The Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, in this interview with Remi Adebayo and George Onmonya Daniel, speak on an array of national issues and governance in Ekiti state. EXCERPT:
MONTAGE: During campaign, promises were made by the APC government. It’s been 2 years and the people are complaining, with some saying the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is inexperienced. What is your take?
OJUDU: The thing is that there are economic challenges, and hunger defiles logic. When people are hungry, there is nothing you can tell them unless you provide food. We came into government, we met a lot of problems and we are trying to solve these problems in a manner that the solution will endure.
What are these problems? We came into government and found out that we lost a lot of revenue, the oil price dropped drastically from 110 dollars per barrel to 20 dollars per barrel, which is a huge lost that was compounded by the crises in Niger Delta, there was sabotage of the flow stations that pump oil for export that brings in the foreign exchange that we earn.
As at 2014 we were exporting about 2.4 million barrels of crude oil per day; at a point it dropped to 400,000 barrels because almost all the flow stations were sabotaged, the gas pipelines were also sabotaged and these gas pipelines supply pipes to all power generating stations across the country. That for me is why we have all these problems but gradually we are solving these problems.
In the last two months there have been an end to the sabotage of those pipelines and flow stations, the price of crude has increased from 28 dollars to almost 50 dollars per barrel. If you look at what we have done, you will know that there has been some kind of management of the economy.
Before we came to power, many of the states owed their workers; some owed as much as 18 months’ salary, two years, six months, one year. This government has done three tranches of bailout in spite of the fact that the economy is very low, we still manage by reducing theft within the system, by reducing leakages; we managed to pay those bailout and do a lot of things as well.
In the last two years of this government we have released close to one trillion naira for infrastructure. Lagos-Ibadan expressway has transformed from what it used to be, the second Onitsha Bridge is under construction now and some other ones. It takes time for the government to satisfy the people particularly when things have been rotten over the years. The government is there to satisfy the yearnings of the people but can’t do it over night. This government is set to build a modern rail line from Lagos to Kano, Lagos to Calabar, even the visibility studies will take time and that is what the government is doing now. We are trying to bring relief to people with these social services programs of the government.
In the North east, we are trying to rebuild the place, get the farmers to go back to farming. The government is really working but it will take time before the work will show but gradually it is showing.
A lot has also happened in the area of fighting corruption. I remember when I was a senator, we have stories of people going into the villa and coming out with 50,000 dollars, 100,000 dollars, 200,000 dollars and so on but now when somebody goes into the villa, you are given a bottle of water, chops and bitter kola and if you are not okay with that don’t come again.
Government does not throw away money anymore; all these money is meant for the development of the country but over the years these money has been shared among the leaders. President Buhari insists that all of these must stop, and every kobo used in providing services for the country.
MONTAGE: Is it any surprise that the state government of your home-state and in fact the entire APC states seem to share the same ideology and passion with President Buhari in the fight against corruption?
OJUDU: We are members of the same party and our party does have the same body of ideas and a manifesto. If you go to Osun, you will find the governor feeding the student a meal per day, you find him rebuilding the schools, rebuilding the roads inspite of the fact that there is no money. Whatever you may say of the governor of Osun state, nobody can accuse him of stealing money. You can accuse him of not having enough to do more. He doesn’t have a house of his own anywhere in Osun state beyond the house he built earlier. Similarly across our states people are trying to improve lives.
MONTAGE: On the issue of corruption, it goes beyond politicians looting money. When you employ your children and relatives and put them in ‘juicy ministries’ as it’s called in Nigeria, that too is corruption.
OJUDU: For me, I don’t have evidence to support that. If you can give me names of people who are in this government and whose children have been given juicy appointments…
MONTAGE: Some time ago an incidence was reported in the media of an employment in the CBN where children of those working in the CBN and top politicians were employed. Nigerians came out to protest the illegality but nothing has been done about it and the CBN did not deny it either.
OJUDU: In the cause of this job, I have learnt not to believe things on social media, you need to have facts and concrete evidence that this really happened. I am a top person in this government but I have two children who are unemployed and I have been reluctant to use my position to get them employment. I have told them to go apply like every other person. The civil service is asking everybody to apply via an internet portal, go and apply, and if you are interviewed and qualify you will be employed. So for me I don’t know of anyone who posts his or her child to CBN or other agencies of government.
MONTAGE: There seems to be conflicting interest in the corruption fight within your party the APC. The Senate is saying that the Executive is accusing them of being corrupt and instigating Nigerians to protest against them. They say the problem is with the Executive, and that they don’t get much from the constituency budget. What is happening?
OJUDU: This is democracy in action. The lawmakers are there to have an oversight function over the executive, while the executive is there to execute projects so what they are talking about is not out of place. When they vote money for a particular function, they must see to it that the project is executed so there is nothing strange in my own opinion.
MONTAGE: After the 2015 presidential election which former President Goodluck Jonathan lost to President Buhari, the APC government has not been able to unite the country back, especially as regards Nigerians from the South-east and South-south. What do you think is the reason for this division?
OJUDU: The Vice-president and I have been to the east six times in the last six months and the kind of reception we received both from the streets and businessmen is encouraging. I have also been to the South-south with the Vice-president and we received the same kind of reception. The Vice-president and the President came to power with the same manifesto so you don’t separate them. So when the Vice-president is accepted and is accorded love and respect wherever he goes, that in itself is love and respect for the government.
MONTAGE: There are defections from the opposition PDP to your party the APC. People are concerned about this trend and the fact that it has the potential to swing Nigeria into a one-party state, taking from the unending crisis in the PDP. As a former lawmaker and a political expert, what do you make of this?
OJUDU: For me it is not positive in anyway. It is not cheering news that people who hitherto would not touch the APC with a long pole are now finding it very attractive. These are political excursionists. You don’t build party by jumping from one party to another. The party which elected you today, you abandon it for another party. If the new party loses tomorrow, you jump to another party. It is not ideal in a democracy; it’s not the best for our country.
I came from a background where whether in power or not, we are comfortable as well as you are comfortable in your position. For the government to perform to maximum there must be a purposeful and strong opposition to it that will point out its wrongdoing’s, failings from time to time. What is happening now is not healthy for democracy. In Italy you have people who have been in a particular party for more than three decades, the same thing in America. There are people whose parents are known as democrats and for generations they remain as democrats and the same thing for conservatives.
I don’t see myself for example joining a party like PDP. I would rather retire from politics. I also want to train my own children to believe in progressive ideas not preservative ideas, that is the only way you can build a very strong party and not this idea of once the election is over and another party has won, you leave your party and join the new party.
MONTAGE: But Nigerians see the APC and PDP as both sides of the same coin.
OJUDU: They are probably saying this because of the defections. What rules a party is a body of ideas subscribed to by the founding members. The kind of theft and looting that took place in the PDP will never ever happen in the APC. The people coming into the APC from the PDP will have to abide by the philosophy, ideas, and rules of the APC and if they refuse, they will be frustrated out of the party.
The symbols of our party can be capitalized by saying we are against corruption, we love to work and give to the people not for ourselves. I am the special adviser to the president but I don’t have an official car, no official house, I live humbly, I am not extravagant in my living and these are the kind of things we subscribe to. Rather than live and surround yourself with gold while majority of Nigerians languish in poverty, we want to work hard for the people to ensure we build a better society. That is the kind of things we subscribe to.
MONTAGE: One plus for this government is the president’s ability to rally the military, armed forces and the entire security agencies. Although this has helped in taming the Boko Haram terrorist group, we still witness killings by Fulani herdsmen across the country. What is the government doing to put an end to this?
OJUDU: With the security reports we have, the people that are committing these atrocities are not the herd’s men, we find it convenience to call them herdsmen. They are the dispatched Boko Haram elements who have the arm and ammunition going around on rampage destroying things across the country. Nobody who is rearing 100 cows will attack people and run away; where then goes the cattle and cows? It’s simple logic because if you’re rearing cows and cattle you can’t go and commit crime and run. The Fulani’s value cattle more than their own children so it is not possible for one or two individuals rearing cattle to go to a village and kill people and disappear; how are they going to run with their cattle? What security report has revealed is that the Boko Haram element and other element from neighboring countries who are one way or the other misinformed jihadist have found themselves scattered across Nigeria and our communities and they are the ones committing these atrocities in the disguise of herdsmen.
MONTAGE: But then the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai confirmed that in the case of his state, it was Fulani herdsmen that had issues with members of the communities in Southern Kaduna.
OJUDU: I cannot say whether he is right or wrong but I’m telling you from my understanding, logic and the information available to me that this is what I think is happening.
MONTAGE: On the issue of the abducted Chibok girls, while the Bring Back Our Girls group is demanding that the federal government rescue the remaining 197 missing girls, the government is claiming victory over the fight with the Boko Haram. What is going to happen to the remaining missing girls?
OJUDU: There is no day that the government does not think about the Chibok girls. The way we negotiated for some of the girls to be released, the negotiation continues but you know when you are negotiating with terrorists, it takes effort, bringing people outside the country to help in the negotiation. It is not as if those girls are being kept and locked up by the President, they are not in his custody and so anybody that is protesting, well it’s good to protest, to call the attention of Nigerians to the fact that they are still not yet to be found but they can’t indict the government that is not responsible for losing them in the first place.
MONTAGE: Recently the government released an economic plan for 2018 but the Emir of Kano is saying it is not going to work. Have you heard that?
OJUDU: When it comes to economic policy, if you count 10 economist and they have different views, it’s a normal thing in democracy. They cannot all agree on what should be done or should not be done so the Emir has the right to his opinion based on his understanding and information available to him. The government has its own right to read it the way it has appeared to them. What we should watch out for is the outcome of the policy as demonstrated. The criticism in that policy will help in strengthening what we have so it’s not a bad thing to criticize.
MONTAGE: The administration of President Buhari is going into the second leg of its first term. As someone that has fought for an equitable, just and prosperous nation, are you satisfied with what we have on ground?
OJUDU: Well we are not there yet, we are working very hard, we are hopeful determined and committed. I can tell you in my adult years, I have not seen any government that is as patriotic as this government in terms of commitment to what it believes in and commitment to Nigerians. Look at the N-Power policy, 200,000 young Nigerians who are unemployed who doesn’t have to know anybody get employment. The portal is open, you apply and in few weeks your name comes out as those who has applied. For me it’s something new in Nigeria, so this government is trying to bring solutions to the problems confronting Nigerians in the area of power supply, provision of infrastructure. This government is committed, we just need time and things will work out well for Nigeria.
MONTAGE: Away from the national and now to your state Ekiti. Every day the Governor, Ayo Fayose is either in the news for buying oil or eating amala. He calls himself the Grassroots Governor. How do you rate his government?
OJUDU: Whatever I say might be taken as coming from the opposition. Nonetheless, take Fayose and put him side by side with the Governor of Kebbi state that has been able to produce almost 70,000 out-growers of rice and wheat; 7,000 indigenes of Kebbi state are out-growers. Put him side by side with a man who is always on air abusing everybody and eating all over the street and just making noise. Put Fayose side by side with the Governor of Lagos state that is doing all those gigantic works in Lagos that everybody is commending. As I’m talking to you the IGR of Lagos is about 35 billion naira per month, and the state is boasting that in the next 4 to 5 years they will have no less than 100 billion naira per month.
Put Fayose side by side with the Governor of Cross River state. You will want to say I’m saying all these because these governors are from my own party but Cross River is PDP, look at what the young man is doing in Cross River and several other governors like that. What will he say he has done, has he mobilized the young people in Ekiti who are ready to go to farm and do something for themselves; has he been able to generate power to the state? How many industries has he assisted? How many employment has he generated? For me he is a disaster to the people of Ekiti. Well his time is almost over. I have told him to start packing his things and I will assist him to go to jail by the time he finishes his tenure.
If he spends half of the time he spends on social media on developing Ekiti, the state will be a better place to stay and live in.
MONTAGE: What would you say is the major problem facing Ekiti state?
OJUDU: Poverty! There is no company in Ekiti state that employs up to 30 people, there is no production going on there, no wealth creation. People are coming out of schools and having nothing to do. All of the lands cultivated are not up to 100 hectares in the entire state. A governor who has his senses right would be thinking of how to bring companies to come and establish in the state but no Fayose is just busy abusing Buhari, APC, eating rice all over the place as if life is all about food. The young men in Ekiti are very bright and smart; he can create a befitting environment for them to use their brains to create software, application etc, which will generate a lot of income for the state. He can direct their energy into doing something productive. All the young men end up with okada. Have you seen anybody who retires and earns pension in okada riding? Governing a state requires being sober, reflective and having the vision of taking the people from where they are to a higher place. Fayose is just acting Nollywood drama.
MONTAGE: You are one of those seen as having what it takes to rescue Ekiti state. When will you answer the call to serve the state?
OJUDU: I have always answered the call as long as I can remember. I have also pointed out the right facts in Ekiti state. In 2006 when there were killings of people, I organized and removed the governor and I brought people who are decent and well educated, one from PDP and ACN to contest for the election and we brought sanity to the state for a while, but things have gone wrong again but we are going to rectify it. I don’t have to be the governor of Ekiti before I answer the call. I have always fought for the interest of the people in the state. If there are other things to do for the state in the future I am ready to answer the call.
MONTAGE: Why not as governor?
OJUDU: As a governor, it is a possibility, and I am not ruling that out but, it’s not time yet to say if I want to become a governor or not. It is the desire of the people of Ekiti state to have people who have their interest at heart, who are passionate about the state to come up and lead them. When the time comes all of us who are progressives will come together and identify that person who has enough capacity and capability to run the place in a manner that will make Ekiti the pride of Nigeria and model for the rest of the states in the country.
MONTAGE: If the people give you the mandate would you go?
OJUDU: I will consult with my family, party and myself before I take the decision.
MONTAGE: Let’s assume after consideration and election you win, what are the first five things you will do for your people?
OJUDU: Agriculture! Agriculture!! Agriculture!!! Agriculture!!!! Agriculture!!!!! MA