Former Ekiti State governor, Chief Segun Oni, is the deputy national chairman (South) of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and a member of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC). He speaks with Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, on the performance of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the last two years, the insinuation of a gang-up in the South-West against former Lagos State governor and national leader of the party, Chief Bola Tinubu, by certain ministers of the Buhari administration and the reports of a cabal within the government. Excerpts:
BY May 29, this administration will have spent two years in office. Can you beat your chest and say with all sincerity that the ruling party has met the expectations of Nigerians. Do you feel fulfilled?
Well, I would say we have done quite a lot. We have achieved quite a lot; some of which we probably haven’t quite directed the attention of Nigerians to. When the president came in two years ago, I want to challenge you (journalists) to go and check in every state the amount of salary arrears. But being a government with a human face, government, therefore, started pumping aid in that direction so that states could at least move on from a position where they owed salaries for six months and eight months. Today, I am sure the situation is better but I also would want you (journalists) to help us by finding out whether all the money truly went into the purposes they were intended, because maybe by now, it should be a rare occurrence that any state should be owing salaries. This is an example of building Nigeria and we should all be trying to do that. It was what you could call a no-rules game. If anybody wants to straighten Nigeria, it cannot be done overnight; you can see that aspect being straightened, whether the president makes noise or not. You can see that with his determination, I am sure by the time he is leaving; it would become almost unexpected for any government institution to owe salaries. I am hoping that that’s also one thing that Labour unions should be very, very happy about with us.
We talk about security; it hasn’t got to a level of perfection but it has gone very well. Today, there is no organisation that holds any part of Nigeria under its control; we should see that as a very big achievement. Yes, you could still have some suicide bombings or whatever, but they are progressively getting fewer. So, we are almost getting there.
On the fight against corruption, the president has taken the fight straight to the doorsteps of corruption and corrupt people. So, for the first time, we are seeing things that should make Nigerians ask more questions. For example, if there are so many dollars, so much all over the place in different hands, how did this economy fund them? Simply in the name of having an election, a government pumped so much dollars that it became an armada? How was it funded? Now we are carrying the cans. No economy will receive that kind of bashing and won’t be down or prostrate. But it is coming gradually and it will come. So, the fight against corruption is not over; it will continue because in fighting corruption, you are dealing with people of yesterday who are corrupt; be prepared also to deal with people of today and tomorrow, who will be corrupt. So, it should be an ongoing war.
The economy is an offshoot of corruption. I am happy that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is beating its chest now that they have it in terms of managing the forex regime; I hope they have got it. I hope we can now sleep very well, because all that happened has put the economy in an unimaginably bad shape. A friend of mine in export business was explaining to me the amount of debt burden now on him. When he was buying cocoa, believing that the exchange rate in open field was about N500. He sent out cocoa and he is yet to get his money in. Of course, we are all too happy to exchange the money at N380, but should we allow this economy to do that? I was asking him, I said, is there no export guarantee schemes or whatever that can even cushion you guys a little bit? I said, maybe they should discuss with the CBN. But what I am saying is that this economy isn’t an easy animal to tame, because it is an economy where everybody believes he is wise, wiser than government, where everybody wants to cut corners and make windfall profit out of every government pronouncement. But we must manage the economy in such a way that life will be easier for the average Nigerian and that’s where we should be and I believe that the CBN will still do a lot more. So, the economy is always going to be an ongoing assignment but I won’t say that we have done woefully there.
But the argument is that the promises made by this administration to move the economy away from a mono-cultural economy and diversify hasn’t be met. What is your take?
To move the economy from a mono-cultural economy, you first have to stabilise it. In the last two years, we have been battling with stability, because when you haven’t even put the economy on a stable front, it will be very difficult to talk about diversification. I have given you an example of what happened to people trying to export cocoa, which is an example of what people are faced with. I think the situation is stabilising
The economy comes first and then the government trying to move it. The Federal Government is doing a lot in the area of solid minerals. If the solid mineral booms and by the time it brings out dividends, it will also add on to the effort to take away the economy from being mono-cultural. I think we shouldn’t be looking at the multi-cultural destination as a decision that can be reached one day. It is a journey and if we are seeing it, we should identify whether the journey is going in the right direction or not and that’s what we should be discussing.
In terms of agriculture, I think it is going in the right direction, because there was a projection that Nigeria will stop importing rice soon and begin to export rice; that’s one good thing. Solid mineral sector, I have said it. So, diversification is a bus stop that we would approach from different directions but I don’t think we have slept off; we haven’t.
There is this observation that the Buhari administration does not have a crack economic team to drive its economic policy.
You see, I don’t want to deride anybody. When there was an Okonjo-Iweala, people believed that there was a crack economic team, but what were they able to achieve that we haven’t? This economy was down, down the pit before we came. So, what are we supposed to do that these people aren’t doing? People are just trying to sell the world economic team by brand name: Okonjo-Iweala was there, therefore, it must be a crack team. Please, let us look beyond that and ask ourselves: are they getting the results? If they are getting results, then there must be a crack team. I have said this.
But how come the forex is on the loose?
Talking about the dollar, it is even less than N400 even in the black market. I think it is a result, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, it is a result, if at a time we were thinking that there would be famine; that Nigerians wouldn’t be able to find even food import. Some people were making such cruel projections that by the end of last year, there would be famine and that we wouldn’t be able to farm. But it didn’t happen. It is a result, we may not have noticed or acknowledge it, but it is a result.
Every end of year, we get very long queue at filling stations, since this administration came on board, those queues have disappeared. Even if nobody now remembers, we should be able to cast our minds to say these are indices of better management, and so on. There are quite a lot of things people are always quick to give us less credit than we deserve. Yes, we know that’s what it is when you are in government, you don’t get all your full credits until you are out of government and they probably have the opportunity of comparing you to either your predecessor, or your successor and people can now say, ‘okay, he has done well.’ But I don’t think the performance on the economy is bad.
Your party presented its blueprint to the electorate before the 2015 general election. Can you say that there is fidelity in the implementation of your party’s manifesto?
I will say that we need to do better. A party has a manifesto and it isn’t for just the national government. It is for both national and state government and it is our responsibility as a party to adhere. I think you have just given us a good observation and we must ensure that the manifesto is being followed with sincerity at both national and states level. I believe that maybe every year before we draw our budget, we should have been carrying out reviews about how we are faring in relation to our manifesto. It isn’t as if we have abandoned it but, we can do better.
This may sound hypothetical; if there is a general election, do you think APC can repeat the feat it recorded in 2015?
Yes, I believe that if there is a general election, APC would win. It is going to be give-and-take; in some places where we were poor, we would show very bright improvement. In some places where we had total black out, there may be some improvements but I still believe that this party would still win if there is an election tomorrow.
You are deputy national chairman, South.
There is a sustained move to supplant a certain national leader of the party in the South-West and there has been insinuations that certain ministers from the zone are in the vanguard of the plot allegedly orchestrated by the Presidency. What is being done to ensure amity in the zone?
We aren’t driving ourselves towards a division; we must drive ourselves in the direction of unity. We have a leadership that has been respected and at all times. We have young people also coming up, who will have what I call digital ideas but those digital ideas must work in sync with the leadership. I don’t believe that there will be any group of young people that will overthrow the established leadership. No, it will not happen. What will happen is that all of us will work in the direction of getting better control of the South-West. There are a lot of things we can do in South-West together as a region and we are flowing gradually towards it now. Once Ekiti becomes a part of this game, we can now sit and decide what we can do together: education, health even schools sport—things that we don’t take significant but are important for today’s children, the future and so on. We can begin to now see ourselves more, because the fact that states were created out of the West shouldn’t make us completely outsiders within our domain. We can find more valid grounds to rebuild our relationship. These are the kind of things that we believe we begin to get into the moment Ekiti comes in.
So, the people of the South-West will see it as yes; let us now build up stability in the hands of those people whose style we are confident about. Look at Lagos, the development you are seeing now; first some people conceived it and they made it stable and we should give credit to that leadership. That stability and continuity have continued to propel Lagos. It is moving at a jet speed now and others should copy. So, don’t let us look at the life of a state or country derived from a person. When a man reaches the age of 70, no matter how solid his physique is; he has to move. But when a state approaches that, it is still not at maturity yet. Lagos at 50 isn’t yet at maturity. It is at the growth stage. So, South-West will be there but I don’t want us to begin to say some young Turks are accusing some people. No, all of us are the same.
But, there have been insinuations of power play as we approach 2019. Are you saying the young Turks and the established leadership are on the same page?
No, there are so many into this game that we think. I don’t see any rebellious move. I see all of us as a people that need to come together, often to discuss. Yes, we can have differences. There is a saying in Yoruba land that when you see the children of same parents coming out of a meeting and all smiling, they haven’t told themselves the truth. But when they come out of a meeting and some are frowning, then you know that truth must have been told. So, we would always have differences.
There was a meeting of certain chieftains of the party from the zone held in Ibadan. There hasn’t been a follow up since then. Was there a stalemate?
No, there would be. I was discussing with somebody not too long ago; we would get back to Chief Bisi Akande, the convener. Yes, that sort of meeting is necessary. In fact, that will kill all the notions that some people are against established leadership. No, nobody is against established leadership. Everybody wants to be older, so nobody wants to throw mud at old age.
You sound so confident about your party getting Ekiti. What makes you think Governor Ayo Fayose can be upstaged?
I will say go to Ekiti. You are journalists; go to Ekiti and ask questions from market women, from civil servants, from teachers. Enter into buses and ask questions. You don’t need more than that and anybody who has been there and who listens will know that the days of Fayose administration are numbered.
Chief Bisi Akande was the interim national chairman of the APC. There was a statement attributed to him, penultimate Monday, where he alleged that a certain cabal within the Presidency was undermining the nation as a result of the ill health of President Buhari. Could it be that there is disconnect between certain leaders of the party, the NWC itself and the Presidency to have made Chief Akande to make his observation public?
No, I won’t say there is disconnect and I believe also that as journalists, you have to sell your newspapers and you have to celebrate whatever you think are minor cracks but I believe that Chief Akande wasn’t trying to be mischievous. I believe in all sincerity, because if there are people who have access to the president, Chief Akande has access to the president and if there are people who enjoy the president’s respect and confidence, Baba Akande does. So, anything he does, he sees it in good faith. I don’t want people to politicise it, I don’t want people to ethnicise it. I will encourage the older people at their level to visit one another and trash out whatever are issues but I don’t think it is an issue for the national working committee (NWC). Baba was our interim national chairman, why should there be a gap?
You don’t see his statement as an expression of his frustration with the cabal?
When people use words like cabal, who are so called? That’s the question; who are the people so called? People pick very strong terms to use to create the feeling that something awful is going on. I don’t think so. I believe, like I have been saying, that very few people, whether they work at the Presidency or not, have better access to the president than Baba Akande or Asiwaju— very few people. So, there is no cause for frustration of any kind