligible for allocations and such allocations should be made from the office of the Minister in Abuja. This will be a replication of the BVN in the oil sector.
Do you think the President will deliver on his promise of change?
A new government is usually born on the promise of hope, change and a better future. Ours is not an exception. The United States of America was also on the verge of a debilitating economic crisis in 2008 when a courageous black man, who refused to be intimidated by the onerous task ahead, traversed the length and breadth of the country, convincing the people that change was possible and imminent. Americans gave him the nod with their votes and invested their trust in him. The initial period was tumultuous as the economy spiralled downwards before it began healing with the policies of the “change” government.
President Obama inherited a huge deficit worth trillions of dollars and unemployment figures in millions. But seven years later, about 14 million jobs have been created, the budget deficit diminished and the economy is sustainably growing. No matter what the naysayers would profess, the “change” has healed, restored and prospered America. The same can happen with us, if we, as a people, are united and decide to create the enabling environment. Let us not forget that this government is what we have right now and we have the option of either fighting it to death or supporting it to succeed. The former is not an option because Nigeria might not survive such a political turmoil.