Nigerians will soon see the silver lining, says Oyegun
National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, speaks on the party’s one year in power, President Buhari’s administration and the prospects ahead
As the APC celebrates its first anniversary in power, do you think it is living up to the expectations of Nigerians?
The simple answer is yes in spite of the fact that we are first to accept and admit that there is a lot of hardship in the land. And I say yes because the welfare of the people is central to the APC-led government. We believe that every government derives its legitimacy not just from the consent of the people, but the ability to address the welfare of the people. That hasn’t been served.
There were certain realities when the APC government came into office. These realities are clear. We were confronted with a shattered economy, paucity of funds to the point that a lot of States could not meet their salary bills, to the extent that it was also difficult for the federal system to meet its salary bill. The reality was that for quite a while we had to borrow money to help the States and to also meet our own federal obligations. That was the extent of damage the economy was when we took over.
Secondly and most unfortunately, this also coincided with the collapse of the crude oil market which accounts for well over 70 percent of our revenue and over 95 percent of our foreign exchange earnings. So all of these of course made the job of immediate delivery on our promises and objectives very difficult. The priorities then had to change. We must save the nation from economic collapse. We must save the nation from bankruptcy if we are to come to the stage of delivering services as promised to the people. However let’s list the promises of Mr. president which include security, job creation, diversification of our economy, solid minerals and agriculture. If you want to go by that order, you find out that President Buhari has achieved remarkable feats with the paucity of fund.
In the area of security, his leadership alone and the inspiration that he gave to the troops has resulted in the containment of the Boko Haram insurgency. People who used to penetrate virtually all over the North cannot now do so easily and one must complement the security agencies not just the soldiers at the war front in the North-East but the other faceless security agencies who whether we like it or not have been able to prevent the kind of penetration into other States like Kano, Kaduna and Abuja that the Boko Haram seem to be able to do in the past. That has not happened again for quite a long time even though are few insignificant incidences in some fringe areas. Why am I picking this out? It is because when evil is prevented, it doesn’t make noise. They would not come out to say we have prevented a bombing in the night. Life just goes on but they are doing their duty to the people of this country quietly. And I think they deserve to be complemented. But peace has been sufficiently restored to make it possible to now move into stage two which is the resettlement of displaced persons in their homes and the facilitation of their return to their farms to the extent that it has attracted some international support, apart from what the federal government has put in place measures to restore the economy.
Buhari’s government has succeeded not only in delivering to almost to a point of 90+ per cent on the security issue which is fundamental but has also been able to lay the foundation for delivery on other promises that he made to the people of this country.
In terms of employment, he promised to employ 500,000 teachers. That would go on. 10,000 additional police officers that is going on but at the heart of it is restoring small scale and medium scale industries because that is where the bulk of the employment will take place. This is why the power sector is being given top priority. It has been very difficult achieving all these successes in the first year.
What do you make of the recent resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region?
I can’t say there is resurgence yet in the Niger Delta. We have a case where the state is being defied. The sovereignty of the state is being challenged. That is unacceptable. Security forces have been deployed in that area and note that blowing up the pipelines is relatively easy because there are miles and miles of it all over the place but the security forces are there, they have been deployed, they are searching for the culprits and a few have been apprehended and so in the next few weeks the results would become apparent when those pumps are fixed. It is a situation that is unacceptable and we have a government that is determined that nobody should challenge the authority of the state and get away with it.
If you juxtapose the state of the economy today with how it was before the APC assumed power, don’t you think the plight of Nigerians is worse off?
I think it is universal saying that it is easier to destroy than to rebuild. If you want to pull a building down, you just need one bulldozer and in one hour it is gone. And that was what happened with the last administration. They deployed bulldozers and the country was brought to its knees. Now we have President Buhari whose task it is to rebuild the destroyed foundation and rebuilding is not easy in any situation or environment. Now the crude oil price has collapsed but during the last administration we had even excess crude accounts. Agencies like the NIMASA which was making money in foreign exchange we saw how all sort of things happened to the resources. The same happened to our main source of income the NNPC and it is now beginning to unfold. That was even done with our crude oil, a lot of it pumped, taken abroad and sold and the money repatriated for political use. Contracts were awarded and the monies shared with the contractors and contracts not performed.
That was why we don’t have electric, good roads.
Take the case of the second Niger-Bridge that was commissioned almost three times. These were the challenges President Buhari inherited.
What do you make of perception in certain quarters that the government’s anti-graft fight is selective and vindictive?
How do you describe vindictiveness? Tell me something if you were in charge and monies that were meant to enable our troops in the North east be properly equipped, not just to fight successfully, but to also protect their own lives were diverted and shared. What would you do to such persons involved in this kind of fraud? I don’t know what words to use to describe it. I don’t know why you will describe it as vindictive. Let me tell you this, as at the time we took over power, troops were being carried to the war front in hired vehicles. You are virtually sentencing them to death. So I don’t know what you consider as vindictive when crude oil is pumped illegally for people to sell and remit the funds into political uses. Meanwhile people are dying.
We are lucky in this country that our president is now so democratised to the extent that he is the chief apostle of due process. A lot of people really feel bitter about this issue but he would say get the evidence, go to court and let the court decide. APC members are also under investigation and trial. When people talk in those terms I am always amazed. The corruption that took place was institutional within the governmental fabric and structure. There was no opposition person involved.
When you say institutional, we know that some key actors in the APC today were equally part of the last government?
I am trying to think of which persons are you talking about. People are not being investigated. Institutions are being investigated as to what they did with public funds and whoever has his name cropping up it will be too bad for such person. You saw the military one. Do they have party labels? So we have a president who is bold enough to call a spade a spade.
Why did the APC-led government remove fuel subsidy, whereas its key actors vehemently opposed the last administration from removing it?
I don’t want to sound like a broken record. At the time we opposed the policy we had excess crude account. The price of a barrel of crude oil was $100. We were getting much more than expected so you put some aside because the people deserve a share of it. But all of that has disappeared.
Our foreign reserve is down to about $20 – $25 billion and the price of oil is still going down. It is still in the range of $40 – $46. The money is no longer there. The rules have changed. The environment has changed. Money to continue the subsidy regime which have been abused is not there. In any case, those who were exploiting and misusing the so-called subsidy regime are still the people exploiting the people of this country. We have a hard choice to make. Is it to protect the people or to continue to put money in the pockets of the wrong people rather than those the subsidy is supposed to favour? We took a bold decision by deregulating the fuel.
Do you think that if there is an election today, APC wouldn’t enjoy the goodwill it enjoyed in the 2015 polls?
That is very speculative. Universally, mid-term government tends to lose a bit of its support. The fire of the electioneering period is no longer present and so everybody is much more quieter. But let’s face it, there is hardship in the land, let’s face it people are going through difficult times, let’s face it, there is a process of adjustment created by the past, the profligacy of the past. We have a consumption economy to the extent that we produce absolutely nothing. The Buhari administration is trying to wean us back from the feeding bottle into reality.
The pains were already there but it has made things a little more difficult. But what is important is whether there is still a silver lining out of the four years tenure. With the signing of 2016 budget, money is already being pumped into the system. Contractors are back at work.