National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, believes that those jostling for the 2019 presidential election are no match to President Muhammadu Buhari given his integrity and performance. In this interview, he speaks on his party’s chances in the forthcoming general elections, the issues he has with some governors over the outcome of the party’s primaries, among others. Excerpts:
Some foreign commentators are predicting doom for your party and President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 general elections, how optimistic are you of victory?
In all honesty, it is strange that it is foreigners who are crying more than the bereaved. I also heard Nigerians saying pension benefits that have not been paid for 20 years under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are being paid now by this government. I have heard the Head of Service say for the 16 years of PDP, they were promotions that were delayed but through the intervention of this government, we’ve begin to settle these huge arrears and promotions. People talk about the huge amount of money PDP spent on power, the more they spent, the more darkness Nigeria found itself in. For me, there are people who find joy in quoting foreign sources, I like to talk about Nigerian people and they are our primary constituency.
They are the ones that hired Mr. President. I am not accountable to Financial Intelligence and everybody is aware that some of these papers don’t have the reputation they claim to have, after all these are the same institutions that wrote lavishly about Nigeria’s banking system, but few weeks later, some of those banks were empty. I think we have done couple of things that will form the basis of our campaign. This is the only government that gives bailout money to state governments to enable them meet their most basic responsibility without bothering whether they are APC, PDP or All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). I don’t know any government before now that was fair and just regardless of political party affiliation.
These are things we should be talking about. We had governments that spent billions doing ground breaking ceremony for the Second River Niger Bridge, but this government as we speak is not doing ground breaking, it is actually constructing the Second Niger Bridge. Secondly, there are a couple of things the Federal Government is doing in Lagos, Ibadan and other parts of the country, which I think we should talk about. It is not the views of hired foreign commentators; these people are not superior to the Nigerian journalists.
These are things we must discuss, if the opposition does not want to do that we will do that. In any case, we have moved government from one that services the elite to one that looks at the forgotten majority of Nigerians, the voiceless. I think very soon we will begin to talk what this government has done and who has benefited and how the previous government converted private debts to public liabilities and privatized public funds to private pockets. And of course, we are going to get people who are knowledgeable about micro economy issues to assist Nigerians to understand that there is always a time lag between when certain policies are put in place, when certain mismanagement occur and when the impact of those mismanagement begins to occur in the lives of the people. For me these are the issues that I want to talk about. We must consciously begin to discuss issues, policy issues, security issues and all of that.
Most Nigerians believe that your party has so far performed below expectation, what will do different if it gets a second term at the federal level?
Like I said, we are already doing a lot of things differently. For the first time, a government is focusing on the poorest of the poor. The government is putting in place social policies that seem to locate the poorest of the poor and not joining in lamenting, but taking concrete steps to put in place, policies targeted at the poorest.
And these things are happening across the country. I just mentioned how much the PDP government spent on power over the years. We have not spent a fraction of that and the challenge we are dealing with today is to revisit, if you ask me, the crass abuse of the privatization process, the Discos that were handed over to incompetent hands based on patronage.
And because of the long term agreement that government entered into with these operators, we have had to face the huge challenges, whereby even where you are able to generate more power, the Discos seem not to have the capacity to carry out distribution so that Nigerians can feel the impact of any improvement that have been recorded.
And I will expect that going forward we have to revisit some of the things done and manage them not to be seen to revoke what has been done before. Increasingly, it is clear that they lack the capacity to deliver. Those things we have to review and may be, go back to the fundamentals. I have just told you that we are not lamenting any crisis in transportation; a lot is being done with regards to the railway system. You will remember that before now, the Kaduna-Abuja railway was on the drawing board, but today, it is a reality. In different parts of the country, huge progress is being made in the area of infrastructure. What you can really accuse the government of is that we don’t seems to be communicating effectively all the things that are going on around the country. But people who live in those areas know what is happening in their respective areas.
To answer your question, I believe that President Buhari will certainly be re-elected on the basis of his personal integrity and the fact that those who are contesting against him, there are couple of things they can’t say about themselves that this President will not only say, but other people will say for him. Nigerians are wiser now, it is cheap for people to make promises, but again, it is also easy for people who have been in power before to pretend that they don’t know what is going on. Some have been ministers and we know the controversies generated when they managed their ministries. We are going to ask them what they will now do differently in those sectors.
You have been at the center as number two man; Nigeria was turned into a completely unitary state. I heard somebody now talking about autonomy for local governments. When I was in the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), I joined the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees to campaign for autonomy, to ask the Federal Government to stop controlling the local governments and even withholding money meant for them. This government respects the autonomy of local governments and some of those issues are no longer there.
Those who want to be president were part of the administration that almost imposed a very suffocating unitary government on Nigeria. So, we are moving consciously from that to see how we can re-order the federal system. I can tell you that of all the presidential candidates on parade, Buhari is number one and I believe he will win because Nigerians know the difference, they know what brought us to where we are, they know what explains the paradox of a rich nation, whose people are getting poorer and poorer. They also know the character of those who have been in government before. Luckily, those who have come out are not political virgins, they are people we have their records and we will speak on those records.
Your party is yet to fix the problem of the power sector despite its promises during the campaign for the 2015 elections. What exactly do you think is the problem?
The truth of the matter is that I was in government when the Discos were being privatized and I remember that I and Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who was then governor of Delta State addressed a press conference and we accused the then Federal Government of unfairness in handing over the Edo, Delta, Ondo Disco to a company that has no knowledge whatsoever in electricity business. They had neither the competence nor the financial wherewithal. And it is scandalous that they had to take money from public treasury through what they called special window to fund what obviously ought to be a private enterprise.
I use to be a member of the National Council on Privatization when I was president of the NLC, and I know what the conditions are. The law provides that you must show evidence that you have the technical knowhow, you must also show evidence that you have the financial wherewithal.
The whole idea was to inject fresh capital into the sector. What the previous PDP government did was to hand over these Discos to people who did not have the resources, they went to their banks, did insider trading, took depositors funds when they did not have fresh capital to inject. Rather than attract foreign direct investment into our electricity sector to compliment the limited resources we have, we found the system seeking to take depositors funds to buy the Discos and then falling back on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to create a special window.
And if you look at the amount of money they have collected, tax payers’ money, given to them at concessionary rate, even with all those additional support that they have forgotten, which for me is wrong because we cannot run private investment with public funds.
That is not the promise on privatization. What we can probably discuss, which I am going to do when I probably see the minister, is that when a fabric is too weak, there is no amount of patching that will save it. I think we have to go back to the basis.
These Discos don’t have the know-how, they don’t have the wherewithal to do what they need to do for Nigerians to be bailed out of darkness. Of course, if you ask them, they are going to cry from morning till night about enabling environment. Nigerians are tired of excuses, why did you go buy into a project without having the competence. I will challenge you to take the profiles of each of the owners of these Discos and tell me, who among them a history of involvement in electricity distribution to know what has qualified them to bid and win those biddings, which led us to where we are today.
How about insecurity, which your party pledged to tackle…
The truth is that new forms of insecurity are manifesting around the world. But I need to remind you that I was a member of the National Council of State as governor of Edo State and then President Goodluck Jonathan called us for a meeting, where the service chiefs admitted that 28 or more local government were then being controlled by Boko Haram. And on account of the level of insecurity, the military chiefs submitted that they were not in a position to guarantee the conduct of the 2015 general elections.
Based on that, the elections were postponed. But today, Boko Haram has been severely weakened, the much talked about mystery of the Sambisa Forest has been demystified and the Nigerian Armed Forces have made a bold statement. You will recall that under the previous government, a lot of our young men were sentenced to death for running away from battle and of course the money voted for them were stolen by the generals, who were supposed to provide leadership. But today, that is history. As we speak, there is no local government in Nigeria that is under the control of militants as it was before. Of course, we still have pockets of attacks here and there, but for all of us who are familiar with insurgency, you know that it is not something you wipe out overnight. Even Europe and America with all their powers, a couple of times suffer some embarrassment when terrorists attack.
So, under President Buhari, commendable progress has been made. But, certainly, that is not to suggest that we should go home and sleep and say all is over. No! We all need to build on the progress that has been made. Now, the forms of crime that you are talking about, unfortunately you did not list them, but I gaze you are talking about the level of kidnapping. Kidnapping resurfaced under the PDP and I was governor of Edo State then. I found myself helpless at a point, some generals were kidnapped in Edo State and the kidnappers were even threatening that they might kidnap me if I make noise. Yes, we still have a share of kidnapping, but nothing of the scale that we witnessed under the previous government.
Yes, we have religious extremism and so on, but again, short memory. Talking about generals being heads of state, under General Ibrahim Babangida, there was this Maitatsine riot in Kano and we had this huge crime in Kaduna State, which the former head of state called a civilian coup. So, we had these issues, the problem is that maybe we poor documentation in terms of history. This is never to justify insecurity anywhere but just to say that it will be incorrect to suggest that no new initiative has been involved or that not much progress has been made.
A lot of progress has been made, but every Nigerian is entitled to a secured home, every Nigerian is entitled to go to a secured market and government must continue to be on its toes to deal with all forms of criminality. We are discussing election now, but nobody is going to say we are postponing election on account of insecurity. I think we must encourage government to sustain what it has started. It must provide modern facilities to our armed forces; they must be motivated and take advantage of those countries that are willing to collaborate having recognised that terrorism is a global problem. We must encourage our men and women in uniform to do what they have to do to make the country safer and much more secured.
The herdsmen crisis is one that has generated lots concern across the country with many accusing your government of doing nothing to curb it?
If you play back again, when Gabriel Suswan was governor of Benue State, there were several incidents of herdsmen attack. It should not be portrayed as if it is a new trend, it has been there. But that is not to suggest that we should live with it. I believe that there are initiatives being put in place, I believe there is renewed engagement to convince Nigerians that the choice we have is not how to restrain Nigerians free movement, the choice we have is to convince every Nigerian that this is our country. We are not going to issue resident permits for people to choose where to live.
Government at all levels should play their part and sensitize Nigerians on the need to live together. And I think there is a good example, In Plateau State before the current governor, Simon Lalong, came into office, every other day was virtually war, but for three years, there was no single incident until recently, when a former governor was put on trial over corrupt practices, and as soon as he got bail, we began to witness an attempt to renew hostilities between the herdsmen and the local farmers. The governor has done a very sensible thing, convincing both the herdsmen and the local farmers on the need to live together.
Now the point to make is that every Nigerian, including the media, has a duty to contribute to the maintenance of peace and security and it is unhelpful when sometimes the media bias is so open such that you wonder if Nigeria is in trouble. They even seek to complicate the issues by importing religious motives into what is obviouslymere criminality. I think everyone has a duty to ensure that we all rise in unison to fight crime and in reporting suspected criminals to the police.
You were a labour leader before venturing into politics. What do you make of the new minimum wage and how realizable is it?
My views are clear that payment of wages is not an act of kindness for an employer to pay the employees’ wages at the end of the month. There are provisions in our Labour Act that says that you cannot delay the payment of salaries in excess of 30 days interval, which means salaries ought not to accumulate beyond 30 days. Government decides the size of its employment, but when it makes the decision to employ, it has the obligation to pay. Even the Holy Bible says that the labourer is entitled to his wages. I think again, this is where President Buhari stands out clearly. He has publicly asked public sector employers; how do you sleep when you have not paid your employees for one year.
But he did not stop at lamenting, he went on to provide the much talked about bailout fund and said ‘please use this money to pay your workers and pay pension arrears.’ And even the deductions from states that were done under the PDP in the name of settling our foreign debts, under President Buhari, despite the huge financial challenges that he faces, he decided to assist the states to meet up with their social obligations by paying what is now referred to as Paris Club refund. So, I am very proud that the President has conscience, he recognizes that the Nigerian worker deserve his wages and that is why he has publicly lamented that there are governors who have not paid salaries as and when due, whether they are PDP or APC is immaterial. And in seeking to deal with this, he has also provided support across party divide and I think that is statesmanship at its best.
As for my views on the minimum wage, I tried to deal with it as a governor. I told my colleagues then that wage is not a burden. In Economics, when people work and get paid, purchasing power is enhanced and because purchasing power is enhanced, producers will respond to that by seeking to produce more goods and services. In the process, they will recruit more hands.
But when you don’t pay wages, you create a vicious circle, nonpayment of wages leads to low purchasing power, nonpayment of rents, which compounds the problem of those who have invested in real estate thereby depressing the commercial life of the country. I tried to settle this question by increasing minimum wage in Edo State to N25,000 from N18,000. I remember some people calling me to ask how I will pay it. I am on record of having paid it and as we speak, my successor in office is paying it. I do not agree with those who say Nigeria cannot afford a more realistic minimum wage.
My being in government or now chairman of a party cannot change what I believe in. I believe that no nation has enough to meet the greed of leaders, but nations have enough to meet the basic needs of their people. The real problem in the public sector is money being stolen in the name of salaries. I found it embarrassing when we talk about ghost workers. And I ask the question who counts ghosts? it is only in Nigeria that ghosts are known.
The labourer deserves his wage, and the primary purpose of government is the welfare of its people. So, we must pay wages as and when due. You’ve been engaged in a running battle with Governors Ibikunle Amosun and Rochas Okorocha over the outcome of your party’s primaries.
Are you not worried that it may affect your party in the forthcoming elections? The truth is that in Ogun State, we will win. The PDP also has its share of crisis in the state. As we speak, we don’t know who is the actual governorship candidate of the PDP in Ogun State. So, while they are sorting out those issues, we will be sorting out our own issues. Governor Amosun is my friend, people as human beings are entitled to feel disappointed if things don’t work out the way they want. Like any leader, after sometime, he will recognise the greater interest of the party. I know he is a loyal party man and I cannot see him voting with his feet. I think he recognises that as a statesman, who has contributed to the growth and development of Ogun State, he will want to ensure that his party continues to govern the state and play the role of a statesman.
I have no fear at all. I believe we will be comparing APC strength, relating it to PDP strength. We are going to take into account the serious internal divisions in PDP also in Ogun state. All of those will play out and APC will remain the stronger party. And given governor Amosun’s contribution in terms of governance, those will be compared with the PDP, when the party was in power. Nigerians will ask what they are going to bring on board after 16 years without any meaningful development. Whatever we have as internal issues in APC, they do not in any way undermine the facts that Amosun has something to show for his governorship of that state, which I am proud of as chairman of the party.
So, I am sure that he will overcome his anger and I will work with him to see how we can reconcile all our various interests in Ogun State. As for my dear friend, Governor Okorocha, he talked about nepotism, but you know that as the head of the family I will not want to behave like some people, who will want to bring a family matter to the market. As the elder, I will keep the family matter within the family house.
That is what my level of responsibility imposes on me. I will not join issues with him. But the truth is, while I was in government, there was no other Oshiomhole in government. As a journalist, you can go and find out how many Oshiomholes were in government when I was governor. Governor Okorocha is a great guy, he is one of those who left APGA to join APC and he contributed his quota to the formation of APC. But, we also have to agree that a tree cannot make a forest and we have to encourage those who think otherwise that this is a fact.