Sadly, in the past few years, and leading up to this elections, the ruling party has used religion in such a cynical manner to be the most divisive and acrimonious issue they wish the electorate to consider, instead of competence, record and integrity.”“
Corruption and mismanagement rocking the Jonathan administration, and the selection of the 57 year old Yemi Osinbajo, as a running mate of Muhammadu Buhari the Candidate for the All Progressives Congress( APC) Party, in the Nigeria’s presidential election, was a Political Game Changer that will propel Mr. Buhari as a strong favorite to win Nigeria’s presidential election ahead of President Goodluck Jonathan who faces an uphill struggle to connect with disillusioned voters across the country especially in four of the six geo political zones in Nigeria. Namely: the Northwest; the Northeast; the Northcentral; and Yoruba region of the Southwest.
Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (equivalent to Queen’s Counsel), is a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice for Lagos State. He is a brilliant legal scholar and former law professor at the University of Lagos his alma mater where he became one of the youngest tenured law professors. He earned an LL.M. in Law from the prestigious London School of Economics. And he is married to the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of the most revered political figures in Nigeria’s history.
Yemi Osinbajo is also a Senior Pastor at Redeemed Christian Church of God Parish called the Olive Tree House of Prayer for All Nations in Lagos. He is originally from Ogun State; he is an Ijebu man from Ikenne-Remo. This interview was conducted before Nigeria’s election that was initially scheduled for Feb. 14, 2015 was postponed by six weeks. And before the influential London weekly newsmagazine The Economist endorsed the candidacy of Muhammadu Buhari in Nigeria’s election and labeled Goodluck Jonathan as a failed president.
Nigeria is facing serious securities challenges. Boko Haram terrorist group recently overran an international military base. When are you going to lay out Buhari/Osinbajo blueprint to tackle Boko Haram’s insurgency and for fighting terrorism?
Yemi Osinbajo: General Buhari has repeatedly laid out a comprehensive plan to address the Boko Haram Insurgency. The fundamental of his plan is that we recognize that the Nigerian military is professional, well trained and competent. They are one of the best on the continent and internationally acclaimed as among the most professional in peace keeping forces. When I served as a justice expert for the UN in Somalia, a Nigerian soldier was the overall commander for the military police, and everyone wanted to work with the Nigerian soldiers on that mission. The fundamental problem with the military today is lack of tools and equipment to prosecute the war on the insurgency. The reason for this is corruption. The defense budget over the period of this administration has been over NGN4.3 Trillion, yet soldiers complain about not having ammunition and equipment, and having to buy their own uniforms and boots. It is mindless and inexplicable that after such huge spending our military is still ill equipped. Our administration under the leadership of General Buhari will address the corruption that has stymied or affected the ability of the military to confront insurgency as robustly as everyone would have liked. General Buhari’s record confronting Maitatsine and Chadian insurgents successfully in the past are vital to defeating the current insurgents. Unlike the current administration, as Commander in Chief, he would lead from the front, not from behind. Instead of playing the blame game or blaming opposition and others, thereby dividing the country, he will unite the country and inspire the kind of spirit required to defeat a common enemy. Also, and as a follow up to uniting everyone, we will gather the best possible intelligence, both local on ground intelligence and what our friends and collaborators from outside have succeeded in gathering to ensure our operational and tactical strategies are precise and on point. We will not be in dispute with these critical constituencies as is the case right now where there is distrust and open dispute with the people on ground, and even the governments abroad who have offered assistance. Finally, the reason why Boko Haram continues to have a fertile source for recruitment is that a lot of the youths have become despondent and hopeless. An inclusive government that understands and addresses their situation, especially with respect to employment is important, and this is clearly articulated in the APC manifesto with respect to job creation, expanding prosperity and gainful engagement including our agricultural and food security program where farmers farm, and government buys.
Do you have any policy on providing training and equipment for Nigerian troops that seems overmatched by Boko Haram fighters?
YO: Absolutely. As indicated earlier, the training and equipment needs of the troops have been undermined by flagrant corruption. Addressing that corruption will ensure our troop get exactly what they need to be motivated and able to truly and professionally defend our country. That is exactly what an administration led by General Buhari will do. Also some of our critical international partners appear disillusioned by the corruption and lack of direction of the present administration and so have cooled off on their initial commitment; we intend to renew those collaborative efforts.
It has been reported that the three countries, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon lacked effective coordination and they are enmeshed in rivalry when it comes to fighting Boko Haram. Can you tell us what Buhari/ Osinbajo government will do to ensure effective coordination among these three countries on counterterrorism?
YO: Again, as earlier said, proper leadership that inspires unity and collaboration is what is missing. Locally, we have not even been able to unite our entire country behind the fight. Taking responsibility and strong leadership which truly unites our people, appreciates and coordinates contribution and collaboration from, and with our neighbors and the rest of the international community are vital aspects of our comprehensive strategy in securing Nigeria and eliminating the Boko Haram threat.
What is your view on 54 Nigerian soldiers sentenced to death for Mutiny? Do you believe they deserve to die for refusing to fight Boko Haram?
YO: Soldiers choose a profession, understand the nature of the profession and realize the risks inherent in the work they do. Making the choice to be a soldier, is one of the most honorable choices one can make, it is certainly one of the most patriotic, and our nation must always recognize and appreciate that, and our servicemen, as well as ex-servicemen. Their commitment and contract to serve our nation is to protect us, including with their lives, it is not to commit suicide. Where in the world can you expect any soldier not to be concerned and reluctant to go to war with inferior equipment, and in fact, less ammunition than the adversary? Its unthinkable and patently unfair to send soldiers in harms way knowing for sure they are incapacitated, and likely to die. The dilemma of every responsible commander in chief in the world in deploying human military assets is always the safety and lives of the soldiers. It is the most difficult and serious decision a commander faces because of the lives of the soldiers. As such, soldiers must indeed obey the strict operational deployment and requirements of their profession as military men, however the question of mutiny in this context, should only arise when the soldiers have been properly equipped with the right tools, sufficient ammunition, credible intelligence, back up, extraction and evacuation plans and strategies, including prompt medical attention. When this is missing, the government does a disservice and fails servicemen. Never before in Nigerian history have spouses and children of servicemen barricaded military barracks or installments and openly protested deployment of their husbands and parents to war. I think that while wholly condemning mutinies of any kind, the current unprecedented failings in the responsibilities of government to our troops call for a more sensitive approach. Fortunately some of these considerations have led in previous cases to the appellate courts setting aside the decisions of Courts Martial. I am hopeful that the findings of guilt in these cases will similarly be set aside.
If the government of President Jonathan killed the soldiers by firing squad before the election, would Buhari/ Osinbajo if elected consider pardoning the soldiers and restore their full military ranks?
YO: I certainly hope that the issue of killing these soldiers by firing squad does not occur.
The Economist magazine described Nigerian politics as Church, State and Mosque. Do you see it as a fair assessment?
YO: Constitutionally, Nigeria is a secular state. There is no state religion, and there is separation of Church and state. General Buhari has repeatedly said that government’s only role in religion is to protect lives and properties, and to ensure that the Constitutional rights of citizens to practice their faith in a lawful manner without hindrance must be respected and protected. When unfortunate incidents of assault on faith occur, the government must also take responsibility and restore as well as compensate victims and prosecute those who violate the law and engaged in such assault or violence. The role of religion, religious leaders and religious organizations is to be the moral compass of the nation. As a Christian and a Pastor myself, my calling and commission demand that I exemplify Christ like conduct, meaning a complete commitment to providing a decent existence for all, ensuring justice and a level playing field for all regardless of belief or ethnicity and honestly managing the resources of the State. This is a role I embrace and must fulfill. The opportunity for political office must be an additional, yet powerful platform to be exactly what God has called me to be, and to do his work which in many regards is to care for the poor and shepherd His people regardless of their race, ethnicity or religious persuasion. The key problems of corruption, insecurity and unemployment do not discriminate based on religion, and both Churches and Mosques are affected and truly desire change. Religious leaders must therefore speak the truth to authority always and take the leadership role in advancing the cause of the people and hold authority accountable. So the faith of a political leader while it is really a private matter should at least set the moral tone for his actions in office. Sadly, in the past few years, and leading up to this elections, the ruling party has used religion in such a cynical manner to be the most divisive and acrimonious issue they wish the electorate to consider, instead of competence, record and integrity.
You’re a law professor and a pastor, and you recently told a Lagos TV Station that your role as a pastor equipped you to touch lives, and politics would allow you to touch greater lives. Can you please expand on what you mean?
YO: As I said earlier, my role and calling as a pastor leaves me in no doubt that the cause to which I am called is to go out, spread the gospel and disciple the nations. And, what is the practical tangible aspect of the gospel? Is it not reaching out to the poor, feeding the hungry, binding the broken hearted as we bring the good news of salvation? Political office provides an incredible leverage to contribute to, and direct policy that addresses the problems of people, whether it is poverty, hunger or despondence (broken heartedness). Working hard everyday to address these problems as a political office holder in a manner of speaking is fulfilling the Gospel and Biblical principles.
As a pastor, do you believe in the separation of Church and State? What can you tell Nigerian Muslims like Sheikh Gumi who faulted your selection as General Buhari running mate that you are not going to be biased against Muslims in your role as Vice President?
YO: I believed I have answered this question in my responses to other questions. Again, our Constitution makes Nigeria a secular country, and the amendment process required to make Nigeria a religious, or one religion state is in reality, impracticable. I have said that religion, and religious leaders have a vital role in governance, and as a matter of fact, in the life of a nation. They must be the moral compass of leadership, and society. They must speak truth to authority and hold political and other leaders accountable on behalf of the people. I am not aware that Sheikh Gumi expressed any reservations about my nomination as the Vice Presidential candidate of our great party, APC, to run with General Buhari, our Presidential candidate. However, as I said earlier, an elected leader is leader of a whole country, as is the case with the position of a vice president. He is responsible for all ethnicities, religions and all the diverse people of the land, regardless of who voted for him or otherwise. That is the beauty of democracy. My conviction as a Born Again Christian, and role as a pastor reinforces the principle to reach out to, and care for all. As I said earlier, our Great Commission is to the nations, not just some people. Our calling to feed the hungry and care for the poor is blind to gender, ethnicity or religion. When we conduct evangelism, it is to preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it, or those who have not accepted it. There is absolutely no reason for anyone, irrespective of their faith to be worried about whether I will be biased. On the contrary, my calling as a Pastor should be the reason for their confidence that I will be unbiased and fair to all.
President Jonathan’s attack dogs, and other elements within the ruling PDP are often fond of using “The Kitchen Sink Politics” against your party the All Progressive Congress, that they initially described as Janjaweed party. They also branded General Buhari as a Muslim fanatic and a semi-literate jackboot. What are you all doing to counter the calumnies they uttered against him?
YO: Indeed, there has been a campaign of calumny against General Buhari and our party, APC. They have attempted to place false togas on us. However, we believe the issues before us as a people as we go into elections, and always is about the fundamental problems bedeviling our country such as corruption, security, unemployment, the economy, poverty, education and healthcare. What we have decided, and remained on, is to propagate the difference between our party, the APC and PDP and our manifesto, including exactly how we intend to deliver the objectives of our manifesto to Nigerians. We have pointed out current APC states where what we promise is possible and happening, whether it is conditional cash transfers to the old and vulnerable in society, or free balanced daily lunch to children in public primary schools or massive public works and infrastructure development, as well as electricity power management. We have repeatedly identified the twin massive problems of corruption and insecurity and demonstrated both the record of our ticket on both issues as well as our plan. That, for us is what is important. It is what affects the lives and reputation of Nigerians. That is what we remain focused on, not the falsehood and propaganda the ruling party and its candidates propagate and disseminate. Their failure to show any meaningful record, or articulate any plausible plans in contrast with our party, our manifesto, our record in states we control and quality of our ticket being the credible alternative, is the reason why in spite of their negative and false campaign of calumny the people of Nigeria are resolutely clamoring for the inevitable change to what we offer.
What are the things Buhari/Osinbajo government will do differently to facilitate the release of over 200 Chibok girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram?
YO: First, and as a matter of urgency, we will prioritize this extremely important issue. We will not politicize such a grievous and sensitive issue. We will not point fingers at anyone, but immediately proceed on a day by day basis. It will be an issue that brings together all the relevant parties and for which the command and control will be from the very top, headed by General Buhari himself. We will pursue broad intelligence, especially locally, we will lean on our relationships with neighbors and the international community to develop credible and actionable intelligence and we will lead a broad and specialized military effort to locate and rescue these young girls who really should be in school or at home. It will be a daily objective to follow up on what information and progress we are receiving or making to find them. At the same time, we will engage their families and communities in a more sympathetic and meaningful manner, because the knowledge and information they must posses is critical and useful to any successful strategy. I have two daughters myself, I cannot imagine the pain of a parent, and I certainly won’t sit down in Abuja and not try to even understand the terrain and what their families must be going through. In addition, we will also prioritize the feedback and information exchange channel with the families so both sides are abreast of emerging developments on the effort to find these young girls. We will deploy our most and our best to finding them and we will bring justice to those who committed such a vile offence against our children, their families, their communities, our nation, and the world.
Can you give us realistic months it will take?
YO: As general Buhari has said, it is difficult to speculate without being privy to any intelligence or security reports. Military action, especially extractions is a matter of precision. The assurance though is that this will be a priority and every single day they remain abducted will be considered as one day too much. General Buhari recognizes this is a race against time, and we will do everything possible, everyday to change the story of their captivity.
If the efforts to secure the release of Chibok girls proved abortive, would you consider a Memorial in their honors?
YO: My hope and prayerful optimism is that we find them and bring them home. Even when we do, they are national heroines and symbols of our shared national humanity and nobody can change that.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics more than 54 percent of Nigerian Youths are unemployed. What would Buhari/ Osinbajo government do differently to enhance job creation and reduce the unemployment rates in Nigeria?
YO: We believe the unemployment situation in Nigeria is an emergency. Every single policy or program in the APC manifesto arose out of a rigorous process that focused on whether the policy or intended program will create jobs. Our manifesto is more detailed on this. Some of the key features include an immediate government intervention that creates 20,000 jobs per state, promoting agriculture by encouraging people to farm and the assurance that the government will purchase their produce at an acceptable benchmark price, massive infrastructure and housing development which will create jobs, addressing the power problem and industrial technology clusters which will unlock jobs, and the primary school free lunch program which also unlocks jobs in agricultural food supply and catering services.
Naira was considered to be Africa’s third worst performing currency of the year 2014. What would Buhari/Osinbajo government do to strengthen the naira at the foreign exchange market?
YO: One of the key reasons why Naira could be considered in that light is that our foreign reserves are inadequate. Our government after five years continuous highest price of oil, and highest production quotas for Nigeria saw a curious depletion of our external reserves rather than savings for the rainy day. When oil prices fell, we did not have sufficient balances to defend the Naira and that has result in such a rapid devaluation of the magnitude we have experienced. Corruption is at the very root of this problem. Just the number of scandals and unanswered questions with respect to management of proceeds of our oil wealth raise questions. For instance there is a $20B missing or unaccounted for allegation by the former governor of the Central Bank. Instead of addressing this problem, the current government instead chose to fire him. There is a $7B kerosene subsidy scandal, another over $7B petrol subsidy scandal. No one has been made to answer for these scandals. Recently, a state governor disclosed that $1B is missing from the Excess Crude Account, yet no one is doing anything about that, no investigation, no consequence, the forensic investigation of the $20B by Price Water House remains concealed for the most part. On top of this, 400,000 barrels of oil is stolen from Nigeria everyday. Of course corruption of this magnitude will weaken any currency and destroy any country. If these leaks alone didn’t exist without more, Naira would be stronger and more stable and our economy more vibrant. Fixing corruption will expand our economy and defend the Naira, its not complex economic principles or theories.
Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele’s argued that naira devaluation will strengthen Nigeria’s economy. Do you agree with him?
YO: The question to ask him is how? Conventional economic principles tells us that devaluation may improve the economy of a net exporting country, as it make its products cheaper than the competition. But we import practically everything including refined petroleum! So how will devaluation strengthen our economy? Besides, how will devaluing the currency and the unbridled stealing of the commonwealth strengthen the economy? The cost of funds and lending rates are rising astronomically daily, the power situation remains unresolved making cost of production prohibitive, merchandise imported are experiencing unusually high prices on account of exchange rate, purchasing power and consumer spending are shrinking considerably, and people are becoming more impoverished, fewer jobs are being created, revenue and profits eroded, essentially, consumer, market and industry confidence is questionable. In governance, these are key indicators of a performing, expanding or strong economy, so I would like to hear and see what the CBN Governor is talking about. If it doesn’t address these factors, it is either false or hollow. It is motion without movement. You can be on your treadmill and claim to run 20 miles without leaving the same spot.
Crude oil alone constitutes more than 80 percent of Nigeria export earnings. The coordinating minister of the economy and minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala recently said Nigerians should view the country as a non-oil producing nation and that efforts are on the way to explore other sources of revenue. Can we expect Buhari/Osinbajo government to open significant new revenues paths for Nigeria aside crude oil?
YO: First, if 80% of your revenue comes from the same source or product, how do you classify yourself as not producing or living on whatever that product is? Our party and our ticket believe that Nigeria can truly diversify her economy. A critical aspect of our manifesto deals with this. Agriculture is a main area where we believe this can happen. We believe farming must become more attractive and more profitable and sustainable. This is the bedrock of our you farm, government buys program which I mentioned and described earlier. It is exactly what the government of Thailand did to promote growing rice, and now Thailand with one of the world’s highest populations, extremely high rice consumption has still become a net exporter of rice, and becoming a worldwide source for buying rice. Nigerians are naturally commerce oriented and very entrepreneurial, our administration will provide the enabling environment for the creativity and commercial intelligence of our people to be fully expressed.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo alleged that president Jonathan squandered $55 billion crude oil savings left behind by his administration. If elected, would Buhari/Osinbajo government probe president Jonathan or anyone in his administration of corruption?
YO: General Buhari has repeatedly stated his position with respect to governing this country. While he does not condone corruption, his administration is not going to be a backward looking hunting and probing effort, instead of delivering on the pact and promises it has for the Nigerian people. He will not interfere with the legal, including investigative process and will comply strictly with every law of the land. Under him, there will be zero tolerance to corruption. His team of competent people responsible for their different roles in government will be encouraged and allowed to do their work transparently. As such, the appropriate investigative process will analyze allegations as they come and determine the investigative and legal course to pursue. General Buhari’s administration will not interfere in that process.
Nigeria signed $12 billion deal with China Railway Construction Company last year despite transparency concerns. What would Buhari/Osinbajo government do differently on this issue?
YO: Again, this is an allegation. Our administration will follow and respect the law to the strictest compliance guided only by the law and the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. Any illegal contracts or contract that are not in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians will be subject to appropriate legal scrutiny. We will also respect every legal and legitimate contractual obligation.
“This Day” newspaper had a caption on January 1, 2015, titled “In a Foreign Policy Shift, Nigeria sides with Israel over Palestine.” What is Buhari/Osinbajo view about last minute effort by Nigeria to abstain from voting on Dec. 29, 2014 that led to the defeat of the Palestinians resolution at the U.N. Security Council against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem?
YO: Without knowing what the underlying considerations were, and the nature of diplomatic conversations and other commitments Nigeria has with the relevant parties and international organizations, it is hard to second guess this exercise of our diplomatic right and franchise. Regardless, our Administration will craft and pursue a foreign policy that puts Nigerians first, captures our leadership role on the continent, promotes world peace and supports every initiative to eliminate terrorism.
What is Buhari/ Osinbajo policy for Nigeria’s weak health sector?
YO: APC is extremely concerned with the current situation of healthcare delivery in Nigeria. With over 110,000 diarrheal related deaths, 55,000 maternal mortalities annually, our country’s record of healthcare delivery is simply poor and among the worst in the world. The Buhari/Osinbajo ticket proposes basic universal health coverage for every citizen of Nigeria for between N500-N1000. The reality of the cost of healthcare is that, this basic healthcare coverage for every Nigerian will cost approximately $1Billion annually. The $20B missing oil fund disclosed by the former CBN governor could pay for that over 20 years! Other healthcare initiative include encouraging doctors to work in medically underserved areas in exchange for tax breaks, national recognition and appreciation as well as possible tuition reimbursement for their willingness to work in such areas.
What is your education policy including Almajiri education in the north?
YO: Our education policy is free and qualitative education at primary and secondary school levels. At the tertiary level, we intend to ensure a comprehensive re-assessment and re-alignment of our curricula with current and more applicable realities. We will prioritize and focus on teacher training and encouraging education as a profession to produce competent teachers. People who pursue education as a career will have free tertiary education. We will focus resources on encouraging students to pursue studies in Science Technology, Engineering and Math and provide focused scholarships for these concentrations. We will work with the private sector to promote this and provide incentives for private organization that support studies in this concentrations and well as promote useful Research and Development. 10.8 Million children are out of school in Nigeria, and that is a third of the children in the world who are out of school. We intend to reverse this and encourage enrolment by providing free lunches to children in public primary schools. In addition, we will make conditional monthly transfers in form of stipends to the most vulnerable in society on the condition that their school age children, or wards are enrolled in school and participate in immunization. These are certain to increase enrollment.
What is Buhari/Osinbajo position on Nigeria’s anti-gay law?
YO: To the best of my knowledge, the party has not considered a formal position.
You’re an accomplished lawyer and author, who are your legal heroes? And your favorite legal books apart from the ones you authored?
YO: Chief F.R.A Williams SAN and Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN both of blessed memory are my heroes in the profession and for different reasons. I really have no favorite legal texts. Although I think one of the best written legal texts is Okonkwo and Naish's Criminal Law.
The interviewer: Ademola Bello is a journalist and playwright, he teaches Mass Communication at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. He can be reached at[email protected]