From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Dr. Femi Olunfunmilade is the Head of Department of Political Science and International Studies, Igbinedion University, Okada. A staunch believer in President Muhammadu Buhari, he was a member of the Buhari-Osinbajo Presidential Campaign Organisation. In this interview, he scores the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari high in the fight against terrorism and anti-corruption, but laments what he describes as the abandonment of those that worked tirelessly to make him president. Excerpts:
How would you rate the administration of President Buhari?
President Buhari promised three major things during his presidential campaign to the Nigerians. He promised to eliminate insecurity which was on the high side, because at that time, over 20 local governments were under the control of the Boko Haram terrorists. He also promised to fight corruption and to revive the economy. To an extent, he has tried to fulfil these three promises. Today, terrorism has been severely degraded, and I do not think that the terrorists are controlling any local government and the North East is fairly safe now. People are returning to their homes. Those who are still in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps are being rehabilitated. Farming activities and trading have resumed and the evidence is clear for us to see. It’s true we still have occasional bombings but we have reclaimed our territories from Boko Haram. In terms of security, I will give him a pass mark. In terms of fighting corruption, those who are older than us who were already adults during the first republic and have seen it all will tell you that no government apart from that of Muhammed Buhari from December 31st 1983 till August 17th 1985, can compare in terms of fighting corruption. It has been an all-out war and no one is considered sacred. It is no longer business as usual. In the National Assembly, even the lawmakers are doing house cleansing and it is all to fight corruption.
But are you impressed with the administration’s method of fighting corruption?
It is not by taking people to court and prosecuting them alone; there are also institutional reforms aimed at fighting corruption. Look at the Treasury Single Account which showed all kinds of loose funds that no one knew existed. Some of them have over 40 accounts; this is an avenue for leakage. Now it is easy to know what comes in and monitor what goes out. There are other things that are being done in terms of institutional reforms. At the Federal Ministry of Finance, there is an efficiency unit which is meant to take a hard look on various expenditures in the government just to save funds because we are in an era of scarcity. Items like conference bags, elaborate brochures and other gifts should be discarded, even the programme of events shouldn’t be more than one page and it should be in black and white not coloured, because every kobo counts.
We are not only fighting for the billions; we are fighting for the thousands of naira too. In terms of anti-corruption, I will score Buhari high. However, the challenges are there, those who are being prosecuted have the money to hire the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and some people will try to make it an ethnic issue by saying the president is persecuting one ethnic group but he is doing very well.
Opinion in many quarters is that nothing has been achieved in the area of economy; what’s your take?
When we talk of the economy, from the government side, it is having money to embark on developmental projects and ensuring there are no leakages. We have a huge infrastructural deficit; but a look at the items in the 2016 budget would show that they unprecedented. We have the coastal railway which will move from Lagos to Calabar but also connect other states; another one will move from Ibadan to the North connecting various states and capitals. The plan Buhari has, is to make sure that every capital will be connected by rail and when that is done; our roads would be saved form quick depreciation. The price of barrel has quite changed; also the serious sabotage by the Niger Delta Avengers is making it all worse. In general, the president has tried.
There is this friction with the National Assembly; what can say about relationship between the Presidency and the legislators?
We have to put things in their proper context. As far as the president and the National Assembly are concerned, I think they have had good relationship. All the appointees that have been sent to the National Assembly have been cleared without any unnecessary delay. The only issue is with the national budget. I want believe that it is an issue that has come and will also go. If there is anything that would come out of it, it is the National Assembly becoming better and stronger. Looking at it from another angle, the President and his support base have a good relationship; the support base refers to his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the various support groups round the country. All the support groups have been left in the lurch and I can tell that people are not happy. I carried out the need assessment survey for Buhari’s campaign on the platform of the support organizations. It was decided that I conduct a research. I proposed it and it was approved by them. It was meant to find out the peculiar needs of each state and the Federal Capital Territory and condense these needs to bullet points. After the survey, we told them to promise those in Ekiti State a Federal Secretariat Complex because the state doesn’t have one. In Cross River, the people are still unhappy about the Bakassi issue, they were told to promise them to revisit the issue of the displaced persons. It was done nationwide and I was supported by the coordinators of the Buhari Support Group across the 36 states. A lot of Northerners who were part of his support base are not happy, so people should stop having the impression that he is only favouring the Northerners. He cannot give everyone an appointment but he can make symbolic gestures. We have leaders and most of them have what it takes to serve in the government.
Are you saying that his appointments so far have been in order?
Many of those who were appointed were unknown to us and you can quote me. In the Buhari political family, we have professors, and some of the vice chancellors that were appointed were unknown to us; they just came out of the blues. Many of the people appointed in National Examinations Council (NECO) and other tertiary institutions were not known. Maybe they are people known by him, but we did not know them. We are not saying that if he finds qualified people he shouldn’t pick them; he should go ahead and pick them. We are happy that he put a professional in the oil sector. We don’t even know how the appointments are made. How many people have access to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation? Sometime last year, the leaders of the party asked us to send 50 names, what became of that exercise?
I do not know the criteria the President uses for the appointment. It is not about me getting an appointment, because, even during his presidential campaigns, I always spent my money to lodge in hotels.
Many say that the president is not behaving like a politician going by the lopsided nature of his appointments. What is your take?
President Buhari appears to fit the description of him by former President Obasanjo. I watched a documentary over 20 years ago, and I was one of those who wept when he was over thrown. About six months after he was removed, I saw the direction IBB was going and I wept for the country. I remember what Obasanjo said when they asked him to comment on Buhari, he said, “Well, Muhammadu believed in the righteousness of his mission and his mission was a patriotic one indeed. However, he was only a good administrator and not a politician.” Today I think that description still fits him. President Buhari is a good administrator, he likes efficiency and wants things to be done the right way but we are in a democracy. In the university, we do not teach Nigerian politics in isolation. The course is called Nigerian government and politics and we do not teach government in isolation. It is a basic fundamental course in any political science department. Governance and politics must be balanced. You cannot divorce governance from politics and vice versa. He is carrying out a lot of reforms, but if he doesn’t balance his governance with politics, his reforms will end in 2019, because he wouldn’t be able to return to power. It is like a house without foundation. I am not tongue tied when it comes to appointment because I suffered and laboured for President Buhari to be in power. He should allow people like us to come close to him and tell him the truth in order to avert the impending tragedy. Most of the leaders cannot talk to him, they are afraid even when they themselves are not happy.
What about the relationship between Buhari and Tinubu?
Tinubu’s media aide was recently appointed as a commissioner in the National Communication Commission (NCC); that shows that he is being carried along because he wasn’t or isn’t a politician just an aide to Tinubu. So, for him to have been elevated to that level, it means that he is still reckoned with him. I knew Tinubu from a distance but though at the time, I never had an interaction with him. After I published a book which I dedicated to Buhari, I sent him a memo that I wanted to meet with him, but I did not get any response. I want them to work together that will benefit Nigeria. It is normal to have personal differences but for the sake of Nigeria, they should close ranks and reposition the party. It wasn’t only APC that delivered power to Buhari; the support groups played a very critical role. They shouldn’t think that because they are big leaders, other people do not matter.
Everyone matters, even the person that supported with one vote matters. If today an election is conducted with the way the party and its support groups are I do not think we will win.
The call for restructuring is growing by the day. What do you have to say?
The people who talk about restructuring cannot articulate it. There are various levels of restructuring. There is the aspect of constitutional restructuring, economic restructuring, restructuring the country politically. Some think restructuring deals with the region running the show. If you go to South West today and decide to return the old western region, we would not have Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Ogun and even Lagos states. We will just have one region; I do not think that the people will support your idea. What we are to do is work more towards developing the country economically. The call for restructuring is also a product of frustration because people are not fulfilled. They feel that if power is taken from the centre and put in the regions, their life would be better. Creating a new layer of government will only add to the administrative cost of running the government. The best thing to do is to restructure the states. The civil service in the various states are bloated; they are not generating any income and yet the little taxes that people pay they are consuming it and now there is nothing to consume. The type of restructuring we need is to make the machinery of governance run effectively.