No quick fix to Nigeria’s problems –Sen Babafemi Ojudu
Senator Babafemi Ojudu is the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Political Matters. In this interview, he speaks on the achievements of the first one year of the administration and Ekiti State politics, among other issues. Excerpts…
How would you describe Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, who has constituted himself to a one-man opposition squad against the Buhari administration?
Well, talking seriously, I don’t think that is opposition. He has only constituted himself to a nuisance not just to Ekiti people but to Nigerians as a whole . When I look at it; I am not a psychiatrist, but I have read some books on psychiatry, mental health and psychology and I think, for me, the way it is, he is on the verge of lunacy. It is not everybody who walks on the street and puts on cloth that is sane. In other climes, an average person will go for mental check up once or twice in a year to ascertain the state of his mental health. I think that we should pity him and see how we could make him realise that something is amiss and that he needs to seek help.
What is the future of APC as an opposition party in the state?
APC as opposition party has always been there, exposing all his shenanigans. Opposition is very strong, not just opposition fromAPC, but opposition from members of his party, PDP. There is also opposition from members of his cabinet, from members of his family who are also not happy with what he is doing. I am aware of people in his family who are disgusted about what he is doing now. I am aware that members of his cabinet and inner circle are fleeing the country.
The average Ekiti person, whether you are traditional ruler, civil servant, student or politician are all embarrassed. I was somewhere at the top level a couple of days ago and a highly placed person jokingly said. ‘Don’t shake hand with Senator Ojudu. You know he is from Ekiti State and that thing from his governor can be very cantagious’. It was a joke, but again it shows the kind of things people say to those of us who are from Ekiti State. He symbolises Ekiti.
So, when he behaves the way he behaves, it takes away from our personsonality as Ekiti people, it takes away our decency as Ekiti people. That is why our people need to think deeply before they use their votes. They have to vote for someone who will give a very respectable perception of Ekiti State. In this case, we seem to be in trouble. Ekiti people themselves must have seen that they were wrong by rejecting our party. They thought they had seen a messiah. Now, they have seen that that messiah is a mirage, an avoidable embarrassment.
The Buhari administration recently marked the first anniversary. Do you think the government has done enough to meet the aspiration of the people in terms of the promises made during the electioneering?
Yes, the president said he was going to make a change in Nigeria and he meant it. That was not a slogan; that was necessity. He knew the state Nigeria was before he was voted in and that change must happen. The only problem is that things have gone so bad that it cannot be rebuilt overnight. And if you don’t want to take a fire brigade approach, you must plan meticulously to ensure that whatever change you are making will be an enduring change whether in the area of power supply, fuel supply, the economic sector generally, in electoral reform, health sector or provision of infrastructure.
You don’t build rail line from Kano to Lagos in six months; you don’t build rail line from Lagos to Calabar in six months or one year. You have to plan, you have to design, you have to do all manners of investigations, you have to carry out tests here and there, you have to sign agreements, you have to bring in all of the materials you are going to use.
We understand people are suffering, the cost of food items has gone up in the market, power has dropped. The president is very sympathetic to Nigerians. But as people will say, it is the pains that the mother suffers in the course of delivering a baby. The moment the child is delivered, it becomes a thing of joy. It is the pain a patient suffers when he is being injected by a doctor. When the injection gets to the body, it relieves you of the main pain. Relief will come. The president and those in his government are determined to change Nigeria. They are not people who want to go and buy homes in London, in America. They don’t want to own private jets, they don’t want to have billions of dollars stashed in foreign accounts.
Along the line, there will be saboteurs, there will be people who are destructive, who do not want the change we all desired and voted for. There will be those who want things to continue the way they were before. They are going to pose challenges. But at the end of the day they will be defeated. Their resolve will be weakened.
But time is of essence.
Yes, time is of essence in both ways. Time is of essence in terms of planning as time is of essence in terms of delivery. The government is starting again from the scratch because everything has gone wrong. Beyond the damage done to our infrastructure is the damage to our morals as a people. They put you in charge of a public institution and you think the best thing to do is to steal all the money. That itself is a problem.
Everyone within the system thinks of what he can make for himself. There is nowhere in the world where people spend money the way we spend money in Nigeria. These are some of the things the president is trying to correct and people are shouting. But we are going to get used to it. That there won’t be free money again. That all the resources of government shall henceforth be used for the benefit of all Nigerians. When we get use to it, they will begin to see it as the right path to take.
This government came in with high expectation that it would bring relief to the suffering of Nigerians. Yet, one year down the line, the standard of living is still very high, power is not stable, fuel crisis has not abated. How do you explain all these?
Nobody said this is going to be a quick fix or that the government is going to serve a fast food. What we are saying is that we must depart from the past which is what we call change. And by departing from the past, we abandon all of those practices that we have been used to that brought us to this point and then embark on a new path. And that new path has to be planned. Even in the course of planning that path, there is sabotage going on. We can’t as a nation be importing the food we eat for example. We can’t as a nation be importing all of our needs. We have to produce some of these things locally. But it will take time. We won’t grow rice in three months. But there has to be a break. When there is a break, there will be some pains. At some point, the people will be relieved.
Governance is about problem solving .
(Cuts in)…..Yes! Already, the problems are being solved.
The issue of sabotage is no longer a new thing to Nigerians. This time around, you should know that people will not want to take any excuse from government for non performance.
Is this not another way of giving excuse?
Where government can intervene and bring a new lease of life to the people, government will intervene. Just a few days ago, government suspended deduction of debts owned by some states from the monthly federal allocation to enable them meet their obligations of paying salaries of workers. Under the PDP, there were monies passed secretly to their governors to solve problems in their states, such as ecology fund and others. When President Buhari decided to stop the deduction, he didn’t talk about APC.
He sees himself as President of the country not the president of APC. If you look at the budget, a lot of the components of the budget are designed to bring relief to the people. We are going to take half a million of our unemployed graduates off the streets by training them and providing them with temporary jobs as teachers. In this same budget, we are going to train 100,000 on ICT this year. We want to provide loan for market women and men as well as women cooperatives across the country.
We want to provide loan for young farmers. We want to train another 500,000 in skill acquisition. All these are in the budget to provide palliatives for the people. There will be conditional cash transfer to the less privileged, those at the bottom of the pyramid. With all these, some people are still trying to sideline the government by making sure that the budget is not ready as at when due. Everywhere you turned to, you see people who have been used to free money. The president is saying no to all of that.
As a former member of the National Assembly, do you think the president has really managed the situation very well in terms of interacting with the legislators to facilitate speedy passage of the budget?
Having been in the National Assembly, I know what it means for budget to come and to go out as presented. There are lots of practices that have been enshrined over the years that the president is up and against and he is saying no, ‘I will not be a part of these. If all of us were elected and we swore to serve the people, let all our actions be directed towards serving the people.’
Then, what is the fate of this budget in terms of implementation?
There is no project in the budget that has not been planned ready for execution. As soon as a clean copy of the budget the president can defend comes out, everything will start moving. When I was a senator, they said five roads were to be constructed in Ekiti State, and I went into the details and discovered that all of the roads were either in Nassarawa or Sokoto State or Kebbi. And I shouted what nonsense? Meanwhile, money had been allocated. Somebody would have just sat in one corner and collect that money. And no road would have been tarred. The president is saying that is not going to happen again.
What do you make of the trial of the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki vis-a-viz the image and integrity of that institution?
I don’t want to delve into a matter that is before the law court. But in terms of integrity of that institution, I think something has gone wrong. If you want to rate the senate today or the National Assembly, the rating is going to be very low in the estimation of Nigerians and even the international community. That somebody who is presiding over that institution is going from the dock to the topmost chair in that chamber is not right.
How would you react to the speculation about the crack in the APC?
It is a lack of ability to do proper analysis using the available facts. The fact is available that several parties came together to form APC. It is almost impossible for them to become one in two years. It is going to take time. It takes some years before you can perfect it and turn it to one indivisible party. That exactly is what is happening that people are calling division.