Behind his steely deportment is a simple, intelligent, down-to-earth and sincere politician, whose ideological threshold does not entertain the new age sleaze of political undercurrents and intrigues. The Minister of Communication, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, is one of the cabinet members of President Muhammadu Buhari, who mans a highly technical, yet crucial ministry and has continued to push hard his resolve to deliver change as well as leave an abiding signature on the sand of time. With a background in law, his confounding understanding of the issues in the ministry of communication is admirable. He’s come to appreciate the challenges and had designed different templates to realising them, such that sit well within the collective change agenda. He is confident the president is delivering and simultaneously so in the three critical areas of his campaign thrust: economy, security and corruption. He also does not think the state of health of the president is a big deal or has in any way impaired good governance. And in a manner that is unlike the quintessential politician, he didn’t hide the fact that his next stop is the Oyo State governorship seat. He was straight to the point, even as he alluded to the disagreement between him and the incumbent governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, which he dismissed as not personal but in the interest of the Oyo people. Above all, his responses to questions are detailed and astounding in this no-holds-barred interview with Olawale Olaleye and Shola Oyeyipo. Excerpts:
What were the issues you had to deal with in the sector when you newly assumed office?
In fairness, I must say that the sector has been on the upward swing early before I came in. It is like you have a building project on; every stage is a development. You start from the planning stage and then you put down the architectural drawings and then you start laying foundations and then you start putting blocks and all that. For buildings, it is finally when the interior decoration has been done. For ICT, it is an unending growth and development.
Unending in the sense that for every minute you have new innovations coming to disrupt what had been in existence and that is why a lot of universities doing ICT in Nigeria particularly, are left behind because they cannot keep pace with the development of ICT and the development of communication and innovations. Many more people are finding livelihood and finding expressions in creating innovations, particularly because the innovations being created are aimed at solving human’s socio-economic and developmental problems
Apart from that, if you look at the case of Nigeria in particular, all these developments started less than 18 years, particularly telecoms sector of the ICT. Recall that before 1999, Nigeria had to contend with only a telecommunications company, which was called NITEL, owned by the federal government. For all of its years of existence, Nigeria had only less than half a million lines to a then population of about 160 million.
You know what ratio comes up from that and to own a line you know what you had to go through and the technology was not wireless. You had to get lines fixed to your home, office and so on. So, several communities were cut off. They couldn’t access telecoms service. I remember in those days, if you were living in Shaki, where I come from and you have somebody in London to talk to, you have to go all the way to Ibadan, where NITEL facility was and then you are given a pass and then you queue for a call of five minutes, and you had to pay through your nose. Even for those in Ibadan, who had lines to call abroad, it was not easy more often than not. You had to take a special line or go to a NITEL facility.
So when the democracy that we are practicing now came, the government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had to find a way of privatising as he called it, NITEL, by selling it off and then he invited the whole world to come with their funds, their technology of GSM and with their skilled personnel, to establish companies. They bid and had to pay millions of dollars to get licensing and to deploy their facilities and float the company that involved a lot of investable funds from abroad and then we started.
Today, from the less than half a million lines that we had then, we have more than 155 million lines now, so, we have made a lot of giant strides.
In the area of internet communications, in the area of GSM and data and all of that, again, we have made a lot of giant strides as a country and I want to say that the pioneers in managing ICT in Nigeria laid a solid foundation. What we are doing now is in fact to build on it and like I said, it is still work-in-progress.
Telecoms subscribers are inundated over time with unsolicited messages, threat messages, SMS, unregistered sim and so, despite NCC’s warnings. What is your ministry doing to address this?
It is a problem that is really bothering government and I want to say whatever pains, whatever extortions, inconveniences and whatever unsolicited messages and all of that that members of the public are victim to, I, even as Minister of Communication, I am also a victim to it. So, I chew the pain just as any Nigerian chewing the pain and we have taken a lot of measures particularly to NCC to try to resolve that problem.
One of the major obstacles that we have is, for just one infraction, the effort you need to make to get correction will cost more than the infraction that has taken place. For instance, if there is an unsolicited SMS, to get redress you have to call the operator and then you have to make a complaint and they will promise and so on and so forth because they are individual violations, which are very small on the part of each person. It creates a lot of problems for enforcement agents likes NCC. But I am aware and I do know that NCC has been taking a lot of measures.
The area that we have not gotten to is to say for any one infraction you pay this much. A few months ago, when the new board of the NCC was inaugurated by me, I again charged them to work hand-in-hand with the management to stem this tide, and we want to assure Nigerians that the NCC is doing everything that will be required to get things done. I am aware, of course, that the GSM companies also have their challenges. Some of these challenges are well known: the issues of electricity, which is a very huge problem.
Nigeria is perhaps the only country I know, where telecoms operators have to rely, not on the public electricity system but on their own efforts and costs of providing generators, providing diesels on 24 hour-basis, and all of that. Usually, in other countries, these things are taken for granted and that reduces the cost of their operation but I want to believe that because of these unhealthy operating environment in Nigeria, they have to rely on value added service by private companies who buy space and use those spaces to inundate the public.
But the operators would have to take responsibility for these. At the appropriate time, we will get to the ultimate. You know in law enforcement, the first thing is to appreciate what the problems are, the second is to give warnings and then punitive measures come. We are getting to that stage.
Let’s talk about the issues of multiple taxations on these operators and the vandalism of their infrastructure. How are you helping them here?
Well, the issue of multiple taxations is not about our ministry, it is about the Ministry of Finance, the tax office and all of that. But we have been supporting them in terms of advocacy to say that it is immoral, particularly for this very sensitive industry, which benefits virtually every Nigerian. I said earlier that today we have virtually 155 million active lines. That on the average means about 150 million Nigerians daily use this facility.
If they daily use this facility for the convenience of their lives; for the convenience of their businesses; for even the convenience of running government in a seamless way – that means it is not a thing that we can turn blind eyes to. So, we have been doing a lot of advocacy and I am also aware that this issue has gotten to the National Economic Council consisting of the vice-resident and all the governors to try and harmonise these taxes.
Again, on the issue of security, security is not our portfolio; it is that of the police and other security agencies. But, again, in that regard we have been doing a lot of advocacy, because we invited these people with a promise that we will provide an enabling business environment. So, when they have problems, they complain to us and we have a duty to also let government and all the other agencies know that this problem must be attended to in order to make it easy for those you have invited to bring technology, money and so on to operate.
Back to Nigerians, how are you addressing the problem of excessive tariffs from the operators?
I must say that this is an issue that is arguable, whether there has been an excessive tariff on us. I want to speak not just as a Nigerian citizen but also as a responsible Nigerian officer, who has a duty, not only to the citizenry but to those you have asked to come and assist us with their technology and their services. For instance, if you take SMS, on the average, it is about N4. If you move to Benin Republic, you will pay N50. I was in a country recently, I think Algeria or so, for SMS message that I pay N4 here, I paid N200.
We must also sympathise with these companies, because these are largely foreign companies that have come in with their capital to do business, they must be able to repatriate their profits abroad. The low value of naira necessarily affects them, so, if from the average that we can see from different countries, Nigeria appears to me, on an objective basis, one of the lowest tariffs. I don’t know which country has a lower rate. So, if in Nigeria, it is N4 and in Benin it is N50, can we in good context really ask them to go lower? How much will they be able to repatriate out of the profit.
So, I believe that I have a duty to all stakeholders, to be able to mediate and temper this across line, except if we are asking them to provide free service. I know as private entities they will never be able to do that. If we drive them too hard, the consequence is that they will not be able to make profit. If they are not able to make profit they will simply pack and go and we will return to the pre-1999 era of NITEL. And we all know how beneficial these telecoms services, including the internet have been to Nigerians. So, I appeal to Nigerians for understanding.
Ordinarily, as a politician, I should not be saying this because people will then say you are siding this, but as a leader, I must take responsibility to speak the truth and to defend the truth, and to let Nigerians appreciate that even in their private businesses, nobody wants to make losses. So, in the same vein, there must be an understanding that N4 is to my mind, one of the lowest that one can get anywhere in the world.
In the places, where they pay N50 and so on, electricity is taken for granted. Even security is taken for granted. In Nigeria, their facilities are being vandalised, because our security is not effective enough to provide for them. Here, even though we have police, the DSS and everything, they still have to spend a lot of money to procure security managers and we have a number of cases, where their security operatives are being killed by hoodlums, who want to vandalise. When they have resistance, they simply go for the jugular of the security operatives.
When you newly came on board, you promised that the federal government would establish ICT University to close the skills gap of the youths, is the promise still valid?
By the grace of God, by May 2, we will inaugurate the implementation committee of the ICT University. A lot of people will be wondering: why are we looking for an ICT University since as a matter of fact, there is none on the African continent. When I came on board, my thinking was since we have Computer Studies Departments in many universities, perhaps, they will provide adequate man power. But I have since discovered that is not the reality. When people have degree from the university, it simply provides them a qualification to start learning about ICT. That is the truth.
One of our agencies, which is NESDA, before I came on board, they had recruited 240 people without following due process. When we came on board, because it had violated all known laws of the federation with regards to employment, with regards to ensuring openness, transparency and providing all Nigerians with equal opportunity to be able to seek job in all government agencies, we had to lay them off. That is, NESDA had to sack them. NESDA then provided an avenue for them to have proper training, to enable them become self-employed in the ICT sector.
So, three months training programme was done for them. After the first year and formal inauguration, I was there and I was listening to testimonies of graduates of Computer Studies from various Nigerian universities come there to say that what they have learnt on that platform within a month they never learnt it in four years of their university education. So, this shows that for a sector that is the fastest growing in the Nigerian economy with bourgeoning new innovations, you need to have a specialised hands-on training institution to provide effective training for the production of skilled manpower for this sector of the Nigerian economy.
If we succeed in doing that, we will also have provided enough man power in that area, not only for other African countries but for the entire world. I was again conscious that we have within the ministry what is called Digital Bridge Institute, which is for short time training of personnel for the ICT industry. That Digital Bridge Institute has six campuses spread across the country. I then felt that the proper thing for us to do would be to take this Digital Bridge Institute, transform it into a degree awarding ICT University. It would be the first of its kind in Africa but similar institutions already exist in India, Malaysia, Singapore, in China, South Korea and all that. This university will be fashioned along those specialised ICT training institutions in other parts of the country.
When I approached the president with the idea, the president asked me, ‘where would you get the money to establish a new university’ and I told the president that I don’t need your money, all I need is your go-ahead. I will talk with the private sector. I will talk to all the big names in ICT: Google, Facebook, Ericson, Motorola and all of them to come and adopt campuses of this new university.
In adopting this university, they will bring their technology, their faculty, their money and skilled personnel to train Nigerians. Already we have infrastructure on the ground in the six campuses of Digital Bridge Institute. With the training, technology and skilled personnel that they are bringing, they will be helping Nigerians to produce first class ICT experts to be unleashed on the ICT industry throughout the world and that will be a plus for Nigeria.
There is this projection for about 30 per cent broadband penetration in Nigeria. Is that still feasible and again what is the government doing to make broadband available to all Nigerians everywhere?
Let me say this, what government is doing is interventionist effort. It is not the business of government to be engaged in business as it is often said. We have done it in the past, we burnt our fingers. Remember Nigerian Airways; remember Nigerian shipping lines; remember even Nigerian railways and all government agencies. In Nigeria, once you get engaged in business, Nigerians, who come in, more often than not, will steal the place dry. So, we said government must see itself only as an enabler – to provide an enabling environment for private sector to thrive by legislation, by regulations, by laws and so on and so forth, so that private sector people will come in and do the business with our support. That is being done.
So, what NESDA and Universal Service Provision do is to assist in areas of deficiencies. For instance, private sector people, who bring their money to invest, want to invest in areas where they can make gains very quickly. In other words, in areas where population is not very large – where a lot of people are not likely to engage their services, we fill the gap there. So, our mandate is not really to provide, as a government, broadband connectivity. That is not our job; it is to do that where there are gaps like in the rural areas and we are trying to do that through several efforts, particularly the initiative of Galaxy Backbone.
Galaxy Backbone is one of our agencies, which seeks to provide constitutionally, connectivity to all state capitals, where federal government offices or agencies are located. When they do that, there will be excess of space to be leased out to the public, including the GSM companies and ICT companies. So, we are doing that and in this year’s budget, a lot of funds have been dedicated towards that. I am happy to say that the private sector is taking the challenge up because they know that the more connectivity we have throughout the country, the more patronage they would likely get.
A lot of Nigerians would like to know what your ministry is doing in the area of upgrading the NIPOST, but unfortunately, that is one area that would also be competing seriously with the ICT initiative. How do you intend to balance that?
Honestly, I get excited when issues about NIPOST arise. I recall that before GSM came on board, NIPOST was solely responsible for carrying mails and that was its sole mandate, carrying mails from one location to the other. You remember that to post a letter even from Ibadan to Lagos could take a week for the letter to get there. In other words, what you want to communicate cannot get there in real time. So, when GSM came, the patronage of NIPOST dropped because a communication that would be sent through a letter and which would take one week, for instance, can be done through SMS, Facebook and so on in real time.
It costs down on money, so a lot of people needed no more to continue to use letters. That reduced the relevance of NIPOST and the patronage of Nigerians for NIPOST services. So, with that, NIPOST was almost running under. But when I came on board, I realised that despite the fact that patronage is growing low, the infrastructure NIPOST has is still very much there. Apart from the infrastructure, there is the goodwill. NIPOST is as old as Nigeria. The goodwill is there. The trust is there. Because of these I have evolved a reform package which will soon be formally inaugurated for the advantage of Nigerians.
What are we going to do by reforming NIPOST? Number one, we discovered that Nigeria, with 774 local governments, most of these local governments don’t have banks available there and they are completely cut off from financial services. So, we felt that contrary to banks, post offices are in 1500 locations across the country. It means you can use post office agencies as vehicles to undertake banking or financial services. So for these we are trying to come up with what will be called NIPOST Bank. Similar things exist in China and a few other countries. Many of the things that are fundamental which banks do for you, post offices will be doing.
What are the specifics?
You want to save money you will take your money to the post office. You remember in those days we used to have money order, postal order and all that. That was not deep enough but now we will have something to provide basic banking services so that people in the rural areas will also be able to benefit from this sort of banking.
Again, you will agree with me that e-commerce has become a thing being utilised by a number of Nigerians. These e-service companies are mainly private sector companies. Some individuals are also doing it. Many of these companies are not known, so there is a risk that your interest may be undermined. But NIPOST which is already a household name in Nigeria can also be engaged in e-commerce services. Already they have infrastructure all over the country. If I want to buy something in Maiduguri and I told the provider of that thing I want to buy, I will pay online, take the thing to NIPOST and of course, just as NIPOST will carry mail from Maiduguri to my village in Shaki, they will also be able to carry the merchandise that I buy. The trust will be there better than any other private company engaged in this kind of service.
Again, we are looking at a situation where we will have NIPOST Transport Property and Development Services. If you look around, particularly in Lagos, you will find a lot of NIPOST facilities having excess land. These lands are wasting and you know land is a valuable asset. Instead of allowing these lands to keep wasting, we can turn them into money by leasing out of these wasting lands to the private sector to build office complexes, shopping malls, residential houses, car parks and what have you on PPP basis. They pay something continuously to NIPOST. That will be an added income for NIPOST and the federal government.
And the fourth thing is we want to also introduce NIPOST Transport and Logistic Services. Already, NIPOST depends on vehicles to carry postal material from one place to the other. As they are carrying these postal materials, we should be able to commercialise these NIPOST transport services so that they can also carry passengers. If NIPOST is taking postal material from Lagos to Ibadan, it should be able to also carry passengers or merchandise.
Another service that we are looking forward to introducing in our NIPOST reform package is e-government services in all post offices and I will give you an example of what I mean. For example, everybody needs international passport and passport offices are found only in state capitals, so, if I live in Shaki, to procure an international passport, I have to come to Ibadan to process when there is a facility in Shaki, which is government’s and is popular and capable, why don’t I go to NIPOST in Shaki, fill the necessary form online, pay online, get that transmitted to Ibadan, where they have the passport office, when the thing is produced, it is sent to NIPOST in Shaki and I will pick it up.
It will be applicable to all government services, not just passport alone: driver’s license and virtually everything that you would want to procure from government – you should be able to do it through NIPOST. It is being done in several other African countries, so, why don’t we do it? Doing most of these things will certainly bring a lot of ease and convenience for Nigerians. It will also cut down the cost in terms of money, time and other areas. These are some of the things that we are planning. I believe that by the time we unleash all of these on the Nigerian people it would be greatly commended because of its potential benefits to make life better for the ordinary Nigerians.
Have you considered the acceptability of these ideas by the Nigerian people?
Your question is simply saying you have about a six year old child and if you take the child to school you are removing him from a familiar environment, would it be proper to ask ‘would you think the child would like to go to school?’ Of course, you must be able to make the child to love to go to school. In the same vein, Nigerians are intelligent people, the fact that they have not experienced this kind of ease in their lives in the past does not mean they will not appreciate the positive values that it would be adding to their lives. We would do a lot of advocacy on it. We would do a lot of publicity and get Nigerians to buy into it.
We hear that government acquired some land for national ICT park and exhibition centre, are you still going ahead with it?
By the grace of God, we got the land last month from the Federal Capital Territory administration and we set up a committee to implement it and the whole idea is…I have had the privilege of attending workshops all over the world, from Barcelona, Silicon Valley, China, South Korea, Indonesia and so on and in all these places, you have technology parks and exhibition centres, which are set up for industry stakeholders from the whole world to meet once a year, exhibit their new innovations and new products, and also utilise it to advance, exchange ideas, to buy technology, exchange technology and to provide also, a platform for people to come there and learn.
What we are trying to do with the land – we are having about 10, 000 square metres of land. We would develop site and services on the land, we would invite all the big names in the industry from all over the world, not only Nigeria, to come and build their facilities and utilise them. And of course, they will be paying some form of royalties to government but the good thing is, once a year there will be an exhibition and people can also use it for training purposes.
Is government considering additional satellite?
Certainly! That is a very good question. Now, we have Nigerian Satellite Communication Company, it is one of our agencies. Currently, it has one satellite in orbit. Having one satellite in orbit for a satellite company can be likened to a transport company, which moves from Lagos to Ibadan on a vehicle without a spare tyre. If you don’t have a spare tyre and a potential passenger knows that this car does not have a spare tyre, nobody will want to travel with you. In the same vein, having one satellite in orbit, a lot of people who should be patronising you will think “if we put all our eggs in one basket and something happens, we would lose all our data”.
So, because of this deficiency, a lot of Nigerian ministries, departments and agencies, including many universities prefer to deal with foreign satellite companies and that means a lot of foreign exchange being lost by Nigeria. So, we think the way to go is to try to acquire two additional satellites in orbit. Once we have that sufficiency, capability and confidence, we will then be able, even if by legislation, put a stop to Nigerian agencies, companies and ministries patronising foreign satellite companies to the disadvantage of Nigerian companies.
The money for these satellite companies, we are thinking of $550bn, if you convert that to naira, it is whole lot of money. Now, China Exim Bank has agreed to give money but the condition is that we must provide $15m counterpart funding. That is about N30bn. Government does not have the money but we have appealed to the private sector to come and invest. I am confident that within the next three months, we should be in a position where we will go to China and say now we can provide the said counterpart funding and then we will sign the document. Once we sign the document, it takes two years to manufacture those satellites. I am actually praying that within my tenure as minister, we will be able to achieve that height for Nigeria.
How are you addressing the issue of poor services being rendered by these telecommunications companies?
We have addressed it partly. We all know that there is quality of service issue by the operators – a whole lot of problems. We have earlier identified lack of power and the attendant cost of it. We have mentioned the issue of multiple taxations of which again they are victims. We have also mentioned the issue of security, which are deficient – all of these contribute, but I want to emphasise that these are no excuses for quality of service to remain very low.
We in government are also victims. We are not happy and we are working very hard to address these issues by interacting with them. NCC is the agency directly in charge of addressing these issues. I am confident that since Rome was not built in a day, these issues will be resolved within the shortest possible time.
So, when you put together these efforts by your ministry and your projections, how do you locate them within the context of the change agenda?
Certainly people in the industry know that there has been change in this industry and I will tell you why. Today, the ICT industry contributes about 10 per cent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria. It has never happened before. Again today, the ICT industry engages more workers than the petroleum industry, which provides us with about 90 per cent of our national income and I can assure you that this trend will continue. What I am working towards is to get to a day when Nigeria would rely more on ICT to run its budget rather than petrol and this is possible because there are several countries that I have visited and that I know never had oil but using ICT and have surpassed Nigeria in all indices of development.
So, if other countries have done it and are doing it successfully, why not Nigeria with the right energy that we are putting in; with the right political will and with the right atmosphere? One good thing to Nigeria’s advantage is that we have a huge population, which cannot be denied. In my advocacy in various countries that I visit, I tell the foreign investors that Nigeria is the place to be because it is the ICT hub for Africa.
Today, Nigeria as one of the 15 countries of West Africa has a population bigger than the rest of West Africa combined. Nigeria’s population again is not illiterate, even among ordinary Nigerians. It would interest you to know that the Fulani herdsman also values GSM devices and that means that the market is there! Come and invest and you will never regret it! If you take the example of MTN Nigeria; MTN operates in 22 countries, from Nigeria alone they make 56 per cent of their profit. So, if MTN is making this huge profit, that is a signal to other investors that Nigeria is the place to be.
Talking politics, what’s your take on the fight against corruption, especially the handling of issues by EFCC chair, Ibrahim Magu?
When the president was campaigning, he had three platforms of campaign. He said he was going to attack and confront insurgency in the North-east and militancy in the Niger Delta. Number two, that he was going to confront corruption and number three, he was going to repair the economy. Your question is on one of the three main platforms, which is the issue of corruption. When the president came, he did a few things that have changed the situation of corruption in this country.
A lot of people have known for instance that corruption was entrenched in the civil service. One of the features of that was the fact that government agencies had multiplicity of bank accounts, many of them unknown to their political heads. Monies of government were being channeled through these multiple bank accounts into private pockets and a lot of these monies cannot be accounted for. The Ministry of Finance will not have a grip of government finance. And the president in one fell swoop stopped that leakage by introducing Treasury Single Account (TSA).
It has never happened in Nigeria or any African country before. By that single action, he has blocked all leakages and harmonised all government banking services in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) so that no money can go out without the CBN authorization, no matter the ministry or the agency. This is one very important thing that the president has done for which he deserves our commendation.
Number two, he has introduced the whistleblower policy, which is aimed at ensuring that since the security agencies cannot be everywhere but Nigerians are everywhere; if you have course to suspect an illegal dump of money or illegal movement of money, please report and get something for it. Of course, within the short time that it has happened, Nigeria has recovered more than $6bn and it is a clear sign that we are winning the war against corruption.
Number three, those who illegally stole Nigeria’s money are being rounded up, particularly past political leaders. If you look at the last 17 years, Nigeria was controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), so those who are likely to be caught in the web of the anti-corruption war are most likely to be PDP elements that had the privilege to be in government. So, when people start talking of politically motivated onslaught against them, they don’t say that they did not steal. That is not what they used to say. They say it is because they are PDP. Is it because you are PDP that you stole the public wealth?
Their arguments are diversionary and for me, the fact that the president recently took action with regards to the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and also what he is doing with the investigation into NIA shows that the anti-corruption war knows no bound and does not discriminate against anybody. It is one war which is being fought on merit, whether you are PDP or whatever. Once you are not engaged or suspected to be engaged in it, you are completely free! God forbid, but even if it is the president’s family relation, he has given a signal that he would not discriminate and the same laws that affect his supposed enemies would also affect his friends.
With regards to Magu, he has been part of the EFCC from the onset and he is believed to have distinguished himself and he is also believed to be the key person in the administration of past EFCC leadership. If the president has appointed him there, we must trust in the wisdom of the president to appoint somebody he thinks would be an effective fighter in the war against corruption.
It was said that the DSS exposed a negative report on him. If you look at the report – from the excerpts of it that I have seen, he has not been accused of having stolen money or having compromised with regards to money. The substantial allegation has really been that he has friends whom he is supposed not to be friends with and the president investigated that and felt again, on behalf of Nigeria, because there cannot be any perfect human being – if you are looking for a perfect human being then you will never have a head for EFCC. So, the president said I have confidence in him but issues are still being made. Perhaps, the issues are not really on merit. I believe and I hope that common sense will prevail in ensuring that EFCC is allowed to make progress for the sake of Nigerians.
You seem to be very confident about the fight against corruption. Can you say the same about security and the economy?
Before the president came on board, Boko Haram alone was in control of 14 local governments in the North-east. They became sovereignty within the sovereignty. The last administration of former President Jonathan, initially when the alarm was blown that Boko Haram had more sophisticated weapons than the Nigerian Armed Forces, Jonathan and his men then said it was a mere alarm, it was politically motivated and all that, but when the resistance of Boko Haram was getting tougher and tougher, the Jonathan presidency buried its shame, took a prayer to the senate to be allowed approval of $1bn to purchase arms and ammunition for the Nigerian Armed Forces.
That approval was given and instead of the Jonathan presidency to buy the ammunition required, they simply put the money on the table and shared it among PDP elements. The story is well established. But when Buhari came, he took the needed steps. He contacted his friends across the world, got enough ammunition, equipped the Armed Forces and today, the issue of Boko Haram holding sway has become history. That is established. In the South-south, the Niger Delta, you know that when he (Buhari) came there was a war by the Niger Delta militants, whose activities reduced Nigeria’s production level of oil from 2.2million barrels a day to 900,000, thus cutting off more than 50 per cent of Nigeria’s income. The president took quick action and today, Nigeria is recovering to almost that level of 2.2million barrels. So, these are clear signs. If there is an exam and the question says two plus two and you find the answer to be four, would you be asking the person whether he has passed?
On the economy, over the years, Nigeria has relied solely – almost 90 per cent on petroleum income. At that, we were producing 2.2million barrels in a day, during Jonathan’s period and we were selling at $140. Multiply 140 by 2.2million. By the time Buhari came on board, as a result of the activities of Niger Delta, not only did the production level fall to 900,000 a day from 2.2million, the cost of selling at the international market also fell from $140 to $38 – more than 80 per cent loss.
That was what the presidency has been contending with it, even now the cost of selling oil is hovering between $50 and $55. So, that is a huge challenge for the presidency. Incomes have reduced and besides, when we were selling for $140 for 2.2million barrels, you will expect a diligent government to invest in infrastructure and save for the rainy days. Neither were there investments in infrastructure nor were there savings.
When you have a dilapidated structure to rebuild you need planning and you start from the foundation! This, the president has been doing and I want to say as a mark of the difference that the Buhari administration has brought to this economy is the fact that all the construction sites which have been abandoned for the past three years because contractors were not being paid, all these sites across the country have been resuscitated. A clear example, again for this year, is the fact that the last budget for road infrastructure during Jonathan’s time was about N28bn. Today, it is more than N500bn. You can imagine the gap.
Today, in the agricultural sector, if you go to a number of states, farmers are becoming richer than they have ever been. An example is, if you go to, like Kano you will see farmers bringing their farm produce, when they go back, they go with new motor cycles. Even in Yoruba land serious farmers are building new houses all across the South-west. These are strong indications of a reinvigorated economy. I want to believe that before the end of this year, Nigerians will see greater improvements in all facets of the Nigerian economy.
Are you not worried that the health of the president may have affected the running of the country?
I am not worried at all, because I don’t think it has affected anything. There is no single area of the running of this government that has been affected. Government has been running seamlessly. When you say the presidency, it is not one man who is called the presidency – the presidency included the president himself, the vice-president, the ministers, the directors of the various agencies. Even as a minister, I am part of the presidency and I am doing my job without let or hindrance. All the other ministers are all working seamlessly.
As a matter of fact, when you talk of the presidency you are talking of more than 1000 people and all of these officers are doing their work seamlessly. As a matter of fact, the constitution is very clear. It says in one section that the presidency shall run the administration of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the allocation of responsibilities to the vice president, the ministers and other directors of government. The vice-president has been giving wonderful support to the president in the attainment of the goals for which the president was elected.
A lot of people in Nigeria, when it comes to the issue of presidency they behave as if they are not human beings; they behave as if they are not Nigerians; they behave as if they see anybody who doesn’t get sick, forgetting that death is not synonymous with sickness and sickness is not a consequence of sure death. I could be sick without dying and one could die without getting sick. So, if we remove politics from it, we should rather sympathise with anybody that is sick rather than making political gains out of it, particularly in Nigeria, where we have not seen any negative effect on the running of government.
Are you eyeing the Oyo State governorship?
Look, it is a given fact. I never shied away from it and when people ask me, I take them back to history. I became a lawyer in 1979. That same year, I became an elected member of the Oyo State House of Assembly, so by choice I have decided that my trajectory in history would be to provide consistently and continuously, service to the people of Oyo State. After being a member of the house for four years, I was Commissioner for Information in 1983. Again in 2007, I became the Attorney-General of the state. By the grace of God, I am today a minister. So the projection is, all these experiences I have gained in the legislature, executive and the judiciary must be galvanised for the service of the people of Oyo State.
And today, if you take all active politicians in Oyo State, including the governor, there is nobody who was actively involved in politics within the first 10 years of my entry into politics. So, I am the senior most active politician and I entered as a lawyer. I didn’t enter politics as a school certificate holder. I was an established professional, so nobody has had the privileged experiences that I have had.
When you are recruiting for a job you necessarily look for the best experience and as Minister of Communication, there is no other person who has been minister before who want to be governor. In any case, to be minister, I was not picked on the street; it was the president, who wanted the best and got the best in me and he appointed me and all these experiences you cannot buy from the market. So, by the grace of God, I will succeed Ajimobi.
That raises the speculation that both of you are not in very good terms and that may affect your chances?
A lot of people forget that Ajimobi is not God. Even if he thinks he can necessarily affect me, I know he cannot negatively affect my chances because my spiritual life – my religious life teaches me that it is only God who appoints and He is the only one who removes. Whatever God wants to do, the whole world cannot stop him. For me, my supposed fight against Ajimobi is not a personal fight. It is a fight for people to do things right.
We have a government in place in Oyo which for the first four years never conducted local government election. The constitution says a local government shall be run democratically. So, if you refused to run it democratically and funds keep coming from the federation account to these local governments and you continue to intercept these funds, we must inquire how much of the funds over the last four – five years get to the local government and what is the result of the fund, if they ever come.
So these are the questions I am asking and the last three – four months, he announced that he would conduct local government elections, the party now did what was right by asking the people to come and collect form for primary election, which must precede local government election and he said no, it cannot be. Perhaps, because he felt that his supporters may not be able to win more than three local governments. So, must people of conscience like me keep quiet and say because Ajimobi is my friend – my senior brother.
Interestingly, I am supposed to come from the same parentage as him because his late father, the late Alhaji Ganiyu Ajimobi, was also my father as a colleague in the Oyo State House of Assembly then. He loved me so much. I was a son to him, and his son must also necessarily be my brother and I have taken Ajimobi as my brother from 2007. So, there shouldn’t be any fight on personal issues but when it comes to state issues, I have always been a fighter for the rights of the people and I promise that if I ever become governor by God’s grace, I will bring in refreshing change to governance.
The citizenry deserve respect. Party executives deserve respect and consultation because nobody can singularly bring himself to the position. You rely on all of them and I remember that in the governorship election of 2015, my local government, where I served as the electoral representative of my party came second in the whole of Oke Ogun area, where I come. Of the 10 local governments, it was only the vote of Iseyin that exceeded my local government. I am a stakeholder and also as somebody, who has always been in politics, I will not shirk away from my responsibility as a leader of the party, who should get things done properly
What factors do you reckon could shape Oyo’s governorship election?
Interestingly, of late, the Olubadan of Ibadanland has nominated me for installation as the Agbaakin Afiwajoye of Ibadanland. That means I am commander of the best of humanity. What I have going for me, apart from my antecedents, apart from my sound education, from my character and all of that is that I have been a friend of everybody and of course, I am the most experienced politician in Oyo. People, who have been in Oyo State for the past 38 years have been hearing of my name and there has not been anything to tarnish it. So, if you have been in politics for 38 years without blemish, of course, the people would know you will be a great asset to governance.
I will say in all humility that I share in President Buhari’s governmental morality. I see myself as a chip off him. I see myself as somebody who has shown over the years that you could be in government and not be corrupt. You could be in government and be a friend of the people; an agitator for the right of the people. I will say also that people know me as a practical Awoist.
Of all the politicians of today in Oyo State, there is nobody – I dare say with all sense of responsibility – who has learnt from the feet of Chief Obafemi Awolowo like I did because even as a student in the then University of Ife, I was attending meetings of the then committee of friends which metamophorsed into the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the platform I used to contest election while I was in the university. So, all the ideal of Chief Awolowo I share; all the morality of President Buhari I share. I am combining these two.