Hon Opeyemi Bamidele, a former member of the House of Representatives, said to Olakiitan Victor in an interview that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration will start to do well by its second year in office. He also spoke about the modalities for electing candidates for the 2018 governorship poll in Ekiti State. Excerpts:
One year in office of President Muhammadu Buhari hasn’t impressed many people. Do you share the same view?
Well, it depends on the individuals making such opinion. But let me tell you, Buhari has not in any way deviated from his promise to make Nigeria a better place in four years. Though some harsh policies like the jacking of petrol price and increment in electricity tariff have been witnessed, but these were not enough to say President Buhari has
failed us. What is very clear now is that the economy is very weak and needed to be rejuvenated. I want to assure you that things will take a positive turn before the end of the second year of the APC government in the saddle.
When the President was campaigning, he placed high premium on two things – corruption and insecurity – which were two scourges bedeviling the nation before assumption of office. Now that the greatest plague crippling the country’s economy, which is corruption, is being tackled headlong, we now have the prospect of overcoming the present economic challenges and assume a status of economically viable nation.
Let me just add that in line with the 1999 constitution, President Buhari was sworn in for a four year term. And during electioneering, he promised to tackle corruption, unemployment, insecurity, strengthen the economy and ensure improved power supply. If in one year, the man has been able to tackle corruption and insecurity, then this should not be taken as a failure. But in a developing nation, employment generation and power supply remain the two economic indexes that touch the lives of the populace and the fact that enough has not been achieved in these two critical sectors created the anxiety in the system.
But I am of the view that it takes a while before any nation like ours with high level of poverty and dwindling economy to disentangle within a short time from economic problems the way a country will respond to the challenges of corruption and insecurity. So, they require patience and Nigerians must understand this. What Nigeria needs as a nation at this critical period is patriotism and not unnecessary politicking and emotion that won’t be in the benefit of all citizens.
Security has not really been contained with the emergence of the Niger Delta Avengers and IPOB. Are you worried about these developments?
Every right thinking Nigerians must be worried by these bombings and killings in the name of agitations for the people, who were not even in concord with the militants or agitators. But I appeal to the Niger Delta Avenger Militants to drop their cruel destruction of pipelines and oil installations, to avert further economic crisis in
the system. I want to urge them to pursue their demands by exploring constitutional means, which include dialogue and roundtable discussion than to be taking up arms against their own nation.
These activists should not be oblivious of the fact that the bombing of installations would inflict physical, economic and emotional injuries on the Niger Deltans more than any other part of the country. They have not even come to the public to say what they want except the ones we read on the social media that they wanted unconditional release of Col. Sambo Dasuki, the IPOB Director, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the former PDP Publicity Secretary, Olisah Metuh and that the charges of corruption against one of their leaders, Government Ekpomupolo aka Tompolo must be dropped. If we are to dissect all these agitations, they sound so political and no reasonable government will accede to such.
Though I am not saying all that had been happening in the Niger Delta region like oil spillage and death of aquatic lives were good, we still have to toe the line of civility in fighting for our rights. Commonsense would still have to prevail and the only way to show this is for these agitators to come to a roundtable discussion. The Niger Delta is the fowl that lays the golden egg and Nigerians must be grateful to them. We have to see ourselves as brothers and keep on engaging each other in thorough discussion and bargaining.
War has never settled anything, anywhere. Even if we decided to go to war, everything will still end on the roundtable because we can’t fight till eternity. Nigeria fought civil war for three years and we later resorted to a roundtable discussion. I want to appeal to our brothers not to exhibit any fear under President Buhari. It seems as if some of them thought their rights or the collective rights of the region seem threatened under President Buhari. I don’t think it is right to have such erroneous thinking.
President Buhari commenced the clean-up of Ogoni land recently which no government has ever contemplated. Ogoni land is in Rivers State and in terms of appointment, the South-south have enjoyed serious patronage from this government and I think they have to reciprocate this to keep Nigeria as one and to further accentuate the fact that we are brothers. Beating war drums will not help us. Threatening to kill our President will only ridicule us the more as a nation.
What do you suggest is the way out?
The President has been speaking to those with influences in Nigeria. Recently, he met with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and later, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. I am quite convinced that the issue of insecurity in the South-south would be discussed. And what actually gladdened my heart was the fact that prominent people from the zone like Chief Edwin Clark had risen up to condemn the destruction of oil installations in the area, which shows that there is hope in sight.
These leaders must help us mediate with the agitators. They must call them to order. They have to prevail on them to drop their guns and negotiate with the federal government on how development can come to the Niger Delta area and not for few to be pursuing what favours them at the expense of the generality of the people. I believe the federal government must quickly engage these leaders, so that the process of mediation and possible settlement can be done expeditiously.
Recently, Governor Ayodele Fayose banned open grazing in Ekiti because two people were killed in Oke Ako Ekiti by suspected Fulani herdsmen. How do you describe the development?
Killing under any guise is not justifiable. The killing to me was so unfortunate and capable of undermining our peaceful co-existence as a nation. The Fulani herdsmen and the land owners had been living together in Ekiti since time immemorial. Though there had been skirmishes over farmlands being destroyed by cattle and which were later resolved either at the police station or at the Oba’s palace. The account I got was that the land owners and these Fulani herdsmen had disagreement over grazing habit of some of them, which had caused the farmers immense economic losses.
But taking out guns and dangerous weapons to overrun a fairly big town all in the name of reprisal or showing of force was very sad. I want to commend the security agencies for preventing reprisal attacks, because if that had happened, one would not have been able to quantify what would be the level of destruction such would have brought across the nation. The governor would not have acted alone in his resolve to place a temporary ban on open grazing.
Governor Fayose had come out boldly to say it was a temporary ban pending the time security will be restored fully to the beleaguered town. And I want to believe that the governor must have commenced the process of reconciliation between the Fulanis and the Yorubas in the area, because he can’t afford to be rigid knowing full well that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation with diverse interest and different reactions to issues. I am not oblivious of the fact that he would have to take action as the Chief Security Officer of the State, but such action must also have human face, so that it won’t boomerang.
The Seriki Fulani from Ilorin, Kwara State in Ekiti State had come out to dissociate his members from the senseless killings, so I believe the matter is resolvable. Everything rests on the kind of security architecture the security chiefs were able to build. I want to say that the resolve of the local hunters from Ikole local government to join in securing the town and environs is commendable because they understand the terrain and this will help the security agencies in taming the rampaging killer herdsmen.
I am of the opinion that we have to be cautious because many of the Fulanis in the town had built houses, own property and even cash crops. Should they now be sent packing because of the misdemeanor of a few? Some of them had even married from the town and contributed economically more than the indigenes! So, we need to be careful and rely on investigations by security outfits to know what actually happened and how to deal with the situation.
There has been a persistent government-labour feud in Ekiti due to inability of government to pay salaries. What do you think can be done under this circumstance?
The situation is very worrisome. If you get to Ekiti today, you will see palpable anguish on the faces of the people. We have to remember that Ekiti is a predominantly Civil Service State. Nearly every home has one or two civil servants, so the inability to pay salary, just like you put it has affected every facet of the economy. Ekiti has about 60,000 workforce and there is no way there won’t be complaints because they are the ones that patronize the markets, the mechanics and other businesses being the middle class and the bread winners in their own rights.
But a situation whereby the bread winners now beg for half loaf of bread will create serious anxiety and that is what you are experiencing in Ekiti as of now. Ekiti takes less than N1.3 billion monthly going by what Governor Fayose had said and he needs about N2.6 billion to pay workers every month. And the IGR is still less than N300 million. How could things happen under this circumstance and I want to say that I sympathise with the governor. But my area of confusion is this, the labour leaders had asked the governor to explain the true position of the state’s wage bill, which he must do in the interest of transparency and accountability, because he is holding that position in trust for the people.
They also contested that the governor disclosed IGR of N325 million in one of the meetings and whereas the Accountant General of the State had been disclosing less than N200 million to the labour leaders. They said the same wage bill was the one paid by Dr. Kayode Fayemi and people had died, retired and resigned in the civil service after he left.
Again, they said no employment had been done by this administration because of paucity of funds. So, for the governor to spare himself of burdens and for him to continue to enjoy the confidence of the civil servants and the entire citizens of the state, who voted for him during the last poll, he must respond to these allegations for Ekiti to witness peace, because we can’t be in serious financial crisis and be losing the little we have to industrial action and public unrest occasioned by protests and all that.
Your party seems confused over the modality to apply to pick a candidate for the 2018 governorship poll. As a leader, what do you think should be done?
Well, I have not hidden my position that I have interest in the governorship position. I contested in the last election under the banner of the Labour Party. If I should talk now, people will say I am being selfish, but I have to talk because I am a critical stakeholder in the party and I want us to return to government in 2018 and this can only happen when we do the right thing. The APC was formed by our great leaders: President Muhammadu Buhari, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, Chief John Momoh and host of highly dignified Nigerians, who made very big sacrifices for Nigeria to grow democratically through the instrumentality of the law.
The party was a creation of the constitution and it also has its own constitution guiding its principles and policies. So, let them follow the laid down rules guiding how a candidate can emerge and once this is done, there won’t be any reason for the losers to go to court or play the spoiler. This will make us more cohesive to be able to approach the election with a united front against the PDP. I want to reiterate again that if we are united, APC will win convincingly.
But are you not aware of the agitation for zoning of the governorship ticket to the south in both APC and PDP?
This has always been the agitation of some of the politicians and aspirants from the zone. But just like I pointed out the other time, APC is being guided by the constitution. Let the law takes its full course. I am not the one, neither any aspirant will dictate to the party. If it is in the constitution of our great party that there is zoning in APC, let them apply it. I bear no grudge against it. But if there is nothing like that and it was applied, some may see it as an imposition and they may resist it in their own way, which may affect the chances of the party.
Such agitation occurred in PDP prior to the 2014 polls in Ekiti and the party picked Fayose from the Central and they won. Let the people decide through primaries and what they wanted will surely reflect in their pattern of voting at the primaries. So, the party leaders must follow the constitution and also listen to the people.
The EFCC recently froze the accounts of Governor Fayose and this has elicited a heated debate. As a lawyer, how do you see this?
Well, let me now speak as a lawyer and not as a politician. As a lawyer, I quite appreciate the fact that Governor Fayose enjoys immunity according to Section 308 of the 1999 constitution as altered. The constitution confers on Governor Fayose immunity against any trial in court for any civil or criminal matter. But the same constitution empowers the EFCC to investigate anybody, no matter how highly place. So, whatever happens, Governor Fayose is already in court to challenge the propriety of the action and the outcome of the litigation will show whether he can’t also be investigated on an issue
bordering on alleged money laundering. Let us wait and see how it will play out.
Though some harsh policies like the jacking of petrol price and increment in electricity tariff have been witnessed, but these were not enough to say President Buhari has failed us. What is very clear now is that the economy is very weak and needed to be rejuvenated. I want to assure you that things will take a positive turn before the end of the second year of the APC government in the saddle