Okwe Obi, Abuja
Chairman, Action Democratic Party (ADP), Yagbaji Sani, has carpeted the perennial borrowings of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government.
He said that if the trend continues, it would affect future generation.
Sani, also looked at the governments of Presidents Jonathan and Buhari, hailing the former for having good economic policy though he allowed corruption to dwarf the progress made.
The former presidential candidate also frowned at the hate speech bill, which is before the National Assembly, saying that the government and the sponsors were ill-advised and warned that if not relaxed, it would plunge the country into authoritarianism, as well as stifle the country’s democracy. Excepts:
You have raised concerns over the country’s debt profile and the $30 million loan request by President Mohammadu Buhari to finance infrastructure. What exactly is your fear?
We have had borrowings in the past in this country to the extent that the Paris Club and other institutions had to let go certain loans. And those loans, you ask yourself; what were they used for? The excuse that the government always give is that we are going to use it for productive purposes, that is infrastructure development. But at the end of the day the reverse is the case. You and me know that once civil servants get hold of this money it is gone. Besides, the contract they are awarding is over-inflated. A contract that would ordinarily cost N1 billion will cost N10 billion. If you are not lucky at the end of the day the contract may not even be completed. So, you will now have to look for another loan to complete the project. You need to first of all look at the system where you are bringing these loan facilities to. Are these people really responsible? Corruption, Mr President knows more that any other person that the civil servants in this country are corrupt, the governors are corrupt. So, when you give this money to them, if you are lucky, one-third of it will be utilised and those projects would not be completed. We have been on this matter before and we have seen what normally happens with regards to loans, which is why we are asking the government to look inwards and block all these leakages where these problems emanate. For instance, in the oil and gas sector, billions of dollars are stolen with the knowledge of the government. So, why can’t we block the leakages and save from what we are able to get from those places and develop infrastructure? If care is not taken, we will find ourselves before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bail out. We do not want President Buhari to push us to the point where we will go and ask the IMF to bail us out. And you know that IMF will hand down draconian conditions that you will not be able to meet. So, you now find yourself in a worse economic, social and political scenario.
Are you in support of the pension reform bill to allocate huge pension to former governors like the one we have in Zamfara State?
Of course not! In the first instance, the cost of governance in this country is too high. The current expenditure is more than 70 per cent, which is even the federal budget. When you go to the state it is worst. And even the one you call capital budget like I told you, 30 per cent of it is spend on capital project, while 70 per cent is stolen. Even Mr President had to come out to say that monies sent to states were stolen. In such a porous system, you will have to be very cautious on the visible areas of spending. For us as a party we are asking for lean government so that you will be able to safe money to invest in infrastructure development. I think government should start by looking at other ways of financing infrastructure deficit. They should approach the capital market so that private sector will come in and you will have a much more efficient way of building the country’s infrastructure. We will not mind if you ask us to pay for tolls provided the roads are maintained. If I am to pay N100 to N200, I won’t mind because with bad road, if I ride on it and by the time I come back, I will be talking about N20,000 to N200,000 to fix my vehicle before of the bad road. So, government should discourage the financing of this project directly because it does not have the capacity and system of deliverance. If you give the money to civil servants you know what will happen to it. So, government should give guarantee to private sector. The ADP government will emphasise on capital market, individual financing infrastructure development. Our government will give the guarantee because I know that if you approach financial institutions outside this country, they will deliver.
Please, what do you mean by lean government?
We are advocating lean government because government has no business in business. Nigerian government is too much involved in business activities. If you look at our productive sector, it is about government. We should begin to devise means by which our economy should be private sector driven. By the time we get the private sector deliberately involved in developing the economy you will find efficiency, effectiveness, and the corruption you are talking about will disappear. Besides, I do not know why we have bicameral arm of government. Democracy, to a very large extent is luxury because you need to have the means to sustain it. America that operates bicameral legislature has the means of funding it. The country has enough money, their economy is stronger than ours. We are behaving like emperors or as if it is a monarchical system of government; that people will just take money and do whatever they like. We do not need bicameral legislative arm of government. And, if we must have one, it should be like the British system. Let people who want to come to the Senate be independent; people that can take care of themselves and work for the government. They are everywhere in this country. They do not need allowances. All they want is to give back to the society.
Why are you encouraging people who are self-made to come into politics when you know that they stand the risk of being influenced by the system given the humongous sums of money spent at party levels and electioneering?
They are not contesting under any political party because parties will also like to play politics. They would be people who are concerned about the development of the country. When you take issues to them, they are not looking at it from the political viewpoint. So, each senatorial district should come together and identify an individual whom they believe would serve them. You cannot tell me that in a whole senatorial district you cannot find one person who will command respect and his or her inputs germane to scale up development.
What is your perspective on the impasse between the Department of State Services (DSS) and Publisher, Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore. Isn’t the DSS over stretching its bounds?
It tells you a lot about the government of the All Progressive Congress (APC); it has not been able to get itself out of the syndrome of grabbing power without leading, otherwise the matter should not have been blown out of proportion as it is done. Sowore is just one individual. There is freedom of demonstration in this country provided you are not encroaching on anybody’s right. One should be able to demonstrate peacefully. And the court should not be reduced to nothing or bastardise the judiciary. Interestingly, government itself needs the rule of law to survive. If you abuse it you are calling for anarchy. So, government should be custodian of the rule of law because it is the number one beneficiary of the rule of law. Without the rule of law you cannot call yourself president. If you abuse it, you do not have any protection. I do not know what he (Sowore) has done. And whatever it is the rule of law should prevail if not anarchy will take place.
What is your take on the hate speech bill, which has generated wide reactions?
One of the foundations of democracy is freedom of expression without fear or favour. If you come and say people should not express themselves then democracy is being stifled. I think government is misadvised and misinformed; it did not make deep analysis of what it is trying to introduce. Granted that the press, social media are very powerful, government should find a way of regulating it so that we will not wake up and find people killing themselves. I tend to agree that you need some kind of control, but not in any draconian manner of trying to kill anybody.
So, are you tactically supporting the bill?
I am not supporting the bill as it is, but I am supporting anything that can regulate and control the excesses coming from the social media. There are civilised ways it could be done.
Let’s do a comparative analysis between the government of President Goodluck Jonathan and President Buhari. What would be your assessment?
This government made a lot of mistakes, missed a lot of opportunities that is why it is still grappling with the force of amnesia on how to even begin to solve our economic, social and political problems. And even the insecurity we are talking about. When President Buhari came in 2015 and did not appoint his ministers until after six months, he lost the initiative. Even the handover was not done in a manner that can hit the ground running; it was haphazardly handled. Unfortunately, again, the man became ill and opportunities were missed, that is why it was difficult for them to take advantage of the popularity he came to power with. It could not be converted to dividends of democracy. On the other side, the Peoples Democracy Party (PDP) under Jonathan which could be described as a locust years, lost confidence of Nigerians because of the brazen manner corruption was allowed to take place. Otherwise that government had better programmes. It was more focused economically and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by nearly eight per cent or so. Today, it has plummeted to about one per cent. So, every indices has nosedived. Most of these problems could be traced to the opportunities Buhari missed in giving Nigeria the kind of leadership it needs. I am calling on the president to know that what remains is him as a person not so much about APC. He has the chance to rise to the occasion and think beyond his immediate circle of not only appointing his friends, but identifying those who can deliver and bring them to the table. It is not too late yet because he still enjoys the respect of a lot of people. You cannot trace any corruption to him directly.
2023 is a bid far, but there has been plethora of agitations regarding which geopolitical zone is to produce the next president. What is your take?
As a party, we do not believe in zoning. We believe that the best candidate should be allowed to govern this country; the person can come from wherever. We also believe in equity because through that we will have stability, peace and unity in this country.
Your party is relatively young, what should Nigerians expect in 2023?
We will produce the next president in 2023. You can write it down somewhere.
How do you intend to achieve that when you are relatively young and without political bigwigs?
It is not how young you are or the people, it is how disciplined you are, how respected you are, how organised you are. Our party possesses all these qualities. You can see what is happening in all these so-called big parties, how they are crumbling. ADP, by the grace of God, will be the saving grace. Political watchers of development know that there is no way this contraption called APC can survive 2023. There won’t be APC come 2023. You just find shell of what is called APC today.