Okwe Obi, Abuja
Abimbola Daramola, represented the Ekiti North Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. In this interview, he criticised politicians who are talking about 2023 when the country is facing life- threatening challenges.
He urged the All Progressive Congress-led administration at the centre to rise up and fix the many snags hurting the country, saying that otherwise, it would have nothing to use to woo voters in 2023.
The ex-lawmaker also spoke about his programme called Project 60:60:60, and urged the government to deepen investment in entrepreneurship, which he said, was the only way to revive the economy in the face of the ravaging Coronavirus.
Why did you launch a scheme called Project 60:60:60?
The project is sitting on a number of justifications. In the next few months, the country is going to be 60 and at that time about 39 million Nigerians will lose their jobs. Those are not my figure, but that of the Federal Government; 33.3 per cent of Nigerians will be jobless between now and December, and the per cent will come to about 39 million people. Of course, it has also been projected that the nation is going to slump into recession. One thing that worries me in this country is the fact that we deny the obvious especially the figures we are bandying around not knowing that it has consequences on education, healthcare, insecurity and living standards. It is not enough to regale ourselves with these figures. The question now is: what do we do about this reality? I know too well that most nations use their milestone for moment of national vision. It is a time to re-evaluate how far we have come as a nation or individual. I need us to come up with a conversation around some of the problems. I believe very strongly that if we want to enter into the next decade, we need to articulate a national agenda that is real, pragmatic, that the outcomes are measurable, that is not knee-jack, spontaneous, but well articulated. Project 60:60:60 is basically to answer some of the questions I have asked. Now, I have triggered that conversation. We are not only engineering the conversation, we are also providing something we can explore. I know government is trying to do a lot of things. I just heard that the ministry of trade and industry said it would release about N60 billion for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). But we have been out this route before. How do we ensure that the stimulus package does not go into the wrong hands? We cannot fund consumption. A nation that funds consumption will find out in due course that every resources, both financial and manpower, will go down, meaning we can only fund production. If we are going to throw our common wealth at organisations we must be able to hold them to account for the infusion of the stimulus package. For instance, if we decide to give money to an organisation that is exposed to so many banks and the management says it wants to use it to service its exposure to bank, that may be nice, but it is meant for an organisation that does not see the stimulus package as their own part of the national cake. What has the regime on ground instituted that we can validate their claims that if we put N1 billion in this organisation we are sure that it will immediately translate to employment of 10,000 people or that people will keep those jobs? Recall that in the heat of COVID-19, people donated N1 billion and virtually everybody was sacked until the Central Bank of Nigeria intervened. It is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. From our experience, what we have done has been spontaneous, momentary and knee jack.
What is the difference between the National Social Investment Scheme and what you are proposing?
We are proposing the setting up of entrepreneurship laboratories as we have see in different countries where people go everyday to acquire skills. It is a serious matter that is why it must be an agenda. We are proposing 36 entrepreneurship laboratories where people can look at a gamut of vocations, professions and check themselves to know the areas they have interest in to create a market around. That is why I tell people to define, develop and deploy. It is just my thinking. We know that National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and some members of the National Assembly do skills acquisition. But how many of them can we account for or widen the economic base as a nation? I am talking about something that is enduring particularly as we are going into this new decade. If we have entrepreneurship laboratories, we will have a system where thousands of people would be trained on different things and preparing them for the future. How do we ensure that the business capital that we give does not go to waste? What we are doing today may be the seed of our children tomorrow. It took COVID-19 to teach Nigerians that we can make mask and hand sanitiser. Should we wait for something that is deadly and disastrous as COVID-19 to open up people’s head? The person who supplies me disinfectant is a graduate. The same government, for whatever justification, decided to employ 1000 graduates from 774, 000 councils who will be paid N20,000 for three months to be street sweepers. How does that sound to you? How do you account for that money after three months? We cannot fund projects that are not regenerative.
Are you saying your party which is in government has not done enough?
The way I will put it is that we would have thought that the idea would have been subjected to further rigour and interrogation. They have gone too far. This is not antagonistic. The point is to ask what do we want to achieve? President Buhari has said it that the super agenda is to create jobs. Excellent. The issue is how do we create the jobs? We cannot continue to fund consumption.
What is your take on the suspension of your Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and defection of Governor Godswill Obaseki to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
Well, it may not be my place to do a post-moterm particularly when the national leader of the party, President Mohammadu Buhari, has already intervened and proffered some seeming arrangement that will navigate us out of that crisis. Somebody has also reasonably said that in a political party or even in a family, there will always be a clash of interest. We would have been able to avoid some of those things, but we have come to this sad reality that things have gone the way they have gone. It should be an eye-opener. People who hold the reins of the party particularly the leading light should hold themselves to account. They should ask that if President Buhari leaves power, would we still have APC? I have always posited that political parties should not just be an election winning machinery. We should be able to assess the viability and validity of any political party in the impact of the lives of Nigerians. I am shocked that the social equity that we came with in government would be caught in this kind of ill storm where all manner of things are happening. We practically came into power with puritanical disposition. We knew where we were going. But just imagine that these things are happening when President Buhari is not even half way. Now, when he gets to the third year, what will happen? If people have started baying each other’s blood one year after reelection, then I am asking myself where are the people in all of these? What I will expect the Malam Buni Committee to do is to put every action of theirs in the crucible of history because it would be unfortunate if it continues to create a situation in which Nigerians would keep saying that all of you are the same. It would be regrettable if we put ourselves in a position where the party is perceived as just like any other party.
Political pundits have predicted that your party will go into extinction as soon as President Buhari leaves office. Do you believe that?
Having gone through the kind of political trajectory and evolutionary trend that we went through, I would have expected and I will still expect that our party will learn one or two things from parties that have gone down in the past. Yes, President Buhari is a very strong galvanising force for the party; he brought in substantial personal equity in defining the fate and fortunes of the APC. I expect that people should have been able to distill part of that equity that the president brought and set a standard for the party on the basis of the identity and personality of the president. I read a governor yesterday seemingly justifying the crisis in the party. Even if there are personal interest, it should be subdued for the case of corporate interest. There should not be a governor interest. Yes, governors are legitimate leading light of the party, but they also should be perfect representation of ideals of the APC. If the party goes down today, what would be our story to generation coming after us?
Does that mean you are disenchanted with the workings of the party?
No. It is not about disenchantment. Let me make it clear that a political party is not a personal property. So, we would expect that the party must have irreducible minimums that when we get to this point we will know that no overriding interest above the party. We should come to the point where any member of the party that is aggrieved that a governor’s interest of the party is jettisoned. What has happened did not start in a day. And if those things didn’t happen in one day, we need to retrace our steps from ward to local to state to national. In Ekiti State, for instance, there are issues today.
The issue of Magu has generated divergent opinions particularly the appointment of police officers to head EFCC. What should we do to strengthen the fight against corruption?
The appointment of police officers to head EFCC is not the point. The Bible asked that if the foundation is destroyed what can the righteous do? We must get to the point where institutions are strong and earn their identity over and above every interference. We must be very circumspect to think that corruption can be fought with bare knuckles. Have you heard anywhere that an anti-corruption agency in the United Kingdom or United States is fighting corruption the way we are fighting it in Nigeria? The only way to fight corruption especially when it is endemic is to make the institution too strong. The EFCC is subject to the attorney general. If the institution is strong it would have been impossible for Magu to recover 500 houses and it reduces to 300 or 200. If your recovery has been captured withing the framework, it would have been difficult for people to manoeuvre. We have to review the entire structure of EFCC. How come we are bringing another committee? We have had the Itse Sagay committee, Okon Obla committee, now we have gone to look for Justice Salami and all border on corruption. Don’t forget that DSS had written way back 2017/2018, why didn’t we interrogate the claims of the 8th Senate that DSS had alleged that Magu had issues? We cannot build a nation with knee-jack approach. It has to be institutional.
The contest for 2023 presidential election has begun. Where will your party zone the ticket to?
I honestly do not know. And I do not think the time is right to start talking about 2023. We are in 2020. There are life-threatening challenges to address. Let us not get into politics, politicians and political activities. We just talked about 39 million people who will be losing their jobs.
But the race has started, hasn’t it?
It is a very wrong way to start. If anybody starts talking about 2023 that person deserves to put his head in a guillotine. We should be looking at how to make those 39.4 million people who will be freely inclined to vote for our party employable. Politics is not about elections, it is about the people. In any environment where politicians and politics take the pride of place then we will continue to see the kind of manifestations we are seeing today. Should anybody be talking about politics when we just had an election one year ago? Whoever is talking about it now is irresponsible.
Do you subscribe to the sacking of Service Chiefs?
I believe that the issue of insecurity is not a challenge that we cannot overcome as a party or government. If we have worked at a particular route for such a long time and it is not looking like we are getting the kind of result that we deserve, we should turn around. If they are part of the problem, I think they should go, but that should be interrogated very well. They must go on the basis that if much has been given and has not been done. If you have given them everything and they are not doing well, they should go. Last week, my brother was kidnapped along Kogi road. We had to pay ransom for his release. How well will it be if we had conquered all of these prevailing challenges and reality before 2023, will it not be easier to the people? Won’t we have better sound bites? We would tell them to go to Borno. Are the bandits still killing them there? Yes, we have a few accomplishments, but we can do a lot more.
Are you saying your party has no bragging rights in 2023 considering the high level of insecurity, poverty, unemployment?
As we speak today. We don’t want to approach that election with platitudes. Most of these things are measurable. It would be a sad spectacle if by 2023 we are still trying to look for justification why anybody running on the platform of APC needs to be supported. We should have effusive figures and profile that are too glowing that nobody can challenge. But as we speak today, there is a lot of work to be done.
Will you come out in 2023?
2023 is in the hands of God. It is not my sole decision, but that of the people. I do not have a personal ambition at this time. I mean right now. I would have been in the House of Representatives now. But the party did not even allow me to go to primaries. On the day of primaries the governor engineered my detention. When you have a scenario where people cannot freely contest an election. I ran for governor on the basis of the fact that the governor said he was not running. I was the Director General of Governor Kayode Fayemi’s re-election campaign in 2014. I have known him for 42 years. He told me four times that he was not running. I met him again for House of Reps, he detained me. He knew that none of them would have defeated me. If the system is still going to be riddled with what I had gone through between 2017/ 2018, then, the premium status of the party as progressive has been eroded. Party people are not as happy as they were particularly in my state. Some of the projects they are advertising all over the place are not there. I do not think my governor has done well. He is not manning the party very well. The people are disenchanted. I want anybody who can put his face and say the governor has done well. Do we still have that premium pride with the people? Hell no.