Dr. Olukayode Ajulo is the former National Secretary of the Labour Party (LP). He believes that this is the time to rebrand Nigeria. He spoke on other national issues.
Nigeria just celebrated its 59th independence anniversary. How far do you think we have come as a country?
Looking at the years gone by and the status so far attained, it is undeniable that Nigeria has come a long way and has achieved a lot in terms of human capacity development and democratic initiatives. However, it is not far from the truth to state that Nigeria’s reputation in the international scene has denigrated as at today and goes for a little less than 10 for half-penny. The country has also gathered notoriety as a den of 419ers and diabolically sophisticated conmen and fraudsters who live big and high on fortunes duped from other people. Recently, over 700 Nigerian youths were indicted by the United States (US) government over allegations of fraud and other matters connected thereto. There is therefore the need for a re-branding of the Nigerian image and government action should be geared towards youth empowerment and industrialisation.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his independence speech raised concerns on issues of hate speech, abuse of freedom of speech and expression, and threat to national interest and security, warning of severe consequences on those found wanting. What do you make of that?
The phrase “in the national interest” is one of the most frequently evoked and most flagrantly abused expressions in Nigeria’s political dictionary. Genuine national interest is a principle and practice based on justice and fairness to one and all. It more or less involves devotion to the idea and ideal of a nation, promotion of its sundry interests, defence of its territorial integrity and most importantly, cultivation of a sound stable standard of morality and accountability. It is an idea which postulates the supremacy of the nation over the individual, while also recognising that the nation derives its power, legitimacy, even from its ability and readiness to protect the individuals who constitute it, its capacity for ensuring the existence of justice and equity. In normal circumstances, “in the national interest” should mean “in the interest of the nation”. The pertinent question to ask is whether national interest is meant to be served by any laws or regulations which fasten a leash round the neck of the press and political activists. I believe that in a civilized and democratic society, aggrieved citizens have the right of speaking freely against or convening peaceful assemblies, meetings and rallies against unpopular government measures and policies within the confines of our law.
The President visited South Africa on the heels of the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in that country. There, he and President Cyril Ramaphosa signed about 30 trade agreements without mention of compensation for Nigerian victims of xenophobia. Why the visit?
Available data at present shows that South Africa is one of Nigeria’s top five export destinations. Nigeria exported goods worth a total value of ₦325.5 billion within the period and South Africans have a lot of investments in Nigeria. I believe Nigeria will benefit immensely from the trade Agreement with South Africa. Although the timing of the signing ceremony predated the xenophobic attacks but the President’s state visit was used to address the attack.
But should President Buhari be the one visiting South Africa considering the xenophobic attacks? Some people expected that President Ramaphosa should be the one coming to Nigeria to apologise to the government and people?
I’m not the Nigerian government’s spokesperson and I’m not in the know of the strategy used in making the visit to address the attack issue but I see it from the point of the saying that, if the Mountain would not come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the Mountain. It is pertinent to recall that at the heat of the attacks, Nigerians from different quarters were clamouring for President Buhari to visit South Africa rather than sending envoys. And now the issue of why Buhari went to South Africa is being raised. I don’t see anything wrong in Mr President going to South Africa. We should focus on how the visit is ameliorating the situation and seeking justice for the victims of the Xenophobic attacks.
The president has constituted an economic advisory council. Is that council a parallel body to the Economic Management Team known to the constitution?
At such a critical time like this, where desperate issues require desperate measures, the formation of an Economic Advisory Council is commendable, particularly, the fact that members of the team are technocrats with economic background. According to the Presidency, the Council will serve as new managers of the economy through their experience in economics, finance and management and will daily advise the President on the best ways to run and manage the economy. The council is modelled after the United States’ National Economic Council. I am optimistic that the council will attract more attention and respect from the international market. I believe that as a nation, we must be pragmatic in getting out of our economic doldrums and I also believe that the step taken by Mr. President is a tip of the iceberg.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo headed the Economic Management Team, which now appears to be substituted. Do you believe in the insinuations that he is gradually being side-lined as a first step to edge him out in 2023?
I don’t agree with the insinuations that the Vice President is being sidelined by the President. Events in the past have shown that President Buhari sees Vice President Osibanjo as a confidant and someone he could trust. More so, the Vice President still performs his constitutional functions such as presiding over the National Economic Council. The Supreme Court enunciated the duties of the Vice President in the case of A.G Federation v. Alhaji Abubakar (2007) ALL FWLR (Pt. 389) 1264 that: “A vice president is not at liberty to refuse to carry out government decisions of which he personally disagrees, or to defy government orders or the authority of the President over him or otherwise to act as if he is an independent executive within the government.” Similarly, section 148 of the Constitution confers a discretionary power on the President to assign responsibility for any business of the government of the federation on the Vice President or Ministers of the government. It is clear that the office of the Vice President is in a precarious position and thus there is a need to amend the provisions of the Constitution in order to properly delineate the duties and functions of the Office of the Vice President.
The Federal Government has increased VAT from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent
It is quite paradoxical that the Federal Government increased VAT few hours after the Presidential Election Tribunal upheld Mr. President’s mandate. Though the Federal Government has announced that its decision is hinged on the need for the government to generate alternative sources for raising funds for the implementation of the new minimum wage, the proposed increase will come into effect next year as it will require the approval of the National Assembly.
Data has shown and experts have also confirmed that when government decreases taxes, disposable income increases which translates to higher demand and increased gross domestic product (GDP). Whereas the higher the tax rate, the more time people spend evading taxes and less time they spend on the more productive activity and increase tax does not necessary imply increase in government generated revenue.
Vice President Osinbajo recently said he is willing to waive his immunity to face probe over allegations made against him. What is your view on his position?
While agreeing with the Vice President’s motive to exonerate himself from any allegation against him, however, the position of the law is clear and unambiguous on this. A cursory look at the provision of the law reveals that there is no such provision for the waiver of the immunity conferred on the holders of the privileged offices. Any waiver of the immunity of the Vice President is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever. The person holding the office does not have the right to waive the immunity because any such waiver is ineffective as the immunity is not that of the person holding the office but of that particular office he represents during the tenure of the office.
Section 308 of the 1999 constitution provides that no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office; The section also precludes arrest of such persons. The Supreme Court in the case of Ariori v Elemo (1983) LPELR- 552 (SC) per Kayode Eso JSC also held inter alia that Constitutional rights/privileges cannot be waived. It is however imperative to hint that the immunity clause does not protect the office of the Vice President but the holder of the office in person of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.