by AYO ESAN
Otunba Gani Adams is the National Coordinator of the pan-Yoruba group, Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC. He recently had a chat with newsmen in Lagos. AYO ESAN brings excerpts:
President Muhammadu Buhari has assumed power. What is your expectation from him?
I think we should encourage the president to build a new Nigeria that Nigerians can be proud of. Although, he may not want to follow the policies of the former president, but I think he should use his initiatives to pick those who would work with him so that he can pursue his own objectives or policies, because some of the problems we have in Nigeria is that when a new government comes, it will destroy all the structures it meets on ground and starts building new structures.
In the process, there would be delay in building infrastructure. Before you bring a consultant to build a new platform for development, it will take a long time. It would even take not less than three years out of his first tenure of four years. I think President Muhammadu Buhari should look thoroughly at the good side of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and policies and lift from it and continue with the implementation of good ones and leave out any one that does not tally with his own ideology or that he thinks cannot give Nigeria the change he desires for the country.
We should be very, very careful to avoid waste. In a situation where an airport project has attained 70 per cent implementation, the President should not stop it by saying that he want to start a new project. Also, a situation where a seaport has been assigned by the former President, he may investigate the contract, but not abandon it because the problem we have in Nigeria today is that we don’t have sound infrastructure.
Another major problem is power shortage, when a government has not solved the problem of electricity, no serious investor will come and invest in such country. Most of our textile companies, most of our industries have been turned to churches. The new generation churches continue buying them over. So I believe the Buhari-led government should not disappoint people because there is a huge hope on him now.
This is because he had promised people during the campaign. And one of the reasons especially the South-West people supported Buhari and those of us who supported Jonathan, our friends fought us, is because they wanted change. Even though, there are problems with our economy, people still have hope that Buhari will do the magic. Not magic within three months, but they hope that certain changes must be visible within the first one year. And I believe that Nigerians are ready to support him now.
Those who have been serving as impediment to our progress must be dealt with. There must be transparency in government, there must be zero tolerance for corruption and at the same time the cost of governance has to be reduced through any strategy he can muster.
I support him wholeheartedly to reduce the ministries and block many holes. Everybody is talking about the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, but it is not only the NNPC that is highly corrupt, we have many parastatals that are more corrupt. So he must look beyond NNPC, he must look at all the ministries and parastatals and block leakages. When we were in the national confab, there was information at the plenary one day that about 65 per cent of our income is being used to pay salaries of government functionaries and civil servants.
The cost of governance is 65 per cent, while cost of development is just 35 per cent. So where are we going with that? There is no country that can sustain its economy through such arrangement. The cost of governance must be reduced. All of us cannot be in government, let government create wealth.
Nigeria has faced many challenges. Recently, the country was grounded by strike action embarked upon by petroleum marketers, over subsidy complaints. As a Nigerian, are you not worried that the former administration turned deaf ears to this problem?
I am worried because I have been a victim of the fuel scarcity. I bought 30 litres of fuel for almost N16,000 and I bought 60 litres of diesel for N60,000, it is unfortunate. The situation is getting out of hand. The marketers want their money paid by the former administration, taking into cognizance that the new administration might not pay subsidy, so, they decided to put the entire country into untold hardship.
The entire country was grounded, until the National Assembly waded in to resolve the problem. It will amaze you to know that the funds approved for the pipeline contract have not been paid and we have been on the assignment for more than two and half months.
It is just a three-month contract after which the contract will be renewed, as proposed by NNPC. We have been on water and on the land stopping the vandals 24/7. The former President has approved the salary for workers, but the process has been delayed because of the coming of a new government.
Therefore, everything lies in the fact that there was a transition process going on before last Friday which delayed. If we are to look at the subsidy thing logically, most of the countries which never had crude oil had never experience fuel scarcity before. Therefore, the questions to ask are: why is it that our refineries are not working? Why is it that government is reluctant to give licence to the private sector to build refineries? Why are we taking crude oil to some small African countries to refine?
The truth is that Nigerians are the owners of those refineries in foreign countries, including Senegal, Equatorial Guinea. These are questions for Nigerians to answer. I would advise the new government to allow the private sector to be involved in the building of refineries. If we have private refineries, I believe fuel will be sold for N30 per litre.
Like we have in the telecommunications sector?
Yes, that is a good example. People never believed that a common man on the street can have telephone, but when the sector was diversified, things changed because it was given a private initiative. The sim card that was sold for N35,000 is now given free. I think, the same approach must be implemented in the petroleum sector. The problem Nigerians are having as regard electricity and petroleum cannot be quantified. All these problems can be curtailed. If the problem on electricity is solved, it means 65 per cent of Nigeria’s problem is solved.
But, Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria, PHCN has been bought over by individual companies?
Those who bought PHCN are the cabals and they are the one who created problem for this country. They are part of the system, and that is why the change Buhari said he is bringing should dig into the NNPC. In Omole Phase 1 where I relocated to, we have not had light for two weeks and I believe the same is happening in other parts of the country. People now depend on inverters to generate electricity. It is unfortunate that the governments of this country have decided to put every Nigerian in complete darkness thereby encouraging importation of generators.
President Buhari in an interview before he was sworn-in said the last national conference was a waste. What is your reaction to that?
That was a political statement when he was not in power; it is different from when you are in power. When you are in power, that’s the time you will begin to see the reality. So, you can’t compare the statements he made during the campaign and after the campaign; I believe the statement was political then. Now that he has come to power, I think he will see more light. When we started, we knew little or nothing about governance. But when we started to interact with most of the people in power, we decided to reduce our criticism, by not seeing everything in government as wrong
And few days to his leaving government, former President Jonathan submitted the confab report to the National Assembly. How do you see his action?
It’s a welcome development; I thought that Jonathan would have done that earlier. What he did was a completion of his work before leaving power. He has fulfilled his dream of restructuring Nigeria. So, it is left for Nigeria to decide on the report. I think what he did was long overdue; he should have done that a month ago.
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