Though Nigerians are full of expectations that General Muhammadu Buhari will immediately solve all the problems in the country come May 29 when he takes over from the outgoing president, the Chairman of Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), Alhaji Bashir Yusuf, believes it would be a mirage to expect the General to address the myriads of maladies that have bedeviled the country for years within a few months or even years. He also believes that it would be suicidal for the APC government to discard federal character principles or turn a blind eye to past incidences of corruption. He spoke with Assistant Editor, Patrick Andrew, Excerpts…
The general elections have come and gone, what is your impression of the results and the blowing wind of change?
We thank God that the elections have turned out the way they did. Nigerians may not have known that they dodged a bullet. If the election had turned out any other way Nigeria would become a write-off within the next four years and if the last four years are anything to go by you know the trajectory is not good. We have lost tens of thousands of human beings to insurgency and clearly the government, which swore to protect the people, didn’t seem to care. It politicised everything, turned the insurgency into a pro and against government Issue. Meanwhile, people were dying as there was no single family in the areas the insurgents were operating that was not affected by it. Sadly, people who swore to protect both the weak and the strong were lukewarm. This alone was justification for a change.
In addition, we are now in a country that has become notorious for runaway corruption; where people are stealing billions of dollars. In my view and from the facts available, this is unprecedented in the history of humankind. The level of corruption and stealing that is going on in Nigeria today is unprecedented. There is nowhere in ancient or modern history where the amount of money being stolen in Nigeria today has ever occurred.
Today, Nigeria is said to have more than 10 million out-of-school children and that is the population of some countries. Yet, we continue as if we are living in a normal society. Where you have more than 10 million children school out-of-school, how are you going to stop disorder when they attain adulthood? In essence, we, in the last four years, have been victims of a government that absolutely has no care about what happens to Nigeria and Nigerians. So, the condemnation that you saw in the last elections is the momentum that came out of the frustration due to lack of capacity and sensitivity of the government to do the right thing.
As you must have noted from the pattern of the votes that our problem is neither religion nor ethnicity because although Buhari is a Muslim he could not have won without Christian votes and that our problem is also not sectional because though Buhari is a northerner he could not have won without southern votes. So, Nigerians expressed themselves in this manner in other to get liberation from their present condition. They threw away all prejudices in order to liberate themselves.
Out there, the General is seen as a messiah by many who also have great expectations. What do you envisage would be the shape of his government?
I don’t want to assume too much because I am not a member of the APC. So I have no idea how that government will be formed. What I worry about though is the level of expectation on Buhari. The expectation is suffocating. Nigerians expect him to solve all their problems. Of course, that is understandable, they, having been brutalised over a long period and, therefore, since someone who has a track record of patriotism, discipline and fairness, has come on board, they are all over themselves. I hope that before the new government takes over, a deliberate and sustained campaign should be done to educate Nigerians that the president alone cannot change the country; all of us must play our respective parts. The APC alone cannot change Nigeria. In fact, the victory at the polls is more than APC’s victory; it is a Nigerian victory because the multitude that voted for Buhari were not members of the APC. They were mostly Nigerian citizens who yearned for change and so we all must play our part to make the change possible.
Attitude has to change, in view of the fact that Nigeria is technically broke. The source of funding of public projects; revenue from oil is dwindling and with all the problems created over the years, the means to solve the problems is also dwindling. So, we have to be realistic to accept that this change would require immense sacrifice from everybody and that it will take time to be achieved. I hope the APC will study what happened in previous governments to avoid the mistakes that were made.
Do you subscribe to the persuasion that the principles of federal character should be discarded in the selection of the Senate president and the speaker of the House?
I have no seat on the table when the decision will be made. However, the principle of federal character is constitutional and it is required whenever there are positions to be shared in the country. So it will be impossible for even the APC to discard the principle. I don’t think that the APC will share offices without due regard to the principles of federal character.
But based on the results of the general elections, it seems the south south and south east may be left out in the allocation of elective offices because they don’t have the required elected personnel?
But that is only in the legislature. Ministers will be appointed from every state of the federation and that means at the federal executive council, every state will be represented. In sharing offices in the legislature, if they are no elected ranking APC members from the two regions in the Senate and the House, how feasible is it to give these regions leadership positions? This is the way the presidential system works. The leadership positions of the legislature are occupied by the party with the dominant majority.
But then, there are other offices like the minority leader, deputy minority leader and the minority chief whip which will be occupied by PDP members in the Senate and the House and if there are no APC members from the zones that you mentioned, then they have lost out.
What approach should Buhari adopt to fight corruption in Nigeria?
I understand that the policy is to draw a line and look to the future, but you see people don’t understand what that means. It does not mean that as you look into the future if something from the past comes up that you will ignore it. If a crime is committed unless it has the statute of limitation whenever it comes up it has to be prosecuted. The only difference is that there may not be a formal probe instituted to look at what happened in the past. Besides, as for what will happen in the future you can’t stop people from coming out with breaches, which were committed in the past. If that comes up, I am sure that the law will take its course.
President Jonathan reportedly offered to handover on May 28, but the APC said it is not obtainable and that it must be May 29. What is your reaction?
I think the controversy itself is absolutely unnecessary in the sense that the country has a tradition that the serving president hands over to the incoming president on May 29 and traditions are not unimportant. Of course, everyone comes from a certain tradition and is identified by it. Secondly, by law the tenure of the current administration terminates on May 29, so why would he want to hand over on May 28? What happens between the time he leaves office and when the incoming government is legally required to resume office? Who will be in charge? Should the country be left in a vacuum? I think the president should reconsider his position and handover the instrument of power to the incoming president on May 29 and then go home.
You said the volume of corruption in the country under Jonathan’s watch has been unprecedented even from ancient times, are you speaking from empirical background or mere assumption?
I said that at no time in the history of mankind: modern or ancient, that the level of corruption taking place in Nigeria today had ever happened before. What has been happening in Nigeria from 2011 till now is that an average of $1 billion is being stolen every month. I will give you some examples, in 2011, subsidy on fuel and kerosene was N267 billion, but by 2012, it was N2.6trillion that is 10 times the original amount within one year. Did we increase our consumption of fuel? Did the generators and vehicles multiply 10 times within a year? Has the money reportedly stolen been recovered?
Officially as we speak, we are losing an average of $6.7 billion from oil theft every year. This is the figure that the government has acknowledged that it lost. Now, if you put together these figures: the N2.6 trillion and the $6.7 billion that is an average of $1 billion a month that is being stolen in Nigeria and nobody has accounted for this money. Oil theft is a daily occurrence, fuel subsidy is an everyday experience and it is only increasing not decreasing. Where in the world have you ever seen this kind of massive corruption?
The American president cannot spend $10,000 off budget. He has no right to spend that amount off budget or he would be impeached. But here, officially in the 2012 budget, what we had for fuel subsidy was N267 billion but what was spent was over N2.6 trillion. Who appropriated that money? On whose authority was that money spent? Nowhere in the world would this kind of thing happen and nothing takes place. There is no retribution, nothing. This can only happen in Nigeria.
Would you say the oil theft and the subsidy scam were perpetrated by a syndicate? And would you suggest that the in-coming government should probe subsidy scam?
Well, wherever there is organised crime it is perpetrated by a syndicate, people who know themselves, who planned and executed it.
As to whether the in-coming federal government would like to probe the subsidy scam. I don’t know, but it has said that it would draw a line and I have no doubt that the president that is taking over would be confronted with these facts. The General Muhammadu Buhari that I know will not look the other way.
Nigerians have high expectations on the Buhari government, which area would you suggest that the administration should focus on?
I honestly think that Buhari has his priority. He has outlined three areas of priority: security, corruption and economy. And these are the fundamental problems in the country today. Nigeria needs to be secured because right now the country is vulnerable, every citizen is unsafe and without security nothing else can happen. Everybody knows that the president-elect has a track record in that area. And then the other issue is corruption. If you don’t address corruption insecurity will persist and the economy will never take off, and fortunately also Buhari has a track record in that area as well. Then the third, of course, is the economy and when you say the economy it means everything: production, services, job creation, income generation and distribution as well. These are priorities that any sensible government should address.
Your party, the PDM put up a good fight, but it still could not make significant impact, what is your reaction?
Our party was expected to perform better than it did but what happened was that Nigerians were so scared that the PDP may return that they decided that the only solution was to vote for the APC en-masse so that the PDP does not have any chance of returning. They saw in the APC presidential candidate a promise and hope for the country and, therefore, everybody voted en- masse for the party.
The result was that other parties suffered. Personally, if this is the price to pay for the change that has taken place, then I think it is a fair price.
Decamping to the APC has become the vogue now, what should we do to avoid a gradual drift to a one-party state?
I think leaving one party to another has the good and bad sides. The good side is that if there is no internal democracy in one party or that there is a lot of high handedness or the party lacks commitment to any principle, I think there is no harm for a member to move from one party to another.
On the other hand, the people are moving out of opportunism reasoning that since another party has won an election they should go there and share in the offices that will be distributed. I think this is a very bad development. I have no pity for the PDP. If it is empty totally today and people move to other parties I will not have any pity for them because this country has been under their control for 16 years and it has been degenerating, nothing has improved. If this is the lesson that the PDP needs to learn in other to understand that Nigerians are angry, I think it is the right thing to do.
However, the answer is not for all of us to move to one party because that party that has won power also needs an opposition for it to perform. I believe that some people must bear the brunt for building a credible and viable opposition in other to keep the APC on its toes. But I don’t believe the PDP is that kind of opposition. The PDP has been so corrupt that I don’t think it has the capacity to provide a viable opposition.
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