In this interview with Emameh Gabriel, Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, and the spokesperson for APC 2023 presidential election campaign, Festus Keyamo speaks on the criticisms trailing the party’s one faith presidential ticket and the party’s chances of winning 2023 presidential election. Excerpts:
It’s almost four years after your appointment as a Minister, would you say you have done well enough in your ministry to justify your appointment?
It is always immodest and I consider it inappropriate to judge yourself and give yourself a score in all circumstances. The only thing you can do is just to lay bare what you have done and allow people to judge. That is what I try to do in a number of times.
In my portfolio as Minister of State, Labour and Productivity, I have been given a few assignments to perform and I can say that I have tried to criticize myself on a number of occasions. I welcome criticism. I can only reel out some of the things I have done and allow people to judge for themselves.
For instance, in my schedule of duty, the President has said I should supervise the agency they called the National Directorate of Employment. The President has also said that I supervise the Labour Institute in Ilorin. Those were the assignments given to me by the President. Since I was appointed the Minister, the National Directorate of Employment has tried its best within its mandate to execute the programme under its belt and I have supervised those programmes. Those programmes has to do with employment generating platforms. There are so many of them, some has to do with training, skills accusations and in many cases also after training, they give them starting packs in individual trade. As of today, we have done thousands of thousands across the country.
One thing I know the public would want me to talk about is the public works, which has to do with the 774,000 jobs and I am sure everybody is waiting to hear me talk about that. As I speak with you, we have executed the programme and we have reported back to the President. We have also evaluated those we have paid and we achieve about 97 to 98 percent success. We paid everybody. In the payment schedule, I have created a transparency system to the extent that the name of those who were paid, their local government, their bank account numbers, their BVN numbers are all available for public scrutiny. I have asked the NDE to make it available for known journalists so that the public will come and dispute or interrogate.
It’s one of the rare programmes under government and when we did that, the balance that was left, I wrote to Mr. President to permit me to refund the money to the Federation Account and the President permitted me and we refunded the money to the Federation Account. It is there.
How much did you refund to the government?
It is over N400 million that we returned to the federation account. This is one among many issues concerning employment. But let’s look at other issues. You were appointed. Is your appointment a reward for executing your job diligently in 2019? Do you compensate a person for giving him a hard work back to back?
Would you call that a difficult job if your party has done well?
To be a spokesperson for a presidential campaign? That is one of the hardest work on earth because it is not whether you are doing well or not because you are under public scrutiny. You are trying to market a presidential candidate before the whole country. So if they pick on you back to back, it is not compensation. But guess what, I am extremely excited to have been appointed to the same role.I do not take it for granted. The significance is also not lost on me. I want to tell all my leaders that I deeply appreciate the confidence they reposed in us and because of that, we are prepared to do the utmost for the party and sacrifice for my party and do everything for free of charge. I do that in 2019 free of charge.
For those who are insinuating, you know I don’t respond to some comments but for the purpose of this interview, I have to respond, especially to some spokesmen of the opposition party. You know when they want to divert attention from issues, they keep attacking your person. They say Keyamo is stomach infrastructure, Keyamo is stomach politician. I heard them said that and I laughed. The only thing that gets you annoyed is when they are saying the truth. But when they say anything that is so far away from the goal, just laugh and let it go.
Not paying full attention to my practice as a senior advocate to serve my party, is the deepest form of patriotism I have expressed because I am sure you know how much I love my profession. But at a point, I felt the focus should be getting access to power to help the people. You cannot do so much as a private person. As a private person I could not have suggested to the president for example that we need to give people after the pandemic some money in their pockets, which is the 777, 400 Jobs, N60,000 to each individual.
You said earlier that it is usually a difficult job to sell a presidential candidate for any political party, your party has recently become a subject of criticism in recent time. What exactly will you campaign with this time?
Let me tell you one thing about the psychology of the public. Unfortunately that psychology is also brought about by the subliminal messages passed by the press to the public too. They are subliminal but they shape the minds of the public without the public knowing that they are being mentally colonised. Government can be right for 364 days, can do all the beautiful things for 364 days. The bad boys and the criminals only have to strike for one day and the public will forget all the memories of that 364 days. That is the nature of government. It is not peculiar to Nigeria. It’s all over the world. Our job is to remind Nigerians that there was 364 days that you did not notice. That is our job. Our job is just to tell Nigerians that what happened in that a single day out of that 365 days, cannot wipe out all the beautiful memories that we have had. Is just to let them see the positives at all but why there mentality are shapes to the narratives that there is no positives to it because of the phrases the press is pushing out. “Nigeria has collapsed”, this government has failed’. These are cliche that are in the public space. By the time you drag people and say come down from that high horse and let us interrogate the issues, we can now begin to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The second one is that, all over the world, the opposition are having a field day. Not only in Nigeria. Almost every country in the world is passing through economoc crisis. Almost every country. And so what the opposition are doing in those countries, they isolate that country from the world. Nigeria’s opposition is no different and I give it to them because when you are fighting, you use any available weapon.
Isn’t that the same strategy your party deployed in 2015 to work its way to power?
The disadvantage they have is that the weapon they have, we have used it before. So we know where to neutralise them. That is to our advantage now. That is what is giving them headache.
Can you identify those areas you think your party has done really well in the last seven and half years?
I have with me here a 73-page document of facts and figures on the achievements of the Buhari’s government. Tremendous! It covers electoral reforms. People have forgotten that we have adopted the most revolutionary electoral reform in Nigeria. Legislative reforms alone goes as far as addressing areas that have been problems for administration of the past. Proceeds of crime, Deep Offshore Inland Revenue, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Mutual Assistant In Crime Bill, Nigeria Correctional Service Bill, The PIB. PIB that was an intractable problem from one government to the other, Buhari cracked that Bill. They are so many that I can’t mention. On electoral reforms, we have done exceedingly well. They were revolutionary in nature. The President also gave various executive orders too to promote transparency, local procurement and production of goods and services and so many others.
On security, we have reduced Boko Haram and insurgency in the North East considerably and that is a statement of facts. Today as I speak to you, I don’t know about tomorrow, today we have reduced terrorism considerably and the World terrorism index said so. What we not not reduced is banditry and kidnapping. Just like Boko Haram and farmers/ herders clashes appeared intractable at a point, we needed grand plan to attack them just as we did in the National Livestocks Transformation Scheme that attacked the issues of farmers headers crisis. What we did was to vote money to each state and say look go and get a ranching place for these people. Take them of the street, keep them somewhere. First they said they had no money, but we gave them money. So even those states that were attacking the Federal Government came back to say they needed the money.
Has that really helped to resolve the herders-farmers crisis?
It has not finished but it has reduced drastically. Before now, every day there was an attack in Benue, Taraba axis. I understand Benue is setting up some local task force or something like that. It’s to make sure that they keep the peace and gains that we have recorded.
When you are solving one problem, another one is coming up. No government in the world can solve all the problems at a time. Not one. You solve the ones you meet on the ground, the ones you cannot solve, the next government continues. We talk about rail. You know how we have done in terms of rail.
Some people said we are borrowing to do rail. Yes! It’s better to borrow to do infrastructure than to borrow to eat. Roads, airport and sea ports. You see the revolutions in airports. We have done most of the eastern airport. We have redesigned Enugu runway, I am not talking about the building but the runway. It is one of the best around the country now that almost all international air lines can land now. It was Fulani man that came to do it. We have done a lot in water resources, housing and the dams we have renovated are all here. Ease of doing business reforms are there, digital economy and so many more. You can have the document and study it yourself. Don’t forget, we are commissioning the second Niger Bridge by December.
In the areas where we have faced challenge, I have not gloss over it. What are these areas? Two things and they happened this year. There was a Kaduna train attack, there was also an attack on a correctional facility in Abuja. After that, they said the government has failed. They have forgotten the 73-page achievements.
Interesting that APC has done well in infrastructural development, and infrastructure is meant for the living. We can see the security challenges in the country. To travel by road, whether good or bad road is no longer the issue, but security. We have also heard the President giving orders to service chiefs, and the military equipment acquired by this administration. Yet, our roads and rails are unsafe to travel on. Are you not worried about this? What exactly is the problem?
Let me go to the specific. I told you that you have to solve these problems sector by sector and step by step. Why have we not open the Kaduna rail lines again?. There was an attempt to open it but they stopped it again. When you have a serious problem like that, you try and solve it once and for all. As I speak with you, very comprehensive measure are being worked out between security agencies and Ministry of Transportation. So that when that resumes again, you can be sure you can go to sleep with your two eyes closed. Government is taking measures just to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. We are coming to that point, kidnapping will reduce significantly. The planning and execution of counter terrorism activities take time but eventually government will get there.
Your candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is rated as most difficult candidate to market among other major contenders. How would want to sell him to Nigerians?
I have said it on different fora that Asiwaju is the easiest candidate to market. On the surface people just thought like “is this guy joking? Is he insane? By the time we begin to role out the records, the facts and the figures, it will now become clear that nobody is close to Asiwaju. Because really it is about what you have done. Governance is not for motivational speakers. Governance is not for smooth talkers. Most smooth talkers are the 419 people who talk their ways into power. I am sorry, governance is not about that. Governance is about records. Motivational speaking is different from governance. What have they done? People say you can’t campaign for Asiwaju without looking stupid. I have such comment and I love that comment a lot. You know why I love that comment that you can’t look stupid? Because only geniuses look stupid. The Newtons of this world looked stupid. The Alexander Bell looked stupid when he talked about inventing the telephone. When the Wright brothers said they needed to invent something that will fly on the air, they said they were sick. Then, these ideas were unthinkable to many. Is only geniuses that appear so stupid to ordinary people. So we are proud to look stupid. To campaign for a genius who appears stupid to everybody now. Over the years before Asiwaju came, there was a Bar Beach in Lagos that became a living hell to every one living on Victoria Island every raining season. Before Asiwaju, government upon government bring down all kinds of stones and materials to stop the waters from taking over the area. But Asiwaju came and said I want to build a city on this water. But he sounded stupid to everyone. That is the ingenuity of Asiwaju. He did not only contained the water, he turned it to the best city in Lagos and that is the Eko Atlantic City we have today. I am very proud to be associated with that kind of ‘stupid man’ as they described him. I am very proud.
Tinubu was the one who started the independent power project. When we are saying Atiku is not hundred miles near Asiwaju, you first of all think this it is a stupid statement that Keyamo is making. But on a second thought, this is true because Atiku has not been a position to make critical decisions. He has not! He was only given power to go and implement decisions already taken by his boss. And even that small task they gave to him, turned out to be a disaster. I am not trying to run him down. ASCON was sold at the most ridiculous price ever.
I am sorry, this is an issue based campaign, I am not using abusive words, I am addressing issues and I said Atiku cannot come close to Asiwaju. Asiwaju met one of the most chaotic traffic situation in Lagos State. And he approached Osinbajo to look at the law if he could create a traffic agency in Lagos and that was how LASMA came to be. Edo has adopted it. Lagos State leads, everyone follows. I am proud to be associated with that kind of person. He did a special lane for molue buses that were causing trouble everywhere. Who did all that? The team he gathered, the Osinbajo and co. This is just a tip of the iceberg. Atiku should bring his record. Other than marrying plenty wives and go to Dubai and posing as former vice president. I am not being sarcastic but that’s the truth. Even the private sector they are talking about, drag them there. They started TV stations together. GOTEL started a year before Asiwaju’s TVC. GOTEL today, is almost wiped out of existence. Poor content, bad management, owing salaries up to 18 months. GOTEL is in crisis in Adamawa, while Asiwaju’s TVC has become an international brand. That is private business. The Nation Newspaper started as a joke but it pushed itself up. Despite the fact that it was a title before but it pushed itself up and established itself in the market. Other governors found their newspapers at the same time, where are all those titles today?
Asiwaju could have done the best universities around Lagos with the means and capacity, he refused to take private license to go and do an elite university just to make profit for himself. Instead he expanded Lagos university to three. Lagos today has three public universities. Rather than taking advantage of that to go and establish one private university, he refused to, he rather expanded the existing Polytechnics in Lagos and upgraded existing technical college to degree awarding institute. And you said he is the most difficult candidate to market? Tinubu’s situation reminds me of the case of a blacksmith who toiled to train his child to the university. And the day the son graduated, he turns back and says, Daddy why is your hands so black and rough? I would rather have a father that has no rough hands. I am ashamed. I want a father with smooth hands. That’s the case. Asiwaju has used his time, energy and health to serve his people and the country. If anyone is saying Asiwaju is old, it’s one of the diservices we can do to him. Because of the man today, we don’t have one party state in the country. That is the man that changed the equation of the political calculation of the entire country today. By today, it would have been a one party system, only the PDP.
I was privileged to travel with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during his presidential primary campaign tours across the country. The complaints by party members about the reward system in the APC dominated the conversations. With Asiwaju likely to emerge victorious come 2023, how would you address this anomaly?
The question is a very tricky question and is a two edge question; it has its positive sides on that edge and it has its negative side on that same edge. Let me tell you why it’s a two edge sword. As governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju went to search for a high competent technocrat to run his budget office. That is where the brain box in, budget and planning. They separated it from finance. Asiwaju had all the Lagosians who toyed for him, who voted for him to be governor, but he made up his mind that for the benefits of all of these people, let me develop Lagos very well so that they can eventually benefit more than giving them handouts. He now went to Anambra State and picked an Igbo man, Akabueze and brought him to the budget office. He went to Ogun State and brought Wale Edun, same thing as Osinbajo and said to him, come and run my justice system because Osinbajo is one of the best brains we have in this country. Osinbajo turned Lagos judiciary to a model in the world and the whole of Africa. Even the federal government began to learn from Lagos. He brought in a lot of women and women began to run the Lagos judiciary because he believed that they were more committed to their jobs and have less responsibility to steal. He reformed the civil procedure rules of Lagos judiciary and other people copied the procedure system in Lagos. He brought in the arbitration system in Lagos. That’s only one sector. In the finance sector, that was the beginning of the famous revolution you see today in Lagos and Lagos today has become the third largest economy in Africa.
Now coming back to your question, you can see that in a way, what part of that question is negative is in the sense that a critical sector of your administration, you don’t use it to compensate. Except you find someone within the party system, who is intelligent, you can compensate him with that role. You don’t just compensate people because they work for you and then you run down your government because it requires a technical knowledge in that area. The other edge of the sword. The ability for leader to transmute from that local click he belongs and become a leader for all, is very difficult thing to do because you have that you click drawing you back to say you must compensate them because it’s time to chop. Was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala part of PDP? No! They went to the World Bank to beg her. You can see in that situation, other stakeholders from the state she represented as a minister, would revolted, “who is this woman? Where was she when we were suffering for this party? But can you do what she is doing?. The is only way you can balance it. You first of all look within yourselves and within the party circle, do we have competent people, if you do, there is no point going out look for someone else. On the other hand though, what party members are complaining about are genuine. I support them. I only support them to the extent that it’s not come and chop. I only support them to extent that there are competent hands within the party that can run certain MDAs. You can give it to them and compensate them with it.
What of the issue of the all muslim presidential ticket of APC?
I have spoken about this one faith ticket but let me put it on record. I have three or four angles to this question. The All Progressives Congress, APC, just adopted a winning strategy. It is not to spite the Christians. This is to ensure we win the 2023 presidential election. Let me explain further to assuage the fears of the Christians. Their fear is not about Muslim-Muslim ticket really, but the fear that they want to wipe them out of Nigeria. To make Nigeria an Islamic State. To make sure our interest is not protected. Those are their fears. Like I said before, the Christians in Nigeria have nothing to fear over Muslim-Muslim ticket. Let me start from the legal point of view, before I come to social, economic and others. From the legal point of view, there are about 57 Islamic countries in the world: Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Turkey etc. These countries are called Islamic States because it is expressly enshrined in their Constitutions that their Government shall be run according to Islamic principles. It is enshrined in their Constitutions that, you can’t contest for president except you are a Muslim.
On the contrary, under the Nigerian Constitution, we don’t have that. In fact, Section 10 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution says, we shall not adopt any religion as State religion: both at Federal and State levels. What this means is that Nigeria is a secular State. As it stands today, 19 States out of 36 are governed by Christians governors. They are more than the Muslims. Hence, it is practically impossible to change Nigeria to Islamic State.
Secondly, by the virtues of our Constitution, the president is the Commander-in-Chief. The vice president has no single power accorded to it by the Constitution, except the chairman of Economic Council. In any case, it is an advisory body. Any decision taken here, the vice president will take to the president for final say. I’m not underrating the vice president’s office but merely stating the facts as they are in the Constitution. In fact, it is only Vice President Osinbajo, in the history of Nigeria, that the president has given power to act as president. Atiku never acted for an hour as president. In the last one week, Atiku’s campaign spokesperson has gone over drive, trying to convince Nigerians. It’s a lie ‘lori iro.’ They brought out former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s tape and claimed Atiku really acted, having executive powers. It is a lie. Google documents shows all presidential movements. If you google Atiku acted as vice president, the space is blank. Atiku never acted as president. Google Osinbajo acted as president, it will open up for you. Even in Council, a few times the president travels, and vice acted as president, critical memos will have to wait for the president to come back.
Third, something happened in India. An Indian politician was on a campaign tour. He saw a boy of about 10 years and asked him, “Are you a Muslim, Christian or Hindu”? And the little boy answered “I am hungry.” The boy’s response became the focal point of the campaign and the party of that politician lost that election. From this example, it’s clear that it’s not about religion but track records, the ability to deliver. Come to think of it, why pastors and Christians going to Dubai, a Muslim State for medical attention? Why are Muslims and Imams going to the United States, a Christian country? Why are they not boycotting countries based on religion? So, what Nigerians are saying is that, “We are hungry.” They just want more and we are finding solution to the more they want. The religion a candidate practice is just happenstance.
There are fears but what they are asking for is politically evil. Let me give you two quick examples to buttress this point.
Christians are dominant in the South while Muslims dominate the North. If in the future, a Christian from the North clinches the APC ticket, will he come to the South and pick a Muslim running mate? He will certainly pick a Christian because of their voting population in the South. Now that we have Muslim-Muslim ticket, someday, there may be Christian-Christian ticket because a precedent has been set. Let me ask my friend and classmate, Hon Yakubu Dogara and Babachair Lawal, if God smile on them tomorrow and any of them picks the APC ticket, will they go to the South and pick a Muslim running mate?
Or a party ticket is zoned to South South or South East, where will you get a Muslim in the South South or East as running mate? They are not looking at the bigger picture.
What’s your strength in the South East with Peter Obi’s Movement gaining momentum by the day, and the fear that you might not be able to take your campaign to the region?
Frankly speaking, we have always had challenges in the South East. Agreed in 2015 and 2019. However, our popularity has been growing steadily since the 2019 general elections. Between 2019 and now, we have produced two governors in the South East. All these are not happening by chance. These is happening because, many in the South East are beginning to see that their leaders are misleading them. The facts on ground does not support the assertion that President Muhammadu Buhari or APC does not like the South East. The president has done for the South East what no leader has since done since 1999. The Second Niger bridge has been on drawing board since 1999, it took Buhari to effect it. To demonstrate his commitment to the project, when he came onboard, he decided to remove the project from budget circle to Presidential Special Funds. Work is at advanced stage and the president is determined to commission the project before May 29. Also, a section of the Enugu -Port Hacourt road has been completed and it’s in use. The thing is, some people decided to push false narrative against the Buhari’s government, which led them into violence. Lately, the agitation has reduced. One of their sons, I mean, Peter Obi, is contesting for president. By and large, we believe, before the election, the Peter Obi euphoria will die down. We are working to keep our South East supporters together. It is becoming clear that the facts favour the APC.