Fuel subsidy is a fraud Buhari must stop, says David West
Former Minister of Petroleum Resources and university teacher, Prof. Tam David West, blames the older generation for the moral decadence among youths in the country and laments how things are changing for the worse in the society. He disagrees with the current pump prices of petroleum products, which he says are too high and describes subsidy as a monumental fraud. He also spoke about the ongoing ASUU strike and sundry national issue. He spoke with MUYIWA ADEYEMI and SUNDAY AGBOLUAJE (Ibadan).
What is your opinion about the standard of education in Nigeria?
I don’t blame the youth; things have changed. When I talk about change, I mean both academic and moral changes. I came to the University of Ibadan (UI) in 1955 as a technician. I became a student in 1956 and was already a Professor by 1974. I was elected two times to be a member of the Council. I give glory to God.I am not special, but God has been very wonderful to me. My name means there is God and he is very wonderful to me. I have been on this campus for over five decades and I can say things have changed. The standard has changed; even the standard of staff has changed.
Those who are professors today could not be in those days. The students are copying what they see their lecturers doing. When I was in the system, I never heard of selling of marks, but they do it now. The standard is low, both among the students and lecturers. The story of sex-for-mark is everywhere and it is very shameful.
Sometime ago, I was joking and told someone about when I was a commissioner for Education in Rivers State in 1975 that the standard was low. When I was the head of department, we used to do what is called true confession, where all the PhD students would be given chance to meet the masters. You report how they have done and you asked questions. One lecturer said 2/5 is 75 per cent. How can you say that? Just to tell you that the system has been deteriorated.
The standard is too low. Then the maximum mark obtainable in JAMB was 400. I am so disappointed that the pass mark is put as low as 150 now. When I came to the University College, Ibadan (UCI), it was completely different from the UI in every standard.
The standard was very high. UCI was College of London University and was operating London University’s standard. All our graduations and final marking were done in London. It surprises me now to hear some universities declaring that they have over 100 First-Class graduates. Are they all geniuses? No university in the world can genuinely have such. I went to many good universities. When I left here, I went to the Michigan University, Yale University for my Masters and I have been and visited many universities, including Cambridge and others.
How can a university have over 100 First Class? First Class is very exclusive.
How many years did it take UCI to produce a First Class? It is very sad, not only for us, but also for the country, because things have been deteriorated politically, morally and educationally. I don’t blame the youth. If the adults behave well, they would be beacons for the youth. When they see corrupt parents, what do you expect from them (the youth)?
Coming down to the current strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), many see this as one too many. How do you feel, as someone who has lived all his life in the university?
I feel very sad. I never heard of strike before. The only time I heard of it was in 1957, when we had a protest when the Queen of England coming to the campus here. We boycotted it because of the decision to put fence on hotels.
All the universities I attended, I never heard of academic strike. It is an abomination. Just like doctors going on strike, it has implications. Though ASUU has some points for embarking on these strikes. They aren’t saying their salaries should be increased, but they are asking government to fund education. But do you need to go on strike to achieve that? The cause is noble, but the action, I don’t support it.
But the government has been accused of always reneging on implementing agreement signed with ASUU?
That also is not right, but you have to prioritise your responsibility. If I can remember, whenever they agreed on remuneration, the government reneged on it. Must they because of that go on strike? The basic responsibility of we, teachers, is to teach. If you go on strike, you are not punishing the government, but the students. We should have another way of articulating our resentment.
I taught in this university for 11 months without salaries, because they delayed in given me the letter of contract.
After my retirement, the then Provost, College of Medicine, asked me to be teaching, because of the type of virology I teach, nobody could teach it.Then I was planning to go back to Rivers State. If I didn’t teach for 11 months, the medical students would miss a year. I have all the records.
I also gave consultancy services to UCH for 15 months without payment. Sometimes, we need to put the interest of the students above our own. That is why we are teachers?
Does the government put the interest of the students/citizens first in reneging on signed agreements?
It is irresponsibility on the part of the government to put the interest of the students as low priority.The interest of the citizens is the supreme law of any government, according to Pluto and Aristotle. Any government that doesn’t do that is irrelevant.
Let us cascade to the current government. Does it take the interest of the citizens as supreme law?
I won’t say no. Are they doing anything that doesn’t respect the interest of the citizens?
However, I made a research and discovered that they released to the university, less than a quarter of their budget approved. I asked Professor Edozien to help analyse it. I don’t know how much they give to the university now. In a situation where you cannot pay staff salaries, it is irresponsibility. I will continue to say it that any organisation or government that refuses to take the interest of workers or the citizens as a supreme law is irrelevant and redundant.
If you look at this issue of the minimum wage, N30, 000 is still being debated. What would you say?
That amount (N30, 000) is not enough. However, let us look at this fundamental problem.The Federal Government has no business to tell states what to pay. There is no country in the world that does that. If you do that, then you have to provide the money.The states should determine what they could pay; the federal government cannot force any state to pay.This is not a unitary system of government. You cannot stay in Abuja and be telling people what to pay in other states.In the United States (US), salary structure differs based on universities. Nigeria is the only country where university professors earn the same.
It is wrong. Let them do it according to their ability. We must address this fundamental problem.It is like when the government talked about price control. How can you control the price of what you don’t produce? I had access to an auditor’s report where N5billion fraud was discovered in a federal university within five years. This is sad.
What steps should the government take to arrest the corrupt officers and prosecute them?
I am not the government. If N5billion fraud could take place within five years in a university, that is N1billion being embezzled every year, then some of our universities must look inwards to block the conduit pipes. I still consider myself a teacher. Let us put our house in order. There are some wastes in the university. He who comes to equity must come with clean hand.
There is this tag on your car that says: ‘No To Corruption.’ Can you say the current government is fighting corruption in the true sense of it?
But many believe that the moment an alleged corrupt politician moves to the ruling party, he or she becomes innocent?
I don’t have many facts on that, but I have greater respect for Buhari.
Is it because he made you a minister when he served as the head of state?
What is minister? I was earning higher as a consultant professor than what I earned as a minister. When Buhari found out that my salary as a consulting professor was by N2, 000 higher than what I was earning as a minister, he was surprised and he had to increase it. I regard being a professor higher than being a minister. The highest thing I can be in the university is professor, not a minister.
In any case, if you want to embezzle and enrich yourself, it is a different matter. I would never be corrupt. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida tried it, jailed me for life, saying I was offered a cup of tea and wristwatch by a foreign company that has no business interest in Nigeria. Though he called me back.
I still challenge any security to say it if I have ever been found to be corrupt or collected bribe from anybody. It is not self-righteousness, but self-confidence. Nobody can corrupt me. The government should also be careful. I read about the release of the properties to the former Minster of State for Defense, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro. Let the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) chairman come and explain to Nigerians why he did it. He has that responsibility for the country and the government, because they are giving a wrong impression about this government.
What would you say of instances where politicians in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) alleged of corruption, but the moment they cross to the APC, their cases are hardly diligently prosecuted to logical conclusion?
I have read it in the paper that EFCC returned Obanikoro’s properties to him. I haven’t got facts to it. If that is the case, anybody doing it is the enemy of the President and the country, because the President’s highest credential is integrity.
If you are working with him and you are doing something even remotely that suggests corrupt intent, you are the enemy of the President.
What would you say regarding the wide spread insinuations of selective prosecution?
I have heard that. I don’t believe Buhari can do that, because he is somebody I know very well; I wrote two books about him. There are a lot of lies against him. The Buhari I know does not condone corruption. If there is any one doing that, Buhari should punish them.
But he hasn’t successfully prosecuted any alleged corrupt politician in the APC?
What do you mean by that? If you say many, you should give examples of those who are in APC that are corrupt. Many of them are allegedly working for his re-election. How can he prosecute them? Honestly, I don’t know what you are telling me. I am a blunt person. I don’t know anyone working for his re-election that is corrupt. If I know, I will stand against it, because his integrity is more than the election. After being the President, he will be Buhari.One of the things I feel sorry for him is that in the military government, you can take decision faster, but in the democratic government, it is not so.
If you are to rate the President’s performance, are you satisfied?
I am not completely satisfied, but he hasn’t failed. A lot of things need to change. For instance, the amount we sell fuel per litre, N145, has to be changed. Nigerians need not to pay as much as that for a litre. Things can be faster. I read that former Secretary to the Federal Government was not punished on time. That is not good enough.One thing I know is that if you give Buhari hard facts, he will act. If you give facts on a corrupt person, he will act. If you were corrupt, the Buhari I know would never touch you with the longest stick. If you come with allegations that are not wholly, he would not act.I could recall when I was a minister, I was in the Counter-Trade Committee, because I gave him facts, but he ruled against the arguments of five ministers in my favour.
How do you feel as a former minister of Petroleum that Nigeria still imports refined fuel?
It is scandalous to hear Dr. Ibe Kachukwu saying all the refineries would be ready by next year. You can’t make statements like a magician. Nigeria has no business importing fuel. There are two questions: Should there be subsidy or should there be no subsidy? My answer is capital no! If you go through the racket, I will tell you why subsidy is nothing but fraud. It is not just one-man business; there are many interests involved in the fraud. When former President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Subsidy Investigation Panel and I was invited, I got my facts ready that there should not be any subsidy. The time I wanted to present my facts at the panel, Jonathan said they shouldn’t allow me.
If you have four refineries refining your crude in Nigeria, why do you import? The time I was Minister of Petroleum, we didn’t import one litre of petrol. That time, we had three refineries. They deliberately sabotage the refineries. The amount we spend on subsidy can build 10 refineries. Subsidy is a scam and fraud. It is one of the greatest frauds. I think Buhari can solve it and stop it. Anyone involved in subsidy scam should be jailed for life.Another thing is that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) buys at dollar price before it can sell and it has to pay for demurrage. At least, 14 items are added to the refining price. That is wrong.
What is your position on restructuring?
If you ask 10 Nigerians what is restructuring, all of them will give you different meanings. But to me, it is simple and it is not true that Buhari doesn’t want restructuring. Human society is not a static organisation, it is dynamic. When it changes, you change to suit it. Even organic theory of evolution is divine restructuring.To me, there are three types of restructuring- geographical restructuring, administrative restructuring and balkanisation of the country. The third one is dangerous and has an ulterior motive.
Buhari doesn’t believe in balkanising the country. Geographical restructuring is not possible, as we cannot go back to regionalism. On administrative restructuring, the centre is too powerful and the states are too weak.The constitution is clear: We are Federal Republic and the President swore to protect the constitution. I believe in devolution that the centre should be weak.
In a situation where the centre is too powerful, then we don’t have a federation.Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the guiltiest in this and he was allowed to go free with it. The Exclusive List in the constitution should not be as powerful as this. Obasanjo destroyed federation and the rule of law. If a particular president is taking too much power to himself and you allowed him, it is not his fault; it is your fault. A respected constitutional lawyer and scholar, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, has written two books on how Obasanjo subverted the federal system, democracy and the rule of law. What I am trying to say is this if Obasanjo was doing this, why can’t you challenge him?
Why can’t Buhari change it?
He cannot do it without amending the constitution, which is a rigorous process.
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