Engr. Mustafa Bello FNSE, was a former Minister of Commerce, Founder and Chairman, Mustafa Bello Foundation for Small Enterprise Development as well the immediate past Executive Secretary /CEO of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission. He is among the founding fathers of the PDP in Niger State and was a Governorship Aspirant in the 2015 race in Niger, in this interview with Fodio Ahmed, he spoke extensively on the recent happenings in the political, security and economic sector as well as the Niger State Governorship flag bearers of APC and PDP.
SIR, HOW WOULD YOU REACT TO THE 6-WEEKS POSTPONEMENT OF THE GENERAL ELECTIONS?
I will personally want to give Government the benefit of doubt and commend every Nigerian for agreeing to the shift forward by 6-weeks peacefully. Views and opinions across the country suggested that the Government is using it to change its strategies and plans, others are of the opinion that the President may want to use it to undertake a cursory evaluation of his various experiences from State to State with a view to using it to introduce some far reaching changes in the entire parade of his Party’s candidature profile to enable him turn around the already obvious negative posture of many states of the country towards him to his advantage, and so on and so forth. So far and as it is currently there is no such indication of any shift of position or policy by both the President or his Party or both on any of the speculations above, so I will take is that truly it is for the two basic reasons advanced; tackling the issue of insecurity in the North-East, extending it to ill-preparedness of the Security Agencies to provide cover and support to INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) in the conduct of the coming elections and, secondly, enabling citizens all over the country have access to their Permanent Voters Card, popularly known as the PVC, as the Card Readers would not admit the Data on the Temporary Voters Cards and that will disenfranchise over 30 Million more Voters if such an extension was not contemplated.
DO YOU THINK INEC COULD HAVE POSTPONED THE ELECTIONS WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE PRESIDENCY?
I believe everything that happened were transparent in the sense that INEC was not the initiator of the idea of postponement but the side of Government. Efforts were initially made to convince INEC that it was not ready and the leadership of INEC maintained its position that it was indeed ready. INEC was invited several times to make Presentations and Demonstrations of all its Systems capabilities all in an effort to find fault in the Technology it is deploying but INEC successfully defended its Technology, so INEC could not have contemplated postponement even from the beginning let alone talk of INEC postponing without consent of the Presidency. But we came to later understand that the reasons are not unconnected with what I have stated in the earlier part of our conversation and I will appeal to all Nigerians to be patient for the extended period to mature and let us see what level of improvement we will see in the level of preparedness of the Security Agencies in providing cover and support for INEC to conduct the elections, containing the high level of insurgency in the North-Eastern parts of the country as well as the number of more citizens of the country that will have acquired their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC).
ABOUT THE RELEASED AUDIO RECORDING OF EKITI STATE GOVERNORSHIP ELECTIONS BY ONE CAPTAIN SAGIR KOLI, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity of reviewing or listening to that purported “recording” but I must caution that audio-related evidences or exhibits would normally have difficulty in admissibility even in Courts of Law let alone to listening individuals as Technology today has the capability of perfectly cloning human or other species voices near 100%, that is why your Cellphone can be designed to ring in the voice of Human, Birds, Wild animals, etc, and the fact that Opposition today in this country has grown very large and strong in all facets of technology, it will not be unlikely that such an Architecture may have been developed to create that impression in the minds of several Nigerians that can be convinced easily by such IT-related constructions which I believe I should invite the attention of the whole country to the risks of creating crisis such cloning can lead us into. There is a similar such voice-based conversation of the “First Lady” being distributed over the web that clearly would convince unsuspecting that it is indeed Her voice, but the truth about it the statements coming from such cloned voice cannot be from the actual First Lady.
AS ONE OF THE FOUNDING FATHERS OF PDP, HOW WOULD YOU SAY THE PARTY IS FARING AND HER CHANCES AT THE FORTH COMING GENERAL ELECTIONS, WITH MUCH CONCERN ON THE PRESIDENTIAL POLLS?
We have surely seen some distance covered in our political journey since the advent of this political dispensation in 1999 to date. However, rather than see improvements in the political culture we inherited characterized initially with fraud and abuse of fundamental rights of electorates, we have instead seen the astronomical growth of such wanton abuse and perpetuation of fraudulent tendencies in the political culture that has now generated so much outrage within the political class with use of intimidation and executive fiat to achieve goals by all means. This, in my own opinion has lead to the growth of opposition and weakening to a very high degree the strength of the ruling Party, the PDP. Even where those aggrieved decided to remain in the Party; their most likely goal will be to undermine the Party to give advantage to the opposition as an assistance to get the PDP out of power by all means. I only hope those in the position of leadership that interact with people tell those encaged in the Villa this truth. Recent happenings in the PDP, particularly after the Party Primaries has eroded the Party’s chances substantially as a result of the insistence of the Party’s National Leader that he must honour an accord (or agreement) he had with Governors that; they produce a successor, which to me negates the entire essence of the Party Primaries, the same Governor to have automatic Senate seat, another further blow to democracy, and if the Governor fails to make it to the Senate, he becomes a Federal Minister, these surely have helped the President to face the kinds of hostilities he saw during his tours of the States, first, all the crowd seen were not loyal Party faithful but hired crowd, secondly the audience was so slim that if anybody with his senses correctly watched would advise the President to rethink his “accord” with the Governors again but as it will appear the President is bent on leaning onto extremely weak support that will end up embarrassing him by the end of the day. So in effect the chances of PDP in the coming elections are extremely slim and hopeless because most of the Gubernatorial Candidates fielded in States have been smeared already by their “mentors” who are not only unwanted but thoroughly hated by their people and as a result the mass migrations seen into the opposition is not because supporters preferred the opposition but that they have resented imposition and hated the person being imposed. We therefore have to wait and watch as events unfold on the 28th reduced to “on lookers” at this material time.
AS A FORMER MINISTER OF COMMERCE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AND FORMER CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE NIGERIA INVESTMENT PROMOTION COMMISSION, SIR, I WANT YOU TO COMMENT GENERALLY ON THE NATION’S ECONOMY, LOOKING AT YOUR POLICIES DURING THE OBASANJO ADMINISTRATION THROUGH TO THE LATE PRESIDENT UMARU MUSA ‘YAR ADUA TO THE CURRENT PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JOHNATHAN AND IN PARTICULAR SPECIFIC COMMENT ON THE FALLING VALUE OF NAIRA, REBASING THE NIGERIAN ECONOMY, CBN POLICIES AND THE GENERAL RESPONSE OF GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA TO THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CHALLENGES ?
When the PDP Government came into power in 1999, it inherited an economy that had less that USD$3.89Billion of external Reserve, not enough to cover 3-months imports, 1,380-MegaWatts of electricity for distribution to the entire Country then of population of about 120-Million people, Manufacturing at barely 15% of installed capacity, Agriculture contributing about 3% to the Growth Domestic Products (GDP), Population growth rate of about 2.7% (CIA Website as at 1999, now 1.9%), the Country’s GDP was also 3%, a clear case for stagnant economy,(Agriculture-3%, Population growth rate-2.7%, GDP-3%), Corruption was high because of an extremely low wage regime in both the Public Service as well as in the Private Sector, there were only 440,000 Fixed phone lines to the entire Country then of population of about 120-Million people, Federal Mortgage Bank was the only Mortgage Finance Institution to the whole country and even where it lends, it’s only to individuals in small amounts, No effective Pension Scheme, No effective Health Insurance Scheme, No effective Consumer Credit Scheme, 86 Commercial Banks in the economy, whose total asset base was not up to that of 5-Banks of today, with so much risks to the business community in the economy, Nigerian Mining Corporation (NMC) was the only entity allowed rights, Legally, to Mining minerals all over the country, no right Legal and Regulatory Framework to support Private Sector entry into the Mining Sector, Petroleum Industrial sector contribution to the GDP was about 5%, USD$33-Billion Paris & London Club inherited debts, and all these posed very serious challenge to the new Government in power. The task then before Government was to balance between addressing the challenges of the inherited debt burden and meeting the expectations of the people who had very high hopes that the new Government then was coming with a solution. Government then had to sit and address these challenges by prioritizing them in an order that one Solution leads to answers to the others. I can recall vividly that the President then decided to take on incentives to Corruption by addressing all the key elements that incentivize corruption in the public Service, namely; he enhanced salaries and wages of the public sector by twenty times, persons collecting four thousand naira monthly moved up to eighty thousand, he introduced Pension Fund and Health Insurance Funds, now Commissions, a contributory scheme that is jointly funded by both the employer and the employee spreading it down into the Organized Private Sector, which by every standard of measurements are successful schemes because they did not only achieve the objectives for which they were set up but have also created relief to beneficiaries as well as gave every subscriber hope and certainty into the future. The same schemes have today generated huge Investment Capital that did not only facilitate the creation of Primary Health Care Administrators or Pension Funds Administrators but have successfully and equally created enterprises that have created thousands of jobs and created several thousands of job opportunities in the economy. President Olusegun Obasanjo equally reformed the Federal Mortgage Bank Act and created the Primary Mortgage institutions that today are another model of success to the economy, because, through them several thousands of jobs have been created and many public and Private Sector workers have benefited from variety of Housing Products through which they have owned houses of their own. He also created Consumer Credit Schemes that rolled out credit purchases as against wholesale purchases, a culture we had in the past. These innovative products introduced into the economy suddenly saw reduction in corruption in the Public Service and enhanced productivity as morals were generally high or boosted and staff in all sectors became motivated. In 2004 we saw a dramatic improvement in our GDP to the highest level of 10.4% as a direct response to these innovative reforms that were introduced by the Government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, of which I was part. On the debt burden which I mentioned remained a major challenge, President Obasanjo decided to discontinue Budgeting on expected or projected revenue but instead on a benchmark price of Crude Petroleum that was usually far below the actual Oil price thereby saving the excess in preparation against either fall in global oil price or if the price climb continued to use it to completely clean up the country of its external debt. The latter was what the President ultimately did by the time He was comfortable that the Nation had enough savings, about USD$63-Billion or thereabout, He decided that our creditors should be challenged to a negotiation with a view to cleaning off completely the Nations debt. He was successful in doing that and the products of that negotiation are; one, the Country got a clean Bill of Health financially, two, the introduction of MDG (Millennium Development Goals) implementation Framework that we are seeing their impact all over the country today as part of the conditions for the partial debt forgiveness or discounting. Then He moved over to Agriculture and introduced innovative protectionists Policies that saw sudden jump of contribution of Agriculture to the National GDP from 3% to 7%, He intensified effort in the Power Sector and moved it from 1,380-MegaWatts (1999) to almost 4,000-MW’s by the time He left Office, He introduced very rigid Banking Sector Reforms, disadvantageous to the Northern parts of the Country or even the entire upcountry, but at least brought sanity to the Banking or Financial Sector Industry, with only 26 fully healthy and fully functional Banks in the economy. Reformed the Telecom Sector through first auctioning of 4 GSM Licenses at an average of USD$238-Million each, giving the Federation Account immediate revenue, that lead to the Networks having over 120-Million Hand phones in hands of Nigerians as at today, turning over 75-Billion (or over) Minutes of call time annually and about 6-Billion Short Messaging Services annually, with several millions of jobs created from vendors of recharge cards to vendors of the telephone services directly. The same GSM and subsequently, CDMA Networks operators are fully benefitting from Data Utilization Service Transactions even more than the voice Services. The housing sector Reforms saw Construction sector boom with an increased growth from barely 2.5% to 11% while Government intervention in the Mining Sector saw a complete revolution in that Sector with the creation of the Mining Cadastre Office as well as the Geological Surveys Agency of Nigeria to give a One-Stop-Service and Support to the Private Sector coupled with the fact that the country’s Mineral Map was Digitalized and made user-friendly to the extent that one could query it to isolate only Minerals of interest to that particular interest, a new Mining Act was rolled out to support easy Private Sector entry into the economy. He moved to reform the Health and the Education sector, the result of which today so many Privately owned Universities are in operation in the country as well as so many Privately Developed Hospitals are either fully operational or in the process of development. President Obasanjo transported water from the River Gurara end in Kaduna State on 3-meter diameter Concrete pipeline to Abuja to support recharging the major Water Supply Source to Abuja, a fast growing city. By the exit of President Olusegun Obasanjo the Nation’s economy had stabilized on a growth rate of about 7.8% GDP, External Reserve of about USD$43-Billion, Private Sector had assumed the position of the driver of the economy in whom there was so much comfort and confidence.
So, the subsequent Governments of Late President Umaru Musa ‘Yar Adua and President Goodluck Ebele Johnathan had no choice but to continue from where President Obasanjo left. We equally saw a lot more activities in the Railways sector during the current dispensation, with Rail Services restored and the linking of Kaduna and Abuja with High-Speed Rail service nearing completion, improvements at our Airports, sustained the Private Sector participation in Ports Development that were started during Presiden Olusegun Obasajo, introduction of SURE-P, creation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, Creation of AMCON (Assets Management Company of Nigeria), evolved Automobile Industrial Sector as well as Sugar Sector Policies, to drive growth through those sectors in the economy, etc to mention just a few. On my own Policies developed either during my time as Minister of Commerce of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or as the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, I will be quick to state that the current Corporate affairs Commission Automation known as CAC-ONLINE, that successfully migrated the Corporate Registry from pre-analogue to digital today, was my personal initiative, the reforms we saw in the Free Zones that removed it from operation monopoly by the Free Zones Authority to one that is operated by Private Sector was my personal initiative, the muscle that the Nigerian Export Promotion Council has today to at least do the bit it is doing was my own initiative, I introduced the subsisting Rice Levy, as an Investment Fund to support Agricultural Sector Development, through a Federal Executive Council Memo on WTO-Compliant “Restrictive Imports Measures” which has remained a major source of support to Agriculture development, I introduced Commodities Exports Supervision Scheme that ensured Commodities Exports Compliance with Global set standards looking at packaging acceptable to Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Standards (SPS) compliance to fumigation of such exports to internationally acceptable levels of fumigants to give our commodities global pricing . As at the time we launched this Scheme, Nigerian Cocoa for example was priced at less than 40% of its global price because of adulteration and cheating by some dubious exporters from Nigeria. With the launch of that strict supervision Scheme the appropriate discipline and by extension the right pricing was restored to the Nigerian Commodity trade. I ratified several trade related treaties and agreements advantageous to Nigeria, like TIFA, TRIPS, etc., established The Nigeria Trade Office in Shanghai, China, saved the Abuja Securities & Commodities Exchange from complete extermination, etc.While at the NIPC I would say that we were able to move the aggregate annual quantum of FDI inflow from USD$2.00-Billion, as recorded by 1999 to USD$6.00-Billion with the peak of USD8.9-Billion in 2012. We reformed and also injected new and very useful Members to the Honorary International Investor Council or known as the HIIC, an Economic Advisory Council to Mr. President, developed the famous, and very successful One-Stop-Shop that was structured deliberately to remove red tapes and bottlenecks to entry of businesses into, or doing business in the economy, Developed the Draft Sector-Specific-Investments-Incentives Policy Document, worked on encouraging our Private Sector to look outwards by investing in other neighbouring economies, positioned the NIPC Investment Fund to legally operate as a counterpart locally to the Sovereign Investment Fund to assist Government intervene through the NIPC in either Joint Ventures or Public Private Sector partnerships that make business case, etc, to mention a few. You also asked me to comment on the CBN policies generally and the falling value of the Naira. Here I believe we need to look at the pattern of our National expenditure and match it with our inflow of our income and then we can understand why some of the decisions taken by the independent CBN are in place results of which can lead to our currency depreciation. We all know that our major source of income still remains from the petroleum industrial sector. This sector as we all know today is challenged by so many problems, from very high level of crude thefts that unfortunately Government has been incapacitated in taking action by commission or omission to the falling oil price globally that have further compounded the cash flow problem of the Federation Account to an even more disturbing challenge of leakages through high profile Executive advantages opportunities protected by high scale indiscipline, or deliberate inaction. When you aggregate all these and factor them into the nation’s cash flow balance sheet you realise that definitely the strength of the Naira would have to give way to superior currencies in order for the above irregularities to continue by being in position to continue financing some of the ongoing projects.
On rebasing our economy, I believe subjecting our entire economy to periodic valuation to enable the country take full stock of its assets and liabilities is essential. But this exercise does not necessarily give such an enhanced economic value to the Nation that moves an economy that still battles with capacity to generate sufficient electrical power for its economy which is a major prerequisite for such an upward progression, or an economy that still does not realize the value of its Gas resources as central to its economic development and its associated relationship to the several Gas Powered Thermal Plants that have been built and may remain idle because it was only after building them that we realised that we needed to have first developed our Gas resources to match the fuelling needs of these thermal plants. On the whole I will say that the value given our economy is not yet in tandem with our classification as the 26theconomy in the World as the best way to see the defect is to place Nigeria at par with similar other countries positioned as 26theconomies in the world and compare our economic indices with theirs. Economies that have moved from bottom up have generally transformed the living conditions of the populace through policies that drive inclusive growth that one can read and see in the faces of the citizens. Any policy that only continues to create opportunities to the only few, Cadbury’s, Nestle’s, Unilevers, Commodities’ manufacturing companies, Banks, Insurance Companies, Oil Companies, Telecom Companies, Construction Companies, Julius Bergers, Dantata & Sawoe, PW, CNCC, Gilmore, CGC, etc., amassing so much money into their company accounts with the CBN declaring that there is so much “liquidity?” as a result, whereas the rest Nigerians are barely managing would not tell good of any product of any rebasing of our economy. We must therefore focus on areas that will give our populace easier access to money through rehabilitations, reconstruction, developments that engage many of the industries to drive the kind of growth we aspire to achieve. On the CBN itself, there is definitely the need for it to distant itself from sentiments and focus on realities. Politicizing Financial Sector Management can be of short term benefit but with consequential long term effect on the entire economy.
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ABOUT THE RECENT REDUCTION OF PETROL PRICE BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?
I will expect that Government through the PPPRA review the current pump prices of all refined petroleum products prices looking at the global crude price, the commensurate prices of the refined petroleum products in cost and freight to have arrived at what I now believe is the actual price of the refined product free of any subsidy. If that is the case then the need to budget or make provision for subsidy in our national budget becomes unnecessary and by extension that amount saved, either part of it goes into the SURE-P project account or the bulk of it goes in funding critical sectors of the economy that will create jobs immediately and enable money to be in circulation to fuel activities in the economy. As it is now nearly every economic activity is static, no money in circulation and things are surely hard and tough for ordinary Nigerians and to a larger extent businesses that rely of purchasing capacity of the citizens to survive. Government would need to do something immediately about this to enable hope be restored in Nigerians and happiness to citizens’ families. Construction Sector, particularly country-wide rehabilitation program similar to the approach during the PTF at this particular time shall do a lot in reviving Industries and the entire economy. I will therefore strongly advise that this is looked at very seriously and implemented immediately.
INSECURITY IN NIGERIA, DO YOU SEE THE GOVERNMENT DOING ENOUGH TO TACKLE IT?
The general opinion of citizens as read over the pages of newspapers and in television or radio discussions indicate that not enough is being done. The danger with taking cases of threats to national security lightly, or equating it to something of less important, is that many other such small groups are encouraged to grow big. I do hope that this time around that our neighboring countries are committed we should join efforts with them to uproot it fully. In the course of doing so leakages take place and some infiltrate through weak defense boundaries and remain as urban guerrillas and that is what Government of Nigeria would need to be watchful of and arrange contingency measures to contain such fallouts of this kind of collaborative operations.
HOW WOULD YOU REACT TO THE WAR THREATS BY EX NIGER DELTA MILITANTS, SHOULD PRESIDENT GOODLUCK LOOSE THE ELECTIONS COME MARCH 28, 2015.
I believe Government’s inaction on such threats have encouraged them to believe that Nigerians will take them serious. They should however know that a small group, no matter how armed, can never be better or stronger than a conventional Army. The zeal and determination of the Nigerian fighting force is much more superior to whatever they may believe they can sustain in such an engagement. I will join my Boss, Gen. T Y Danjuma in calling on Government to quickly move and deal with them decisively as the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are not made for a section of Nigerians but applicable to all persons in the territory called Federal Republic of Nigeria.
SIR, DO YOU SEE INEC ACCOMPLISHING CREDIBLE ELECTIONS?
Accomplishing a fully credible election in Nigeria requires full deployment of the right technology, that exists and available for INEC to acquire globally, in the conduct of its election all over Nigeria. Until such is achieved it will be difficult to state that INEC can deliver a fully credible election that will be free, fair and transparent. I will however expect that with the level of introduction of technological products like the Data Capture Equipments, that gave INEC opportunity to have in its Database Biometrics details of every Registered Voter, the production of the Permanent Voters Card, that enable INEC to use the Card Reader at every polling Station to authenticate the PVC, despite what I foresee as deficient in terms of the capability of the Card Reader to verify ownership, or qualification, but if that capability exists, then rejection of ballots cast would be easy in cases of multiple thumb printing, I will expect that some level of effort would have been put in place to minimize fraud to a tolerable level. We would however need to see the effectiveness of the new system being introduced in the coming elections to qualify the effectiveness, or otherwise of the new innovations brought in the 2015 elections.
HOW WOULD YOU REACT TO THE MILITARY’S INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICS ?
I would need to be clear on how the Military found themselves in Politics again. If you are referring to the ongoing dialogue on provision of security support to INEC in the conduct of the 2015 elections I believe this is the first time we are hearing that the Military is needed in providing security support to INEC in deployment of manpower and equipments to polling areas. The police used to be the Agency handling that. I expected that perhaps the Military may be needed in the North-East region and not in the entire country. If however the question is on the general involvement of the Military in Nigerian politics I believe that their interventions in the past were largely to remove and replace non-performing governments but substantially to achieve certain ambitions. Globally and today situations have changed and the Military has phased itself out of the political scene and have restored themselves to their constitutionally assigned responsibilities. For any member of the Military institution to contemplate reappearing in any political scene today is to expose such group or individual to international isolation, sanctions and condemnations. I will advise ours to focus more on building a very strong Defense Force that will restore us to a regional super power than a large Army with a small fighting capability. We can develop our Military Institutions Capabilities by developing our Military Industrial Complex and using our talents within and outside the Military including opening up that sector to Investments by the Private Sector as it has been done successfully in several other countries including the G-7 countries. We can be self dependent like India, Pakistan, South Africa, to mention a few.
It pains me and most probably many Nigerians that today Chadian forces can enter into Nigerian territory to pursue Boko Haram insurgents successfully, as reported in the BBC, because they do not only have the confidence but that they have superior fighting equipments and fire power and our forces are left not sufficiently armed. I believe their leaders should focus on the needs of the entire Military institution and not the needs for containing the current challenge.
SIR, WOULD YOU SAY FORMER PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO HAS BEEN ACTING LIKE AN ELDER STATESMAN ESPECIALLY IN HIS ADVISES TO EACH OF THE TWO PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRANTS AND THEIR PARTY’S, BOTH IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATELY?
Certainly as the former President of this great nation, infact two times, and a key stakeholder onto whom many look up to for intervention to bring about corrections when things go wrong or are about to, he has a responsibility to play his role as an elder statesman in offering such suggestions or advise for correctional or guidance purposes. For those of us that worked for him and with him we expect him to be frank and equally blunt in his such advises as he rarely conceals what is in his mind or being diplomatic in his interactions with anybody. Surely many of them may not have received the type of answers they expected from him in such an interactive instance. I like to use this opportunity to congratulate him for yet another Birthday!
I BELIEVE YOU ARE AWARE OF THE POLITICALLY CONTROVERSIAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY BY FORMER PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO ‘MY WATCH’, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE BOOK ?
As the book may have been stopped from being in circulation in the country, I have not had an opportunity yet to review it, but what I know of my Leader is that I will not expect the book to be less than what I expect it to be; explosive in the sense of its address to issues bluntly. I will try to get access to a copy for a review so that when next we discuss I can tell you my position on the content.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ABOUT THE RECENTLY AIRED TEARING PUBLICLY OF FORMER PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO’S PARTY MEMBERSHIP CARD AND HIS SUBSEQUENT EXIT FROM THE PARTY AHEAD OF A PLANNED EXPULSION OF HIM BY HIS STATE CHAPTER OF THE PDP?
My independent investigation of what went wrong that lead to President Olusegun Obasanjo taking that action may not have been unconnected with the planned expulsion of the former President from the Party by the State Chapter of the Party same day and He may have decided to pre-empt them by taking that action publicly. As one of His former Ministers and one of those He still believes so much in, I would have advised Him to just announce his exit from the Party and hand over His letter of such an exit to the Ward Chairman whom I understand was with Him at that occasion, that would have done the same impact the dramatized publicly tearing of the Membership Card has done.
WE WERE MADE TO KNOW THAT YOU WERE ONE OF THE 5 ADVISERS FORMER PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO WAS CONSULTING WITH DURING THE “3RD SAGA. CAN YOU SHARE WITH US THE ACTUAL TRUTH TO THE EXTENT OF WHAT YOU KNOW AS WE ARE AWARE THAT HE HAD SEVERAL SUCH TYPES OF ADVISORY GROUPS AROUND HIM?
At the advent of the rumoured 3rdmyself and the then Honourable Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mal. Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai went to President Olusegun Obasanjo in his office and approached him with our concern on what we (2 of us) perceived as sinister move by some disgruntled persons within the country and in the North in particular to link him (Mr. President) with a plan to extend his tenure beyond the 2007 date set by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We asked him “Who are your friends Mr. President, from the North that if you can provide us with the list, we can arrange a meeting for you and them to clarify this issue and put it to rest as the mischief is fast growing and we would not want it to get out of hands or control”. Mr. President, then, who was writing suddenly folded his pen, looked at the two of us and pointed his finger to the two of us as we are the “Friends”. So Mal. Nasir looked at Him and said, “Mr. President we are serious”, and he responded almost immediately and said, “I am serious too! But on a more serious note; you (Mustafa), you (Nasir), Lawal, Adamu & Modibbo”, go and sit and take a full look at the entire situation as it relates to this fast spreading rumour and come back to me.
We thanked Mr. President for the confidence he had in us and the belief that we could see danger confronting him and made effort to help contain it. We left and called the other three to a meeting at the house of the FCT Minister at which we made the subject known and the responsibility assigned us by the President.
At that meeting we gave Alh. Adamu Waziri, being the most senior, the responsibility to lead the group and he challenged everyone to say his mind on the touted 3rd Term bid in 2006 or thereabout, I recall Term project. Luckily we were all united in the fact that the idea did not befit such a personality that was brought to head the Government of Nigeria in 1999 purely on the “Trust” the people of the North had in him, a basis on which everybody in 1998 agreed that he had the integrity and the capacity, being trustworthy, to manage Nigerians unbiased, and that such a project was not worthy of being contemplated about. Therefore we agreed to convey such a message to him when we secured an audience. At our first meeting with Him, Mal. Adamu Maina Waziri, who was leading the group of five, poured “peper” into his eyes and stated all these our observations and positions frankly to Mr. President, who received the advised honestly and sincerely and even advised us to come up for him with an exit program that will guide him implement whatever we may have proposed based on so many things he listed and we observed too that must be accomplished before May 29th We went away and reviewed the discussions and gave Mal. Nasir the duty of producing that program, which he did and presented to our meeting for input before presenting to Mr. President. The adopted final plan was later presented to Mr. President which He demanded that we allowed him take a look at it before our next meeting. At that next meeting, Mr. President came up with a counter version of what we submitted with his explanations and we accepted and he there and then directed Chief Tony Anenih to take it and sell it to the Board of Trustees while Sen. Ken Nnamani sells to the Senate. This I can say may have been the last meeting of that group until what happened thereafter in the two chambers that all of us remained spectators.
IBB, RECENTLY IN AN INTERVIEW SAID, PRESIDENT GOODLUCK IS A MAN WHO BELIEVES IN THE UNITY OF THIS COUNTRY, DO YOU AGREE WITH THE EX MILITARY PRESIDENT?
Former President Ibrahim B. Babangida, as a citizen of the country, a very strong former President that still remains relevant and in control of several decision making constituencies of this country as well as a key stakeholder and an interested party to what happens to the country, who may see things differently, having being on that seat before, is surely entitled to his opinion just like every other Nigerian. He has been a member of the National Council of States and may have had an even closer interaction with the current President to have arrived at that assessment. I therefore have no doubt that he means what he says to the extent of what he knows.
NIGER STATE WILL BE 40YEARS AFTER CREATION BY NEXT YEAR, HOW CAN YOU ACCESS GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT IN THE STATE?
Every leader that the State had may have tried his best given the circumstance he found himself politically and financially. We are however far behind where we should have been given the quantum of resources that came into the State but unfortunately not applied correctly. We may have spent more time and effort funding unnecessary areas to the detriment of the essential areas which has lead to the astronomical growth of unemployment, poor quality education, poor infrastructure and substantially misplaced priorities that were more self serving than serving public interest.
YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED BOTH ENGR. A A KURE’S AND DR. MU’AZU BABANGIDA ALIYU’S ADMINISTRATION, HOW CAN YOU ACCESS THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS?
Answer to this question actually falls into the answer to the previous question asked. They tried their best but unfortunately their bests did not meet the aspirations or expectations of the majority of the citizens of the poor State. To worsen the situation of the State both contracted huge debts and are leaving the State with heavy liability when each one of them came when the State had very manageable debt burden.
DESCRIBE THE LEVEL OF INTERNAL DEMOCRACY IN THE PDP GOVERNORSHIP PRIMARIES IN NIGER STATE ?
Unfortunately this subject is before a Court of Law and it will be subjudice to discuss it or make any comment on it.
SINCE YOU COULD NOT MAKE THE GOVERNORSHIP PRIMARIES, WHAT IS YOUR NEXT LINE OF ACTION AND WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO ALL PARTIES AS A THERAPY TO WHAT YOU BELIEVE WERE WINDOWS OF INJUSTICE IN THE ENTIRE PROCESSES?
One thing that is very clear to all those that felt abused by the thoroughly fraudulently conducted Party Primaries at the various States levels is that nobody in the Party Leadership was prepared to listen to any of us or even attend to the complaints laid as “The President had an agreement with Governors to bring successors and take themselves (the Governors) to Senate automatically” and as a result we may have wasted our times, our efforts and resources. The decision we have taken is to therefore stay by the side and watch the impossible happen and plan our own future from the experiences we have gathered so far. We will not subscribe to the kind of fraudulent practices we have seen but will work towards setting in motion a process that will make sure that all such provisions that made abuse easy never exist again in any Party. It did not only affect Governorship Candidates but it cut across all the stratum of the various elective offices as a result we have an opportunity to see how the National assembly can come in and assist in some of the Laws reforms processes on-going to contain such level of highly or even excessive authority given to certain individuals in the name of Party Leadership to reduce a Party that is Democratic to one that has now become a Dictatorship.
BETWEEN, ALHAJI UMAR NASKO OF THE PDP AND ALHAJI ABUBAKAR SANI BELLO OF THE APC IN NIGER STATE GOVERNORSHIP RACE, WHO DO YOU SEE AS A POTENTIAL ALTERNATIVE TO NIGER’S LEADERSHIP DESIRE?
Certainly none of them presented the people of Niger State the right alternative, Hausa man says; “Ko ba’a gwada ba, linzami yafi karfin bakin kaza” that even without one attempting, the equipments that drive and control a horse is much bigger than fitting into the mouth of a chicken. In other words the two candidates presented so far by the two Parties may definitely not be the ideal for the State, particularly when viewed against the background of the kind of Candidates Kaduna State presented in this coming election of Quantity Surveyor, Mal. Nasiru Ahmed el-Rufaí and Arc. Barnabas Bala popularly known as “Bantex”, from his son’s name Banta, as his Deputy, these are two exceptionally brilliant and highly intelligent personalities that all made Distinctions in their Secondary School days and also earned First Class in their University Degree programs, and above that have excelled individually in their various previous political endeavours, they speak clean, clear, unambiguous and fantastic English. I need not mention what Mal. Nasir did as Minister of FCT to the Federal Capital Territory, but Arc. Bala, as a Council Chairman transformed His Manchok constituency into something that nobody ever expected and as a result won election against Governor Makarfi’s Party in an opposition to the Federal House of Representatives because of his popularity resulting from his records of exceptionally good performance, which by every standard, we concluded that the current Niger State Governor was nothing short of being wicked to the zone that should produce the next Governor and the State in general. However, and despite all that, the Candidate presented by the APC, in measure of, at least, responsibility, discipline and composure may be much better than that imposed on the State by the Governor. The choice is however that of the citizens of the State if free and fair election is conducted.
DO YOU FORESEE VICTORY FOR ENGR. HANNAFI’S COURT CASE AGAINST GOVERNOR ALIYU’S ANOINTED CANDIDATE, ALHAJI UMAR NASKO ?
There is indeed every indication that a just judgment will come out of that court given the quantum of evidences availed the court as it progresses into coming to a conclusion.
WHAT DO YOU FORESEE AS THE FUTURE OF POLITICS IN THE COUNTRY GIVEN THE UNCERTAINTIES SURROUNDING THE CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION IN THE COUNTRY?
What I foresee as future of dirty politics in this country is that we are getting to the end of it. Those who were not there with us in 1998 to start up the current political process have taken over the entire process and polluted it with so much foreign materials that they themselves are becoming gagged to death by their greed. That is what I foresee happening and we shall In sha Allah have a clean slate that takes care of all the experiences of the past 16 years that made the current process dirty and nasty so that our children and those coming behind them will inherit a political culture of discipline, integrity, hope and justice. We may have been the sacrificial set that fought the heartless to create the right atmosphere for our younger generations.
YOU HAVE ADVOCATED FOR FIGHT AGAINST INCENTIVES TO CORRUPTION THAN FIGHTING THE CORRUPT. CAN YOU PLEASE THROW MORE LIGHT ON THIS?
Indeed to me it will amount to wasteful undertaking fighting corrupt persons in Nigeria as they already have so many weapons (Money) at their disposal to disable every effort to get them convicted. The judiciary itself has remained prone to influence by such huge sums at the disposal of the corrupt and offers are generally tempting in an effort to thwart the real course of justice. Therefore it will only be safer to invest proceeds of most likely plea bargains to deploying the right technology in addressing incentives to corruption, some of which include, better pay, minimizing contacts with cash by use of the various means of electronic payments currently, deploying a lot more of Biometrics-based technologies to support all payment processes from toll-gates to paid toilets to prepaid meters in water supply to electricity supply, encouraging companies to assess themselves and pay taxes on-line based on self assessments, etc. Through that we can reduce a lot of the leakages that result in huge sums disappearing into private pockets. My four year Board Membership of ESKOM of South Africa showed me that freeing system completely from a regimented checks process and fully enabling and strengthening internal checks and control system, mechanism or framework can make the system run very fast, results realized quickly and leakages controlled to the barest minimum or even eliminated completely. A situation that creates levels of seeking Approvals exposes lucrative processes to series of unnecessary “queries” and hurdles in order to create “cuts” for excited interests. I believe we should have faith in ourselves and allows failures to expose them by showcasing open incapacity than continue to rely on the current processes that have only succeeded in creating delays and encouraged corruption.
LASTLY, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY, IN YOUR OWN OPINION, HAVING WORKED VERY CLOSELY WITH THE THREE PRESIDENTS (OBASANJO, ‘YAR ADUA AND JOHNATHAN) WERE OR ARE THEIR BIGGEST WEAKNESSES AND MISTAKES OR HUMAN ERRORS IN THE COURSE OF THEIR SERVICE TO THIS COUNTRY ?
Let me start with my Boss President Olusegun Obasanjo, with whom I worked as a Cabinet Minister for nearly four years. I can say that President Obasanjo brought in and consolidated the whole idea of Governors being the only qualified persons to contest for and become Presidents in Nigeria. Had he accepted at that time to only encourage the best material, be he a Governor or otherwise, we would not have been in the mess we find ourselves today. This was one fundamental weakness that we found in a man that everyone believed was firm and strong minded. The late President Umaru Musa ‘Yar Adua came into office pocessed by “Due Process” and whereas he wanted to be seen to be fully observant of laid down rules and regulations but perhaps may have fallen into the trap of those who understood that as a fundamental weakness and mislead him into believing that the way and manner Ajaokuta Steel Plant was concession was irregular, improper and contrary to Due Process and accordingly reversed the concession and the consequence today is that; ever since the reversal the Government of Nigeria have had to bear the burden of paying the Salaries of the unproductive workers of the same unproductive Ajaokuta Steel Plant to the tune of about N460-Million Monthly or thereabout since the exit of the Mittal Group. Such a decision that does not make any economic sense was not worthy of being taken in the name of wanting to be seen to be complying with set rules and regulations. In any case President Obasanjo did not take the decision to concession Ajaokuta to the Mittal Group from a dream, but after the World Bank and the IMF had advised the Government of Nigeria to scrap it completely as outdated and obsolete technology, until he visited an even older and even more outdated technology similar steel plant in one of his state’s visits to the Federal Republic of Germany, that he decided that Ajaokuta must work and that was how the only Group that could rehabilitate Ajaokuta was that of the world’s largest steel group, the Mittal family of India. Even then, from the information available to me that.
President Obasanjo had to approach the Indian Prime Minister to speak to the Mittal Group to agree to accept to look at the plant and then forward their terms and conditions. There is no doubt that the decision to hand over an unproductive, redundant and idle plant that had never worked or functioned ever since it was installed, to a very competent experience was a very wise one and was truly in the best national interest. The result of that single Presidential action in the name of following Due Process created bandwagon effect that saw something similar happened to ALSCON that has now stalled the planned investment into expanding the plant and putting it into full production by the RUSSAL of Russian Government and another impact to the Steel industrial sector very sensitive to our economy. The same observance of Due Process leads the same President ‘Yar Adua to reverse the Agreement entered into by the Government of Nigeria with the Government of Korea, through a Private sector Oil and Gas Company that was to build the Gas Pipeline from Ikom gas fields to Katsina to enable states upcountry benefit from Gas infrastructure and enhance industrialization and job creation. That was a fundamental weakness that has today caused us losses in these opportunities that has actually dragged our economy behind. For President Goodluck Ebele Johnathan I would say that it is actually difficult to pinpoint his weakness just as it is difficult to state his strength. The only thing I can say in the area of weakness is that he may have allowed the issue of insurgency to become politicized and, in his own thinking, perhaps believing that it was an invention of the North to stop him from succeeding himself in 2015. That has now grown to an even bigger challenge to his succession, a decision that has now turned counterproductive. The same President may seems not to have appreciated the quantum of the authority vested in him by the constitution as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, thereby surrendering parts of that authority to Governors, whom he has now made Monsters, believing that they can help rescue him in his 2015 re-election bid by guaranteeing them what has now lead into so much outrage and instability in his party, gratis, and the country. President Johnathan seems not to realize that The IG of the Nigeria Police, The Chairman of INEC, the DG of SSS and the Chief of Defense Staff are all answerable to him and not to any Governor and these Governors he is now leaning on would need the assistance of these key institutions to assist him, so I honestly wonder why he chose to give them ropes to them to use to hang him. I only hope he realizes this early before it is extremely late.
AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WERE THEIR BIGGEST STRENGTHS INDIVIDUALLY?
To start with, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is one person that everyone knows to be firm and strong in character. He is equally known to be absolutely independent to the extent that there is no known individual that can influence him. In fact he was a President that even the strongest Presidents of the world had to be diplomatic in their approach to him because of his resoluteness and firmness. If He believes in anything he stands by it. That was a very big asset to him as a person and as a President that in my opinion it helped him run his Government free of so much interference or external influence, even though the team of Ngozi, Oby, Nasiru, Soludo and Nuhu Ribadu dared him into submitting to their group influence that for the first time persons like myself wondered if the President was withdrawing himself out of his shell, but the way he ended with nearly all of them confirmed that he is still himself. However, and despite that single instance observation, I believe he still remains himself as everyone has known him. He is a personal friend to several World Leaders and can call any of them even at this moment to seek for anything he desires or on behalf of any Nigerian enterprise. As for the late President Umaru Musa ‘YarAdua, everyone acknowledged that he was quiet, non-talkative and probably good listener who would not utter a word in an audience he grants you particularly if he does not know you well or if he does not trust you to the extent that his visitor can talk for over two hours without him saying a word and by the end of it all he smiles at you, shake your hand and bid you bye. That is another asset to a person who deliberately refuses to make any commitment in such a conversation audience to make it impossible for one to predict what may be the likely outcome of that granted Presidential audience. This again is another special quality that the late President had that was unbeatable and that helped him manage both the good, the bad and the ugly successfully. I can recall one of His then Ministers from the South Western part of the country, who went into His Office to see him after I just saw Him and when he came out of the audience granted looking gloomy, I asked him and he exclaimed that “of all the 8 issues I discussed with Him, he did not comment on any, just smiled, shook my hand and said thank you” and I encouraged him to be patient with him that with time he (Mr. President) would begin to comment on such issues.
As for the current President, again I still have difficulty defining such qualities I may have found distinct with him, in my six years plus working for him, as rather than single out a particular item of his character that I can describe as unique I may have to generalize in the sense that he seems to prefer persons that are attacking his personality or his character or his Government to those who have remained protective of him or his Government. It is like he may be willing to dispense of such faithfully loyal persons to him in order to accommodate critics and make such critics more comfortable than one that has remained faithfully loyal, respectful and obedient. This may have been one of the reasons that unfortunately, the Party that brought him to prominence and power has today diminished to less thirteen percent (13%) of its worth as at 1999 because of some of these kinds of wrong public relations approach.I am equally yet to establish which of the world Presidents or Prime Ministers is indeed very close to our President as I do not see him interacting closely with them like we have seen former President Olusegun Obasanjo did and is still doing or the late President Umaru Musa ‘Yar Adua with at least the late King Abdallah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or Generals AbdulSalami Abubakar or Ibrahim Babangida.
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