Among all the 71 presidential candidates, none of them can contest with Buhari on the question of integrity. Integrity is very important.
Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Former Minister of Petroleum and Energy Prof Tam David-West has said that the 2019 presidential election is between President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He believes that victory could swing to any of the two, pointing out, however, that integrity would likely make Buhari to pull through, though he has some disappointments about the incumbent administration.
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The 2019 general election elections are around the corner. So, what is your general assessment of the elections, especially the presidential poll?
I know there is going to be elections. People have been saying all sorts of things that there would not be elections, there will not be Nigeria. There will be election and it is going to be smooth and I believe in this. Most of the fears are unfounded. There is going to be a winner. One must win. But the thing that bothers me is that a country that is presenting 71 presidential candidates for an election is not a serious country. With 71 presidential candidates, Nigeria is unserious. For obvious reasons, I am not a fan of Ibrahim Babangida (former military president of Nigeria) and I can never be, but he did something that we cannot deny him when we have two party system, one to the right and one to the left. By doing that, he has already institutionalised two candidates. He brought in two party system. Normally, it is wrong for you to legislate how many parties. Let them form, but you have to give guidelines. Babangida did something that, as much as I don’t like him, and he knows why I don’t like him and I will never like him, but he did something that is good for Nigeria’s political structure. He formalised two parties. With the system, it cannot be two candidates for an election; and that is a credit for him. Today, we have 71 presidential candidates, already registered by INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission). That alone shows that Nigeria is not serious. Of the 71 presidential candidates down, the only ones I consider serious candidates are President Muhammadu Buhari (of the All Progressives Congress, APC) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP). We cannot deny that. One of them must win. I believe, there will be no problem. Some people have been making stupid comments that if Buhari loses, he will not hand over. It’s a very stupid thing to say. Buhari said one of the things he would continue to admire in Jonathan (Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, former president of Nigeria), is that he conceded defeat. If he is defeated, he cannot say he will not concede. There is no point for him not to concede. I know him, naturally he will not do it and he cannot do it because the implications are very grave.
Now that you have narrowed the presidential candidates to two, who between the APC and PDP candidates do you envisage will win?
I don’t want to be like a prophet, but I can analyse. What I am going to say is based on my own preference. Another thing that bothers me is that we are making politics as if it is voodoo. Before the PDP primaries, one person who called himself a prophet, said God has already anointed Bukola Saraki to be President of Nigeria. It was a full-page publication in a newspaper. I have the cutting. Saraki never won the primary. He came third in the primary and, in fact, the vote he had was less than half of the aspirant that came second. But the prophet said God has anointed him, calling the name of God in vain; just like Obasanjo called the name of God in vain, saying that if he forgives Atiku, God will not forgive him, but he had forgiven him. You don’t have to call the name of God in vain for goodness sake. A lot of people have written on the chances of each of them. I laugh when I read a lot of papers. All the analyses make me laugh because they analyse as if they know what is going to happen. To show how unserious we are, one senator some weeks ago said Buhari cannot even win the Northeast. He has recanted. He said it and he has apologised. But he has made such a big statement. The problem with Nigeria is that our politicians are not serious, and we have got more politicians than the statesmen. Now, let me come to Buhari and Atiku. Did Buhari make promises and has he fulfilled them? You, tell me one politician, whether in this country or abroad. When they draft their manifestos, what percentage of the manifestos have they been able to do? I have always said ‘no government does everything and no government does nothing.’
If I am going to assess Buhari, I will say he made promises and has he fulfilled all of them? All the promises being made by Atiku, can he fulfill them too? If Atiku wins, I don’t know if he will, even if he wins, can he fulfill all his promises? But has he (Buhari) done well? I have said it before, the economy is bad; I still maintain it. People are suffering. Is it his making? My problem is that I have spent a lot of time fighting with the past.
One of my friends even said ‘you are not starting from zero, you are starting from minus.’ There is no doubt that the economy was very down. There is no doubt there was no money. In fact, I was told by an expert from the Central Bank that if Jonathan had stayed four more months, Nigeria would have been officially declared bankrupt. So, if you are going to assess somebody’s promise, you will assess the promise based on where you are coming from. It is easier to destroy than to build. It is commonsensical. The economy was destroyed. Central Bank was used like a private account. But after saying that, improve on it. The question is are you improving on it or you are making it worse? I don’t think it remains where it was. For all what they have said, I am not happy that people are not happy and things are not better than they are now in terms of the common man. I am not happy about it. But does that mean I can use that to disqualify him (Buhari)? No. What I am saying is that, are you doing something about it? I am satisfied that he is doing something about it. But if what is being done is not felt, it’s easier to destroy than to build, it will take them time to build.
Is three years enough time? I will say yes and some will say no. A professor of economic, some years ago, when we were talking about Nigeria, said, ‘when an economy is destroyed, it will take at least two years to build.’ No problem. It means you have to do things faster. Talking about security, anyone that is going to be objective will say at least security is better now that where we were. Though some people may disagree, everybody is entitled to his own opinion. The security is better. Is there an improvement in security? I will say yes. It was said that Nigerian Army can rout Boko Haram insurgents in one week. If they have to do that in a military way, what of the civilian casualties? Boko Haram has no air power. The military might of Nigerian Army is so overwhelming, compared to Boko Haram. If they really want to rout them in one week, it will be by bombing. But a lot of civilians will die. But the long and short is that I will not score him failure in security. No. It will be better. I will not give him a very high mark, or pass. I will not give him a failure mark. It was said that Buhari hates restructuring. It is not true.
The PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has promised that he would restructure this country if Nigerians could give him their mandates to be President in 2019. Also, the conviction of President Buhari on restructuring, people seem not to understand it. What is your take?
If you ask Nigerians what restructuring means, they will give you 10 different meanings. Atiku promising restructuring made it like Donald Trump’s immigration policy is very popular. Atiku has used restructuring because it is a popular subject. To me, I believe in restructuring. The bottom line is that the centre is too powerful. Who made it powerful? We made it powerful. Politicians made it powerful. If a particular president because he is too powerful becomes imperial, then blame yourself and the politicians. People like power.
So, it is not true that Buhari does not like restructuring. When we talk of one indivisible Nigeria, does it mean restructuring? Some people believe restructuring is going back to regional government as it was before. He cannot do it. There is no way he can do it. There is no way somebody who has had independence will surrender it. We have got 36 states now and six geo-political zones. It is good in theory. But you cannot base Nigeria on six geo-political zones. No state today will surrender its independence. I would have liked to see the states such as Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Anambra and the North to say they are going back to region because they want restructuring so that we will have Northern, Southwest, Southeast and Mid-West regions. The Mid-West was created for political convenience. But there is no way Nigeria can go back to regions. What do we do with the 36 states? The problem is not restructuring, it is ourselves. There are two books written by Prof Ben Nwabueze. The first book, Nwabueze entitled it: ‘How President Obasanjo Subverted the Rule of Law and Democracy.’ The boom was published in 2007 and it contains 424 pages. It’s a fantastic book. The second book is entitled: ‘How President Obasanjo Subverted Nigeria’s Federal System.’ It’s 448 pages. What I am saying is that if Obasanjo had taken over powers to himself, and he swore to defend the constitution, if you don’t take him to task, don’t blame him. Prof Nwabueze wrote the books, but did he go to court to challenge him? Obasanjo sacked Atiku as vice president because he went to the Action Congress. He declared his seat vacant. Atiku went to the Supreme Court and the apex court said Obasanjo did not have the power to do that by the constitution. If Atiku could fight Obasanjo in the Supreme Court, why can’t Nigerian political pundits, constitutional lawyers and so on say ‘Mr President, you are taking too much powers to yourself.’ Go to court. They didn’t go to court. So, Obasanjo was able to do that because they were docile. I am saying that my own restructuring is that the centre should not be too powerful. If we are operating federalism, the centre cannot dictate to the states. The states should be allowed as much autonomy as possible. The exclusive list of the constitution was so much prior to the centre. The concurrent list is for the states and federal, but the exclusive list is reserved for the president. Nwabueze was not only among the 50 Nigerians that drafted the 1979 constitution. He was among the legal drafters of the 1979 Constitution. So, I don’t believe that Buhari is against restructuring. But it is a question of what type of restructuring? If restructuring means dismembering the country, Buhari said no. We can restructure within the ambit of a united Nigeria. But some people that are talking about restructuring are not being honest with themselves. What they have at the back of their minds is autonomy of different states. Some believe there should not be one independent Nigeria, but several independent states, each on its own. This is what Buhari is against.
Between President Buhari and Alhaji Abubakar, who will you say has the capacity to take Nigeria to the next level of socioeconomic and political development?
Both of them have capacities, but Buhari has more capacity. Buhari is more equipped and that does not mean Atiku will be a failure. I am not saying Atiku will be a failure. I have said it before, ‘No government does everything and no government does nothing.’ But every rational human being knows his weaknesses and his strengths. I am sure Atiku in his inner moments, when it is himself and his Allah, he will accept that Buhari is better.
It is the view of a number of Nigerians that Atiku can transform the economy of Nigeria better than Buhari. How would you respond to this?
You don’t transform economy by magic. Economy is transformed by Economic Laws. You cannot change the economy by incantations. Economy can be hanged by process. It is easier to destroy than to build. Even, if Buhari said ‘I will change the economy,’ I know he cannot give a time limit because there are forces that he cannot control. Economy is improved based on economic variables. There are economic forces he cannot control, he can only use them; make sure you are using them for the betterment of the people.
Some people have said that long time ago, Alhaji Abubakar gathered some intellectuals and they formed his think-tank. He asked them to study the problems of Nigeria and proffer solutions, which he plans to implement if he becomes president of Nigeria. Are you aware of this?
Yes, I know about the think-tank. But what did he do with it? You can go and ask him. I know some of them that were there. But go and ask him, what did he do with it?
It is possible that he has not done anything about it because he has not had the opportunity to become the president of Nigeria?
He was the vice president. A vice president is not a spare tyre. He was in charge of privatisation. What happened to privatisation? When we are talking about economy, you cannot change the economy by voodoo. I agree that you must make moves that will yield improvements. But you cannot change economy by voodoo incantation. Even, if Buhari made that promise, there are forces that he cannot control. It is like when people are talking about price control. How can you control the price of commodity you did not produce? If I produce my yam, and I know how much I spent to produce it, are you going to tell me how much I should sell it? The long and short of it, Atiku has a lot of very good credentials. But one thing that I admire in him is that he fought Obasanjo when he sacked him. He was vice president to Obasanjo, they disagreed. The problem between Atiku and Obasanjo is more of personality conflict. Obasanjo, being overbearing, wanted to calm him down and sack him, he sacked him because Atiku changed party. He defected from PDP to Action Congress. They declared his seat vacant. He did not have power to do that.
You are very close to President Buhari, even before he became the president of Nigeria, can you enlighten members of the public about the think-tank he has that has understudied the problems of Nigeria and proffered solutions to them, and maybe the product is what President Buhari is implementing in the change mantra of APC?
I don’t know and I don’t think Buhari has a formal think-tank. But that he has experts that he consults, I know that is true. Am I a member of that? No. I am not an expert. I am a specialist. Honestly, only the best is good for Nigeria, and I love Nigeria. He made a statement that I will not forget in his inaugural speech. He said Nigeria belongs to all of us. Whatever happens, we shall stay here and salvage it together. He said no decamping. He cannot salvage it alone. Can Atiku perform? He is a businessman. But to be a good businessman will not translate to being a good president. Trump has shown that to be a good businessman is not the same thing as being a good president. Trump was a super businessman. I consider Atiku to be a good businessman. Trump, a super businessman, I don’t think he’s a super president. The Americans are even saying he’s the worst president they have ever had. In fact, Trump has an aspect of Obasanjo. If you are born in America, by birthright, you are an American citizen. Trump has said he will cancel that by an executive order. The constitution is clear. He cannot do it. If he does it, he will be taken to court and he will be defeated because he cannot change the constitution. The way to change the constitution is clear. You cannot just say something that is in the constitution, you can change it by an executive order. That’s what Obasanjo did to Atiku. But Obasanjo has some parts of Atiku and Atiku has some parts of Obasanjo. Obasanjo has some parts of Trump and Trump has some parts of Obasanjo. Both of them feel that you can win power autocratically and tinker with the constitution.
Some Nigerians have been asking INEC to disqualify President Buhari from seeking re-election because of his secondary school certificate. What is your view of this?
It is rubbish. They are talking rubbish one million times. I have written about it before. This shows you what we are. The Diploma he has in American War College is equivalent to Masters Degree in the university. You cannot go to the American War College except you have high school education. I know what I am talking about. Why can’t people do research? We have always been like this because we are lazy; even some big intellectuals are so lazy that they cannot research. All what they are saying is nothing new. It has been done before and made front page in newspapers. If INEC does not disqualify him, you can go to court now. You can take INEC to court that it is acting against the constitution. The constitution did not say you should have O’level. The constitution says you should read up to O’level. When Nigerian Army said they did not have his certificate, the former Army Director of Public Relations finally came out that they had seen it. So, Buhari certificate issue, it is stupid to raise it. Everyone raising the certificate question is stupid and lazy because it has been done before. In any case, he was admitted into the American War College. You cannot be admitted into the college, even if you are an American, without having high school. Now, coming back to both of them. One thing that Buhari has, which nobody now in the political terrain can fault, is his integrity. Some people are around him that he has not punished as we want him to, those that have been found to be corrupt. One thing, if you are going to be honest with yourself, however, how much you hate Buhari, one thing you cannot deny him is that he is not corrupt. He is a man of integrity. In fact, Abdulsalami Abubakar called him an extraordinary Nigerian. Obasanjo too has praised him before now. Among all the 71 presidential candidates, none of them can contest with Buhari on the question of integrity. Integrity is very important. First ‘ye seek the kingdom of integrity, and everything will fall in place.’ Even, Buhari’s worst enemies will grudgingly say he has integrity. With integrity, you can do anything. If you have integrity, it is easier for you to work. This is why I said seek you first the kingdom of integrity and every other thing shall be added on to you. What did he need? A good team. If you marry integrity with a good team together, things will work. I have nothing against Atiku. Atiku did something for me he has forgotten. My family was celebrating 100 years of our great-great grandfather’s demise, King Abbi, the first Amanyanabo of Kalabari, Amachree IV, who lived from 1863 to 1900. We were celebrating his 100 years of death in 2000. We were to have a public lecture to commemorate it. We had a lot of functions to celebrate the centenary of his death. Atiku was invited to be the chief guest of honour. The royal family wanted him to be the chief guest of honour. We wrote him, but we have not got the reply before I went to see him in his office as the Vice President. I was in Abuja and I phoned him that I wanted to see him, and he asked me to come. So, I went to see him. I explained to him across the table why the celebration was important to me and the royal family of Kalabari. He said ‘Professor, I will come.’ He has forgotten this. Atiku was to come, but somebody stopped him. Chief Afe Babalola gave the memorial lecture. I phoned Atiku, I could not get him. We had made all arrangements and he was no more answering my calls. I suspected something was wrong. So, I used my intelligence service, Tam Security Organisation (TSO). I told Buhari, you have NSO and I have TSO. I found out that somebody in government, who was close to me, not from Kalabari, but from Rivers State told him not to come. But what did Atiku do? He didn’t come physically. But he sent somebody to represent him. The representative said the vice president said he should come and stand on his behalf. He could avoid me now. Based on that, national anthem was played to welcome Atiku in absence. I will never forget it. I believe the royal family of Kalabari will not forget. I would always respect Atiku for that. So, on balance, where Atiku is a businessman, Buhari is not even a businessman. As a businessman, if Atiku has 60 percent, Buhari will have about 30 percent or 20 percent. But being a good businessman does not mean you will be a good president. But one thing that Buhari has, that none of them has better, is integrity. All the other 70 presidential candidates combined, plus Obasanjo, plus Babangida, plus Danjuma, they don’t have integrity better than Buhari.