Chief Jamiu Afolabi Ekungba is a member of the Board of Trustees of All Progressives Congress (APC), and one of the frontline governorship aspirants of the APC in the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State. He speaks with Hammed Shittu on the state of the nation, his visions for the people of Ondo, and why he is the right candidate for the top job, among other issues
How would you react to the recent petrol price regime in the country?
It is in the best interest of the nation, especially in the future. Imagine about N1.4 trillion spent on subsidy every year during former President Jonathan’s six years in office. Imagine if the N1.4 trillion was used to construct Lagos-Ibadan road, up to Ilorin. Imagine Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Abuja roads were in good order, imagine there was a railway from Lagos to Abuja under three hours, imagine all our airports are in perfect condition, the money that had been stolen by people who have been claiming to be giving us fuel at a subsidised rate is enough to do all these. Imagine good classrooms with good, well-motivated teachers, training our children in the last 16 years of PDP, imagine the effect of the future of these children. They claimed the money was being used on oil subsidy, but who is being subsidised? They claimed you, and I, and that the amount of subsidy that comes to you and I was less than 10 per cent of what was being taken out. In one sector of the economy alone, it has been alleged that $15 billion under former NSA Dasuki was shared among some people in the country, instead of using it to buy ammunition to fight Boko Haram. The total of foreign reserve of Nigeria is presently $27 billion; what percentage of that is $15 billion? If you add 15 to 27 it equals $42 billion, which is enough to support two months import bill, and our foreign exchange would be stable. The new petroleum price regime is the system whereby the federal government has said, come Nigerians, I am no more subsidising your consumption of petroleum products; that is number one. Two, Nigerians have been asked to go and import oil, but to make sure it satisfies the quality criteria and they shouldn’t sell above 145 naira per litre. So, I can decide to look for a cheaper market, and then sell at 80 naira per litre, but the truth is, will Nigerians do that? This is not the problem of the president but the problem of the capitalists who believe in exploiting Nigerians. For me, I agree with the system, because that was exactly what happened in telecommunication; that is what has happened in power generation. The only reason why we are not having power as we should is that it was implemented by that government which did not do anything with the right purpose, through the right channel, because those people who were given the benefit of having the distribution company, are the same people who are not ready to invest their money. It was the government money that was given to them to acquire the power sector. So, I totally agree that the federal government should not put their money in the petrol I use in running my car, but the federal government should ensure that those people who are going to import petrol into Nigeria bring the right quality. Just like Adenuga came and liberated the telecommunication company, God will raise for us someone to do the same in the petroleum industry; to break the lies and deceit of people bringing in the product at the highest possible price.
What is your reaction to the allegation that the current war against corruption of the Buhari administration is being selective?
Selecting those people who are corrupt and punishing them is right. A lot of people talk about selective punishment, but is there anybody that has been arrested for corruption; taking money meant to fight Boko Haram, that came forth to say he did not take? Nobody has denied taking the money, and some of them are returning the money. The only person that has been sent to jail, is the DG NIMASA, who is an APC man; he contested senatorial seat in Delta and lost at the primary. So, what is selective about it? The point I am making is that if you have not stolen then you don’t have anything to fear, but if you have stolen, even if you are the daughter of the president, I know him to do the right thing. At the moment, it is not easy for EFCC to take all at the same time, so they are taking it sector by sector, it doesn’t matter who you are, once you are involved, you should be ready to pay the price. As far as I am concerned, I didn’t see anything selective and I don’t believe President Buhari will be deliberately unfair to anybody; he is God fearing. We should just pray for God to give Buhari the grace to run Nigeria.
How will you describe various negative comments from different quarters over the perceived change agenda of the APC-led federal government?
Maybe I am an exception because I look at things more pragmatically; some people look at the big picture, while some look at the small picture. I will give you an example; when I was very young, my maternal grand-father did an experiment with some of his grandchildren; he gave each of us a dry corn, knowing we were very hungry. He asked us what we were going to do with it, and joyfully, we all said we would either roast or cook it to eat, but in his wise words, he said, “if you roast it and finish it now, you won’t even be filled, but if you plant it, just imagine the quantity it will produce, you will feed yourself well and many others.” That was how I was brought up and that was the wisdom that guides some of us. Today, with our eyes on the big picture, we should be able to see some of the changes that President Buhari has made in our system. Let me give you some examples of these practical changes; one, it is evident that if President Buhari had not travelled to the middle east; Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate, the price of petroleum would still likely remain at $27 per barrel. But, he had gone there, even before calling the whole of OPEC. And it is because of the respect they had for him that the price of crude oil has gone up to $50 per barrel. One of his trips has assisted the international community, not only Nigeria to jerk up the price of crude oil; one of his trips also stimulated the last conference in Britain on corruption; his visit to UAE resulted to an agreement between Nigeria and Dubai in which it has now become difficult for Nigerians to steal money from Nigeria and take it to Dubai. The law in Dubai now is that if you are not working or resident in Dubai, you cannot keep an account as a Nigerian. As a Nigerian, if you go to Dubai now and you want to use your passport to open an account, it will be difficult unless you are resident there. So, I wonder why people keep saying what is the man doing travelling around the world? His image has helped the image of this country to improve. The President of America who refused to visit Nigeria when he came to Africa is coming to Nigeria soon. We learnt that there is a plan that Obama will be in Nigeria by July.
Secondly, on the issue of corruption, is Nigeria corruption free? I will tell you no, but the rate at which corruption had become a culture of pride; that the few of us who have refused to take part in corrupt practices began to ask ourselves, whether we are normal. It is no longer the old ways. Corruption is not just about stealing; it is anything that corrupts the system. If you want to do it now, you have to circumvent and do it in the hidden. Before now, you would want to show people that you are a big man in queues and have your way; that was possible, but now, you have to beg people for permission. Thirdly, let’s come to the economy; I will give you some figures to further explain my point. When former President Obasanjo was there, oil subsidy was about N190 billion per year; when former President Yar’Adua got there, oil subsidy was about N230billion per year, but then, the maximum people that were getting this oil subsidy were not more than 30. Suddenly, the number increased to about 300. In one year of Jonathan’s administration, oil subsidy went from N230 billion to N1.4 trillion and nobody cared. So much in the 16 years of PDP, we used over N10 trillion; that is about two years of Nigeria’s budget under Buhari, and that would be three years under Jonathan. How many are we in Nigeria? In one of the discussions by the Central bank, they asked if we were using N230 billion and suddenly it went to N1.4 trillion, what then happened? Has the population of Nigeria increased dramatically, or is it the number of cars that has increased for the subsidy to jump up from N230 billion to N1.4 trillion? But of course, we knew that the money was being stolen and somebody was bold enough to wake up to prepare a budget and the budget was transmitted to the National Assembly and they removed that subsidy, and Nigerians kept quiet as if they didn’t know that something was removed. Yet, somebody will tell me things have not changed! Nobody has been courageous enough in Nigeria’s 16 years of democracy, but Buhari did that, because it is better for Nigeria to pay for their oil than the government to pay 10 per cent while people are stealing 90 per cent. Those people who want result now are the ones complaining. But, those of us who know the consequential effect of the decisions, this man had taken in the interest of the country; the radical, monumental change his decisions would bring to Nigeria in the next five to 10 years for our children and grandchildren, we are grateful for his bold steps. The change has happened on our psychology, cultural behavior, in our attitude; it is no longer business as usual. We have seen a trusted president and a president who has brought about a radical, monumental and progressive change in the attitude of Nigerians. The trust we are giving to the president put a lot of responsibility and pressure on him to continue to deliver. We had Boko Haram terrorizing us for more than six years, now; Boko Haram has been decimated and incapacitated, which is forcing them to surrender. A recent example would be the return of two of the Chibok girls.
Do you subscribe to the allegation that Ondo State economy is at its lowest ebb?
The economy is at the lowest because those people handling it do not have the fear of God; they have not come with a pragmatic programme for the people. The present governor deceived us a lot in Ondo state; he never tells us the truth about anything, he has deceived the world. If you compare what is being achieved in Osun state to Ondo state, people will start asking what the problem is. Even Ekiti that is earning far less than what Ondo state earns, is better off. What does he do? Because he is a medical doctor, he tells us he is doing ‘caring heart’. Imagine the name, when you hear that, your heart will melt at it. Now, one of the programmes he calls ‘mother and child hospital’. It is a beautiful hospital, well equipped and of international standard, I doff my hat for him when he did the first one, no Nigerian hospital can beat it, because what is called Mother and Child hospital is comprehensive maternity home. The problem is, there are only two in the whole of Ondo state, after seven years in office. One in Akure and the other in Ondo, is that enough for the whole state? As a governor, if you have a caring heart truly, and the fear of God, and you are honest with the people, the money you took over from the previous government and the money you are collecting from the federal government is enough to do something good in the state; that the people would say you are really working, but that cannot be said about you in seven years.
What is the hope for Ondo state? Yes, there is hope for the state, Delta state is oil producing and Ondo state is also oil producing, but that is all about Delta. In Ondo state, we have a petroleum product that is mild; it contains less of PMS and diesel but has more of what is used for petrol-chemicals that can produce rubber.
We also have what is used in producing glass; the best quality, but it is sad that we don’t have a glass company in Ondo state. We have the best product of mining. Apart from what we get from the federation account, the governor that love his people would have created an enabling environment to allow these industries to start and flourish so that the population can have employment, and when they have employment, you are able to generate more taxes. There is a place called Olokola, during the Obasanjo regime, they created a gas and oil processing industry there. That Olokola, according to geologists, is the deepest coastal line in Nigeria, consequently, it can take bigger ship than what Apapa, Calabar and Port Harcourt can take. That place has a natural harbor, which means that Nigeria will spend less to create a port there than what it is spending on other places. Our governor has neglected that place for the past seven years. The worse thing that happened was Dangote wanted to build a refinery in the state, but whatever happened between him and Dangote, we do not know, and Dangote had to move that refinery to Lagos. Imagine that refinery being in Olokola, imagine the positive effect it would have on the people, in terms of employment, income and the society at large. On tourism, he developed Idare hill, but his predecessor was to put a golf course along with it, but he abandoned the golf along with an international hotel. Imagine the improved social life it would have brought to the Idanre community. At the coastal line, in Oka, we have a place called Oke Maria, a mountain that the catholic Bishops have sanctified, they believe that any prayer offered on that mountain will be answered, imagine a governor capitalizing on that, building an international hotel for the Catholics, making good road there for the Catholics, look at the effect of that on Ondo state spiritually, economically and socially. But our governor is busy, telling us what we want to hear not what he wants to do. On agriculture, we have the best afforestation in Nigeria, from the thick forest to the thick shrub linked unto the savannah. This means that, no crop that is planted in Nigeria will not be able to do well commerciallyin Ondo; from cocoa, rubber to palm. You remember the Okiki palm industry; it is no longer in existence. When you are talking of a state that has the human resources that can make progress, that can make mark, all we need to do is put this brain together and explore all these resources, and Ondo state will be great again. The hope for Ondo state is, another election is coming, and the Ondo state indigene must look for that person that has the demonstrable antecedent that can put all these resources together for the development of the state, and for the progress of every individual in Ondo state, for the good of the land, so that all of us will live at peace with ourselves.
Don’t you think the large number of APC aspirants could be the party’s undoing?
A lot of them have come out to show they are in existence. I do tell people that every Ondo state indigene that doesn’t have a question mark on his integrity has the right to contest. As a member of board of trustees and as an aspirant, I tell the people, you are welcome but let us do this thing with decorum, because obtaining form will make some people to drop out, while primaries would pick just one person. Our leader has promised us a clear and fair election; so there won’t be any problem. But people must not sell their votes because we cannot afford to be in this vicious cycle anymore in Ondo State, we must be sure to vote someone who can bring value to us. This is the first time APC is ruling at the presidential level, and there have to be some learning curve, but all those things would be corrected in due time. We must be careful not to sell our votes to a mole, because the present governor is going to put a mole in our midst, and if we are not careful, we will be done for it. We must not sell our votes to the highest bidder, because that highest bidder may not have the capability to deliver. It is not going to be easy to lift a state that is economically down. As at now, we are owing five months’ salary, and only God knows how much we would be owing at the end of this administration. We must look for someone with demonstrable antecedents; who is this person, has he run a company successfully before? We must get someone who is God fearing, because only such a person will be mindful of the people; telling them the truth of what he is doing, knowing that he not only accountable to man but also to God. We must also look for a humble person, who is ready to listen to the people and put them together. I have the capacity, I have been trained for the job, not deliberately, but accidentally, I got my training. I have what it takes to turn the economy around. I have been part of those people, who turned international banks around (Afribank in those days). I have what it takes to raise funds for companies to build MM2, and I have all the evidence.
How do you intend to turn the economy of the state around?
I have been doing it already; I talk to the people, let them see who I am. My motto says ‘the big idea’. I am known as the big idea in Ondo state. The big idea means for the good of the land, let us work together in Ondo state. If you believe in the future of Ondo state, then you should be by my side on the street. Everybody will get more of what is rightfully theirs, mark the word, more of everything that is rightfully theirs; nobody should expect me to do what is not rightfully his. As I have told you, I am a chartered accountant, a banker, but retired since 2005 but banks still call me for consultation till date. I am also a financial consultant; I raise funds for people, so I know how to manage the funds for people. Coming from this angle, I am a catalyst with a conscience, consequently, I am not going to use the state money to do what ought to be done by the private sector and by my experience; the community will have confidence in what I am telling them. I will create for them an enabling environment to bring their investments to the state. For instance, look at what some accountants are doing across the country, Tinubu did well, Fashola took over and now Ambode is doing great, look at what Dankobo is doing in Gombe. After my tenure, Ondo state would be the pride of the nation.