.Why Buhari is failing –Ex-minister, Ogunlewe
FORMER minister of works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, combines a balanced experience as part and parcel of the executive and legislature. In this interview, he describes the present seeming cat and mouse relationship between the executive and the bodeparliament as a manifestation of inexperience of President Muhammadu Buhari in party affairs management. He admonishes the president to do a review of his relationship with the National Assembly for smooth governance. Read his suggestions:
By next month, this administration will be one year. How would you assess the state of the nation as at today?
Honestly, the situation is very worrisome and pathetic. Our expectation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has not been realized at all. As far as I am concerned, they have the personnel in terms of quality of membership and the leadership, but they don’t seem to have experience and exposure in governance, which they must learn very quickly to save this nation from total collapse.
As a member of the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), how do you feel seeing everybody pointing the finger at your party for the present predicament?
If you have confidence in yourself, you don’t judge the performance of the past administration on your own credibility and capacity to perform. That is defeatist and it is totally unacceptable to me. When you are in power, you inherit both the credit and liability of the past administration. The plane President Muhammadu Buhari is flying all over the world now was bought by the PDP. Why didn’t he complain about the plane? So, it is defeatist and it is unacceptable to Nigerians. I admire the president a lot. He had attempted this position three times. But what were his expectations of governance when he was vying for the position? Did he think it was going to be a tea party? Good governance is very difficult, no matter the circumstance. You must stand up to it. That is why you are there. Difficulties and challenges shouldn’t overwhelm you. You should overwhelm problems and solve them. It is not for you to be complaining. It is not compulsory that you must offer yourself for presidency. So, anything you meet there, you must demonstrate the capacity to solve it.
With the revelation about brazen stealing of public money by some members of the past administration, are you suggesting that government should have looked the other way?
No. But that shouldn’t debar you from doing what you are doing. You should not abandon your responsibility as a government on the alter of corruption fighting. There are three or four institutions or agencies saddled with the responsibility of fighting corruption. Corruption is a criminal offence. He should pursue it to a logical conclusion. But it must not be selective. You don’t leave out members of your own party. The amount of information available to Mr. President is enormous. There is nobody that is corrupt in Nigeria that the man doesn’t have his or her name. But he picks only the ones that he prefers to go after. That is the area of my disagreement. But he is free to pursue all those that are proven to be corrupt and fight them to a logical conclusion. But that should not be done at the detriment of governance.
What is the way out for the country with the enormity of corruption in the system?
He has refused to sign the budget. Is that because of corruption? Do you know how many people are losing their jobs with the present situation? Do you know how many companies that cannot pay the salaries of their workers? You cannot pay contractors, if there is no budget. You cannot run the economy, if there is no budget. The lives of so many people depend on the budget of a nation. So, you cannot toy with budget. It has nothing to do with corruption. It is the capacity of Mr. President to manage the members of his party in the National Assembly where they have the majority that is lacking.
The bureaucracy inherited from your past administration has been blamed for all that happened with the budget. Do you have any disagreement with that?
How can bureaucracy be dominated by a political party? If you are versed in governance, you don’t delegate your responsibility to another person. That is defeatist and lack of courage. Each ministry has projects that they have been pursuing for the past 15 years. They have the list and the ministers are there to sort out things. They also have director of budget who harmonizes everything. Then, it goes to the Federal Executive Council. What were they doing there? Were they doing tea party? At what point do you take responsibility? You don’t delegate authority. That is why they are talking of padding of budget when it got to the National Assembly. It means you didn’t do your work well at the Federal Executive Council. It shows some level of incompetence and it is unfair to this nation. Excuse is no longer acceptable to Nigerians. The minister is the head of bureaucracy that you are talking about. What was he doing? Is he not supposed to look at the budget and make sure it is accurate? What about the permanent secretaries who is the accounting officer? There are also budget officers in each of the ministries. It is left for you as a minister to get briefings from the president on what he wants to do. So, it is not the bureaucracy that drafts the budget. I have been there before. It is utter laziness.
One of the reasons the government gave for not signing the budget is that the National Assembly has altered some of its plans contained in the budget proposal. Don’t you think the president has a good ground for not signing the budget if that was the case?
It is lack of experience on the part of Mr. President. The type of presidential system we are running is not an exclusive one. It has provision for party caucus, which comprises the leadership of the party in the National Assembly, the chairman of the party, the secretary and the president as the chairman. That is where you take decisions not at the FEC. But Mr. President believes in FEC instead of the party caucus. That is where he is failing. Who prepares this budget? Are they not members of his party? Who distorted the budget? Are they not members of his party? People that are naïve talk about party supremacy only when they want to elect leadership of the party. It is during budget preparation that the supremacy of the party comes in. That is the time they need the supremacy of the party. The party will even prepare the budget and bring it for the executive not the bureaucracy. The party is responsible for the budget. Who voted for the bureaucracy? What APC should have done is to prepare the budget according to its manifesto and give it to members of the party in the National Assembly. By so doing, it will be easier for them to pass because they would have been involved in the process. As far as they are concerned, National Assembly is an independent arm of government. So, they depend only on the bureaucracy to prepare the budget and then concurrence of the National Assembly. National Assembly has more to do than concurrence. The constitution has given them absolute power on appropriation and nobody can take it away from them. So, no matter how long Mr. President delays, it is the authority of the National Assembly that will prevail. Obasanjo tried, Yar’Adua tried it, Jonathan tried it, they all failed. No other president can do it and will not fail. You must accommodate their interest because as they voted for you, they voted for them too. As you are responsible to the whole Nigeria, they have responsibilities to their respective constituencies. And they will defend their constituencies no matter whose horse is gored.
So far, how would you sum up the relationship between the executive and the legislature?
Mr. President has fallen into the trap of his predecessors by not holding frequent meetings with members of the national caucus of his party. The national caucus of the party is far more important than the Federal Executive Council when it comes to major decision making in the country. But what Buhari does is to hold weekly meetings with the FEC members. Of what value is that? He is the president in council and he has absolute authority there. If he has been carrying along the national caucus of the party, he would have carried along the principal officers of the National Assembly. Whatever bill he takes there, it will be ready in one month. But where you believe in the federal executive members and you are neglecting your members in the National Assembly, you will encounter this kind of problem. What is he afraid of? Members of his party are in the majority in the National Assembly. They are his people, he must discuss them, he must listen to them and he must seek their advice in anything he wants to do. He will only be wasting his time, if he doesn’t do so. Those are the people he must be talking to as frequently as possible.
What then is your expectation of this budget by and large?
If I were Mr. President, I will assent to it. Thereafter, he can aggregate the areas of concern and pass it to them as supplementary budget. But he cannot tamper with their constituency projects; they will not agree because that is what they will base their own campaign on when election comes.
You share a balanced experience between the legislature and the executive. What do you think is the major hindrance to rehabilitation of collapsing infrastructure in the country?
It depends on the policy of government. There is nowhere in the world where you only provide infrastructure from budgetary provision any more. That was what we faced when we came into power and I went to the Harvard University to study this thing and they taught us about Public/Private Partnership. But we didn’t have the law. I had to quickly prepare the legislation, take it to the Ministry of Justice for passage into law. It is called Infrastructure Concession Agency. It is there. If you want to do it only through your budget, you will never get there. Secondly, budget for infrastructure should not be annual. They should change the constitution. Recurrent budget can be annual but infrastructure development budget should be done every four years. That is what is done all over the world. We have about 7000 federal projects abandoned because of this annual budget for infrastructure. If you prepare the budget for four years, you start the projects and finish them before another government comes in. In Bostwana, all the funds from natural resources go into infrastructure. All our revenue from oil must also go into infrastructure development. It is only the tax and other sources of revenue that should go for recurrent expenditure. You don’t spend funds from natural resources on recurrent expenditure. It is criminal to do so because you are taking from the wealth of the nation to pay salaries of a few people that are only about four percent of the total population. We must begin to do things differently. Funding capital projects annually will never work.
Your critics believe you didn’t do enough when you were minister of works. What were your constraints so that another Lagosian who is in charge of the ministry can share from your wealth of experience?
Lagos is not Nigeria. Who is going to do appropriation for you to embark on road development in Lagos? They are people from Kano, Maiduguri, Balyelsa and so on. Do they know Lagos? That is the problem Fashola will face in that ministry. Everything is done on federal character. You cannot say because you are a minister from Lagos, all the money voted for roads in Nigeria must come to Lagos. Each geo-political zone must have equal share of capital votes regardless of where the minister comes from. Federal character is an albatross to the development of Nigeria. And there is nothing anybody can do about it. Many a good number of members of the National Assembly have never heard of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. So, when you mention it, they laugh. But everybody in Lagos believes that once you are in the National Assembly, you must remember Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. But there is a way out. There are 33,000 vehicles plying that road every day. Just introduce toll gate and give it to the private sector, they will pay for the construction of the road. That was our proposal to them, but they didn’t listen to it. If they do it today, the road will be ready in another one year. There is Infrastructure Concession Development Authority, which they can use as partner so that that funds will not go into the federation account. The problem we had with the old toll gate was that the money being collected went into the federal account because there was no law then on public/private partnership. We have the law now. They should use it to provide the toll gate. In another one year, that road will be ready. You can also do that in so many other roads in Nigeria.